For the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to complain about the local, elected Tamil political leadership that represents the North and the East of the country, requesting the assistance of the Government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – specifically seeking the latter’s intervention on pressuring and assisting the GoSL for the purpose of achieving certain political aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people of the two said provinces, in particular those pertaining to the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the holding of the Provincial Councils Polls – claiming instead that any related concerns these political parties have should be raised with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, are disingenuous to say the least.
A total of seven political parties representing the Tamil-speaking people in the North and the East, including among others, the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi/Kachchi (ITAK), the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, the Democratic People’s Liberation Front, and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, have, through a delegation led by TNA Leader and ITAK Parliamentarian R. Sampanthan, handed over a jointly signed letter addressed to Modi and the Indian Government, to the Indian High Commission, outlining certain concerns and the interventions sought. The leaders of these parties, it is reported, are to be afforded a meeting with High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay soon.
The concerns raised in the letter pertain to seeking the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the conduct of the Provincial Councils Elections (calls for which are also supported by the Tamil Progressive Alliance [TPA] which represents mostly Tamils of Indian origin in the upcountry areas); the implementation of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution on language rights, in both word and spirit; putting an end to the alleged systematic attempts made through acts of land grabbing to change the regional demographic patterns of the predominantly Tamil-speaking North and East in a manner that is contrary to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact (1957), the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact (1965), and the Indo-Lanka Accord (1987) (which the letter further alleges is taking place through the appropriation of Tamil border villages in the North and the East to Sinhala areas and vice versa, thereby altering the ethnic composition and making Tamils minorities in their own areas); halting activities and attempts by the Archaeology Department, the Mahaweli Authority, the Forest Department, the Wildlife Conservation Department, the Tourist Board, and the Defence Ministry to allegedly destroy and/or pervert historical evidences that confirm the historical habitation of the North and the East as the traditional homelands of the Tamils; granting full citizenship status to Sri Lankan Tamils of Indian origin; the immediate repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979; the implementation of the proportional representation electoral system; and the dissolution of the “One Country, One Law” Presidential Task Force.
On the reasons for these minority parties turning to India through the submission of this set of common proposals, this is what TPA Leader MP Mano Ganesan had to say publicly: “India also has a responsibility towards the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Do not criticise us by saying that we are taking Sri Lankan problems to the international community. It was Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who first took Sri Lankan problems to the international community in 1989. Yes – we need a united Sri Lanka, but we also need a diverse Sri Lanka. We must stop the division and extremism in Sri Lanka. Our hope is to live equally in a united Sri Lanka. But the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is not our final hope. It is a constitutional right and it is not a new thing. We demand that the Government enforce the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and challenge them to win the hearts of the Tamil-speaking people”. TMTK Leader MP C.V. Wigneswaran said of the same that “the removal of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution by the proposed new Constitution would invalidate the Indo-Sri Lanka peace Accord which would in turn prevent India from being able to intervene in the issues of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka”.
In response, Co-Cabinet Spokesman Udaya Gammanpila has opined that if the parties representing the Tamil-speaking population in the country have any concerns or worries, they must raise such with President Rajapaksa, instead of seeking the assistance of Modi, as Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation and as such, is not a part of the Union of India, while fellow Co-Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has claimed that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution has been fully implemented. Both statements by the Government Spokesmen are disingenuous to say the least, not to mention, factually, legally speaking, wholly erroneous in the case of Pathirana’s claim, when it was Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa who, when he was the President, called for “13th plus (a reference to going beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution)”. Moreover, it is mighty white of Gammanpila and his cohorts to consider it acceptable to cherry pick national causes and to therefore run after India whenever it seeks aid for economic woes and to promote bilateral religious ties of meaning to the Sinhala Buddhists, but to decry the same as anathema, when a major segment of the country’s population, the Tamils, who with as much or perhaps more historical links to India, reach out to its neighbour on matters that the GoSL should equally be concerned with, yet, to much national detriment, is not, and instead declaiming such as conspiratorial attempts at bringing about meddlesome foreign and treacherous international intervention.
Furthermore, previous attempts by the TNA to meet President Rajapaksa have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed by Rajapaksa himself. Therefore, it is not as if they have not tried or for the lack of trying on the TNA’s part, as the President and the Government have consistently not shown any inclination to engage with the elected Tamil political representatives, let alone meet them halfway on the issue; instead, the latter, at best, have been stonewalled, and at worst, been greeted with a cold shoulder.
Also, the TNA recently embarked on a high-profile international tour which culminated in meetings with the US State Department, where they requested the latter to be more involved, proactively engaged, together with India, to bring about change in conditions within Sri Lanka, by promoting a holistic approach to reconciliation, which would include addressing the root cause of the conflict, human rights violations, and the denial of political rights to the Tamil people, as addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, dignity, and meaningful power devolution is critical in guaranteeing non-recurrence. It is unlikely that the Government is oblivious to the said visit as it received media publicity. In this context, the letter to Modi is a last resort of sorts, having exhausted all options.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s idea of modern-day reconciliation, per his recent policy statement speech, involves, setting aside the dark memories of the past and building a secure country where all sections of the community can coexist in peace, where all, irrespective of ethnic, religious, or political differences, must unite for this purpose, with the Government’s prime responsibility towards the reconciliation of the people in the North and the East being to provide facilities for economic security, sans discrimination. Specifically, he has urged MPs representing the Northern and Eastern areas to set aside various political ideologies, and to support the Government’s efforts to improve the living conditions of the people in the said areas.
TNA Spokesman and ITAK MP President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran has already criticised the absence of anything meaningful in this statement, as far as the national question is concerned.
A political solution to the national question, for these parties, involves meaningful power sharing in the form of power devolution, within the framework of a united Constitution. This is a serious concern to be dealt with seriously and in this regard, the President and the Government are duty bound to deal with such with the solemnity required for the task of negotiating a solution regarding the vexatious matter. As the President reminded in his maiden post-election speech, he is the President for the entire country even though he did not receive the bulk of the votes of the North and the East.
President Rajapaksa has noted that a key policy from his “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” policy statement is to introduce a new Constitution that fulfils the people’s wishes, in short, a people-friendly Constitution. Broad public consultation that is a requisite of any attempt at framing a people-friendly Constitution requires earnest engagement which is yet to be seen, a la the treatment meted out to the elected Tamil political leadership by the Government which seems more in line with a sense of enforced alienation or outright rejection. Perhaps, the Government could learn a lesson by running with the hare and hunting with the hounds instead of making foes out of potential allies – one’s own countrymen for that matter.
It is not the extension of the olive branch of reconciliation that is missing from the debate regarding a political solution for the national question but the offering of the betel leaf of invitation for the purpose of the practical commerce of intellectual discourse towards the path of genuine and organic reconciliation.