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Sri Lanka miffed at India’s call to implement 13A

1 October 2020 02:12 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The 13th Amendment was incorporated into the Constitution following the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord

The accord called for the merger of the North and the East and the conduct of Provincial Council elections to the North-East Provincial Council before December 31, 1987

Unlike on past occasions, Prime Minister Rajapaksa did not commit to do anything regarding the 13th Amendments in the joint statement

 

A host of important matters were discussed at a virtual bilateral discussion carried out last Saturday between Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Subsequently, a joint statement was issued for the first time in ten years. The statement contained numerous positive points for the furtherance of economic cooperation and development of Buddhist heritage sites. Irrespective of this public debate is directed at India’s call for the implementation of the 13th Amendment in the Constitution. In fact, the Sri Lankan side is miffed at the Indian leader emphasising, once again, on the need to implement it.   


The statement says, “Prime Minister Modi called on the Government of Sri Lanka to address the aspirations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and respect within a united Sri Lanka, including by carrying forward the process of reconciliation with the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed the confidence that Sri Lanka will work towards realising the expectations of all ethnic groups, including Tamils, by achieving reconciliation nurtured as per the mandate of the people of Sri Lanka and implementation of the Constitutional provisions”.   


The points related to the entire gamut of bilateral relations are highlighted in the statement, but the references to the 13th Amendment and a ‘united Sri Lanka’ has sparked a public debate that has consumed media space otherwise meant to be reserved for highlighting positives.   


The timing of such mentioning is the reason here. An open political discussion is already underway whether the Provincial Councils established in terms of the 13th Amendment are appropriate in today’s context.   


The 13th Amendment was incorporated into the Constitution following the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord. Now, the government has launched action to evolve a brand new constitution to be enacted by repealing the present 1978 constitution. A committee of legal luminaries and scholars has already been appointed in this respect. A school of thought has emerged within the government that the provincial system should be revisited. Prime Minister Rajapaksa himself suggested that time was ripe for the country to have a relook at the historical demarcation of boundaries of Sri Lanka’s principalities during the time of ancient kings instead of adhering to the provincial boundaries created by British colonial rulers. Besides, a core segment of the government including State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Governments Sarath Weerasekara publicly views that the Provincial Councils have been nothing but a white elephant.   


That India insists on it once again at such a time is bound to encounter a stiff reaction from this segment of the Sri Lankan polity which is fundamentally opposed to Provincial Councils.   


In the aftermath of the joint statement being issued by the Yuthukama organisation, which has two parliamentary seats on the government’s ticket, convened a press conference and conveyed its displeasure on the calls for the implementation of the 13th Amendment and to achieve reconciliation with a united Sri Lanka. The word ‘united’ is considered politically sensitive terminology since it connotes federalism.   


Unlike on past occasions, Prime Minister Rajapaksa did not commit to do anything regarding the 13th Amendments in the joint statement. Obviously, he was cautious to avoid any commitment this time because of the sensitivity involving the topic in the current political climate of Sri Lanka. Of course, Mr. Rajapaksa spoke of ‘13th Amendment plus’ when he, as the then President, interacted with Indian leaders. This time, he opted out from taking any such position since the political landscape has been altered with a rigorous call for dismantling the Provincial Council system.   


From the Indian perspective, it looks difficult to budge from its stand taken for more than three decades. The 13th Amendment is a result of the bilateral treaty called the Indo-Lanka accord which was signed on July 29, 1987 between then Sri Lankan President the late J.R. Jayawardene, and the former Indian Prime Minister the late Rajiv Gandhi.   


Since then, it has remained valid though many people have forgotten it. The accord recognises the North and the East as areas of historical habitation of the ‘Tamil speaking people’.   


The accord called for the merger of the North and the East and the conduct of Provincial Council elections to the North-East Provincial Council before December 31, 1987. A referendum had been proposed to be conducted before December 31, 1988 for people in the Eastern Province to decide whether they should remain linked to the North, or part ways.   


The other main focus of the accord was to disarm the Tamil militant groups and end violence. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the prime objectives could not be achieved. Though some Tamil militant groups laid down arms and joined democratic politics after the accord, the LTTE, the dominant armed group among all, remained active wreaking havoc until it was militarily vanquished on May 19, 2009.   


The accord talks about the ‘North-East Provincial Council’. However, seven other Provincial Councils have been established outside the North and the East. Today, even the North and the East remain de-merged.   


The 13th Amendment, which was enacted consequent to the Indo-Lanka accord, envisages that police and land powers should be devolved to the Provincial Councils. In practice, it has never happened. The government seems to be taking into account all these aspects in the evolution of a totally new constitution.   


As such, it is possibly miffed at India’s repeated emphasis on the 13th Amendment as a means of bringing about reconciliation in the country. This is something serious to be taken note of since it has happened at a time when the two countries aim at pursuing bilateral economic projects. India is keen to share equity in a joint venture to develop the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port, a move vehemently opposed by port workers.   


Any resentment, generated over laying emphasis on the 13th Amendment, will lead to further skepticism among people even against commercial projects.   


For India, the accord is still important for its strategic aspect. India can have some leverage on Sri Lanka as long as the accord is intact. Otherwise, its obvious purpose has not been served at all.     

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  • Right Royally Thursday, 01 October 2020 10:32 AM

    Have the Royals decided on the three in the family to be crowned when the three kingdoms are reborn?

    George Silva Thursday, 01 October 2020 11:15 AM

    Rather than interfering in other countries, India need to clean up their act at home like the pandemic and innocent rape victims


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