Is 13 A to go along with 19 A?

1 August 2020 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It is interesting to note that the Sri Lankan leaders and Tamil leaders are very keen on the India’s close proximity to Sri Lanka and its interests within the country as well as the region

Almost all SLPP leaders have stated that the party would scrap the 19th Amendment to the Constitution if they are elected to power with sufficient Parliamentary numbers

Basically the leaders of the SLPP would prefer to abolish the provincial council system as they have been against the devolution of powers to the provincial councils or any other peripheral units

 

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa wants a political blank cheque from the people, in the form of two thirds majority Parliamentary power, at the next Wednesday’s election. It would be a blank cheque because the party has not specifically told the people as to what they would do with that special power.  


Almost all SLPP leaders have stated that the party would scrap the 19th Amendment to the Constitution if they are elected to power with sufficient Parliamentary numbers. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa too have expressed this view on many occasions. Nevertheless, except for one or two leaders, none of the others in the party - leave alone the voters who would vote for it - seems to know anything about the changes that their leaders are really planning to bring in to the Constitution. So, it is really a blank cheque they are soliciting.  


They could bring in any change to the Constitution if they are voted into power and justify it with the mandate they would get, as they have only requested power to amend the Constitution without specifying the details of the changes that would be introduced.   


Meanwhile, many leaders of the SLPP and several prominent Buddhist monks supportive of the party are calling for the abolition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as well, so that the provincial council system could be scrapped. It is not clear whether they are speaking their own mind or asked to create a public opinion on that matter by the higher-ups.  


It is ironic that former Minister Milinda Moragoda has also joined the bandwagon. Without mincing his words he had called on the scrapping of the provincial council system. The irony is that Mr. Moragoda was one of the members of the UNF government delegation that agreed to explore a solution to the ethnic issue within a federal framework during the 3rd round of peace talks with the LTTE in Norwegian Capital, Oslo in 2002.  


One would not find difficult to justify the demand for the abolition of the provincial council system since six out of nine of those councils have been almost defunct for more than 20 months and three of them for nearly three years. Yet, there have been no reports - even from the Northern and Eastern Provinces for which the provincial councils were originally designed - about people facing specific issues, due to the absence of those councils.   


Basically the leaders of the SLPP would prefer to abolish the provincial council system as they have been against the devolution of powers to the provincial councils or any other peripheral units. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his visit to India ten days after assuming power in November last year told media that he was not interested in devolution of power, in spite of Indian leaders having asserted to him during the same visit and before the need to strengthen the 13th Amendment.   


Just twenty four hours into his Presidency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa met the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishanker who had conveyed Rajapaksa “India’s expectation that the Sri Lankan government take forward the process of national reconciliation to arrive at a solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity.” During a joint Press briefing with him on November 29, last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also echoed the same sentence, replacing only the last word dignity with the word respect, while specifically stressing that “it also includes the implementation of the 13th Amendment.”   


However, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, though he did not react to the Indian PM’s remark on the Sri Lanka’s basic law, dismissed it during his very stay in New Delhi. He told during an interview with Suhasini Haider of “The Hindu” who is the daughter of Subramanian Swamy. “We can discuss political issues, but for 70 odd years, successive leaders have promised one single thing: devolution, devolution, devolution. But ultimately nothing happened. I also believe that you can’t do anything against the wishes and feeling of the majority community.” He expressed the same sentiments during an interview with Nitin A. Gokhale, the Editor-in-Chief of Bharat Shakti.in and SNI as well, on November 25 in Colombo.  


While the ruling party is attempting to create the public opinion against devolution of power and specifically the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the resultant provincial councils, a diametrically opposite call is being heard from the North, despite it being not new. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil party amalgam and its main rival, the Tamil People’s National Front (TPNF) led by former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran have put forward their election manifestoes for the August 5 Parliamentary election, emphasizing the need to merge the Northern and Eastern Provinces with more and specific powers.   


The TNPF says in its manifesto “Tamil people demand high level autonomy with sovereignty based on a federal structure in the merged North and East, based on the facts that the Tamil people are a distinct nationality, the North and the East of Sri Lanka is their traditional homeland, they have the right to self-determination. TNA’s demand is no different, irrespective of the difference in wordings in it.   


It is interesting to note that the Sri Lankan leaders and Tamil leaders are very keen on the India’s close proximity to Sri Lanka and its interests within the country as well as the region. Tamil leaders who are well aware that Sri Lankan leaders would never meet their demands such as the merger of the North and the East and the term “federal” unless pressure exerted by outside players, especially India are always banking on such pressures.   


For instance, the TPNF manifesto says “In order to achieve this solution the mediation of the international community is essential for the negotiations on the ethic problem.” On the other hand it must be recalled that President Rajapaksa paid his first overseas visit to India and he did so within two weeks after he was sworn in as the President. He knows the importance of diplomacy with India. Far back as 2010 he, as the then Defence Secretary told an Indian journalist “India is a huge power in our neighbourhood and our proximity to Tamil Nadu with 60 million Tamils sensitive to what’s going on in Sri Lanka made the situation extremely complex for us.   


However, India is not the same country as it was, some forty years ago, as Sri Lanka has also changed. Yet, whether it would tilt towards the Sri Lankan government or the Tamil leaders would always be decided by the degree of its interests being safeguarded by the Colombo government. This was clearly evident between 1983 and 1987 when the Indian government armed, financed and trained the Sri Lankan Tamil armed groups who were then fighting for a separate Tamil State within the territory of Sri Lanka.   


There have been two factors that impact Sri Lanka’s importance to India - Sri Lanka’s relationship with other countries such as the US and China with which India vies for the hegemony in the Indian Ocean and the Tamil Nadu leaders’ concern over the happenings in Sri Lanka. If Colombo acts against India’s interests in respect of the first, New Delhi would use the second as a cudgel against its southern neighbor. The fate of the 13th Amendment would also be decided accordingly, irrespective of the clamouring by SLPP leaders over it. .   

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