sleepy 4Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sleepy (Part 1)

Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sleepy (Part 2)

Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sleepy (Part 3)

Meanwhile GL was also making a mess of the other task that had been entrusted to him, namely negotiations with the Tamil National Alliance, which had done well in local elections for the North, and could credibly claim to represent the Tamils. The main components of the Alliance had seemed to support the Tigers during the war, but this was obviously because they were fearful of what would happen to them otherwise, given that the Tigers were ruthless in eliminating any Tamils opposed to them.

However, while careful not to engage in overt condemnation of the Tigers, its principal leadership made it clear after the war that they were not unhappy the Tigers had been destroyed. In this context they were able to hold discussions with the various groups that had opposed the Tigers, and almost all of these now joined the TNA.

The Tamils of Indian extraction whom the British had brought over during the colonial period were an exception. Though the Ceylon Workers Congress, the main party that represented them had been part of the Tamil United Liberation Front, that had contested the 1977 election as a united group, it had soon afterwards joined the Jayewardene government. Its exceptionally able leader, SauviamoorthyThondaman, had won for his people much that they wanted and needed and, after the UNP lost, he had joined the SLFP led government led by Chandrika Kumaratunga. After his death his grandson took over the leadership of the party, and remained with government, though with nothing like the effectiveness of the older Thondaman.

The principal exception with regard to the TNA of Tamils from the north of the country was Douglas Devananda. Sadly he and the other Tamil groups that had been opposed to the Tigers had not got on, and government failed to build up a solid alliance either before or immediately after the war. Perhaps enmities lay too deep, but given Douglas’ dependence on the government, and the brave stand taken against the Tigers by the others, some serious effort would surely have produced dividends.

Unfortunately, caught up also in its own electoral agenda, government did not expedite negotiations with the TNA immediately after the war, while conversely the TNA explored other options, including support in the 2010 Presidential election for Sarath Fonseka. This was not conductive to trust between them and the government. Given the general approach of Fonseka to Tamils during the war, the message this move sent out was that the TNA was implacably opposed to the President.

Despite this, agreement to negotiate was reached by the beginning of 2011. The government team consisted of the Leader of the House, Nimal Siripala de Silva, former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayake and GL. Added to these was Sajin Vas Gunawardena, ostensibly to maintain records, a task he singularly failed to accomplish. Instead he was seen as an influential member of the team, given his close relationship with the President. Certainly the others were nervous of him, and GL clearly assumed that he knew the President’s mind.

Nimal Siripala de Silva, though in theory the head of the delegation, was extremely diffident, perhaps understandably so since there were many to denigrate him in the President’s eyes. As the most senior member of the SLFP, apart from the current and former Prime Ministers, it could be alleged that he was hoping to take over in time and, as occurred with Kshenuka Seneviratne in 2012, there were reports that his loyalty was not assured.

Wikramanayaka was a loose cannon, given that he had been disappointed not to be reappointed Prime Minister in April 2010 after the election. To compound matters, in a strange Cabinet reshuffle in November of that year, he was made a Senior Minister along with several others in a move taken to indicate that their shelf life was over. Unfortunately, with one exception, none of the Senior Ministers made any effort to develop a role for themselves, which should have been possible given that they were in theory supposed to coordinate the work of Ministries which dealt with the subjects assigned to them, such as Human Resources Development or, in Wikramanayaka’s case, Public Administration.

It was left to GL then to make the running, given both that he had the confidence of the President and his supposed expertise in constitutional development. The fact that the previous negotiations he had headed had proved abortive was ignored, and this time, perhaps in the belief that the talks were not supposed to succeed, he did not even try. Three rounds of talks were held before the Darusman Report came out, with the TNA making suggestions to which government did not respond.

After Darusman, Wikramanayaka resigned. At this time I spoke to the President to tell him that nothing was being done to overcome the problems we were facing. On the one hand, the LLRC Interim Recommendations were being ignored, while on the other, there was no progress whatsoever in negotiations with the TNA. Given that this rather than accountability issues were what concerned countries that had been sympathetic to us, in particular India and Japan, it was tragic that we were making no effort to make it clear that our victory over terrorists was a precursor to political empowerment of the Tamil people.

Given what seemed abject failure on the part of others, I suggested to the President that he put me on the negotiating team, and also on the Committee meant to implement the LLRC Interim Recommendations. Indicative of the worries he felt after Darusman, he immediately called his Secretary, Lalith Weeratunge, and told him to issue the two appointment letters immediately.

The first was indeed received immediately, though when I asked for records, it turned out there were none, apart from the anodyne communiqués that had been issued after each meeting. All I was given of substance were the suggestions made by the TNA in March. It turned out that the team had not even thought of responding to these.

To me the suggestions, with a couple of significant exceptions, seemed eminently sensible. In private discussion with the most positive of the TNA representatives, the National List MP M A Sumanthiran, I was told that the worrying exceptions were only negotiating points. This was not something one could take exception to, though I noted that at least one of them, the demand that the North and East be remerged, waSeconds not only unacceptable, but would rouse suspicions that the TNA still hankered after a Tamil homeland, rather than empowerment of regional and local institutions.

I was also surprised that we had not made any proposals of our own. I suggested to GL, those still being days when I took him seriously, that we propose a Second Chamber based on Provinces. Whatever powers of devolution were decided on, it was necessary for the Centre to exercise some powers, and therefore strengthening the influence of the periphery at the Centre was also important.

GL told me that we should not introduce anything new at this stage but to my surprise, when I attended the first meeting of the group, I found that he had brought with him elaborate proposals for a Senate, based either on Provinces or on Districts. This last seemed fatuous, since from the point of view of the TNA, the unit of regional power could not be smaller than the Province – Jayewardene had set up District Councils in 1981, which proved powerless, so that in 1987, under the Indo-Lankan Accord, he had to move to Provincial Councils.

I realized then that GL, having rejected my suggestion, had probably consulted the President, with whom I had long previously discussed a Second Chamber, and found him entirely positive. Some months earlier, I had lunched with the Japanese Ambassador who had asked why there was no progress, and mentioned that a Second Chamber would be a simple initiative to proceed with. Since this had been in the President’s manifesto, there was nothing to prevent immediate action.

I had mentioned the need for such a development to the President, who had told his Secretary that they should indeed go ahead with the proposal, but nothing further happened. I began to realize then that, though the President had excellent political instincts, he was not very good at ensuring follow up, and no one else really cared enough to think or act except under pressure. Such diffidence was compounded by the belief that had developed over the years that our problems required a comprehensive solution, and any partial initiatives would only create further problems and demands for even greater concessions.

Though the most extreme of the TNA delegates suggested that the idea of a Second Chamber was a red herring, its leader accepted that this would be a good idea, though he noted that discussions on devolution itself should also go ahead. But unfortunately there was no follow up to the suggestions at the next meeting.

Instead GL introduced yet another idea I had suggested. This was to strengthen local government, which seemed to me the best way of empowering people instead of subjecting them to decisions made far away. I had mentioned this to Sajin, who said nothing more could be introduced, but at the next meeting I found GL coming out with proposals for a third tier of government based on the Indian model of Panchayats.

Once again I suppose the President had been consulted. He had been enthusiastic when I discussed the matter with him, so there was no doubt that he would have responded positively to such a suggestion. And again the TNA was positive too, though again its extreme wing noted that this was no substitute for devolution. The leader however made it clear that there could be no objection to following the Indian model in this particular too, as had been done when Provincial Councils were introduced.

But there was no follow up to this too. Nor was there follow up on another matter on which we had reached substantial agreement, namely the reduction of the Concurrent List, of subjects that were the preserve of neither the Centre nor the Province. When this happened,  Nimal Siripala suggested that we go to the President and note the acquiescence of the TNA, and get his agreement to flesh out the agreement. I did not think I needed to go, but Nimal Siripala insisted, so we went along together with GL for an immediate meeting with the President.

After first sounding wary, when it was left to me to state the case the President agreed to most of what had been decided, and that we could  go ahead with detailed formulations. But, when we came outside and Nimal and I told GL he should go proceed, he was diffident. We pushed him but his only answer was that, if there were trouble, it was his head that would be on the block.

I could not understand such pusillanimity, but later I realized that GL felt there were strong forces opposed to devolution, and he did not want to cross their path. In particular I think he was terrified of the Secretary of Defence, who was thought to be a hardliner in this particular. I myself felt that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, though he had extreme views, was always prepared to listen, and would accept what was essential to promote consensus, provided security concerns were kept in mind. But unfortunately GL was not prepared to raise issues with him.

The talks then ground to a halt, with meetings not being arranged regularly. I was not informed of a couple of meetings, and I realized then that both Sajin and GL thought I was a nuisance. After several months in which meetings were not held, and it became clear that progress was impossible, I resigned from the committee. That was however in effect only a token gesture, since the committee never met subsequently.

Ceylon Today 15 October 2014