Advocacy, Colombo, Peace and Conflict


The unsurprising minority report of the APRC Experts Panel is a lawyerly representation of 1956-style Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. It is the legal prototype of the JVP/JHU political rhetoric. As such, it is also, in substance and philosophy, the mirror image of that other set of constitutional propositions emanating from ethno-nationalism: the ISGA proposals of the LTTE.

An odious comparison no doubt for either group of authors, but hermeneutically both documents point to the same political ontology of ethno-nationalism that is the source of such ‘patriotic’ inspiration for both. Ethno-nationalism translated into legal language is concerned primarily with political power, and the constitutionalisation of power in a way that enables control of politics. Such a conception of power is also necessarily partisan, because the object of power is to secure the prospects of your own to the exclusion, if need be, of the ‘others.’

A couple of examples demonstrate the point. In the LTTE proposal, an assertion is made on behalf of the ISGA for the ‘plenary power for the governance of the Northeast.’ In other words, precisely the unitarian constitutional notion of illimitable power that buttressed post-independence Sinhala majoritarianism and lies at the heart of Tamil grievances. In the minority report, the majority report is attacked for diluting the power of central government in any number of ways, which in the opinion of the minority group, validates the illegitimate arguments of liberals, progressives and federalists (all being pejorative epithets), and would inexorably facilitate secession. The focus is always on power, not about why the politics of peace is about justice, dignity and the good life of all Sri Lankans.

Both examples demonstrate the unlovable nature of power-obsessed ethno-nationalism, with its schizophrenic personality of carping insecurity on the one hand and procrustean menace on the other. It is inward-looking, autocratic, intolerant, monolithic, exclusionary, self-pitying and suspicious. Needless to say, these are not qualities and political values that will help the cause of peace in Sri Lanka.

If the views in minority report find themselves expressed in government policy, the result would be a titanic and ultimately irreconcilable struggle between the conflicting nationalisms of North and South. Amidst the prospect of endless conflict, the constituency to which the minority report speaks and which is most hysterically wedded to the unitary State would find that they have unwittingly contributed to the catastrophe of separation. On the other hand the LTTE may well get their de facto state, only to find it ungovernable and actively destabilised by an embittered Southern rump. The solace of international recognition would also seem increasingly elusive.

Indeed, this in fact seems to capture fairly well what Sri Lanka looks like now, disconsolate and conflict-ridden. If any progress is to be made in the future, the virtue of this particular vice is that it tells us exactly how not to set about resolving our conflict, both in terms of process and substance.