The Special Report
30th May 1999
By Adrian D' Monte
A. Varatharajaperumal, who as Chief Minister of the Tamil North Eastern province nine years ago startled the country by declaring an independent Tamil Eelam, has now asked President Chandrika Kumaratunga to give the country a truly federal constitution in which the national minorities will have not less than 40 % of the seats in parliament. He also wants the country to be re-named as the "Federal Republic of Sri Lanka."
In a written submission to the President on the government's devolution package, the controversial Tamil leader has said that it is essential that there is a "clear and explicit declaration" that Sri Lanka is a federal and not a unitary state. The EPRLF politburo member who met the President early last week, asked her not to be deterred by opposition to her plans to devolve power to the provinces, as those who oppose "always oppose any form of devolution."
Mr. Perumal says that the minorities will feel threatened so long as the majority Sinhalese invariably have a brute majority in the national parliament.
Under the new federal constitution, no ethnic group or party should be allowed to have a two thirds majority in parliament, he demands. "Either by delimitation of the parliamentary constituencies or by a system of reserved constituencies, the national minority communities should, together, have not less than forty percent of the membership of parliament."
He further says that there is an indisputable need for a bicameral system in which the second chamber would be such that it would uphold and protect the equality of all the national communities and prevent any executive of legislative activity detrimental to the basic rights and interests of any community.
In his lengthy meeting with President Kumaratunga, Mr. Perumal told her that the second chamber should be named "House of National Communities" and the national communities he identified for representation were the Sinhalse, Muslims and Tamils, with the possibility of a separate representation for the up-country Tamils if there was a demand for it.
In this house, Mr.Perumal added, the combined strength of the minorities should be more than the strength of the majority Sinhalese.
The structure of this house should be such that special interest groups like provincial legislators, teachers, graduates, sportsmen, traders, industrialists and labour, would be represented.
As regards the powers to be vested in the second chamber, Mr.Perumal said that if 50 % of the members of a particular community in the house felt that any law, made by the national parliament or a regional council, was detrimental to that community, the house might amend the law in question. At any rate, any law applicable to a minority should need the approval of the House of National Communities.
Mr.Perumal wanted all the treaties made with India on the citizenship of the up-country Tamils to be annulled and all Sri Lankan refugees abroad and those who left the country after May 22, 1972 and secured foreign citizenship should be deemed Sri Lankan citizens.
Mr.Perumal, who is a politburo member of the EPRLF, said that the new Sri Lankan constitution must be explicitly and truly secular, with nothing identifying it with a particular religion. From 1972 onwards, constitutions had made Sri Lanka a Buddhist country but this had only produced "distrust and destruction" contrary to Buddha's teachings, he observed. The Buddha sasana was being used to discriminate against followers of other religions, he charged.
On devolution, Mr.Perumal said that the regional administrations should not be made subordinate to the central government or parliament. The Governor should be a nominal head acting only on the advice of the Chief Minister. He might dissolve, summon or prorogue a regional legislature only on the advice of the Chief Minister given in writing.
The Centre might dismiss a state government or dissolve its legislature if unity and integrity of the country, were in danger, but the Presidential proclamation in this respect should be referred to a tribunal within 14 days and a final decision on the validity of the dismissal should be left to parliament. Every extension of President's rule should be endorsed by parliament by the method stipulated for amending the constitution.
The Centre should not be allowed to encroach on devolved subjects or have any direct control over the provincial bureaucracy. Further, the regional councils should be allowed to make suggestions, representations and proposals to the parliament and the Central government.
The Chief Minister, Mr.Perumal said, should be given the power to appoint all the top secretaries of the provincial government. There should be a regional civil, police and judicial service in addition to the national services. The Centre could draft national plans in any field, but the implementation, including the determination of the beneficiaries, should be left to the provincial governments.
According to Mr.Perumal, the government's draft constitution is vague over water resources, land, land development and settlement norms and this could be misused, he feared. The Centre has overriding powers over inter-provincial rivers and if this is applied to the North East, the government there could become defunct, he observed.
As regards financial devolution, Mr.Perumal said that the Centre should help the regional governments set up a tax gathering machinery. It would be wrong to give the power of tax collection to the Centre only. Mr. Perumal felt that the financial powers given to the regional administrations in the draft constitution were too little.
The Centre could collect income and corporate taxes, customs and excise duties, but a major portion of the collections should be distributed among the provinces, as per a formula given by a National Finance Commission. All state land within the area of a regional government should vest with the regional government.
The Centre could acquire land with the approval of the regional government, but in case of a dispute, the matter should be decided by a tribunal. More importantly, Mr.Perumal demanded that all state aided Sinhala colonisation in the Tamil north east carried out since 1981 be dismantled to restore the ethnic distribution prior to this.
Stressing the need to keep the North East province united and not bifurcated or trifurcated as proposed in the proposed devolution package, the EPRLF leader warned that any such division would only encourage the growth of extremism and chauvinism.
The defence forces and the administrative structures of the Centre should reflect national ethnic proportions, he said. In the regions too, the state structures should reflect the ethnic proportions within their respective areas.
Urging recruitment of Tamils to the armed forces, Mr.Perumal said that this would help fight the LTTE, give greater confidence to the Tamil population in the armed forces, and correct the image that the Sri Lankan forces were an exclusive preserve of the Sinhala majority. He accepts that this may not be possible in the short run, but says that government must pledge support to it in principle and begin taking Tamils "in ways compatible with the prevailing situation."
Finally, Mr.Perumal appealed to the Sinhala and Tamil leaders to re-examine the past, understand the current situation, and devise means to ensure peace and harmony. The Sinhala leaders must ensure that the Tamils were not deprived of their "life support systems" and the Tamil leaders must be realisitic about the socio-economic conditions of the Tamil people and not support "blood thirsty war mongers," he said.
The need of the hour was a policy of give and take , and an all round recognition of mutual fears, apprehensions and aspirations, Mr.Perumal added. According to a sketchy EPRLF press release on Mr. Perumal's meeting with the President, she promised to consider his proposals even as she promised to place her devolution package in parliament soon.
By, Vaijayanthi Prakash, our correspondent in New Delhi
The Indo-Pakistan hot war raging in the bar ren and chilly heights of Kargil, 100 kms north east of Srinagar in Kashmir, did not look like dying out at the end of the week, 20 days after it started and three days after India took it to a new high by inducting the air force.
Both sides seemed to be prepared for a long haul. The heavily armed Pakistani forces and Afghan mercenaries (disguised as Kashmiri freedom fighters), who had infiltrated Indian held Kashmir early this month, had clearly dug in. The infiltrators were closely backed by the Pakistan army, which had beefed up its presence in Skardu, Humza and Gilgit on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control (LOC), which is the actual/military border between the Indian and Pakistani held Kashmir. The intruders, whose shoulder held SAMs bagged two Indian aircraft and possibly an MI 17 chopper also by weekend, were supported from the rear by Pakistani artillery stationed at Gultani and Shaqma.
As the air and artillery war progressed, with the Indians throwing in their MIG 21, 23 and 27 ground attack aircraft, troops scaled the raged sloped of the Himalayan range to engage the infiltrators at close quarters across a long stretch of the LOC. Maj. Gen. J.J. Singh, Addl. Director General Military Operations, told the press in Delhi on Friday that the area under the infiltrators was shrinking with Indian troops capturing the ridge lines which had served as the supply routes.
According to Lt. Gen. V.R. Raghavan, former Director General of Military Operations, the intruders would not be able to sustain themselves along such a long line for very long, as the logistics were beyond them. Though in the past, Kargil had been taken by the Pakistanis and the Indians had taken it back, this time round they seem to be particularly determined to stay out.
The Indians, on their part, seem to be equally determined to eject them. Official spokesmen of the Indian government and the armed forces said that the operations would continue till the intruders were thrown out. Indian defence analysts say that India has no alternative to evicting them as the heights are strategically very crucial for the defence of Ladakh and Siachen and by extension, the valley of Kashmir itself. If the heights of Kargil were to be held by Pakistani troops, infiltrators could block the Srinagar-Leh road and snap the link between the Kashmir valley and Ladakh, bordering China. The defence of Kargil is thus of critical importance to India, whose stake in Kashmir is both ideological and strategic.
But Kashmir is of historical, emotional and strategic importance for Pakistan too. As Yossef Bodansky, Director of the US Congress Task Force on terrorism and Unconventional Warfare put it: "For Islamabad, the liberation of Kashmir is a sacred mission, the only task unfulfilled since Mohammad Ali Jinnah's days. Moreover, a crisis in Kashmir constitutes an excellent outlet for frustration at home, an instrument for the mobilisation of the masses, as well as gaining the support of the Islamic parties and primarily their loyalists in the military and the ISI (the Pak intelligence agency)."
According to K. Subrahmanyam, former Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis at New Delhi and now a national security advisor, Pakistan's immediate aim is to devalue and nullify the Line of Control, because India has been wanting the LOC to be recognised as the international border between the countries in Kashmir. But Pakistan wants the whole of Kashmir, including the enchanting and populated valley, and not merely the chunk of mostly barren and inhospitable land on its side of the LOC. The LOC itself reminds Pakistan of the failure of its repeated attempts to seizure Kashmir by force.
India, on the other hand, is willing to forego its claim to that part of Kashmir now held by Pakistan provided the latter recognises the LOC as the international border. India also argues that the LOC has acquired sanctity since Pakistan recognised it as the de facto border under the Shimla Pact of 1972. The UN had also endorsed it.
Pakistan has been continuously trying to seize Kashmir. In the late eighties, President Gen. Zia ul Haq launched Operation Topac, which involved Pakistan trained Kashmiri militants (PTKMs) working closely with overground Kashmiri dissidents. For a few years this yielded dividends as there was widespread discontempt in Kashmir, thanks to the corrupt Indian backed rule of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. But soon the PTKMs discredited themselves. Mass demonstrations organised by them, which were the order of the day in the late eighties and early nineties, became less frequent because of the fall of the PTKMs from grace. Pakistan then partially substituted the PTKMs by foreign mercenaries (from Afghanistan, Sudan and Turkey among other
Islamic countries), whose numbers went up from 15% in 1994 to 40% in 1998. But the killing of 320 foreign mercenaries in 1998 out paid to their use. Simultaneously, the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) motivated killer squads to massacre innocent civilians to trigger terror and create disaffection between the Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir and other parts of India. But this too failed, because the people of Kashmir as well as the rest of India refused to be provoked. The low intensity ''proxy war" not having delivered the goods, Pakistan has now gone back to the 1947 strategy of sending in armed infiltrators backed by the regular army, in the hope that as in 1947 the gains would be substantial.
But while they may not succeed, the war is going to extract a heavy price from both India and Pakistan. India maintains 119,000 troops and para military men in Kashmir. Till 1998 it had lost 1442 men. Pakistan sponsored terrorism and anti insurgency operations have claimed 29,000 Indian lives so far. 5,000 security men have been killed. The security apparatus, property loss and compensation payments have cost the Indian exchequer Rs. 67,000 crores or US $ 15.5 billion.
Pakistan is said to be spending Rs. 600 million or US $ 14 million a year on the proxy war in Kashmir. And with 60% of the deadly weapons meant for Afghanistan being used in the proxy war, and with the trade in narcotics funding the war, Pakistan is sitting on a powder keg.
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