India never stood for the Sri Lankan Tamils’ rights or aspirations. It had stood for its own interests
A deep-rooted perception the devolution of power amounted to a division of the country
The Accord had practically laid the foundation for devolution of power
hirty-one years ago, the first week of August 1987 saw a huge commotion especially in and around Colombo and also in some other parts of the country, with so many people being shot dead by the Police and the Armed forces.
It was a public agitation instigated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) against the Indo-Lanka Accord signed on July 29, 1987.
The JVP led by its founder leader Rohana Wijeweera had then been proscribed by the J.R. Jayewardene Government under the pretext of instigating the anti-Tamil riots exactly four years ago, in 1983.
It had by then taken to arms after an unsuccessful three-year campaign for the lifting of the proscription on it and its entry into the agitations against the Indo-Lanka Accord gave a further violent twist to the crackdown by the law enforcement authorities.
The agitators were encouraged and thereby the situation was further aggravated by the media reports that Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa and National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and Minister Gamani Jayasuriya were against the Accord.
Reports said that the three top leaders of the Government had boycotted the events related to the signing of the Accord and the visit by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for the signing ceremony.
Newspaper pages carrying the story that Prime Minister Premadasa was against the Accord were seen hanging on lamp posts and railings on either side of the road near the Bo Tree in Pettah, Colombo where a massive sit-in- protest organized by the JVP was on, with the participation of SLFP leader Mrs Bandaranaike, on the previous day of the signing of the Accord.
The agitations seemed to have had the support of the majority of people in Sinhalese dominated Southern areas as the Accord was seen as an instrument for the division of the country.
"Last year Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishanker had told EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran that India would no longer press for the merger issue"
In fact, the Accord had practically laid the foundation for devolution of power through the creation of Provincial Councils and the concept of devolution had been in public discourse for the previous two years since the famous Thimpu Talks in June 1985.
A deep-rooted perception that the devolution of power amounted to the division of the country had by then been created especially by the Opposition among the majority of Sinhalese and it was this fear that made the Sinhalese public to rally round the agitators.
Reports on Police and the Armed Forces shooting dead many people came from around the country.
The JVP later put the tally as 147 in a poster campaign. In many places, the Government institutions were set ablaze by the rioters and people looted many institutions such as supermarkets.
Some Government buildings were burning for days.
Despite the anti-Accord agitations having subsided later the JVP kept the momentum of its armed struggle disguising as Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (DJV) and introducing a new target, ousting of the Government of President Jayewardene, whom they called an Indian stooge.
"The EPDP has been the only entity in the world, not even India that stands persistently for the current PC system up to now"
It pathetically ended with more than 60,000 deaths at the hands of the Armed forces and various vigilante groups such as PRRA in November 1989.
This was how the Provincial Councils came to being exactly 31 years ago and this was the price the country had to pay for it.
Yet, the Accord and the resultant Provincial Councils have failed to achieve what they were meant for.
The stakeholders of the Accord openly had ignored their obligations under it.
The result was another 22 years of war which claimed another uncounted number of lives of soldiers, LTTE cadres, members of other Tamil groups and parties and civilians of all three communities. Some say it could be as many as 100,000.
Nevertheless, the Tamil leaders are still lamenting that their political aspirations are not fulfilled, indicating that they too are not satisfied with the provisions and the implementation of the Accord, despite them having supported it initially.
The Accord provided for the disarmament of the Tamil armed groups in Sri Lanka by India and Sri Lanka had to reciprocate by devolving power to the periphery – to the provincial councils – to a mutually acceptable level.
This included devolving of Police and Land Powers as well to the Provincial Councils.
Both the signatories of the Accord had failed, if not ignored to fulfil these obligations. India failed to disarm the LTTE, though it supported Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to defeat the outfit while pressurizing the island to consider Tamil demands.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka not only failed but never wanted to implement fully the provisions of its own Constitution on devolution.
In fact, India never stood for the Sri Lankan Tamils’ rights or aspirations.
It had stood for its own interests when it armed, funded and militarily trained the Sri Lankan Tamil armed groups in the 1980s.
A staunch friend of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War era Prime Minister Ms Indira Gandhi wanted to ‘teach a lesson to President J.R. Jayewardene for being then an ally of the US Bloc.
She also wanted to pacify Tamil Nadu; India’s southernmost State with a 50 million (Then) Tamil population, which was then agitated against Sri Lanka’s harsh crackdown on the Tamil rebel groups.
Her interest in the strengthening the Tamil armed groups and her son, Rajiv Gandhi’s interest in settling their southern neighbour’s ethnic conundrum towards the end of the Cold War have to be comprehended accordingly.
In spite of not being signatories, the Tamil armed groups had agreed to lay down arms and accept the Provincial Council system that was introduced under the Accord.
Many of them had been exhausted in fighting and on the verge of extermination at the hands of the LTTE then. However, now, except for the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Douglas Devananda, those groups are also hunting for some other solution, which means their rejection of the current Provincial Council system.
The EPDP has been the only entity in the world, not even India that stands persistently for the current PC system up to now.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Velupillai Prabhakaran never agreed to the Accord or the resultant PC system. However, Prabhakaran was briefly and unofficially detained by Indian Authorities in Ashok Hotel in New Delhi prior to the signing of the Accord before he reluctantly agreed to the arrangement.
But, before long, he militarily challenged both countries after finding holes in the Accord and four years later made the very Accord lethal to the Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi himself.
Indian leaders had been insisting on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 13+ during the Rajapaksa regime.
But they no longer seem to be applying pressure on the Sri Lankan Government, as they did in the past; despite the fact that they are concerned over the intermittent Tamil Nadu upheavals.
And India has openly washed its hands off in respect of the merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces.
In February last year Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishanker had told EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran that India would no longer press for the merger issue.
All in all, almost all stakeholders of the Indo- Lanka Accord by now have dumped it in the trash bin rendering it to be a dead letter, which can be revived only by India, if and when it wanted in the interest of it.