The Sunday Leader

Provincial Councils And Pre-Empting ‘Perumal Putschism’

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

President R. Premadasa AND Vartharajah Perumal

Never again’ is the silent slogan of the Sri Lankan state, its armed forces and the majority of its people. That steely determination pertains not only to Prabhakaran’s armed secessionist saga but also to the putschist episode of Vardarajah Perumal and his North East Provincial Council (NEPC). That NEPC was dissolved 20 years ago.
Despite having two decades to reflect self-critically, the former Chief Minister remains as obtuse and obstreperous as ever, saying on the record last Sunday that “The 13th Amendment is not a good law; it prevents proper devolution and leads to more centralization.” (Sunday Lakbimanews, Oct. 3, 2010)
Karuna has placed the NEPC/Perumal experience in perspective: “The LTTE opposed the 13th Amendment. However, the LTTE could not stop the formation of provincial councils… The provincial council was formed and Vardaraja Perumal was appointed chief minister. Everything changed when he declared the North and East as an independent state in November 1989… This declaration paved the way for the then government to abolish the provincial council.” – Vinyagamoorthy Muralidaran (Karuna), (The Nation, Sept. 12, 2010)
The North-East Provincial Council (NEPC) was set up in November 1988. The next month, on 17 December 1988: the EPRLF led NEPC issued its inaugural Policy Declaration. It was two days later on 19 December that Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected President of Sri Lanka. The very wording and dating of that maiden Policy Declaration proves that Vardarajah Perumal, the Chief Minister of the Council, was not engaging in a defensive reaction to any behaviour on the part of the Sri Lankan government under Premadasa (who had not even won the presidential election) but was intent from the outset on a provocative political agenda which attempted to go well beyond the powers granted to provincial councils.
The opening policy statement of the NEPC presented to the Provincial Assembly on 17 December 1988 read as follows:
“The Provincial Government is of the view that the devolved powers offered under the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution hardly satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil speaking people of the North-East Province. Hence it will commence negotiations with the Central Government and the Government of India with a view to working out a satisfactory package of devolution.”
The 13th Amendment itself narrowly squeaked past the Supreme Court. Nothing with augmented powers could have got through at that stage of the evolution of southern consciousness. The attempt to stretch the contours of the state was fuelling or at the very least was being instrumentalized by a serious southern insurrection and therefore, expecting more — and faster as well — was tantamount to asking the mainstream democratic political forces to bite on a cyanide capsule.
In such a context, to publicly express dissatisfaction at the sufficiency of the devolution contained in the 13th Amendment and to threaten to reopen discussions on the subject not only with Colombo (referred to as ‘the Central Government’ in a country which did not have a federal system) but also with the Government of India, betrays an attitude that was far from constructive. It indicated that a confrontation was inevitable between the NEPC and any Sri Lankan Government whatsoever. (It just happened to take place on Premadasa’s watch).
The points in that Opening Policy statement of December 17th 1988 were buttressed by the First Status Report issued a few weeks later by the Vardarajah Perumal administration, which while escalating its expressions of dissatisfaction, put forward two documents: a draft to replace the 13th Amendment and another draft to replace the Provincial Councils Law of 1987!
Ranasinghe Premadasa won the presidential election on December 19. When he took his oaths on January 2, 1988 he faced a raging insurgency.
In an interview given to Kendall Hopman and published in The Sunday Times Plus (p.9) as early as 20th November 1988 – the very month the NEPC was set up — I broke publicly from the line of ‘permanent merger of the North and East/no referendum’ and was quoted as saying “I think the referendum is a good idea”. Disengaging, I followed this up with my open letter (of resignation) to Perumal and Pathmanabha which appeared in the English and Sinhala language mainstream press in the first quarter of 1989. It suggested, inter alia, pragmatic alternatives to the protracted IPKF presence, the permanent merger and the perpetual postponement (prevention) of the referendum.
In March 1989 the interlocking NEPC/EPRLF leadership visited India, where they went public with their request to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to use pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) for ‘a more advanced form of devolution’.
Perumal’s NEPC embarked upon forced conscription. That single measure caused a meltdown of whatever support the NEPC had among the Tamil people. Thus in the second half of 1989, the NEPC and the Chief Minister’s conscript paramilitary militia were a symbol for both the Sinhalese and the Tamils.
On September 19, 1989, after the opening of the All Party Conference which Premadasa had summoned, the EPRLF delegate and chief spokesman made a statement threatening a “Tamil resistance war” against the Colombo government.
In December 1989 the NEPC/EPRLF put forward a wish list referred to by them as the 19 Point Charter. It followed this up with a resolution on March 1, 1990. These demands were presented as conditions sine qua non for the rescinding of the UDI — and presented the Sri Lankan state with an ultimatum of a year for compliance! The resolution was moved in Council by Chief Minister Vardarajah Perumal.
The list of demands presented by the NEPC at the moment of their Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in March of 1990, are shockingly revelatory. The key passages were those referring to the Sri Lankan armed forces: “Bases of the three forces [were] to be limited to the following places in the North-East: a) Palaly Army Camp b) Karainagar Naval Base c) Thalladi Army Camp d) Vavuniya Josop Camp c) Trincomalee Naval Base f) Trincomalee Air Force Base g) Ampara Kondaivedduvan Army Camp. All other bases other than those mentioned above [were] to be dismantled.
The Army should be removed from Fort Frederick in Trincomalee where the Konesar Temple is situated. This area should be declared a sacred area for Hindus and it should be brought under the administration of the North-East Provincial Government. Similarly the Army and the prison should be removed from the Jaffna Fort and the Kayts Sea Fort and these forts should be declared as museums where rare articles of value should be exhibited to the public. The administration of the forts should also come under the North-East Provincial Government.” (Points 7 and 10 of the March 1, 1990 Resolution of the NEPC)
The demands presented by Vardarajah Perumal give the lie to the tale of a sincere, eager reformism thwarted by the duplicitous Premadasa administration. In actuality Perumal’s game-plan was to trigger a ‘Cyprusization’ or a Bangladesh scenario.
Sri Lanka can never leave room, structurally, for a repetition of Perumal’s challenge to and blackmail of the State, nor permit a base for soliciting, positioning and leveraging external support for such a project.

3 Comments for “Provincial Councils And Pre-Empting ‘Perumal Putschism’”

  1. Che Guevara

    Viva La Che Guevara !

  2. rohini wijeweera

    Che Guevara ia a dirty word. remember the 1970s?

  3. gamarala

    What Perumal feared is now happening. The northeast is already a ‘military state’ since May 2009, and the rest of the country which is a ‘police state’ under the PTA & Emergency is soon to be converted into a ‘military state’ with establishment of army camps in each electorate.
    The president now fully controls all aspects of governance acquired by the passage of the 18th amendment, pushed through parliament as an “urgent” bill – all MPs did not even have the details on the day it was passed – and intends to “rule” not govern, for as many terms as he will desire.
    “Never Again” will democratic governance replace oligarchy cum autocracy.

Comments are closed

Photo Gallery

Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes