The word ‘federalism’ has re-emerged in the political spectrum with the TNA and the Northern Provincial Council openly calling for a federal solution to the ethnic issue. This has already triggered bitter opposition from some nationalists in the south.
The call for federalism is not new and it has been in our political currency for over half a century. Having originated from politics of G G Ponnambalam and S J V Chelvanayakam, federalist demand has dominated the northern electorate as an effective means of winning the popular vote.
Both opposition leader R Sampanthan as well as Northern Province Chief Minister C V Vigneswaran, no doubt, are aware that post-war ground situation in the rest of the country is not conducive for such a call to materialize. However, the stark reality in politics as in general life, is that one has to ask for the moon to get the stars. To that extent, there is no reason for the rest of the country to get agitated over this demand.
At the centre of all this is the proposal for a new constitution which the parliament has formally accepted and a steering committee is already working on. Perhaps, this may be an opportunity for all communities to agree on a long-lasting constitution for the country. Minority participation in drafting such a constitution is vital this time as it was woefully lacking in the making of constitutions of both 1972 and 1978.
The degree of such devolution of power will ultimately have to be decided by the parliament and by people at a referendum. Any demand for devolution outside this mechanism at this juncture, however politically attractive it may be, will only upset the mindset of those in the south who are now willing to look at the issue more sympathetically.
Excessive demands by northern politicians made in public will only give much needed lifeblood to chauvinists in the south who are against any form of devolution to the north. Vigneswaran and rest of the northern politicians should remember that to the extent such demands are attractive political slogans in the north, they also will provide political space to anti-devolution campaigners in the south.