'Colvin, Unitary State and APRC Baby'
Prof. Tissa Vitharana
Name - Prof. Tissa Vitharana
Schools - Trinity College, Kandy & Ananda College, Colombo
Professional status - Doctor of Medicine (MBBS, MD, PhD & Dip. Bact)
Entered Parliament - 2004
Portfolio then and now - Minister of Science & Technology
Prof. Tissa Vitharana
He was destined to heal and relieve people suffering from pain. This
gentleman whom I met at his residence at Nawala is quite simple and it
was difficult to believe he has tread on the political path. I first
inquired from the policeman on duty at his gate whether the Minister was
The Constable replied-'Yes'. I then said it can't be as the
Minister's official vehicle was not there and asked the PC to double
check. "Our Minister does not use his official car for personal work. He
came and sent the car back to the Ministry", was the reply.
There was an old 15- station wagon parked under the porch. That is
the personal vehicle of this exemplary man in politics, a doctor of
medicine, Prof. Tissa Vitharana. I, for a moment wondered that if all
our politicians followed the disciplined lifestyle of this great doctor
of medicine, what a bright future was in store for Sri Lanka and her
Clad in a T-Shirt and a sarong, Prof. Tissa Vitharana greeted me with
a mellifluous smile to sit for this -Eye to Eye- chat. His dream had
been to become a doctor to relieve people of their pains. Some of his
patients, though cured, had contracted the same illness to return for
Prof. Vitharana had seen that there was a socio-economic problem
surrounding such diseases. Being the Registrar to the Professor of
Medicine of the then Ceylon University, serving at the Colombo General
Hospital, he finally diagnosed the cause was a political problem in the
He saw irregularities in society, injustices and lack of
opportunities and found it difficult to follow the state of the world.
He began to study the doctrine of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and many others.
From that point he was looking forward to achieve economic development
for all people through a World Socialist Order to eliminate all social
Prof. Vitharana is a man who fears to tread on paths, where Angels do
fear to tread. But, in his thought, word and deed, his character
displayed he would not allow 'unholy elements' to obstruct his path as
he possessed scientific experience to drive away such elements, to
accomplish the noble task he has embarked upon with much confidence. It
was in that perspective, the learned Professor began to answer the
Q: What is the current status of the All Party Representatives
A: We have been meeting for one year and three months and had 46
meetings. Fifteen political parties have been associated with our
discussions, of which two have now dropped out. One is the JVP and the
other is the UNP.
Till the end of August they have been within the APRC but not
participated at some of the meetings. Now they have said publicly they
have dropped out of the APRC. Initially I presented a document and other
parties have been giving their views and amendments to that document.
Among those we identified certain core issues and we have been
discussing those issues. Majority of the parties that are involved in
discussion today are members of the government. We had very
controversial issues that came up but, we are progressing smoothly.
Some controversial issues were addressed at meetings chaired by the
President and some by the committee headed by the Prime Minister. As a
result of those discussions there has been a measure of agreement on
what should go into the final document. That is basically what is
Q: How have other parties which are and were in the APRC contributed
towards finding a lasting solution?
A: This is an exercise where everyone is trying to reach a consensus.
They are basically trying to reach a southern consensus. This is very
important as one of the arguments that the LTTE has always used was that
there was no point in going into core issues or key issues with any
government because the opposition was not a party to those discussions.
They held that any agreement reached with a Government was of no
value because when the opposition comes to power such agreements will
not be honoured. The move by the President to set up the All Party
Conference was extremely good as it helped to undermine that argument of
Now, on behalf of the All Party Conference, the APRC is in the
process of trying to reach a consensus. Every party has come before the
APRC with its own particular positions.
The discussions are based to help resolve such differences of opinion
and come to a common position with a considerable degree of compromise
among the different parties. There are several issues where suitable
compromise has already been reached. There were one or two issues there
were very strong insistence that surfaced via media.
Hopefully such issues too would be resolved and included in the
ultimate exercise. My concern is that I look at the whole issue as one
in which we have to provide a set of proposals which the Tamil people
will feel adequate to meet their aspirations and at the same time
address the grievances and problems they have at present. It is to the
extent that we achieve such a document it would be possible to win them
In our battle against militant groups, so long as the militant groups
retain the support of the people for whom they are struggling, they
cannot be defeated. On the other hand, if we find and achieve a
situation in which the people can find an alternative acceptable to
them, then the militant groups will get isolated.
Once they get isolated from the people they become vulnerable. Like
the famous saying of Mao Tse Tung they become like fish out of water. So
long as they are in the water, you cannot see them, you cannot catch
them. But, once they are out of the water it makes things easy.
That is basically the situation confronting us. We have to work out a
solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil people to give them
confidence to live as one people of one country. While doing that we
have to retain the support of the Sinhala and Muslim people. This is the
delicate task we are engaged in. It has to be achieved out of the
consensus that we reach. Well, we will see how well we are able to
Q: Do you view the controversy over the 'Unitary State' as an
obstacle to the progress of the APRC?
A: It is unfortunate that people are guided by these terms which have
lost their original meaning. The term 'unitary' basically signifies that
the Central Government can withdraw whatever powers that are devolved to
Therefore, the Tamil minority as well as the Muslim minority feel
that the danger exists as long as the term 'unitary' stands. In their
reckoning, shall I say that 'unitary' has become a bad word. On the
other side, for the Sinhala majority in particular, 'federal' has become
a bad word. So anything that is given with the label of 'federal' is
being viewed with suspicion.
This has become a cause for dissent and failure to reach a consensus.
I really feel that we should not allow such words to come, in reaching a
There are two or three points we have to keep in mind and one is that
countries which have been thought to be unitary, for instance take
Britain, today there are Parliaments set up in Scotland and in Wales,
now also in Northern Ireland where considerable power enjoyed by
Westminster has been handed over to those regions where some people
claim that the framework has lost its unitary identity. Others are
saying that at any point, theoretically the Westminster can withdraw
Whether it can be done in practice or not is another question. On the
other side we have India, which is supposed to be federal or quasi
federal, where, if it feels that a State Government was acting to the
contrary it could dissolve a State Government and impose direct rule
which even in a classical federal set up is not permissible.
These differences have got blurred and to stick to words like the
word of God is very unrealistic and unreasonable. On the other side, if
you take the example of Canada where you find several states or
provinces, Quebec is one of them the French speaking crowd.
In Quebec there is a separatist movement. They want to set up a
separate state, which means a country. There, those who are opposed to
the separatists are the federalists.
Federalists want to remain in Canada and have a federal
administration. They want Quebec retained in Canada and the separatists
are the opponents of the federalists.
Whereas in our country, federal is viewed as a dirty word by some
sections of the political scene claiming it is equivalent to separatism,
which is not so in reality. These positions some of these political
parties taking are not based on facts and what exactly happens in
reality in other countries. It is really a process of generating fear.
If you look at the whole problem that arose in Sri Lanka, a fear that
was generated has been used as a weapon to prevent a solution to the
problem. In 1956 there was no ethnic problem; there was only a language
At that time what the Tamil people wanted was Tamil to be an official
language alongside Sinhala. There were some Tamil federalists at that
time and they were considered extremists and by and large the majority
of Tamil people rejected them. All they wanted was a solution to the
At that particular time extreme elements in the South claimed that if
Tamil was made an official language every single Sinhala will be forced
to learn Tamil. the second claim was that the Tamil people will be able
to get the jobs of the Sinhala people.
Such was the fear generated to prevent Tamil being made an official
language. That was how political parties acted in the past to come to
power. I am sorry to say that such a situation still prevails in this
Q: Professor, would you accept that the late Dr. Colvin R. De Silva
made a big blunder by including the 'unitary state' concept to the 1972
constitution? From 1948-72, this country was one nation even without
I put this question to you fearlessly to a socialist of your calibre,
as Dr. Colvin was the person who advocated the theory of - One Language,
Two Nations AND Two Languages, One Nation. Being aware of the
developments after the 1956 language issue, it is my position that Dr.
Silva committed this blunder when drafting 1972 Constitution to please
those in the then Government.
A: Ah...Ah.. .Ah (laughs the Professor)...Well, the LSSP and Dr.
Colvin R. De Silva were not for a unitary state. This was a decision
where the major party in that coalition Government was very strongly
advocating as they are doing now.
Therefore, a decision was taken to have the support for a new
Constitution which would sever our links, dependence and subordination
to the British and get complete independence, because 1948 was no
complete independence. It was partial independence. To become completely
independent and become a republic, the LSSP felt it was more important
to give in on that issue and that is what Colvin himself wanted.
Q:- Be that as it may Mr. Minister, you have now embarked on a
mission to find a solution. Will you base your solution on a unitary,
united or federal structure in your final draft?
A:- Each party is there in the APRC with its own voice. Everyone is
equal in those discussions. They have right to their own positions. Now
we are discussing to understand each others point of view to see where
necessary adjustments could be made to work out a really indigenous
It's not something thrust from outside. We meet as various groups of
representatives of the people of our country. In the interest of those
people we are trying to work out a solution, not everybody but the
majority of the people will accept.
Q:-The international community is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the APRC. How do you view the interest of that community towards this
internal problem of this country?
A:- I would like to say that international community has its own
agenda and every country has its own agenda. They too have common
interests shared to humanity in general.
Here, I see that the international community can play a very
important role in resolving this problem. We are all part of a world.
India is our nearest neighbour and a significant number of displaced
persons are living in India.
Therefore, India is involved in this problem. In a way the big powers
who are involved in providing economic assistance would like to see such
assistance is distributed evenly to everybody and not grabbed by a
particular group. In that situation they wish to see a resolution of the
At the same time we must keep in mind that they have their own
agendas in mind. They have their economic and political factors which we
have to keep in mind. During the colonial era, those countries succeeded
in subjugating our country to the principle of divide and rule. Those
practices have not died out with the direct end of colonial rule.
Those dangers also exist and we must keep them in mind. The APRC will
work out our own solution, among ourselves in a cordial atmosphere. I am
happy to say that there is a cordial atmosphere still prevailing within
the APRC.I hope it will be sustained until we finalise our document. We
must prepare ourselves to bring out a document to be the basis for
future talks and a future Constitution for our country.
Q: In a process towards the preparation of a final document where do
the Tamil parties stand before the APRC?
A: From the point of view of the people of the North and the East,
the EPDP is there with other Tamil parties outside that area. There are
four Muslim political parties included in the fray. Unfortunately, the
Tamil National Alliance has not been a part of this process.
I personally would have liked if they were a part of this exercise. I
did speak to bring them in, a bit late in the process. I made a concrete
suggestion to their leader Sambanthan but, there has not been any
Other parties have been very interested from the beginning. One is
the TULF headed by Anandasangaree, and the others are the EPRLF and the
PLOTE. They have submitted their stand to us in writing. Those have been
taken into consideration. I have had regular meeting with those leaders
throughout the process.
They have been very supportive of the APRC process. They have said
that any reduction in the unit of devolution which is the province in
the present constitution would be totally unacceptable. In the same way
they are unhappy with the status of the solution being unitary. Those
are their positions and we must interact with them to work out some
positions acceptable to them. If we cannot win over the moderate
parties, it will make things impossible to win over the Tamil people.
Q: Let us now conclude this talk on a more positive note. Everyday we
hear and read that the APRC final document would be born soon. You seem
to scream in labour pains silently to deliver at the earliest. Even a
caesarean operation is not recommended.
To me it looks like the sound of the distant drums.. so near yet so
far.. So when will you deliver this baby?
A: (Minister cracks into laughter) All I can say is that it is
getting nearer. One of the reasons I tried to set two deadlines was for
the simple reason that the UNP set us a deadline.
Here I must say that I am very disappointed that the UNP did not
actively participate in this process. Initially they made a very useful
contribution. The document they submitted was very balanced and useful
in taking the process forward. In the second document they submitted
they said they had accepted the document I prepared as a satisfactory
basis for future discussions.
Now their decision to back out actually upset the balance in the
APRC. It weakened the process and I am very sorry that it happened. It
would have been very much better if they had remained. I thought when
they set deadlines they would comeback to the process.
If the two main parties that form Governments in the country become
partners to the common document that will give an assurance to the Tamil
people that whatever Government that comes to power will honour the
proposals that are drafted as proposals by these two parties. I was
trying to meet those deadlines pressing members of the APRC to draw the
UNP back into the forum.
Well...... there was dissent from certain parties within the APRC
that delayed the process. We must now hold discussions to reach a final
consensus document of maximal use in solving this problem. Now I am not
so bothered about deadlines.
I am prepared to allow it to take its own course. But, my own feeling
is that it should not be allowed to drag on because various people who
want to disrupt the process will have more time to do that. At the same
time if it drags on, people will begin to lose confidence.
We need people to actively support this... and the quicker we can
work out a solution, better it will be from the point of view of