Devananda sings Mahinda’s peacemaking virtues
By Austin Fernando
EPDP Leader and Northern Development and Hindu Cultural Affairs Minister Douglas
Devananda declared in the Asian Tribune of October 24, 2005 that the ethnic issue
has to be approached in a pragmatic way, relying essentially on negotiations and
avoiding military confrontations. The country, as a whole, agrees with Devananda.
He urged the Tamils to vote for Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse without being
“misled by empty and destructive emotions that would push future generations to
dreaded military campaigns and bloodletting.” No one disagrees.
Who unleashes these empty and destructive emotions? Is it not the JVP and the JHU-
Rajapakse’s and Devananda’s collaborators? Therefore, Devananda may have to
look in a mirror to clearly observe who is pushing the country to destruction.
Devananda talks of a 37-point programme for peace making, which I would like to
discuss, taking the more important ones. In the process, I would demonstrate the
contradictions, as a peace lover, and for the benefit of the Tamil people to present
another option for peacemaking. Simultaneously, I try to provide a mirror to
Devananda to see himself properly.
According to Devananda, most Tamils oppose violence designed to divide the country
and pray for a reasonable and just solution to the national crisis. We too pray for
similar recourse. He wishes a stable political solution through negotiations. The same
goes with us, but Devananda’s election partners are not unanimous on a political
solution, as observed from the utterances of the JVP, the JHU and the Sinhale
Bhoomiputra Party etc.
It is true, as Devananda says, that the international community has been intervening,
increasing pressure for negotiations and the people respond favourably to the peace
process. How did the JVP/JHU approach these interventions, except by
demonstrations and tongue-lashing?
He bashes opponents of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987 and the draft proposals of
President Kumaratunga (1995), as "war-mongers". Who were they? In 1987 it was
Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike's SLFP including the present PM, the JVP etc. Yet
Devananda has the audacity and moral courage to ask Tamils to support Rajapakse.
No one disagrees with Devananda that the LTTE did not want its power to be eroded.
In such erosion, violation of human and fundamental rights of people by anyone or
organization is vehemently deplored. The problem is that only poor civilians are the
non-violators. There are enough determined cases of serious allegations of violations
against politicians and bureaucrats. Rightly or wrongly, fingers have been allegedly
pointed out at Devananda, himself. Could Devananda or any other politico (including
those from the LTTE) say, “My party people or I have not violated the rights of
The UNP, CWC, SLMC etc are for devolution of power, and the PM too was, until
winning the Presidential candidature. The JVP and the JHU abhor devolution. In
Rajapakse’s Alliance, the EPDP, CP, LSSP and Vasudeva Nanayakkara are for
devolution. Who calls the shots in the PM's Mahinda Chintanaya (MC) Alliance? It is
the JVP and the JHU, and not these devolutionists. Therefore, how can Devananda
demand "devolution of powers for the North and the East…." under Rajapakse and his
Contrarily, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe states that he will devolve power,
more than that stipulated in the 13th Amendment.
"The EPDP believes that it would be possible only when the present constitution of the
country is replaced with a constitution based on the principles of federalism…."
exhorts Devananda. Excellent. But is that possible with the JVP and the JHU?
He suggests as the first stage, the implementing of the 13th Amendment, reviving and
strengthening the Local Authorities in the North and East and handing over the
administration of their areas to the elected representatives. Wickremesinghe has
proposed a similar arrangement with the Grama Rajya and Nagar Rajya concept, in
addition to enhanced financial allocations; e.g. Disbursing Rs. 1 million per village for
In the second stage, he suggests reinforcing the 13th Amendment by conferring
additional powers to the North and East Provincial Council. Wickremesinghe has
publicly reiterated the same and has been ridiculed by the JVP on State media for the
same. Devananda envisages gradual devolution of power to allay Southern fears and
to build confidence between the Tamil-speaking people and the Sinhalese. This is
what Wickremesinghe did when he was Premier, but unfortunately it has been
overlooked by Devananda.
Devananda’s third stage suggests the achieving of a federal administration with the
consent of the political parties and ethnic groups to solve the national issue. His plan
is to establish an autonomous administration in the regions to fulfill his cherished
dreams of a federal government. His cherished dream will fall apart with a political
combine of the JVP/JHU and Rajapakse who stands for a unitary state, non-federal
constitution and decentralization. He can compare Wickremesinghe’s commitment to
future peace negotiations, to stop killings and action on human rights, respecting the
rule of law, pluralism, liberalism etc., but Devananda does not try.
Therefore, how could Devananda justify his assertion of restoring "the respect and
the dignity of the Tamil-speaking …through correct leadership of Rajapakse?"
Rajapakse wishes to take the initial steps in this regard in the first year of office. He
will take more than a year to convince the JVP and the JHU to reorient their rusted
thinking towards, devolution, power sharing, federalism or a "united state".
Some of us believed, until Rajapakse signed the JVP/JHU agreements, that he was, as
Devananda states, a leader who has had the opportunity to work with the
underprivileged without any racial and religious differentiation with the capacity to
introduce a practical approach and a clear vision of the problems faced by the Tamil-
speaking people, steadfastly believing in a solution of the problem through
negotiations and not by war. But the Agreements betrayed such a belief. Devananda
contends that those opposing Rajapakse’s agreements have no alternative solutions.
Wickremesinghe’s Agenda offers more proactive solutions for the crisis.
I bet that Devananda cannot find a single sane Tamil who would consciously agree
with those Agreements and if saner counsel prevailed, unless for a mysterious
reason, even Devananda would not have accepted them as right.
Devananda has urged Rajapakse to implement 10 issues. Appealing to Rajapakse is
one thing and implementing these appeals is another. Rajapakse will not accede as
the JVP and the JHU disagree.
Let us look at what Devananda has urged for. What follows within brackets are my
The new constitution has to consider the spirit and concepts in the Indian Constitution
and incorporate federal principles. (The 13th Amendment had them to an extent and
the JVP protested. To achieve peace the new Constitution should have more of
Federalism and does Devananda expect the Rajapakse/JVP/JHU combine to support
"Our (Tamil) North East traditional homeland has to be given special devolutionary
powers," urged Devananda. (Firstly, does Rajapakse/JVP/JHU/UNP accept the
homeland concept? No. If what he meant by "special devolutionary powers" is
"asymmetrical devolution", I believe Wickremesinghe would agree.)
The third is on concerted measures to be taken to implement the constitutional
provisions on Language. (It is acceptable to both Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe.)
Devananda recognizes a separate Muslim administrative unit and rearranging the
regional boundaries of Ampara District to fulfill Muslim aspirations. (This is what the
President did in the 2000 Draft Constitution. If my memory serves me right, the Late
Minister Ashroff, the UNP and some Tamil Parties had agreed on this at the
Parliamentary Select Committee.)
To establish in every province a separate police force and a public service. (It could
be done under the 13th Amendment).
The central government of Sri Lanka has to be the unifying symbol of all communities.
(Yes, but a central government could exist under federalism!)
The armed forces should proportionately reflect the existing ethnic composition of the
nation. (It is a constructive proposition and should be negotiated).
The percentage of judges in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and all other judicial
courts should be consistent with existing ethnic ratios. (I believe that the best judges
should be in the courts to deliver justice, irrespective of their ethnicity).
Parliament should reflect the ethnic percentage of the nation. (This automatically
happens with delimitation).
There has to be a second chamber in the country's Parliament to represent the
Provinces. (This may be considered at the negotiation table).
Items 1-4 above can be considered relevant at this Presidential election and
unfortunately Devananda is with the wrong group that would not back his cherished
dreams. Most of these are anathema to the JVP/JHU. Devananda is happy with many
Sinhala political leaders accepting federalism but does not criticize the JVP/JHU
control over Rajapakse’s campaign. He has high hopes of the JVP and the JHU
groups accepting federalism!
Devananda says that establishing "a federal administration in our (North/East) soil is
our unrelenting resolve" that has been made known to the Prime Minister clearly.
The nation would like to know the PM's response to this after he came into an alliance
with the JVP and the JHU. Why is Devananda not revealing the PM’s reply and only
speaking of his own wishes? If Devananda is unwilling to provide the answer, let the
PM come forward and inform the country. It is obligatory for Devananda to tell the
Tamils what the PM's response was as some Tamils are guided by Devananda. Prime
Minister Rajapakse, Ven. Rathana Thera and MP Wimal Weerawansa could explain to
the South as to what is meant by Devananda’s "federal administration in our soil" and
whether they agree with such a contention.
It is true that the way to overcome issues depends on firm resolutions and
determination to implement them. Similarly, it is true that at this critical juncture when
people are faced with a Presidential election, it is vital that the people should
comprehend their problems and support those who are ready to resolve them.
It is also true that the North East politicians as well as the Southern politicians, due to
political expediency, missed many opportunities. The Presidential poll is an
opportunity to fulfill the people’s hopes. Devananda says national issues have to be
approached in a pragmatic way, relying essentially on negotiations and avoiding
military confrontations. Does Devananda believe that this is possible with Rajapakse
whose principal supporters are the JVP and the JHU?
The truism of all this is understandable. Firstly, without the Southern support, the
national problem cannot be resolved.
It is equally true that without the minority vote a President cannot be elected. This is
why Devananda stealthily but deliberately tilts the scale like a black market mudalali
and tries to highlight the peacemaking virtues of Rajapakse. This is to offset the
JVP/JHU Agreements that have blotted Tamil aspirations.
Our Tamil brethren should weigh the pros and cons of Devananda’s appeal to them
before making the correct decision. And if Devananda believes that he could
underestimate their intelligence, he is sadly mistaken.
(The writer was one-time Secretary to the Ministry of Defence)
[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]