APRC: The Year of the Rat has begun


by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu  

(Courtesy: Groundviews of January 30, 2008)


The APRC has behaved as feared. It has delivered for the regime and not for the country. Clearly Professor Vitharana could not hold out – encomiums about his persistence notwithstanding. He obliged his president and produced the Interim Report of the APRC eighteen months after it was convened. The Majority Report and the Vitharana Report are all history – His Excellency demanded and determined and hey presto they produced a mouse, heralding in, in our inimitable way, the Chinese Year of the Rat, no doubt!

Why on earth did the APRC have to sit some sixty four times over eighteen months to recommend that less than the Thirteenth Amendment be implemented in the interim, whilst they sit or swan around the world indefinitely to produce a final report on the never, never ? Everyone who signed on to this document bears responsibility for one of the more pathetic farces that have characterised our politics in recent memory. And there is no mitigation of this responsibility in emphasizing the “interim” nature of the proposals. Given what is on offer and given what is likely to be implemented, it is not beyond the realms of probability that this APRC, eighteen months and sixty four sittings later will come back and say Thirteenth Amendment in full!!

What is most interesting is the Indian reaction of welcoming the Interim Report as the “first step”. Much is being made of this as indeed much can be. At one level, Delhi is not being negative but cautiously encouraging. Devolution and the limits thereof were set by Delhi way back in 1987. Whilst Delhi acknowledges that more is needed – the mantra of not so long ago -Thirteenth Amendment Plus- it is willing, even relieved to give the Rajapakse regime time to develop its ideas and attitudes further to address the roots of an ethnic conflict. It has given the regime time and given itself time. Yet the question remains as to what Delhi’s policy will be if the APRC and the regime are stuck at this “first step”, unwilling or unable to move beyond it?

No doubt the denizens of South bloc thought long and hard about the choice of phrase to couch their lack of policy towards the procrastination and prevarication of this APRC process and accordingly the search for a political settlement of our ethnic conflict. They have not let themselves off the hook, though. Welcoming a “first step” clearly indicates the expectation of movement thereafter. I submit, it also entails a responsibility for ensuring this and accordingly, cogent policy options for the eventuality of disappointment.

Gone are the days when Delhi could be looked upon as the primary and proactive ally in the cause of meaningful devolution, if not power sharing in Sri Lanka. Now it is almost a case of Panglossian benevolence towards even the whittling down and erosion of what it considered possible and handed over twenty years ago. The priority is a defeat or irreversible military weakening of the LTTE with the removal of Prabhakaran from the scene, followed by, as they know full well, a fudge. Underpinning this is the containment of Chinese interests - political, military and commercial - in their backyard. Whilst of course there will be denials, it would be no surprise if these denizens allow themselves a fanciful release from the tedium of this festering sore that is our ethnic conflict by entertaining the prospect of military victory and the possibility of it constituting an end to the conflict. The whole damn mess will be done with. At least it will not keep cropping up, to harass and embarrass.

As always is the case with our politics though, there will always be a case for defending the Thirteenth Amendment and for calling for its implementation in part or in full. The JVP we are told will take to the streets to prevent its implementation in whatever form in the north and east. Implicit in this, given its espousal of the provincial councils elsewhere in the country, must surely be the JVP’s belief that the north and east are different and require different political arrangements to the rest of the country? Or is it devolution for the south and zero nothing for the north and east?

The JVP will demand the disbanding of the APRC and make much of it when it happens. They will claim to have saved the country yet again from a sly, insidious scheme to introduce federalism. In the tawdry smoke and mirrors word of our politics they will be feted by the fearful faithful and further convinced that they have indeed performed a historic duty, when in effect they would be providing euthanasia to the terminally ill. Not unlike the CFA, this.

It is working out nicely for the president and the JVP. The APRC has delivered an interim report, thereby holding out the prospect of a final report. However, the interim report, which recommends less than what is in the constitution, will not be implemented because the JVP will ensure this. And when the time is right, they will demand that the APRC be disbanded. On the military front, if there is victory the JVP will claim that they kept the regime on the straight and narrow and if there is none, it can turn its venom on the regime and/or exact a price from it, which in its desperation to hold on to power it will have to pay.

What was it that Lincoln said about fooling the people?