Federalism would not lead to the collapse of existing states, but rather pave the way for the establishment of a state in which several identities can coexist in harmony.

Published: October 28, 2021 00:30 |

Last updated: October 28, 2021 12:08 AM

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In a previous article I pointed to a significant loophole in the report prepared by Sri Lankan Envoy to India Milinda Moragoda on improving bilateral relations (September 20). No mention was made of how Sri Lanka intends to solve the problem of nation building. It implied that it was purely an internal problem and that India played absolutely no role.

Moragoda’s sphinx-like silence about nation-building has been criticized by keen observers in Sri Lanka around the world, including India’s Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who Visited Colombo this month. Ambassador Moragoda had to revise his views and told the media that India and Sri Lanka “can learn a lot from each other”. Is it a real change of heart? Or will Colombo once again fall back on the assurances that have been solemnly given several times, not only to implement the 13th Amendment, but to go beyond it.

An essential contribution made by India must be emphasized. In the Mannar Convention of July 1983, the Tamil United Liberation Front decided not to enter into negotiations with Colombo and the only solution to the ethnic problem was to spin off a separate state. After the genocidal attack on the Tamils ​​in July 1983, the TULF, thanks to Indian diplomacy, took part in the all-party conference to discuss Appendix C, which only provided for strengthening the district development councils. The question of the merging of North and East was kept silent.

The chauvinists, among both the Sinhalese and the Tamils ​​(two sides of the same coin), claim that the two communities were at war with each other for several centuries. They ignore the reality that despite the diversity in language and religion, people have developed a composite culture. The Tamils ​​and Sinhalese need to be reminded that the flourishing of the Theravada form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka was due to benevolent interaction with Buddhist learning centers in southern India. There were devout Buddhists among the Sri Lankan Tamils. The tendentious arguments remind me of Voltaire’s famous statement: “Whoever believes in absurdities will commit atrocities”. In my view, the ethnic conflict is an offshoot of the nation-building experiment when the majority of Sinhalese decided to build the nation on the basis of the Sinhalese language and the Buddhist religion to the exclusion of all minority claims.

Sri Lankans, including ambassadors Moragoda, can draw the right lessons from looking at and comparing the nation-building experiments in Sri Lanka and India. In Ceylon, the first Prime Minister, DS Senanayake, had the tacit support of many educated Sri Lankan Tamils. In fact, sections of the Sri Lankan Tamils ​​supported the government when it rendered the Indian Tamils ​​voiceless and stateless. The separation of the ways began in 1956 with the passage of the Singhala Only Act. With the introduction of a standardization for university admission and the granting of a special status to the Buddhist religion, the dissatisfaction increased further. Even then, the opposition consisted mainly of non-violent struggles and the demand for a federal state. When brute force was used to suppress nonviolent agitation, militancy began to creep in. For the Tamil youth, majority democracy represented the dictatorial rule of the Sinhala majority. They began to articulate that their salvation was to build their own state by force. An overview of Tamil politics after independence shows that the struggle went through different stages – cooperative, consensual, cooperative, competitive, conflictual and stormy. Even more tragic, after the war ended, the government withdrew its assurances and was determined to create a majority state.

India offers an interesting contrast. Along with the growth of the Indian National Congress, the Madras presidency saw the rise of the Dravidian movement founded by EV Ramasamy Naicker. EVR fought against the rule of the Brahmins and advocated self-respect; later he also called for a separate state from Dravida Nadu. When India gained independence on August 15, 1947, EVR labeled it North Indian supremacy and urged its supporters to hoist black flags as a sign of protest. M Karunanidhi was one of his ardent followers at the time. Little by little, heads of state and government like CN Annadurai believed that the Indian constitution, despite its restrictions, gave regional parties scope to come to power through the ballot box. In other words, if you are elected to power in Tamil Nadu, you can develop and promote Tamil culture while also being a loyal Indian citizen. Thus, several identities can coexist; You can be Tamil and Indian at the same time. In 1962, the DMK renounced the slogan of a state of its own. Another major change took place with the formation of coalition governments in New Delhi. The regional parties could influence national politics, while at the same time national needs led to the domestication of the regional parties. In other words, those who burned the Constitution and the national flag not so long ago have no qualms about displaying the tricolor and swearing by the Constitution on Independence Day. The end result was when the fourth Eelam War degenerated into a brutal attack on the Sri Lankan Tamils. Karunanidhi, who was prime minister at the time, did not put any pressure on the central government to intervene. To change the look, he resorted to political gimmicks like hunger strikes, which started after breakfast and ended before lunch, in order to preserve his image as a champion of the foreign Tamils.

The message is clear for those who get the right ones Want to learn lessons from the Indian experiment. Federalism would not lead to the disintegration of existing states; it would pave the way for the establishment of a state in which multiple identities can coexist in harmony.

(The author is a retired senior professor), Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras and can be reached at suryageeth @ gmail .com.)

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