October 19, 2003. That was CFA time, i.e. the time of the Ceasefire Agreement between the then Government, headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It was a time of talk, especially about federalism. Negotiations were held. 'Understandings' reached. There were pundits and punditry. It was a time when editors were told to treat the CFA and negotiations as holy cows (talk about media freedom!). This piece, reflecting on these matters, was published in the Sunday Island under the title 'Serious negotiations will be chaired by history'). The arguments are still relevant I believe, 13 years later.
The SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) postman has been kept busy over the past few months. All these letters have the following word included in the legend at the top left corner of the envelope: "proposal(s)". Not serious ones, of course. They are all "interim" in character, we are asked to believe. Be that as it may, both the government (enjoying 43% of the vote) and Balasingham (enjoying 0% of the vote), have been taking this correspondence seriously, again we are told to believe. Fine. When the rubber hits the road, so to speak, it will all boil down to defending the logic of the respective proposal.
Balasingham’s "logic" moves on a one-way street whose destination is "Eelam". That would not be news. Still, his followers in the "traditional homelands", possibly having been instructed to sugar-coat the proposals in non-Eelam sounding terms, carried out a ground-preparation exercise recently. In a panel consisting of Dr. N. Nithyananthan of the Department of Economics, Jaffna University, R.T. Ganeshalingham, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, Jaffna University and one Kodeeswaran, had been part of a panel discussing federalism. There was also an honoured guest, an expert, Prof. Dr. Thomas Fleiner, Professor of Constitution and Administrative Kaw and Director of the Institute of Federalism in the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
Fleiner must have had a lot to say. But what did he say? Speaking on "Federalism and the right to self-determination", Fleiner spoke some home-truths. They merit full quotation:
"The Oslo agreement has accepted several solutions to accommodate self-determination. They have a state status in the constitution making process and for this there has to be a constitution that guarantee self-determination." In other words, Ranil Wickremesinghe, according to Fleinder, has accepted "state status" for the LTTE occupied areas. With it he accepts the right of self-determination for this occupation force.
Fleiner elaborates further: "The question is, who is the holder of this self-determination right, because it is a collective right. Who has the state status? A constitution making process can be done not against but with the consent of this holder."
Fleiner knows Switzerland. So he knows the history of the independence of the Swiss confederation. In 1276 Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf I of the Habsburg dynasty attempted to assert feudal rights in Switzerland, making his power a threat to the traditional liberties of the Swiss. To resist Rudolf’s aggression, the three so-called forest cantons-Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden-around the Lake of Lucerne, entered a league for mutual defence in 1291. During the 14th century Z`FCrich, Glarus, Bern, Lucerne, and Zug joined the league, and in the 15th century Fribourg and Solothurn joined. In 1474 the Habsburgs, unable to cope with the militant Swiss mountaineers, abandoned their attempts to acquire the region as a family appendage, and the Swiss confederation became directly dependent on the Roman empire.
The independence struggle which commenced in 1276, bore fruit in 1474. This is what Fleiner probably had in his mind when he brings up the other key point in his address. The issue of gaining full independence. He speaks of "historical habitation".
"The democratic concept is based on numbers. This at times leads to the tyranny of the majority. In self-determination, historical root plays an important part. History supersedes the number. Self-determination should emphasise more the history rather than the number. The right to rule a territory is also stressed here. The state so formed through this, if it determines, could function of its own."
Those who have the right to self-determination can have a state status and such a status may argue for federation, confederation or even functioning on their own, meaning independence, in his words. In such a scenario, the number is immaterial. It is the history that matters. This is basic political science and it has great relevance to Fleiner’s Switzerland.
Similarly, in the same century, the Sinhala nation began its long march to rid itself of a ruthless South Indian occupier from its fatherland. The year, specifically, is 1246. Wijayabahu the Third was consecrated king at Dambadeniya. He was a pious regent. Wijayabahu brought the Daladavahanse (which had been hidden in the hills of Kotmale by the Maha Sangha who were protecting it from the treacherous rule of the occupying tyrant, Magha) to Dambadeniya. He also persuaded bikkhus who had fled Magha to India to return to the island.
Vandalism and cultural terrorism were Magha’s trademarks. He was an arsonist. He destroyed heritage, history, culture and everything else stored in Potgul Viharaya. Greatly distressed by this, Wijayabahu launched a campaign to re-write the Tripitakaya and history. He re-introduced higher ordination of the bikkhus. He rehabilitated all Buddhist sites of worship in the Maya Rata. Wijayabahu not only secured a significant part of the Sinhala nation, but unified the Maha Sangha under the benevolent embrace of the Dalada Vahanse. This he achieved in the four years of his reign.
After him, one of his sons, Parakramabahu the Second ascended the throne.
The Maya state secured, he set out to recover for the Sinhala nation the rest of its traditional homelands. He brought together the Sinha Vikramanvitha Sinhalayo, all the Sinhala clans. He united them. His army overran the camps set up by Magha and Jayabahu and defeated their 40,000 Dravidian and Keralite forces in Mannarama, Polonnaruwa, Ganthalawa (Kantale), Mathota, Weligama, etc. They gathered in Polonnaruwa and conferred and decided that it was not advisable to occupy the land any further. They withdrew to their traditional homelands in South India. Although they planned to take away much of what they had looted, they were prevented from doing so.
The Sinhala state was secured once again from the clutches of the Dravidian marauder. Then he set about the task of rehabilitation, reconstruction, resettlement and cultural resurrection. He united the Nikayas once again after ridding the country of dubious evangelists of various religious sects. During this time the Sinhala nation prospered once again.
When Parakramabahu the Second wanted to step down, he addressed his sons thus: "I inherited the Eka Maya Rata from my father and defeating all foes, defeating the Vinniyas, and became reigning king of the entire island. I made the Buddha Sasana resplendent over the island once again. I chided the enemy, treated the citizenry equally." And then he advised his heir apparent: "Restore the Ruwanweliseya, destroyed by the foreign invader, bring back Polonnaruwa to its former glory, restore its Dalada Maligawa and place the dalada karanduwa therein."
Going to battle against the enemy of the state, unifying the Maha Sangha, ensuring the economic well-being of the citizenry, and creating Buddhist infrastructure, were all aimed at one thing and one thing alone: protecting the Buddha Sasana. After winning independence from a foreign occupier, this was what was considered the first and primary duty of the victorious monarch. This in fact was the duty and objective of all rulers.
Parakramabahu the Second was the leader of a collective called the Sinhalese. All those who could claim self-determination were under his command. They had the sole right of self-determination. They had all claims to the nation state. They had "state status". Parakramabahu did not and did not have to recognise any "right of self-determination" that Magha may have articulated. This is why he waged war. This is how Magha was an enemy of the state and considered an occupier. This is also why Maghamercenaries had to and indeed chose to leave the island. Magha while was in the island, was in fact "living abroad". He had his own fatherland in Orissa. Similarly, when Magha’s men conferred in Polonnaruwa, they only talked about returning to their respective fatherlands in Orissa and Kerala.
The holders of the self-determination right were Parakramabahu and his clan. They alone had state status and constitution-making was done by them and them alone. In terms of historical habitation, Magha didn’t have a leg to stand on. His historical habitation claim had to be applied in Orissa. His 21-year occupation did not qualify him for "historical habitation". There was no historical root he could draw from. Parakramabahu gave back to his clan the lands they had historically inhabited before Magha carried out his ethnic cleansing. Those who had the history eventually got the land. The numbers did not matter.
The guiding light for all this is clearly explained by Welivita Sri Saranankara Sangharaja Thero’s letter in 1760 to the Dutch governor. In a nutshell, the ruler of the Sinhala Buddhist state had to follow the dictates of Lord Buddha, who set out clearly that in this island his doctrine shall survive and flourish. All rulers of this land followed that principle. That is the overriding historical tract that has been relevant to all matters of the state, governance included. Meaning, that this is the nation state of the Sinhala Buddhists. They have the right to self-determination and have state status. All because they have the history. If the point is made, they have the numbers too.
Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga are the present day heirs to that tradition. They cannot violate the above cardinal principles.
Mahathir Mohamed addressing an Islamic summit pointed out that although the Europeans killed six million out of twelve million Jews, the Jews rule this world by proxy. The Portugese ruled this country by proxy, thanks to Don Juan Dharmapala. Similarly, Balasingham rules this land by proxy. Ranil Wickremesinghe, by accepting by way of the Oslo Accord Balasingham’s "right to self-determination" has violated the principles that guided his predecessors. He is of course entitled to his point of view, because he is only a temporary custodian of this state. But there are inviolable principles. His understanding of history and political science are clearly lacking in terms of relevance to the functionality of our nation state. He would do well to study Fleiner’s political science lectures and learn how to avoid being another Don Juan Dharmapala.
The point is, history counts. When the SLMM postmen have done with carrying, doctoring and otherwise fiddling around with missives between the government and Balasingham, history will be at the head of the table. History will be the judge and the article that underwrites all agreements. When the protagonists come to the table, they will have to come with their history. Or stay at home. In the appropriate fatherland.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: malindasene