1. A Sombre Anniversary
2. Three Great National Betrayals
3. The Military Prospects
4. The Political Solution
5. The International Climate
6. The Devolution Scenario
7. The Role of the Neo-Sinhalas
8. Conclusion: The Real Policy Option
The year 1997 will see the completion of fifteen years of separatist racist terrorism in Sri Lanka. The commencement of this sombre anniversary year may be taken as an appropriate time to reflect on what has happened during this period and to consider why successive Sri Lankan Governments have failed to bring peace and unity to Sri Lanka. There are also claims that 1997 will see a radical change in the approach to the separatist problem when the so-called "political solution" will be implemented. Whether this will happen is still far from clear. It may well be that nothing significant will happen this year except the attrition of human life that has taken place over the last fifteen years.
The demand for racial separation in Sri Lanka is much older than the current phase of terrorism. In a sense the communal cry was raised right at the commencement of Independence in 1948. It was soon followed by the demand for federalism , but it was clear from the very beginning that it was something much more than what is normally understood by federalism that was demanded. These political demands were soon backed up by racial agitation leading to the various episodes of communal rioting in which persons belonging to all racial groups participated. The victims of these riots also came from all ethnic groups.
The first overt act of terrorism was probably the assassination of the Mayor of Jaffna in 1975 by the leader of the LTTE. This was soon followed by the formation of many different armed Tamil groups all dedicated to the objective of racial separation. By 1982 the LTTE had emerged as the dominant terrorist group. It was able to do with the active support of the Indian government which was responsible for its initial training and arming. This policy was initiated by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and was continued by her son Rajiv Gandhi. The first successful military action of the LTTE was carried out in 1983 when they killed some 13 soldiers. This figure seems extremely paltry by what has happened since, especially the Mullaitivu attack in 1996 which resulted in over 1200 casualties. The over-reaction to the 1983 incident, and the ignoring of the 1996 event speaks volumes for the transformation that has taken place over the last fifteen years. Since the 1983 incident the LTTE has become the main engine of terrorism in Sri Lanka claiming thousands of victims in ethnic cleansing, terrorist attacks and military-style actions. The role of the other Tamil groups should not be ignored even though most of them have been eliminated or eclipsed by the LTTE as they still contain within them the potential for racism and terrorism.
During these fifteen years there have been three great betrayals of the national interest by the incumbent Sri Lankan Government. Both the major political groupings have been responsible for these betrayals. The response of the Jayawardene Government which was in power at the start of the insurgency was vacillating. At that early stage the Armed Forces were in a position to defeat the terrorists, and nearly succeeded in doing so. It was then that India intervened directly. The capitulation of the Jayawardene government to the Indian threats was the first great betrayal of the national interest. The Accord which the SL Government concluded with India recognised for the time that the North and the East was a "traditional homeland" of the Tamils. This great travesty of history has still not been formally annulled by a SL Government. Under the Accord the Indian Army occupied a large part of the North and the East. It was supposed to disarm the LTTE, in which task it signally failed. The only good thing to come out of this episode was the breakdown of the alliance between the Indian government and the LTTE. Meanwhile the Jayawardene Government was succeeded by the Premadasa Government. This Government initiated the second Great Betrayal when it began formal talks with the terrorists and even supplied them with arms. The result of this was that when the Indians finally left Sri Lanka the LTTE simply took over the areas occupied by the Indian army with the exception of those military bases which had remained under Sri Lankan control even when the Indians were in Sri Lanka. With their immediate aims satisfied the LTTE unilaterally broke off the negotiations with the Government without notice, capturing and later massacring thousands of police and army personnel who had surrendered under the belief that the Government was observing the cease-fire with the LTTE. Some time later both the erstwhile patrons of the LTTE Rajiv Gandhi and Ranasinghe Premdasa were assassinated by the LTTE because of their failure to give in completely to racist demands.
President Wijetunga who succeeded Premadasa was noted for his inaction, and during his period the LTTE consolidated its position in the North and East under the strict policy of non-confrontation adopted by the SL Government. During this period the LTTE greatly expanded its activity in foreign countries, notably in Europe, Australasia and North America. In 1994 the UNP was succeeded by a Peoples Alliance Government in which the leading role was played by the SLFP. But the change of Government did not lead to a change in the policy on the separatist question. In fact the immediate consequence was the third Great Betrayal when the new Government embraced federalism as a "solution" to the so-called "ethnic problem" and began negotiating with the LTTE again, this time in the heart of LTTE-occupied Jaffna. These negotiations were as futile as all the previous ones had been. Once again the LTTE terminated the dialogue with another surprise treacherous attack.
With the Government forced to resume the military option there were some important military gains. In a somewhat prolonged series of operations in 1995-96 the Armed forces were able to liberate Jaffna from LTTE control, and even proceed as far south as Kilinochchi. However these gains have not reduced the capacity of the LTTE to wreak terror across the country. There has been a continuing series of attacks on civilians living in border villages, and on military and police posts. There has been a steady loss of life in these attacks. Meanwhile the Government has still not been able to secure a land route to Jaffna and it suffered its most serious defeat at Mullaitivu in which over 1200 military personnel were killed.
The failure to capitalise on the victories in Jaffna and Kilinochchi has given the LTTE a breathing space. The consequences of this error may well be manifested in 1997.
The New Year has started on an ominous note. The LTTE increased its activity in the Jaffna peninsula and launched attacks at Elephant Pass and Paranthan in an attempt to retake the towns lost in the previous year. The Government has conceded that in the first two weeks of January 223 soldiers were killed and 232 wounded. A large quantity of military hardware too was lost, much of it destroyed by the Army in defensive actions. The LTTE casualties are not known - the government claims that 350 were killed and 700 wounded in these two weeks but the LTTE admit to much less. Whatever be the real figures what is clear is that the attrition rate amongst the Government forces is unacceptably high, and that terrorism still rules in much of the land.
On the military front the Government does not seem to have committed itself to the total elimination of terrorism and of the LTTE despite the rhetoric to the contrary. As during most of the past fifteen years the military aim appears to be hold on to what is held with only an occasional and infrequent offensive. Such a policy is guaranteed to fail. What it has led to in the past have been spectacular actions by the LTTE, such as at Pooneryn and Mullaitivu with massive losses on the part of the security forces. Until the LTTE is totally eliminated the possibility of such attacks cannot be ruled out. The Government seems to be devoting much of its efforts to safeguarding the capital from terrorist attacks, but so long as the terrorists are entrenched in the jungles, and are able to infiltrate the growing Tamil population in the capital city, the security of the latter cannot be guaranteed. The only certain way of ensuring the security of the capital is to totally eliminate the LTTE.
The Government's failure to grasp the importance of the military effort stems from its mistaken view that there is no "military solution" to the terrorist problem. But there can be no other solution to terrorism than a military one. Terrorists do not obey normal civilised codes, and to try to placate them by offering them some of their demands will not succeed. The Government entertains a hopelessconfusion between what it calls the "ethnic problem" and the terrorist problem. In Sri Lanka there is now no ethnic problem as virtually every kind of ethnic concession has been made to the Tamils. Indeedthere are few countries where an ethnic minority of the size of the SL Tamils have been afforded as much rights as in Sri Lanka. The current problem is a separatist problem, which is a threat directed at the very foundation of the Sri Lankan nation as it has existed in history. To bring about the partition of Sri Lanka the terrorists have resorted to some of the worst tactics of terrorism such as suicide bombing and ethnic cleansing. This separatist campaign can only be stopped by a military effort, and that is why primacy must be given to the "military solution".
The eagerness of the Government to turn its back to the "military solution" is seen in its reluctance to elevate the war effort into the first priority of the nation. When the survival of a nation is challenged it is usual to subordinate every activity to the pursuit of the overriding national objective. This is what was seen during the Second World War when the freedom of several Western nations were threatened. Sri Lanka's position is even worse than that which confronted the allied nations during the Second World War. For what it is confronted with is not only the loss of freedom for the bulk of its people but also the truncation of a part of its territory, which will make the remainder an unviable entity. Thus the very survival of SL as a nation is threatened. These are circumstances which justify the giving of top priority to the military effort to defeat the forces of racism, separatism and terrorism.
But there is no national consensus on this question, and the failure by the Government is mirrored by almost all the other political forces in the country. As we have seen the UNP when it was in power had much the same attitude to the military problem as the present government. They too laboured under the delusion that there cannot be a military solution, in effect that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily. If this is indeed true then the fate of Sri Lanka is sealed. But the fact is that there is no reason why the LTTE cannot be defeated. In terms of popular support, manpower, funds, international backing, or any of the other factors that lead to miliary success the LTTE is at a disadvantage when compared to the Government. It is only in a few areas such as the ability to persuade its followers to undertake suicide missions that the LTTE has an undisputed advantage, but there is no instance in history where suicide tactics have led to a lasting success.
The military stalemate that has existed for most of the past fifteen years cannot be explained by any military superiority on the part of the LTTE. It has to be explained solely by the failure on the part of the Government. In this regard three areas can be identified.
3.1. Lack of Political Will.
This is seen in the wrong diagnosis of the problem and the failure to back politically an all-out military action against the LTTE. It is partly due to internal political factors such as the failure of the two major political groups to evolve a consensus on this important question, with each group seeking to pander to the communalist aspirations of minority groupings. It is also partly due to the view that the rest of the world will not support such a political action. Even though no foreign power of consequence has made such a demand, the SL Government is intimidated by private international organisations like Amnesty International and the Red Cross.
3.2. Wrong Military Strategy.
It is difficult not to conclude that after 15 years the SL military have still not worked the right strategy and tactics to defeat the LTTE. There seems to be a failure to learn from what has happened. The surprise attack on the isolated garrison seems to be taking place with monotonous regularity. Even attacks on large camps like Pooneryn and Mullaitivu seems to indicate that the occupants of these camps were unaware of rebel activity going on a few hundred metres outside their perimeter. Hence the ease with which large bands of LTTE have overrun these camps.
There seems to be a reluctance to work out guerrilla tactics and to rely on aerial attacks even though recently there have been a significant loss of aircraft. If the LTTE can survive in the jungles there does not seem to be any reason what the military cannot do so, if the proper tactics are worked out. Instead of waiting passively for the LTTE attack there should be an active attempt to seek out the LTTE and deny them the advantage that the jungle seems to offer them. After all much of the territory in which the LTTE operates (such as the Polonnaruwa district and even Yala or the Wilpattu) is not "Tamil territory". There is no reason why the LTTE should be allowed to operate with the ease that they seem to do in these areas.
The LTTE should never have been allowed to build the naval capability that they seem to possess. They even boast that they are the only terrorist group in the world to have such a capability. The supply route to the terrorists seems to be the open sea (now that India is not an active provider) and a high priority should be given to destroying the LTTE naval capability.
3.3. Corruption and Incompetence.
Underlying all the failures is the corruption which has become endemic in almost all branches of the Government. It has been claimed that even sections of the military have been selling material and information to the LTTE. Most of the terrorist outrages whether in the battlefield or in Colombo cannot have been carried out without traitors whose motivation has been essentially monetary. The sheer incompetence of the Government is partly due to the system of political patronage which is also an aspect of corruption. Since the political system is seen as a means of obtaining spoils for the party in power there has been a total failure to see the national interestas overriding narrow political interests. This is why there is nobipartisan agreement on the importance of defeating separatism; indeed the only degree of bipartisan agreement seems to be to agree to placate terrorists and separatists.
The military failure to end the insurgency has been compounded by the search for what has been called the "political solution". This solution turns out to be none other than racially-based Federalism. Even though various terms have been employed to designate this "solution" such as devolution of power, administrative decentralisation, etc. there is no disguising the fact that it is federalism of an extremely loose type that is contemplated. ACSLU has called it a "confederal solution" because what is contemplated goes far beyond the conventional bounds of Federal constitutions, andapproaches a loose agreement by sovereign states. The only difference is that while confederal arrangements have usually come about byindependent states coming together, such as in the European Community,in the present case a unitary state is to be splintered in order to form the confederal entity.
The two main political parties in Sri Lanka (the UNP and the SLFP) have for many years been supportive of some kind of federal solution - the differences if any only relating to the degree of federalism (devolution) proposed. Such a solution is advanced only to placate racists. It has no justification in terms of Sri Lankan history. There is no country in the world with as long a history as a unitary state occupying a precisely defined area of land as Sri Lanka. For the most part of the past 2500 years the island of Sri Lanka has operated as a multi-ethnic state with a single locus of political power. Even in periods of disintegration when some local units have emerged, they have always recognised the paramountcy of the main entity. Under colonialism, after 1815, Sri Lanka again reverted to its status as a unitary state. It is this status that is now challenged.
Apart from the two main political parties the minor parties too have been supportive of federal-type devolution. The left-wing parties have for many years been wooing the Tamil voters by supporting their separatist aspirations even though in actual practice the only political support these parties have received in the period since 1948 has been from the Sinhala voters. The religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians have either been supportive of devolution or not been strongly against it, their main intention being to weaken what they see as a dominant Buddhist influence. The revolutionary Sinhala group the JVP too has been supportive of the demands of Tamil separatists. Recently they have announced that they will re-enter the political fray (giving up their terrorist past) by contesting the local government elections as a political party. They have claimed that they will be opposing the economic policy of the Government with no mention of its ethnic policy.
The critique of the devolution proposals has been advanced by ACSLU elsewhere and need not be repeated. There has been surprising little change from the original proposal mooted, and it is still advocated by the same forces. The Minister mainly responsible for the current devolution proposals, Mr G. L. Peries has urged that the proposals be accepted by the Parliament by March 1997. If this does happen this year will be one of most fateful in the annals of Sri Lankan history, and might well lead to the end of Sri Lanka that we have seen for most of past two millennia. Of course the constitutional proposals require acceptance in a referendum, but if there is political agreement by the main parties (which is necessary if the proposals have to pass the first Parliamentary hurdle) then the referendum will not become an obstacle for these proposals becoming law. In Sri Lanka the main political parties have demonstrated an ability to garner votes for whatever stand they take, and therefore it may be possible that the proposals may pass the referendum test, especially as the minority groups, who stand to gain from it, as well as the main political parties support it.
There were some indications last year that UNP may oppose these proposals. If they do so the proposals may not overcome the Parliamentary hurdle. But the UNP may ultimately succumb to the lobbying of the Colombo-based Tamil groups. They have already issued a call for the Government to restart negotiations with the LTTE thus signifying their opposition to the military solution. In this climate it is possible that the UNP and the SLFP may unite to pass the devolution proposals. If this were to happen there would be rare instance of bi-partisanship in Sri Lankan politics. It is significant that this bi-partisanship has not come about in the cause of Sri Lankan unity, or for the ending of terrorism, but precisely for the purpose of rewarding the racist separatists.
It is ironic that the capitulation to the forces of terrorism has come about precisely at a time when the international climate has become the least favourable to the LTTE and to the Tamil separatists. Ever since 1983 the Tamil terrorists have enjoyed great favour with international bodies allegedly concerned with human rights, with the foreign media, and even with foreign governments. This support came to them partly through default on the part of those upholding the unity of Sri Lanka who failed to counter the Tamil propaganda, and partly through the activity of interest religious and other groups who abhorred the prospect of a Buddhist country like Sri Lanka succeeding internationally. It must be remembered that Christian groups have played a strong part in supporting the LTTE both in Sri Lanka and abroad.
The main reason for the reversal of international opinion towards the LTTE is not the diplomatic activity of the Sri Lankan government, but the growing activity of expatriate Sri Lankan bodies which emerged in all Western countries, and the growing realisation that the LTTE was an international terrorist force.
The Sri Lankan expatriate unity groups became increasingly successful in countering the propaganda of the International Tamil Separatist Lobby. They were at all times under-resourced, mainly because of the lethargy of most of the Sri Lankan expatriates in the West. However with the increasing refutation of the superficial lies spread by the separatists such as the Discrimination Myth and the Homeland Myth the bottom was knocked out of the separatist arguments. However some of the media and the support in the unofficial bodies which the Tamil separatists were able to secure in the early phases of the problem still continue to be of service to them.
The change on the part of the main Western governments has been due to a number of circumstances. The first is the recognition that terrorism has become the greatest threat to them in the post-Cold War world. In the United States in particular terrorism has reared it head as seen in the World Trade Centre bombings. Also Middle East terrorists have been increasingly using the method of suicide attacks which have imposed heave casualties on Westerners. Suicide bombing is a new threat. It is of course well known that the LTTE is the master in the use of suicide bombers. Since the West is increasingly perceiving terrorism, and suicide terrorism in particular, as a significant threat it is natural that they should condemn the LTTE.
Another factor inducing Western Governments to condemn the international arm of the LTTE is its association with narcotics smuggling and the smuggling of illegal immigrants to the West in the guise of refugees. Initially the West accepted these "refugees" with open arms. In many countries these so-called refugees were given assistance on a large scale. But when the exodus became a flood there was a reaction against the Tamil refugees. In many Western countries these "refugees" became adept at extorting money and in engaging in a number of criminal activities.
Amongst countries which have shown some reaction against Tamil separatist activity are the United States, Canada and some European countries. In Australia the action has not been so pronounced, but recently the Foreign Minister declared that he would not entertain any delegation from Tamil separatists unless they denounce the terrorismof the LTTE. Unfortunately some Western countries like the U.K. and New Zealand have still not taken any action.
Some politicians in Sri Lanka seem to link the turn in international opinion with their offer of devolution, the downgrading of the military option, and talk of negotiations with terrorists. This is a misreading of the situation. The change in Western opinion has beenlargely prompted by their own interests, especially the harm which Tamil separatist elements are doing to Western interests. Sri Lankan politicians have misread the situation if they think that their own capitulation is the cause of this change and persist in the wrong course of action they have taken in this issue.
It must be realised that the partition of Sri Lanka will be welcomed by many in the Western camp. This given them an opportunity to continue the colonial policy of "divide and rule" by pitting Eelam against the rump of Sri Lanka that will be left. In everything from the disbursement of aid to the allocation of trade quotes, what was previously given to Sri Lanka will after the partition be divided between Sri Lanka and Eelam. In this connection it is significant that the proposed devolution will give enough external powers to the Eelam region to negotiate directly with other countries.
The position of India is worth special mention. It was India that originally armed the LTTE and set it up in business, as part of the Indira Gandhi plan to make Sri Lanka a satellite of India. This plan when horribly wrong because India's plans for the LTTE were not the same as those entertained by the latter. The LTTE plan was first to create an independent Eelam on Sri Lankan soil, and they foster the separation of Tamilnadu from India. If they were to succeed in this then Eelam and Tamil Nadu would be joined to form a kind of Tamil mini superpower in the region. It is therefore inevitable that the axis between India and the LTTE would be broken. This occurred in spectacular fashion when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. This turned the Congress Party against the LTTE.
Recently in India the Congress has lost its sole monopoly of power, and in Tamilnadu the anti-LTTE government of Jayalalitha has fallen. Thus the anti-LTTE forces have weakened in India, and it is possible that India may again support the LTTE. However this has already happened, but the readiness of the Sri Lankan Government to rely heavily on India for the "solution" to this problem may well be misplaced.
As we have seen Minister Pieris hopes to see the Devolution Law enacted this year, and there seems to be encouraging noises from the UNP. It is possible that with this kind of bipartisanship thereferendum hurdle will be overcome. Then the "political solution" along the lines given in the draft Devolution law will be in place. It is time to consider the kind of scenario that will follow such an act of devolution.
Since the defeat of the LTTE is not a precondition for the enactment of the devolution law what we will see is a situation where the LTTE will be in defacto control of a substantial part of the Eelam Region. They will in effect become the effective rulers of the Eelam Region either by directly taking change of the organs of Government or doing so by using some of its proxies.
That the allies of the LTTE exist amongst the Colombo Tamil parties is a matter of certainty. These parties consist of the TULF and a dozen other parties all sporting the name "Eelam" in their official designations. Even though the old leadership of the TULF has been liquidated by the LTTE their current leaders seem to be more amenable to LTTE policy. One of the TULF leader Mr Neelan Thiruchelvam has been associated with the drafting of the current devolution law. Indeed it has been claimed that he is the real author of the law. As we have shown this law is really meant to validate the separatist claim that the Tamil homeland exists in the North and the East. It is possible that a TULF-LTTE alliance will dominate the Regional Council of Eelam.
The other Tamil supporters of devolution are the half-dozen or so parties all sporting the name of Eelam in the designations. These groups have a history of terrorism no less bloody than the LTTE. Indeed their conflict with the LTTE relates to old scores that have to be settled in their fight for supremacy amongst the terrorist groups, which the LTTE won easily. There is no difference whatsoever in their separatist ideology from the LTTE. Yet the Government seems to believe that should these Tamil groups gain power, either in their own right, or as a part of some coalition that they will form some kind of anti-LTTE force.
The inevitable outcome is that the LTTE will dominate the Eelam Regional Council. But the LTTE has never accepted the Federal solution but have always insisted on their demand for separation. Thus the enactment and implementation of the Devolution will not eliminate the separatist demand. The LTTE will continue to wage this war, this time with the open political support of the legal political authority in the Eelam region, viz. its Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
If the Chief Minister of the Eelam region is an open or covert LTTE supporter the life span of the Devolution scheme will indeed be short. The Chief Minister and his Council will be able to engineer a Constitutional impasse which cannot be resolve by any other means than force. Thus the inevitable consequence of the Devolution scheme is that it will lead to the formal rupture of the Eelam region from the rest of Sri Lanka. Of course the scheme gives power to the Centre to intervene in this situation, but the Central Government will actually only be apaper tiger. When the Government has still not brought large parts ofthe Eelam region under the rule of its rule, even when Sri Lanka is still a unitary state, how could a "Central Government" do so when Sri Lanka has become a Federation, and the Eelam region is directly ruled by a part sympathetic to the separatist terrorists?
When we consider the scenario that is likely to evolve in the non-Eelam part of Sri Lanka there are grave forebodings. In the first place there has never been a great demand for Federalism in the other parts of Sri Lanka, except from corrupt politicians who see in it an easy opportunity to gain some of the spoils of power. But there are two groups with a vital interest in this matter. These are the Indian Tamils in the plantation sector, and the various concentrations of Muslims in the different parts of Sri Lanka. The effect of Devolution on both these groups should be considered.
As far as the plantation Tamils are concerned, their long-standing political leader Mr Thondaman, who has served in all Sri Lankan governments since the start of the insurgency, has been a not-so-secret of the terrorists (or "the boys" as he endearingly calls them). He has been privy to all Government discussion on the handling of the insurgency, and how much of this internal knowledge has filtered to the LTTE is anybody's guess. But the important thing is that there are even more separatist elements amongst the plantation Tamils. They will endeavour to break the plantation sector from the rest of Sri Lanka. Already in many areas of the up-country non-Tamils cannot live own property and businesses. This can easily be extended to cover remaining areas thus in effect making up-country another Tamil region. Then it will be only a matter of time before the Eelam region and the Estate region will join together effectively giving the Eelam region about half of the territory of Sri Lanka and more the half of its economic potential. With the Eelam region firmlyestablished it would be easy to start an armed insurgency in the centre of the country. Foreign arms could be easily unloaded in Trincomallee and the other ports in the Eelam region and smuggled to fuel the struggle of the plantation Tamils.
The story of disintegration will not stop there. The Muslims have already articulated the demand for a region of their own. Where this will be established is anybody's guess, but there are at least three different regions in contention. We will then see an Islamic State in Sri Lanka to complement the Eelam State. What this means in this era of resurgent fundamentalist Islam should be clear to all. Already oil money from the Middle East is fuelling the growth of Islam in Sri Lanka. This will grow by leaps and bounds is an Islamic state were to occupy a part of Sri Lanka.
Thus the scenarios that follow the establishment of "federalism" in Sri Lanka will see the country partitioned into a Tamil Eelam State, and Islamic State and the rump as a polyglot State, nominally Sinhala but actually a puppet of one or the other of the other two. There will be perennial conflict between the three components, and while both Eelam and the Islamic state will have natural allies abroad there will be none for the rump "Sinhala state". Such are the long-term consequences of seemingly innocuous political solution to the so-called ethnic problem of Sri Lanka.
One thing is clear. The partition of Sri Lanka, either by a military defeat at the hands of the Tamil terrorists, or through a military surrender through sheer ennui, or through a political capitulation to racist separatism cannot come without the active support of a section of the Sinhala people. It is absurd to assume that a group like the Sinhalas who form over two-thirds of the population of the country, with a proud multi-ethnic history extending over two millennia, must necessarily succumb to racially motivated separatists who have the support of only a small part of the minority group they claim to speak for. This can only happen if the separatists are supported by a section of the Sinhala people themselves. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka this is what seems to be happening.
In recent years the Classic Sinhalas who have been responsible for most of Sri Lankan civilisation, and its record as a humane and tolerant society, have been confronted by a renegade group of Sinhalas. For lack of a better term to designate this group ACSLU has used the term "neo-Sinhalas". In many respects the neo-Sinhalas are the very opposite of the Classic Sinhalas whose deeds are chronicled in Sri Lanka's historical records. It is these neo-Sinhalas who are active supporters of devolution as a political solution to the so-called "ethnic problem".
The importance of the neo-Sinhalas is difficult to assess. Certainly they form a minority of Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. This is because a bulk of the Sinhala people, especially the poorer village folk, have been true to Classic Sinhala ideals. However if we consider the elite groups who have always ruled Sri Lanka the neo-Sinhalas are important, perhaps preponderant. The neo-Sinhalas have formed a substantial part of the migration to Western countries in recent years. In their new Western domiciles they have lent their support to the process of national disintegration that is now taking place in their erstwhile homeland which they had left. There are many differences between the Classic Sinhalas and the neo-Sinhalas in terms of social and cultural values. But the one that is most relevant to the problem we are considering is their solution to the ethnic question. Whereas the Classic Sinhalas have held that all racial groups should live in a united and unitary state which complete freedom of movement and right to engage in economic activity within any part of it, the neo-Sinhalas are urged that each racial group should be given its own "racial space". The devolution proposal is precisely an attempt to provide racial space for the Tamils, but it also has within it the implication that ethnic space must be provided for Muslims, Indian Tamils, and whatever group that is strong enough to articulate a demand for separatism.
There are signs that the neo-Sinhalas are becoming organised and dominant both in Sri Lanka and in the expatriate communities outside. In Sri Lanka we have seen movements like the White Lotus movement aimed at drumming support for the neo-Sinhalas. Much of the Government of Sri Lanka, including its President, seems to be motivated by neo-Sinhala ideology. Many of these neo-Sinhalas were actuallyeducated abroad, and while there they had formed close links with the International Tamil Separatist Movement. Tamil intellectuals are welcomed into their ranks, and most of the political program of the neo-Sinhalas are directly or indirectly dictated by these racist separatists. Even in the draft of the devolution proposals it is well known that most of the ideas have come from certain Tamil intellectuals resident in Colombo.
The neo-Sinhalas have control over substantial sections of the media. In Sri Lanka there is considerable articulation of their viewpoint in the Press. The government press of course has been putting out neo-Sinhala propaganda mainly because it has been the custom for this section of the Press to support Government policy. In expatriate communities neo-Sinhala views are rampant, especially in the ethnic media. The "take- over" of the ethnic radio in Brisbane by neo-Sinhalas has become something of a landmark event. With the resurgence of the neo-Sinhalas the ideals of the Classic Sinhalas are doomed. Unfortunately this will entail the demise of Sri Lanka as a united multi- cultural nation.
We may conclude by restating what the real policy option for Sri Lankais. ACSLU has stated this often enough even it does not seem to have attracted any segment of opinion in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka must be constituted as a unitary state. Far from devolving power to peripheral unit there should be a greater centralisation of power. In international terms Sri Lanka is a tiny country and political fragmentation will further reduce its economic and political potential. Even the large European countries are now proceeding towards greater integration. China this year will integrate Hong Kong and has not relented in its move to incorporate Taiwan, while not relinquishing its ever tightening grip on Tibetan (even though Tibet has been a separate cultural and political entity with a very long history). As against these moves at centralisation, the examples of decentralisation like the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union have brought these countries unmitigated disaster. Despite theselessons Sri Lanka seems to have a suicidal urge to follow the Bosnian example.
Centralisation in Sri Lanka must require the abolition of the Provinces as administrative units. These provinces were constituted bythe British for no rhyme or reason, and none of the entities have any historical, geographical, economic or other justification. They must be totally abolished. Some form of local government could be implemented to deal with local matters, but the unit of local responsibility should not exceed the size of the existing Districts.
All inhabitants of Sri Lanka should have equal rights and responsibilities regardless of ethnicity, language, religion and other characteristics. They should be free to move freely about the country, be subject to the same laws, and be able to live, work and own property in any part of the nation. This will make Sri Lanka single common market in economic terms, even though by international terms itwill still be too small.
A code of Basic Civil Rights should be enshrined in the Constitution, and an independent judiciary should be established to oversee the enforcement of these Rights. As the charge of "discrimination" is the most common of the charges made under the old system (even though these charges have never been validated) there should be established an Anti-discrimination Law under which aggrieved person could obtain redress. Australia, and several other countries, have such anti-discrimination laws, so there is plenty of examples to learn from.
The country should adopt a policy of multi-culturalism within a unified nation. This means that cultural differences could be fostered where they have beneficial effects, but such differentiation should not entail territorial separation. The cultural diversity of Sri Lanka should be regarded as an asset, not as a liability which is the way that the devolutionists see it.
The most divisive issue of the past, viz the language problem, seems to have now been solved with the virtual adoption of parity of status between Sinhala, Tamil and English. The continuation of such a policy will not pose a problem in multi-racial Sri Lanka will not pose a problem. But if the country is fractured into different racial enclaves the language problem will persist. Thus the Eelam Region will certainly adopt Tamil Only as their language policy, perhaps forcing other Regions to retaliate. This will reignite the language problem which has wrought so much havoc in Sri Lanka in the past.
The country's democratic institutions have to be fostered. The greatest danger to democracy has been the rampant corruption in the past. This has been the main motivation for the proliferation of politicians, especially under the Provincial Councils system. With the Provincial Councils dissolved as a consequence of the abolition of the Provinces there will be a reduction in the number of corrupt politicians in the country. Of course even in the Central Government there will be an unacceptable degree of corruption unless active measures are taken against it, with still penalties to those who resort to corrupt means.
It is true that this kind of policy will not be accepted in the foreseeable future, especially as there does not appear to be anypolitical grouping advocating it. We can only hope that in 1997 this kind of political thinking will emerge. But if as seems likely the neo-Sinhala ideology prevails, and racially based territorial separation takes place, then only Sri Lanka's epitaph has to be written.