The devolution dilemmaApril 26, 2012, 7:31 pm
Confusion apparently reigns in Colombo and New Delhi over President Mahinda Rajapaksa's stand on the so-called 13 Plus or devolution going beyond the existing 13th Amendment (13-A). Instead of clearing the air with an official statement, the government has chosen to remain mum.
However, we think, President Rajapaksa made his position on 13-A clear to the Indian government in his reply to a letter from New Delhi a few days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement in the Lok Sabha of India's inclination to vote against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC last month. According to President Rajapaksa's close associates, he is neither for nor against 13 Plus but is willing to consider it as an option if Parliament adopts it.
Ironically, those who rightly opposed the manner in which President Rajapaksa misused his government's two-thirds majority to rush the 18th Amendment through Parliament to consolidate his power now expect him to accept 13-A Plus as a solution and secure its passage through Parliament the same way. They seem to think two wrongs make a right. Similarly, the critics of the executive presidency, which has robbed Parliament of its supremacy, want the President to make use of the draconian powers vested in him to thrust 13-A on Parliament as a fait accompli, heedless of the interests of other stakeholders exactly the way the late President J. R. Jayewardene did under duress in the late 1980s!
President Rajapaksa is obviously playing a political game. He has passed the buck to the legislature. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Parliament is the best forum for negotiations on devolution of power. Anyone who is campaigning for restoring the supremacy of Parliament cannot justify his or her opposition to a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on a vital national issue, be it devolution or anything else.
The current hullabaloo over 13-Plus, land and police powers etc has stood the government in good stead––at least temporarily––in that it has eclipsed the issue of the North being without a provincial council even three years after the conclusion of the war.
Provincial councils were established way back in 1988 amidst widespread bloodshed and nearly 25 years on, there is a pressing need for a dispassionate appraisal of the working of 13-A. Have we adopted devolution for devolution's sake? Has devolution really helped empower people at the grassroots and address their problems? Most of all, has it been a remedy for the country's ethnic ills at least in the areas where it has been implemented? If so, why aren't the Muslims happy in the East? They are demanding a separate enclave, aren't they? They also want the next Chief Minister of the East to be a Muslim. Last time their struggle to achieve that objective came a cropper as President Rajapaksa favoured Pillayan. What if the Tamils of Indian origin in the hill country follow suit, demanding a separate provincial council consisting of noncontiguous areas? Hasn't the provincial council system become a white elephant gobbling up public funds and duplicating administration? Has it served any purpose other than being a training ground for ambitious provincial politicians seeking a stepping stone to national politics? These are some of the frequently asked questions about the provincial councils and they need to be answered.
Those clamouring for 13-Plus should not lose sight of the fact that the 13-A is still widely viewed as an unwanted child of rape. India's abiding obsession with devolution here and the Tamil Nadu politicians' anti-Sri Lankan frenzy as well as their infatuation with Eelam, especially Karunanidhi's idée fixe and rhetoric, are bound to help the opponents of 13-A with their resistance campaign. The JVP has already got into attack mode.