Feature Article

APRC: how long you tolerate a farce, Suresh asks India and IC

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 12 November 2008, 01:20 GMT]
The All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) is a farce of the Sri Lanka government. It was always used to impress upon India and the International Community. The basic premise of the APRC not to go beyond unitary constitution of Sri Lanka, will not bring in any meaningful result. India and the IC know it well. Yet, if they continue to tolerate the farce, they will only be abetting the genocidal programme of Colombo, says Suresh Premachandran of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP
Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP
Mr. Suresh Premachandran, a senior leader of the EPRLF, was a key person behind the functioning of the Northeastern Provincial Council during the IPKF time, 20 years ago. He is now the Secretary General of the EPRLF (Suresh wing) and is an elected Member of Parliament and a member of the parliamentary group of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

In a wide-ranging interview with TamilNet, Premachandran explaines his views on the deliberations by the so-called All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) on devolution proposals, he said the committee was used by the Sri Lankan government to fool India and the International Community.

The Sri Lankan president has used to manipulate it to suit his whims and fancies, such as all of a sudden asking the 13th Amendment to be endorsed by the committee, he said.

It is not an all party reprsentatives committe as the Sri Lankan president excluded TNA's participation in it, and the main opposition UNP and other parties such as the JVP had left it, he observed.

Devolution is not possible within the unitary constitution of Sri Lanka as envisaged by the APRC.

In the Sri Lankan Unitary Constitution, the Central Government can always take back whatever powers that have been decentralised.

Article 76 of the Sri Lankan Constitution clearly states that parliament is the only legislative assembly and the legislative powers cannot be devolved to a subordinate body. This means no provincial council can make any law at any time.

Premachandran observed that the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prof. G.L. Peiries were already on record for saying that devolution is not possible within the unitary constitution of Sri Lanka.

"The APRC is a farce to buy time and to hoodwink the International Community."

The IC knows very well that APRC is to buy time and it cannot bring out a meaningful devolution within the unitary constitution. What they attempt is to mince words and introduce the same 13th Amendment in a different name and to thrust it on the people.

India and Tamil Nadu should realise that the 13th Amendment, a consequent of the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987, was an experiment to try devolution within the unitary constitution of Sri Lanka. "It has been very clearly proved that it is not possible to have any sort of meaningful devolution within the unitary constitution," he says in the interview.

"New Delhi should therefore realise the meaninglessness of talking about the 13th Amendment or basing proposals on it."

The Sinhala mindset is not to accommodate Tamils and Muslims. The conviction of the Sinhala leaders is that the Sinhala nationalism could flourish only with the destruction of Tamils. The Sinhala chauvinism will not accept the co-existence of Tamil nationalism. Even Ms. Kumaratunga said that the Blacks in South Africa had justification in their fighting because they are sons of the soil, whereas Tamils had no right to fight because they don't belong to the country. The root-cause of the problem is the Sinhala mindset. All evils sprang from it. The mindset will not change and therefore there will be no federal, no devolution or no solution.

"If India and the International Community don't realise the mindset, they will only continue to support the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka." Full text of the interview follows:

TamilNet: What is your overall assessment of the discourse of the All Party Representatives Committee?

Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP
Suresh Premachandran: In the beginning there was an Experts Panel formed to support the APRC, which comprised several retired public officers, senior lawyers and academics. Even as the APRC kept delaying its deliberations, 11 members (6 Sinhalese, 4 Tamils and 1 Muslim)—a majority of the 17-member Experts Panel—came out with a document that was presented to the Sri Lankan President. This document spoke of some sort of federal system, devolution of powers and various other things. However, even before it was officially submitted to the President, this proposal was leaked to foreign media like The Hindu, published from Chennai. The infuriated President immediately scrapped the proposals and asked the APRC to come up with its own report. The APRC’s deliberations never came to an end. Finally, the APRC became a farce as it was used to suit President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s convenience. Every time he had to go to India, or he had to meet the Indian Prime Minister or prior to any visit by an Indian minister, Mr. Rajapaksa made it a point to refer to the APRC. Especially with respect to India, the APRC became an easy excuse to cite—the committee was always supposed to come up with a solution within two or four months time and so on.

Even when it seemed as though the APRC was ready to finalise its work before the Eastern Provincial Elections, Mr. Rajapaksa gave the 13th Amendment to the APRC and asked them to endorse it.

TamilNet: Was there any deliberation on the 13th Amendment in the APRC?

Premachandran: The parties, including the Muslim and Up-Country Tamils parties who were in the ruling UPFA fold, were asked to endorse the 13th Amendment only as a "first step". They were told by the President that 13th Amendment could be implemented as an immediate remedy and the deliberations would continue towards a better solution. With this promise, they were asked to extend their support and they did so. But, it became a trap. Now, this endorsement is cited out of context, as an endorsement by the parties, to be a basis for the solution. In fact, the APRC never deliberated on the 13th Amendment either as a basis for an interim or permanent solution. Mr. Rajapaksa had only asked the APRC that he wanted to implement the Amendment and asked signatures from these parties as an endorsement for his goodwill.

In reality, the APRC was used for Indian and International consumption. It was used to showcase that there was a discussion on the proposals, that there was progress towards a political solution and so on.

TamilNet: How do you view the composition of the APRC?

Premachandran: If you look at who constituted the APRC in the beginning, it was the partners of the government: JVP, JHU, SLMC and the CWC. Of course, the UNP was brought in later. But the UNP left when it became evident that the whole APRC exercise was viewed as a delaying tactic. The JVP and the JHU too left the APRC protesting the discussions on devolution. The TNA was not invited by the President.

Now, there is no point in referring to it as an All Party Representatives Committee as there is no participation by the main opposition UNP, and the TNA, not to mention the JVP. In fact, only last week in Parliament, the Chairman of the APRC, Professor Tissa Vitarana requested the UNP, JVP and the TNA to participate. Only the SLFP and its minority alliance partners are in the APRC. They only represent a minor portion of the views.

TamilNet: Does the International Community continue to place hope on the APRC?

Premachandran: There have been statements from the U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake that they were expecting the APRC to put forward proposals. There was a recent newspaper article where he expressed hope that the committee would come up with a solution on the basis of the Indo-Lanka accord. This clearly shows that the Sri Lankan Government has created a myth that this APRC would deliver a “substantial solution.”

Moreover, hardliner parties like the JVP and the JHU will oppose any proposal based on the 13th Amendment. Also, the APRC has been instructed by the Sri Lankan President to work out a solution within the framework of the Unitary Constitution. He has categorically told them not to go beyond that. The point I want to make is: there is no devolution possible at all within the Sri Lankan Unitary Constitution.

TamilNet: Do you view that devolution is possible within the Unitary Constitution of Sri Lanka?

Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP
Premachandran: Devolution is not possible if you can't go beyond the Unitary Constitution. Even the 13th Amendment was passed only after obtaining consent from a majority of Supreme Court judges who guaranteed that it would not affect the Unitary Constitution.

There can't be devolution within the Sri Lankan Unitary Constitution. There can only be a decentralisation of power. If we talk about decentralisation, the Central Government can, at any point of time and with a simple majority, take back whatever powers were decentralised.

A recent example to this is how the Government passed a Bill on the 21st of October claiming that all the roads now belong to the Central Government. Earlier, the National Highways belonged to the Central Government and the rest of the roads belonged to the provincial and local governments. This was simply taken back. In a similar manner, the agrarian services and the transport were taken back earlier. Even in future, they can take back any powers if they want to.

But, if you are having a devolution, that is some sort of a sovereignty over the de-centralisation. You can make laws and implement it in a proper manner. This is not possible in decentralisation within the unitary constitution.

Further, Article 76 of the Sri Lankan Constitution clearly states that the Parliament is the only Legislative Assembly and that it cannot devolve legislative power even to a subordinate body. This means that any provincial council does not have the power to make any statutes, they don't have any power to make laws. Even if they have to make any statues or laws, they have to be ratified by the Central Government. It is therefore not possible to have any meaningful devolution of power, whether it is based on the 13th Amendment or anything else contained in the Unitary Constitution of Sri Lanka.

At one time, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prof. G. L. Peiris have also gone on record saying that devolution is not possible within the Unitary Constitution.

Therefore, it is clear that the APRC is only for “International consumption" and nothing else. Or, it is a tactic to buy time to continue waging the war.

They say that the APRC had met 82 times. For more than six months, Prof. Vitarana is saying that they have completed 90% of the deliberations. Now, he is saying that proposal would be tabled only after the war is concluded. What we can deduce from the discourse is that the APRC is a farce to buy time and to hoodwink the International Community with a myth based on wrong information. They will never come up with a meaningful solution.

TamilNet: Don't you think that the diplomats are not aware of the Sri Lankan Government’s alleged hidden motive behind the APRC?

Premachandran: Of course, in the real sense they know it very well. The EU and various Ambassadors and the concerned diplomats here in Sri Lanka know all too well that this APRC will not deliver anything. But, somehow they are made to feel that this is something they can use to keep up pressure on the Sri Lankan Government by expressing such hopes [of a solution]. Again, there is clear-cut framework given by the Sri Lankan President to the APRC: "Look, you have to come up with a proposal within a Unitary Constitution." How is this possible? There is no difference between the 13th Amendment and this stand. The International Community knows very well that they [the Sri Lankan state] will not go beyond the Unitary Constitution. The IC therefore attempts to create something like the 13th Amendment, with a different name, and push it on to the people in a bid to satisfy them. As I view it, this is not a healthy approach for conflict-resolution.

TamilNet: Why do you think the government avoided the TNA's participation in the APRC? Was there any invitation from the President to the TNA to join the deliberations?

Premachandran: This is a policy decision taken by the President. Two years back, I witnessed Mr. Sampanthan asking him about the participation of the TNA. Mr. Rajapaksa replied saying that they wanted to achieve a Sinhala consensus first before inviting the TNA. But, in practice, other parties representing Up-Country Tamils and Muslims, who were in the UPFA alliance were included in the APRC, with no regard to achieving "Sinhala consensus" first. They have invited us only now for the first time. Moreover, even that request to join has come from Prof. Tissa Vitarana and not from the President. It was a call he made in the Parliament and no official invitation was extended to us. The real issue is that we will insist upon a federal structure as the minimum requisite and they are not prepared to face it. They think there would be nothing left to bargain with the LTTE if they include us in their deliberations. That is the ground reality.

The TNA has openly and publicly reiterated its position on the APRC several times—we view it as a time-buying tactic to conduct the war and as an eyewash arrangement aimed at India and the International Community. It is not an honest attempt in solving the conflict.

TamilNet: What do you want to say to Indian policy makers at this juncture?

Premachandran: Not only the Government of India, but also political parties in Tamil Nadu should understand two facts:

Firstly, they should realise that the 13th Amendment, which arrived through the Indo-Lanka accord was only a testing ground to see whether it is possible to implement devolution within the Unitary Constitution of Sri Lanka. It has been very clearly proved that it is not possible to have any sort of meaningful devolution within the unitary constitution. It will never happen. New Delhi should therefore realise that it is meaningless to talk about the 13th Amendment or 13th Amendment plus plus.

Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP
Secondly, New Delhi needs to understand the mindset of the Sinhala polity. The Sinhala polity feels that the Sinhalese are the sons of the soil, and the rest whether Tamils or Muslims are aliens—Tamils having land in Tamil Nadu should seek their rights there, and Muslims having their land in Saudi Arabia, can go back there. This is not a new mindset; this has prevailed for 103 years, from the times of Anagarika Dharmapala onwards.

As a revivalist under the British colonialists, he not only fought against the Christian missionaries, he also said that Tamils and Malayalis were aliens, that they don't belong to this country, that they had to go back. All the subsequent Sinhala leaders have followed in his footsteps, be it S.W.R.D Bandranaike, D.S. Senanayake, J. R. Jayawardene and the rest. Before coming to power, D. S. Senanayake, the first prime minister of post-colonial Ceylon, said that he would safeguard the status quo between the Tamils and Sinhalese. But when he came to power, he disenfranchised one million Upcountry Tamils, as he viewed their existence as a threat to the Sinhalese people. They were deprived of their civic and voting rights.

The Sinhalese leaders who emerged in the latter part of the British colonisation and in the post-colonial era have been thinking that Sinhala nationalism could flourish only with the destruction of Tamils.

Even before independence, J.R. Jayewardene introduced a resolution in the State Council declaring that the Sinhala language alone would replace English as the official languge. He argued that there were 30 million Tamils across the Palk Strait and that the Tamils possessed a cultured literature, language and civilization. He argued that if both the languages become official languages in Ceylon, the Sinhala language would be destroyed. They adopted the agenda that Sinhala nationalism was to survive on the destruction of Tamil.

Instead of taking a line allowing both Sinhala nationalism and Tamil nationalism to progress positively with co-existence, they focused on the destruction of Tamil. This is what we rightfully identify as Sinhala chauvinism. Even Chandrika Kumaratunga, while addressing a South African television sometime in the 1990s as the Sri Lankan President said that Blacks in South Africa were entitled to fight for their rights because they were the sons of the soil whereas Tamils did not belong to the country and hence they cannot fight for their rights in Sri Lanka. Another President, D.B. Wijetunge compared the Sinhala 'majority race' as a tree and the Tamils and other communities as vines that can get entangled in it and grow. Sri Lanka Army Commander Sarath Fonseka in a recent interview to a Canadian paper has reiterated the same view.

The root-cause of the problem is this Sinhala mindset. Only from this mindset, the Sinhala Only Act springs out, oppressive standardisation, colonisation and so on are born out of it. For all these years, we have been talking about the side effects of this mindset, such as efforts to institutionalise Tamil also as an official language or to stop the colonisation. These are side-roots stemming from the main taproot. There is no sign of change in this 100-year-old mindset. We are witnessing this in every session of the Parliament. As long as this mindset prevails, there will be no federalism, no devolution and no solution at all.

Until New Delhi and the International Community really understand the problems of this mindset, they will continue to support the genocidal state of Sri Lanka that annihilates Tamils.

Related Articles:
04.11.08   13th Amendment: arousing a zombie
14.10.08   Rajapaksa re-stages 'APC drama' to avert pressure from Tamil..
13.08.08   JHU walks out of APRC
30.07.08   Member of European Parliament envisages converting Tamils to..
03.02.08   APRC collaborated in a deception game: Kumar David
22.01.08   APRC proposals postponed again
20.01.08   APRC: key to peace or an albatross?

External Links:
TamilNation: Thirteenth Amendment to Sri Lanka Constitution - Devolution or Comic Opera
TamilNation: Provincial Council- Devolution or Comic Opera? by Satyendra


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