PK Balachandran, courtesy of the Indian Express, 9 May 2016, where the title is “Different Ethnicities in Sri Lanka Have conflicting views on Constitutional Reform”
The Public Representation Committee (PRC) set up by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to ascertain the views of the public on constitutional reform, encountered sharp differences on ethnic lines. Express learns from reliable sources that the Sinhalese, Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Plantation Tamils of Indian origin held different and conflicting views on the Nature of the State, Devolution of Power and the Unit of Devolution.
The PRC would be submitting its report with its recommendations to the PM any day after May 11. The report will then be sent to the Steering Committee of the “Constitutional Assembly” which is a committee of the entire membership of the Lankan parliament charged with the task of drafting a new constitution for the island nation. MAP courtesy of https://southasiablog.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/sri-lanka-ethnic-map.jpg
While the Tamils of the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces (called Sri Lankan Tamils) want a federal constitution as opposed to the current unitary one, the majority Sinhalese living in South, Central and Western Lanka want the unitary structure to be retained. There are extremists and moderates in both communities, with Jaffna district espousing an extreme form of federalism and Kandy district demanding a rigid unitary structure. Moderates are not a rarity among the Sinhalese. At least 20 percent of southerners advocated devolution beyond the existing 13th Constitutional Amendment, though they were opposed to a federal system.
The Muslims want devolution as they feel that those of them living in the Eastern Province will benefit by it. But they are opposed to the Lankan Tamils’ demand for a merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces because that will make them a small minority dominated by Tamils.
The Tamils, in the other hand, are keen on merger as they consider North and East Lanka as their “Traditional Homeland”. The Eastern Tamils want merger as they resent being dominated by Muslims who are a substantial and economically powerful section in the East.
As for the plantation Tamils of Indian origin, they want a constitution which enjoins “affirmative action” on the part of the State. They also want to be liberated from the clutches of the plantation companies and integrated with the Lankan state structure. But the educated among the Indian Origin Tamils want, in addition, an autonomous unit comprising areas where plantation workers are a substantial part of the population.
The PRC’s report, which is being printed now, faithfully presents the various views which were expressed. Footnotes identify the presenter in each case. The 20-member PRC interviewed about 6000 people, political parties, interest and civil society groups all over the island. It is the most thorough survey of opinion on constitution making after the Colebrooke-Cameron Committee’s exercise between 1829 and 1833.