14th December 1997

Arguments, arguments and arguments

By Rajpal Abeynayake

Asymmetric devolution is now being touted as the chance that the PA shouldn’t miss. It’s being said that the UNP is forging ahead of the PA in the devolution game. The UNP is arguing for less devolution of power for some provinces/regions.

But, if the same UNP said not more than a month back that the thirteenth amendment was the best solution to the ethnic crisis , one wonders whether the UNP’s policy is as asymmetric as its solution is.

Its a complex problem, which has some otherwise sober people such as Mr. Dayan Jayatilleke getting very high decibel and passionate about the issues. Dayan registered a whopper on the devolution Richter, saying the government’s devolution package is a license for “constitutional genocide’’.

The same Jayatilleke was onetime Finance Minister of the EPRLF led Northeast provincial council—incidentally, according to Mr. Kethish Logeshwaran, a RAW appointee. (That was a raw attack, though Kethish never really said it in the raw by actually using that acronym.)

Though the Chairman had to intervene to stop fisticuffs (what’s a bit of hyperbole in this mood) what was interesting were the ideological contortions that have resulted from the unsolved ethnic crisis.

The UNP for example has gone from being the “minorities are creepers’’ party of Wijetunge, to being an advocate for the thirteenth amendment ( born again ) and finally an advocate of asymmetric devolution.

Its interesting to know that both parties use these policy contortions at one time or the other for political comeuppance . When the UNP says “asymmetric devolution’’ the UNP doesn’t necessarily say all’s well in the devolution front. The party position is that the government’s devolution proposals have failed, and that nothing but asymmetric devolution will work.

Incidentally, the PA does about the same thing. The first reaction of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs G. L. Peiris to the UNP’s new fangled proposals for asymmetric devolution was to say that “ asymmetric devolution is not an answer.”

It is correct that the Minister has mellowed since, and said that there is room for negotiation on the UNP’s asymmetric angle. But if the first response was the gut reaction, or the political reflex, it shows that both parties initially approach policy on a subjective basis. So, the PA was not partial to asymmetric devolution because it wasn’t part of its own proposals. That’s despite the fact that the UNP might have made a bigger ideological leap than the PA in granting greater autonomy to the majority Tamil regions.

But, the UNP, being no less pugnacious, wants asymmetric devolution, and nothing less, so the package is headed for doom.

In a way, its hilarious to watch the policy being made a bludgeoning device to clobber the other guy with. It can also be called not solving the problem.

In a sideshow, Kethish Logeshwaran called Dayan Jayatillleke a Sinhala chauvinist for defending the “Sinhala nation’’ from “constitutional genocide’’. Said Dayan that the regional consciousness created by a “union of regions would eventually destroy the notoriously fissiparous Sinhala nation’’.

Asked why the United States of America became the world’s number one superpower despite being a “union of states’’ Jayatilleke replied loud and clear that a Civil war was fought as a result of the South wishing to secede from the union.

If Jayatilleke implies that separatist tendencies originate from a “regional consciousness,” its worth ruminating why we have a separatist movement here even when we have notoriously not had a union of regions. If the aetiology of separatism is traced to regionalism, shouldn’t Sri Lanka which is a unitary state not have a separatist movement on our hands?

Notwithstanding all that, has Dayan undergone a metamorphosis, or is it in the natural order of things that he goes from being a member of the EPRLF to being an advocate for the political integrity of the Sinhala nation?

Coincidence, but it is hard to be an opposition politician without opposing the government’s power-sharing proposals. But, to hand it to Dayan, he probably believes that the duty of the opposition is to oppose.

The other speaker at the USEF seminar deserves honourable mention. Mr. Ravi Karunanayake, who is essentially a politician because of the karunawa of his nayake, is one who believes firmly in “devolution’’ but does not believe that “there is a Tamil problem.” Why Karunanayake would want to provide a solution when he says there is no problem, only his unique mind will know. With the likes of Karunanayake in parliament, one is almost nostalgic for people like A. J. Ranasinghe .

We shall defend to the death R. K’s right to demolish the package, but for insisting on insulting the intelligence of his audience by using flawed logic, RK gets the AJR award.

Dayan however, incisively brings into focus the sometimes asymmetric nature of this conflict, which the “Sinhala lobby’’ has been focusing on for sometime.

Can all sinhala interests be compromised in order to satisfy Tamil demands? The Sinhala dimension of the conflict, be it the economic emasculation of the nation by carving of autonomous regions, or other issues such as “the creation of regions on ethnic composition’’ are central to the argument. But, some fringe players who have hijacked these issues have made the issues look as funny as themselves. Perhaps, some of these issues have to be brought to the centre of the discourse.

Go to Hulftsdorp Hill by Mudliyar

Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page

Go to Rajpal's Column Archive