India’s National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon is scheduled to meet sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at “Temple Trees” in the morning of July 9th 2013 for crucial discussions on recent developments concerning the Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment brought about by the India-Sri Lanka accord of July 29th 2013.
Menon who has served in Sri Lanka as High Commissioner and also held the post of foreign secretary is also expected to convey a high level message from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to President Rajapaksa.
The discussions will be preceded by a breakfast meeting with President Rajapaksa and a few important officials during which important bilateral issues would be delved into.
Thereafter the President and the Indian National Security adviser will commence direct discussions focusing on matters related to the 13th Constitutional amendment. President’s secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Indian high commissioner Yashwardan Kumar Sinha will be present during this round of discussions.
Shiv Shankar Menon is expected to reiterate India’s viewpoint regarding the questions of amending the 13th amendment,dilution of devolution, holding of Northern provincial council elections, enhancement of powers to the council, Commonwealth summit in November etc during talks with the President.
He is also expected to deliver Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special message to President Rajapaksa. According to informed Indian sources the suavely diplomatic Menon is not likely to “sugar coat”the pill with diplomatic niceties as is customary.”This time the pill will be bitter and may be difficult to swallow”said the sources and declined to elaborate further.
Indian Foreign minister Salman Khurshid is also expected to visit Colombo after Menons trip. The dates are yet to be finalised.It may be recalled that Khurshid telephoned his counterpart Prof. GL Peiris some weeks ago and expressed concern over proposed plans of diluting devolution. Salman Khurshid’s envisaged visit is consequential to the telephone conversation.
After meeting with the President, the Indian national security adviser Menon will engage in separate meetings on July 9th with delegations from the chief opposition United National Party(UNP)Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). All meetings will be on the same day.
These discussions too will hinge around the thirteenth Constitutional amendment.New Delhi has a legitimate basis to be concerned about this issue as the it was India that facilitated the formulation and passage if the 13th amendment. It now has the task of ensuring that the amendment is enhanced and implemented smoothly.
It may be recalled that President Rajapaksa’s intention of rushing through the 19th Constitutional amendment as an urgent bill has not been carried out as planned. Two reasons attributed for this “delay” are serious divisions within the cabinet and New Delhi’s opposition. India has sent a demarche cautioning Sri Lanka from making any changes to the 13th amendment until the Northern Provincial council elections are held.
According to Indian sources Shiv Shankar Menon was earlier scheduled to visit Sri Lanka for a day to participate in trilateral talks on maritime security between India,Sri Lanka and the Maldives.Subsequently the trip was extended to two days to enable the national security adviser to hold talks with the President and other political parties in addition to engaging in the trilateral talks.
SS Menon is expected to arrive in Colombo either late in the night on July 7th or shortly after midnight on July 8th. He is expected to have discussions with Defence and urban development secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa during the course of the trilateral talks on July 8th.
The presidential sibling is perceived as the primary opponent of devolution via Provincial councils as envisaged by the 13th amendment.
Menon will also have informal talks with a few members of the TNA on the 8th where he will be briefed on the current situation. The formal discussions with the TNA will be held the following day.
Interestingly the newly constituted Parliamentary Select committee(PSC)on devolution is expected to conduct its first meeting on July 9th the day on which Menon will meet the Presdident,UNP,TNA and SLMC.
The PSC has lost credibility even before its commencement by two factors. Firstly President Rajapaksa has excluded ardent advocates of greater devolution like ministers Tissa Vitarana, Rajitha Senaratne and Rauff Hakeem from the PSC indicative of a hidden agenda aimed at undermining devolution.Secondly parties such as the UNP, TNA, SLMC and JVP have stated that they will not participate in the PSC making it a virtual govt cabal conducted anti-devolution exercise.
In a separate development Economic Affairs and Presidential Sibling Basil Rajapaksa will leave for New Delhi ahead of Menon’s visit.Basil Rajapaksa will be in India on July 4th.His Indian trip is basically related to bilateral economic issues.
India’s Commerce Secretary S.R. Rao met Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa last week to discuss further strengthening Indo-Sri Lanka economic ties in trade,commerce, exports,investment and the area of tourism development. Both sides also focused their attention on transport problems relating to exports and the need to develop transport services.
Among the matters discussed were the garment, textile and handloom industries, tourism development, generation of solar energy, agriculture and the pharmaceutical industry. India is likely to invest in these areas in the near future. Basil Rajapaksa’s Indian trip is a follow up of the Colombo discussions.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa is however likely to utilise this opportunity to have meetings with Indian Govt leaders and senior officials and brief them on the political situation in Sri Lanka including matters relating to the proposed changes to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. He is likely to meet Foreign minister Salman Khurshid and National security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon.
Meanwhile speculation is rife that President Rajapaksa will duly constitute the Northern Provincial council on July 5th. This will be a prelude to the announcement of elections to the council in late September.
There are however doubts about elections being held in September as moves are afoot to mount a legal challenge by vested interests with an anti-devolution agenda.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ email@example.com