The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) is pitching for the Indian Union Territory (UT) model in the ongoing Sri Lankan national exercise to evolve a devolution package that will help solve the ethnic conflict.
Justifying the decision to go in for the Indian UT model, SLMC chief Rauff Hakeem said that the fact that the Muslim areas in the island did not have geographical contiguity made the Indian 'Pondicherry' model the most suitable.
The Muslims have been agitating for an autonomous Muslim unit in the North-East, comprising areas where the Muslims are in majority.
The SLMC, which has been spearheading this movement, has considered the establishment of such a unit as being necessary to solve the ethnic problem permanently.
Pondicherry, which was once ruled by the French and has a pronounced French legacy, has enclaves in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Pondicherry enjoys less autonomy than an Indian state, but it gets a great deal of financial assistance from the Central government to compensate for it. Pondicherry is too small to be economically viable.
Like the former French enclaves in India, the Muslim enclaves in Sri Lanka are small. They are also spread across the districts of Amparai, Batticaloa and Trincomalee in Eastern Sri Lanka.
The Union Territory model would enable a conglomeration of these Muslim enclaves to enjoy a certain amount of autonomy while getting substantial Central assistance to compensate for its economic weakness.
SLMC for continuation of North-East merger
The SLMC leader said that his party did not want to disturb the current arrangement whereby the Northern and Eastern Provinces were "temporarily" merged to form a single Tamil-speaking province.
The Muslims are a substantial part of the Eastern districts, but they are also Tamil-speaking.
Hakeem described the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna's attempt to get the merger annulled (through legal action) as a "mischievous" one designed to set the Muslims and the Tamils against each other.
On the provision for a referendum on the merger, he said that a referendum on this issue would only exacerbate communal tension in the North East. The SLMC was opposed to it.
Hakeem said that the Muslims wanted either a federal structure or a "meaningful devolution of powers established under and protected by the constitution."
Asked if the SLMC was not moving away from the ideal of a federal constitution, he said that his party wanted to be flexible even as it considered federalism "essential".
The SLMC was also for a flexible federal structure where the devolution of power would conform to the needs and the capacity of the unit of devolution.
The party would want the principles of a multi-party democracy, pluralism, and human rights to be enshrined in any administrative arrangement, whether temporary or permanent.
And any temporary arrangement would have to be linked to or lead to the final solution, so that the process of solving the ethnic issue was an integrated one.