Muslims, Federalism and North-East Merger

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan (Ceylon Today)

Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran refutes the claim that Muslims are against the North-East merger and said, “The idea has been propagated by interested parties”. He also urged the government to suggest a plausible solution for Muslims to protect their individuality in the East and then ask them whether they are for the merger or not.

He says Muslims are confused not knowing what lies ahead. “Surely Muslims will not have any objection to North and East being declared as traditionally Tamil speaking areas. However, first protect their individuality,” he told a Sinhala newspaper that questioned Wignewaran on federalism and North-East merger.

The Chief Minister further pinpoints that no Sinhala leader has given any plausible reason as to why a federal system is unacceptable except to say it would lead to separation. He also urged that the North and East must be merged if not “We are compromising on the contiguity of our lands and compositeness of our culture.”

Wigneswaran who continuously highlighted that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government should be sincere about walking the talk on reconciliation. In his views a federal structure is the best plan for Sri Lanka.

The people of the South are agitated over a political solution of this nature for the Tamils and they will never compromise even on the merger of the North and East. There is a possibility that a system where federalism in practice and merger in some administrative sense is mutually agreed upon, though the labels will not be in those words (federalism) would be suggested, according to a senior civil society member. (Cartoon added from Internet)Image result for swrd bandaranaike cartoons

Wigneswaran on the other hand says “For 67 years the Tamils of Sri Lanka have been asking for a federal system to govern them and there is no other system that could recognize thier individuality and self respect while keeping the country together as one composite unit.”

At the beginning of this month former UPFA Parliamentarian who is currently a member of the government’s Public Representations Committee (PRC), S. Thavarasa said the majority of Tamils living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka have asked for a Federal Constitution.

Debatable issue

The government is reviewing the debatable issue of sharing power. The steering committee under Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe is still working on whether to have a federal or unitary government even after completing two years in power on 8 January 2017.
The undeterred Wignewaran further states that the world over everyone recognizes the fact that federalism has promoted unity rather than division. “There is no basis for the falsity propagated by the Sinhalese leaders that federalism is not separation nor does it lead to separation. Quebec did not want to leave Canada and separate. Though England has no written Constitution, Scotland preferred not to separate. Switzerland keeps so many disparate Cantons together. What’s wrong with Federalism?”

He claims that the only reason why Sinhala leaders are propagating such canards is because they do not want to lose the advantage they wrested by a unitary Constitution which Lord Soulbury granted, but regretted giving subsequently seeing what was happening here.

Federal system

Wigneswaran says if the country rejects a federal system, “It is the rejection of a necessary and plausible system so far that has promoted so much of agony, death, damage and destruction in this country”.

If you reject, then the problem will not be solved. We will go on agitating for our individuality. But if the Federal Constitution is granted almost immediately there would be changes for the better.

He says, “I am now thinking after the other Provinces categorically rejected the Development Bill recently why not we have a proper federal Constitution consisting of nine independent provinces with power for two or more provinces to merge. Of course, the fact that North and East were from pre-historic times Tamil speaking must be recognized. Otherwise our individuality would be denied by the majority community due to the surreptitious inroads the successive governments have made into the North and East after 1919.”

He quotes Lee Kuan Yew who said in the 1950s that he would make Singapore another Ceylon. “We were ahead of almost all South Asian countries at that time. What went wrong? The Sinhala leaders for selfish reasons tried to paint the Tamils as the cause for all their ills and gave the impression if they wrest all the powers and initiatives from the Tamils then everything will be hunky dory. The powers which the British wrested and wielded by virtue of their capture of Ceylon the Sinhalese were able to annex to themselves by deceit and constitutional means.

Arunachalam was cheated

I say deceit, because Sir P. Arunachalam was cheated. He was for a united Ceylon where all races could live in amity and peace. The British recognized each unit of the people be they Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays or Burghers as interest groups who needed equal representation. But the Sinhalese leaders wanted territorial representation. The Tamils under Sabapathy of the Jaffna Association rejected Territorial Representation saying it would give greater rights to Sinhalese or the majority community. It was Sir P. Arunachalam’s intervention that changed their mind. Sir Arunachalam was so sure of the sincerity of Sir James Pieris and E.A. Samarawickreme.

From 1919 onwards the reins of the government were taken over by the majority community. They not only refused to recognize the individuality of Tamils of the North and East, but went on to paint a false picture that the whole of Sri Lanka had always been Sinhalese and the Tamils were immigrants who came in the 10th century during the Chola occupation. In other words, we were caricatured as invaders and immigrants, says Wigneswaran.

The former Supreme Court Judge further says, “We were no doubt joined by Tamils at different stages of our history including the 18th and 19th centuries, but the Tamil community has been in this country from pre Buddhistic times. There is historical evidence for it. If anyone questions the veracity of my statement let the government appoint an international panel of historians to answer the question whether Tamils came only in the tenth century or they are indigenous to this country. In fact, Sir James Pieris and E.A. Samarawickreme said Tamils have always occupied the North and East from prehistoric times. So, the need for a Federal Constitution is to put right the wrong done by the majority politicians from 1919.

Land and police powers

To the question whether a solution be found for the problems of the People of the North by a federal Constitution, the Chief Minister said, “Yes, of course. We will have land and police powers. We could check the intrusions by the State as presently practised in different ways. We could look after our affairs by ourselves subject to certain specific central government functions.

He also said he would expect a solution to the problems of the people of the North and East in the New Year and that is only possible if there is a change of heart among our political leaders.

He pointed out that Tamils pressurizing the government did not get any benefit during the past 67 years. Therefore, the government must recognize the need to change if the country is to progress. This has to be done without getting bogged down in petty political considerations.

Petty political conflicts

President Maithripala Sirisena, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe by their petty political conflicts are paving the way for outside interventions which are not good for the country in the long run, the Chief Minister said.

“After their period they would leave, but the country will continue to suffer. It is the heavy debts which Rajapaksa raised that have made it difficult for the government to move forward economically. We live for the present compromising the future, he said.

The views expressed in this article do  not necessarily reflect the thinking of the blogger