The JVP is on the warpath over the government`s move to evolve a solution based on the so-called Indian model and set up an Interim Council for the Northern Province. Vowing to mobilise the people against the government`s devolution plans and not to look back until they are shot down, it has questioned the legitimacy of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), which lacks the representation of the UNP and the JVP. One couldn`t agree with the JVP more. The APRC is a gag wrapped in a charade inside a sham. However, the JVP has said it is amenable to the 13th Amendment so long as it is not implemented on the lines suggested by the APRC.
The UNP has already dismissed the APRC proposals as a farce. But, it is not the proposals that the JVP considers farcical. Instead, it is of the view that the APRC is a farce and its proposals a threat to the country. APRC Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitarana has accused the JVP of having rushed to a conclusion after just `squeezing the bag`. The question is whether there is any need for anyone to squeeze a package, whose contents are only too well known. However, Prof. Vitarana`s assessment of the JVP`s contention is fairly accurate insofar as its history goes. It is notorious for making hasty decisions. What a violent campaign it launched in the late 1980s to thwart the 13th Amendment, which it has accepted today. It also campaigned against India and was instrumental in having the IPKF sent back. But, its anti-India policy has suffered a sea change ever since.
The JVP`s opposition to devolution is not something new but its present campaign smacks of a move to remote-control the government, which is dependent on its support in Parliament for survival more than ever. As for devolution, the government cannot afford to ignore the JVP, which flaunts as an achievement the demerger of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces. The JVP has got an opportunity to exploit its `patriotism` and gain some political mileage.
There is so much of resistance to devolution because it is viewed as something being offered to the LTTE and none of the packages hitherto proposed or implemented has been preceded by negotiations and a general consensus among all stakeholders. The 13th Amendment was forced down Sri Lanka`s throat by India in a bid to appease the LTTE. Its birth was consequent to the rape of Sri Lanka`s sovereignty. President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s Regional Councils were presented to Parliament after negotiations with the UNP but the latter objected to her package as certain clauses had been incorporated into it without its consent as regards the proposed transition from the Executive Presidential system to a parliamentary democracy. The post of Executive Prime Minster became the bone of contention. However, the fact remains that the UNP would have opposed her package anyway for political reasons the way the SLFP campaigned against the 13th Amendment in 1987. The Oslo Declaration envisaging federalism had little to do with Sri Lanka`s interests. It was a virtual fait accompli and the government at that time chose to remain silent for fear of losing foreign aid which was craftily tied to the peace process. The APRC process is moving in the same direction without the UNP and the JVP.
Interestingly, while the southern parties are at one another`s jugular, unable to iron out their differences vis-à-vis devolution, the LTTE has flatly rejected all power sharing models and concentrated on its war effort. It has upped the ante by a process of rejecting devolution models from the Provincial Councils to federalism. It makes no bones about its position that it won`t even return to the negotiating table unless the government grants its ISGA, which the US and the EU have rejected wholesale. When the ISGA was mooted, Richard Armitage and Chris Patten lost no time in dubbing it as an arrangement that `far exceeded the Oslo Accord and does not resemble any kind of known federalism`.
The present government initially promised a homegrown or autochthonous devolution model and the SLFP proposed devolution at the district level. Suddenly, it has opted for the made-in-India 13th Amendment and is offering to ring changes on it to make it more attractive. The APRC says the 13th Amendment is just the hors d`oeuvre and the piece de resistance is on the way. Prof. Vitarana`s party, the LSSP, has lashed out at him for having pandered to the whims and fancies of President Mahinda Rajapaksa by presenting the interim solution in question. So, it is only natural that those who don`t trust the LSSP or Prof. Vitarana, who has become the darling of the international community demanding a federal solution, are looking askance at the proposed interim remedy and the promised final solution.
Prof. Vitarana has said the proposed remedy could be ratified in Parliament without a two thirds majority. But, with the UNP and the JVP opposing it, how can the government rest assured that it will be able to secure at even a simply majority. It may have got 114 votes for its budget last month. But, with the JVP determined to vote against the APRC proposal, it is doubtful whether the government will want to take a gamble and expose its real strength in the House again.
Sri Lanka`s peace processes have come a cropper as they have always been conducted at the behest of foreign powers with Dixits, Chilcotts and Solheims at the helm without the representation of all stakeholders. They have also been characterised by the fundamental mistake of equating the government with the Sinhalese and the LTTE with Tamils. The interests of the voiceless Muslims, a community that has borne the brunt of the conflict, have never figured in peace talks.
Little surprise that the much talked about southern consensus continues to elude us.