Federalism is the antithesis of separatism Wiggy

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By 2017-10-15

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

Descended from the family that produced Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, C.V. Wigneswaran is a celebrated Sri Lankan. Lawyer, Supreme Court Judge and now Chief Minister of the Northern Province, he is a man unafraid to voice his convictions. Recovering recently from minor surgery, Wigneswaran emailed answers to a series of questions around the debate over the proposed new Constitution.

Here is the second part of that email:

You have objected to the term 'Ekiya Rata' in the new Constitution. Why?

A: I have pointed out that this is another way of continuing the unitary status of the country. If the word used was 'Eksath' I could understand that there is a change of heart among the Sinhala leaders. But they preferred 'Ekiya Rata' to 'Eksath Rata'. The Supreme Court will interpret 'Ekiya Rata' as a unitary State. This country was never a unitary nation. Several groups of people living separately were brought together by the British and the unitary status was imposed subsequently by the majority community. Nevertheless, Sir James Pieris and E.A. Samarawickrema, the Sinhala leaders around 1919 or thereabout, accepted the fact that Tamils were the dominant community from time immemorial in the North and East. Thus when we are enacting a Constitution acceptable to all communities we must accept the fact that the British 'united' the disparate units in this country. That is why we want theword 'Eksath' (united) used.

Minister S.B. Dissanayake criticized you in Jaffna as being the voice of the Tigers. He said by yourself you were different. But now you are acting for the Diaspora. What are your comments?

A: That I am acting for others is correct. I act on behalf of my people of the Northern Province. I am like a lawyer presenting the case of our people to our Sinhalese brethren as well as the world at large. A lawyer must believe in his clients' case. I do believe in the cause of our Tamils. As an erstwhile man of religion I loved the entirety of humanity. I still do. That is why those who conspire against me and think of harming me are quite at ease in my presence. I brook no hatred towards anyone. But that does not prevent me from criticizing those who need to be criticized and supporting those who need to be supported. I am critical of wrong action rather than the actors. What the minister is trying to say is that I supported 'separatism' advocated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

What he forgets is that I was elected by over 133,000 people not to pursue separation but on the platform of self-determination, North East merger and federalism all of which are in our election manifesto – 2013. Minister Dissanayake is a graduate. He was the Minister of Higher Education. Does he not know the difference between separatism and federalism? In fact, federalism is the antithesis of separatism. Federalism brings together disparate units into a composite whole. When he says I am a voice for the Tigers, he must identify the LTTE unit which he is referring to. The government took pride in saying LTTE was finished, destroyed and decimated. Whom is he now talking about? Surely for me to advocate what we had inserted into our election manifesto in 2013, I do not need outside support. Knowing what it means, I contested the election. I am only advocating what we mentioned in our election manifesto for which I got elected. That is my duty.

Is he now saying that the remaining members of the LTTE (if there be any) have all accepted federalism and are advising me regarding federalism? In that case they should become my mouthpieces and voice and not vice versa. I expected much better comments and statements from the minister, not statements that illiterate men on the street make.

You have said the Interim Report released by the government on the intended constitutional amendment has disappointed Tamils. You have also said the Interim Report has been prepared without understanding the root cause. What is that?

A: The root cause of the problem is that the Sinhala leaders from around 1919-1921 have usurped political leadership unto themselves. Having promised to the British, studiously that all so-called minorities would be looked after very well by them, as soon as power came into their hands they started depriving the rights of the minorities gradually. I said so-called minorities because the Tamils have been the majority in the North and East from time immemorial.

First, they disenfranchised the Indian Tamils in 1949. Then contrary to the provisions of section 29 of the first Constitution they passed the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 depriving the rights of the Tamils of the North and East of their language. Then around 1971 standardization was brought in to deprive competent Tamil children from entering universities. While this was going on surreptitious colonization of Tamil speaking areas with Sinhala speaking colonists was taking place contrary to Natural Law.

Natural Law expects people from the area where colonization takes place to get the first preference. Thereafter persons from the same district, then same province and so on. But straightaway Sinhala colonists were brought into the North and East with the idea of changing the demography of the North and East.

All this was possible because the Sinhalese were able to retain the majority in Parliament through the Territorial Representation they opted in 1919-1921. The then Sinhalese leaders got Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam to prevail upon Sabapathy who led the Jaffna Association to give up Communal Representation for Territorial Representation. Having taken control and passed dubious discriminatory laws they started bargaining with the affected people. Even their bargaining came to naught. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact, the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact and many other agreements reached after bargaining and agreeing were thrown to the winds in no time.

Hence, the Interim Report should have found ways and means of putting the wrongs set right. What was expected of Sinhala leaders in 1919-1921 and 1948 by the British were fairness, justice and dignity towards the so-called minorities. They did not show fairness, justice or dignity towards the minority. They showed only preference for Sinhala Buddhists. As far as the North and East are concerned we felt a Federal Constitution giving rights of self-determination to those people would put right the wrongs done by the Sinhalese leaders so far to the Tamil speaking people. The Interim Report does not even discuss why federalism cannot be granted. How could it be acceptable to the Tamils?




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