"Southern consensus": a necessary preamble
Despite all the noises regarding electoral fraud made by Ranil
Wickremesinghe and certain NGO personalities who are clearly upset about
the results of the presidential election, the recent meeting between the
UNP leader, beleaguered by dissidents within the party, and President
Rajapakse clearly indicate that all concerned have resolved to live with
the reality of the result.
More importantly, the emergence of a highly vocalized need to reach
what is referred to as a Southern consensus, has shown that the
democratic forces are probably for the first time beginning to get
pro-active with respect to resolving the conflict in the North and East
and hopefully its terrorist articulation in the form of the LTTE. This
is then an opportunity to get our act in order instead of limiting
engagement to ill-informed (mis) articulations by way of responding to
It is clear that one of the things sadly lacking on the part of the
Government in previous rounds of negotiations is a position of its own,
a position that clearly defines what can be negotiated and what cannot
be, and more than this a position that has been validated by both
historical evidence, past experience (especially with respect to
Prabhakaran's track record) and the will of the people.
To begin with, it cannot be overemphasized that the term "Southern
consensus" is a construct that feeds Eelam propaganda. A "Southern"
consensus or a "Southern" anything implies a Northern "other". The
consensus that has to be built is an anti-terrorist one, or an
anti-separatist one and such a consensus must arrive for inclusion of
all communities and faiths.
The first issue in terms of consensus building is deciding on the
political structure of governance, for example whether we should retain
the unitary character of the state or whether we should replace it with
a federal structure. Prabhakaran for his part has made his position
clear. He has rejected both the unitary concept as well as the federal
He wants nothing less than separation. Although some propose that
taking a diametrically opposite view would result in an impasse,
President Rajapakse should understand that the position he takes should
not follow from a desire to break through "impasses" that are the
artificial creations of those who will not eschew violence, but rather
from a review of historical evidence.
In this he will have to understand that he cannot do injustice to the
vast majority of the population who are peace-loving and have placed
faith in democratic institutions just so that a man who has placed his
faith in bombs and bullets is cured of a well-crafted pout.
In 2005 it was a totally different story. Mahinda didn't just say
"peace he clearly said "unitary". He won. He got a mandate. It must be
remembered, also, that he won in spite of considerable forces actively
and indeed passionately canvassing against him.
Apart from the UNP, he was tripped at every turn by the outgoing
President and others in his own party. The minorities, who had for years
exacted much more than a pound of flesh, benefiting from the divided
Sinhalese, backed his key opponent. The Catholic church, led by
Archbishop Oswald Gomis, openly campaigned against him.
The big businesses led by Lalith Kotelawala spent hundreds of
millions of rupees in trying to defeat him. All private media
institutions, except perhaps the Upali Group, overwhelmingly backed
He still won. Had the field been less skewed against him, the mandate
for Mahinda Chinthana would have been that much more significant, one
can conclude. Indeed, it is likely that he would have secured well over
70% of the vote outside the North, East and certain parts of the central
Today, with his victory, many of the forces arrayed against Rajapakse
have either gone silent or are trying to mend fences, knowing well that
having backed the wrong horse, the best bet would be to kiss the hand
that would not get bitten, so to speak.
Today, Mahinda Rajapakse and his mandate are in a position of
strength. Today he can tell, "Well folks, the people made a choice. This
is what they said. Unitary. Are you asking me to turn my back on the
mandate I won? Wouldn't that be punching democracy between the eyes? No,
friends, we must build the Southern consensus around the mandate given
by the people, around the unitary state."
It must be recognized that this is not a position that the UNP cannot
accept. After all, federalism was as pointed out above, Chandrika's dead
rope. It was just Ranil Wickremesinghe's UNP that swallowed that story
wholesale. There is no shame in going back to the party's original
position, that is, the unitary character of the state is a strict
I believe that there is no reason why Mahinda should back down from
his mandate, for he is in no risk of losing ground politically. Indeed,
if he maintains his commitment to implement Mahinda Chinthana, he can
only grow stronger with time.
I also believe that if he wants to silence the federalists for all
time, he can do that too. He can settle the question of historical
homelands once and for all by using his executive powers to gazette the
setting up of an independent and qualified panel to investigate the
historical claims which are the basis for the federalist proposal.
Since this is a position based on claims and not on fact, he can seek
a conclusion based on evidence. If it is found that the North and East
are in fact the "exclusive historical homelands" of Tamil people, then
he can offer to submit to the transformation of the state in congruence
to these findings, federalism or even separation.
If not, then the LTTE loses all legitimacy and can no longer hide the
fact that it is a terrorist organization engaged in attempted land
theft. Parenthetically speaking, someone can ask, "Who after all drew
these lines demarcating province and district and on what basis", for
that alone would throw the historical claim into the dustbin called
If the 'South' in the articulation 'Southern consensus' refers to the
clustering that excludes the North (where the couple of hundred thousand
Tamils who have not fled Prabhakaran's tyranny were not allowed to
exercise their franchise) and the East (where too Prabhakaran's 'stay
order' was implemented in certain areas), a good indication of popular
opinion can be obtained from the election results themselves.
In these districts, Mahinda Rajapakse averaged over 60 per cent of
the popular vote.
Whereas Ranil Wickremesinghe, in both his manifesto and his campaign
rhetoric, said, he stood for a federal 'solution', Rajapakse, we all
know, asked for a mandate to maintain the unitary status of the nation.
This is clearly articulated in Mahinda Cinthana, his official manifesto.
The 'South', then, overwhelmingly favoured 'unitary' over 'federal'.
Today there is talk of returning to the 'agreements' reached in Oslo
and Tokyo, which clearly state that negotiations should take place
within the idea of a federal framework. The first thing to remember is
that the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime did not receive any mandate from
the people to submit or submit to any such proposal.
Neither were these agreements put before the people in any formal
manner for ratification. They were agreements signed by delegates who
had no mandate, no vision, and absolutely lacking in a sense of history
or in sensitivity to the pulse of the people. They were agreements they
did not have to be arm-twisted to sign for the simple reason that they
had no position of their own and seemed to be operating as though
Prabhakaran was doing them a favour by 'conceding' federalism.
Secondly, the only time that the public pulse on the issue was
tested, namely the 2005 Presidential Election, the Oslo and Tokyo
positions were overwhelmingly rejected by the South. For these reasons,
there can be no justification in citing these agreements as the basis
for building a 'Southern Consensus'.
The starting point, therefore, has to be Mahinda Chintanaya insofar
as it refers to the political position he was elected to represent,
namely, the unitary character of the State. It would be worthwhile to
compare and contrast the matter of 'mandate' as per the election results
of 1994, 2001 and 2005.
In 1994 the PA came to power thanks largely to widespread anti-UNP
sentiment built over 17 years of virtual disenfranchisement, corruption
and merciless unleashing of state terror on unarmed populations.
Chandrika interpreted this victory won largely by default as a mandate
for federalism. She attempted to foist federalism on the people by way
of the infamous 'Package' and the ill-fated Draft Constitution of 2000.
Federalism, then, was in no uncertain terms the lanuwa that Chandrika
created, or, more accurately was created for her by the NGO mafia (made
up of leftists and retired terrorists) and Eelamists whom she embraced
as her principal advisors. It was this lanuwa that Ranil Wickremesinghe
caught hold of as though it was a baton passed to him by a team-mate.
And yet, even in 2001, Ranil only said "I am for peace". He didn't
utter the word federalism. He didn't say he will negotiate. He didn't
say he will negotiate away the nation's territorial integrity and
sovereignty to a terrorist. But this is exactly what his key
'negotiators' or 'appeasers', G. L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda did in
Oslo and Tokyo.
If anyone says that devolution/resolution should be based on today's
ground reality, the following arguments can be made. One, the LTTE's
ground reality is a minuscule size of its image. Two, the LTTE is not
the sole-representative of the Tamil people (Karuna, Anandasangari, the
EPDP and PLOTE are individually and collectively too significant to
Three, if we offer solutions to current ground realities, we will end
up having to offer solutions every other day; if the LTTE ethnically
cleanses Wayamba of Sinhalese and Muslims, then that province will have
to be conceded, federally or otherwise; if the LTTE is wiped out
tomorrow, then Tamils in Jaffna may have to say goodbye even to the
benefits of decentralised administration. Four, even today, the people
in the so-called LTTE-controlled areas would be in an even more pathetic
situation if not for the money pumped into those areas through the state
Mahinda has to do two things his predecessor did not or could not do.
First, he must show commitment to his mandate and moreover use it to ask
the democratic world whether it seriously advocates that he kick the
will of the people in its proverbial behind.
"My people have spoken," he can say, "now do you want me to un-speak
them, and if so could you please tell me how?" Related to this, he can
build on his gains. Whereas Chandrika actively campaigned to market her
federal lie for which she did not have a mandate, Mahinda has been
conferred the right to broadbase the support for the unitary democratic
truth that was uttered on November 17, 2005. He can talk history. He can
tell the Eelamists, 'show up or shut up', demanding that they
substantiate their claims of historical homeland.
Secondly, he must spare no pains to counter LTTE falsehoods both here
and abroad. He must set up a mechanism to keep our foreign missions
always on their toes to, a) give the widest publicity possible to the
LTTE's transgressions, both big and small, and b) to respond to the
LTTE's false propaganda.
In addition, he must take decisive action whenever the armed forces
are at fault, admitting when they've themselves transgressed and taking
corrective measures, in short cleaning up our act on the ground.
Finally, LTTE or no LTTE, he has to deliver to the people in the
North and East all the opportunities enjoyed by those in other parts of
the country and if the LTTE does anything to prevent delivery, he must
give the widest publicity to the fact that Prabhakaran just doesn't want
the Tamil people to better their lives.