|By Wilson Gnanadass
Former TNA MP M. K. Sivajilingam last Monday (20)
sent a reminder to the government that Tamils in
general have still not forgotten that the bisected
north-east must be reunited.
His attempt to rekindle the forgotten subject
obviously put not only the government that is
currently negotiating with the Tamil National
Alliance (TNA) to find a political solution to the
national question, but even the civil society in an
Surprisingly, there was no response from the
government. A response, either positive or negative
would have trapped the government and would have
caught it off guard.
The north-east that was merged in 1988 was de-merged
in 2006. President J. R. Jayawardene merged the
north and the east by using the Public Security
Ordinance to amend the Provincial Councils Act.
However the Supreme Court in its judgment on October
16, 2006 held that the purported amendment of the
Section 37(1) (b) of the Provincial Councils Act by
the then President, by an emergency regulation was
invalid and consequently the proclamation made by
the then President on September 8 1988 constituting
the northern and eastern provinces as one unit was
Though Sivajilingam meant it to be a clear message
to the government and the world, it is unlikely that
the once separated provinces would ever be unified.
This fact might hurt the sentiments of the Tamils as
the creation of a unified northeast entity is a
fundamental issue to their struggle for democratic
rights. Also this is one issue on which there is
unanimous agreement among all Tamil political
parties from the northeast.
The Muslim factor
For the Muslims, a merger is anathema. They would
certainly not like to see the community dwindling
under a merger. One third of the Muslims in a
de-merged north-east would become insignificant
under a merged north-east when the Muslim population
would be reduced to one sixth.
Late A. H. M. Ashraff, realizing this fact, demanded
a separate Muslim council under a merged north-east.
Nizam Kariyappar, a leading lawyer and member of the
SLMC believes once the government commits itself to
what extent it would go with the devolution, then
the question of unit of devolution could be
discussed and also feels talking of merger at
present is premature.
“On the other hand if a new constitution framework
is looked at then we must find out how the Muslims
in the east will enjoy power. The question of merger
“But the most important thing to talk about is a
clear demarcation of powers to the centre and the
periphery,” he said.
No room for merger?
Could Sivajilingam’s statement make any adverse
impact on the ongoing TNA-government talks is
another question that is raised by many. Many worry
that this might undermine the talks and further
jeopardise the existing relationship the TNA has
with the government. The TNA’s position is very
clear. The party has said that it will not press for
the merger right now but would try to reach a
consensus on it. However, some wonder whether
Sivajilingam’s statement is aimed at disrupting the
According to Foreign Employment Promotion and
Welfare Minister Dilan Perera, the ex-MP’s statement
is sure to cause a dent in the relationship the TNA
has built with the government.
He believes the statement has a ‘mischievous twist’
and also feels this could generate unnecessary
tension between both Tamil and Sinhala communities.
Perera pointed out that the de-merger of the
northeast was purely due to the actions of the LTTE
leader and confirmed that there would be no chance
in the future for a merger of these two provinces.
“My friend Sivajilingam should understand that the
eastern province has a chief minister elected by the
people and he should ask himself whether it would be
fair by the easterners to amalgamate the province in
which they live in with the north.
“All what Sivajilingam should do is to participate
in the northern provincial council election and have
his people in the council and enjoy powers, without
making unnecessary statements,” he said.
Be that as it may, if the Tamil parties are going to
take up the merger issue again, it will delay the
reconciliation process or even put an end to the
process. It is up to them now to decide what is