In a significant poitical development last week, some influential members of Tamil civil society in the northern and eastern provinces of sri Lanka took the initiative to write directly to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking India’s help in urging the Sri Lankan Government to hold Provincial Council elections as early as possible.
The letter signed by a number of respected religious leaders, academics, educationists and professionals including journalists has sought the Indian Prime Minister’s assistance to persuade the Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe to conduct elections to Provincial councils without further delay.
The letter addressed to the Indian PM was handed over to diplomats at the Indian consulate in Jaffna a few days ahead of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s two day visit to New Delhi scheduled for 20 and 21 July. The Tamil civil society missive has been duly forwarded to New Delhi for the Indian premier’s attention.
It has been the usual practice in Sri Lankan Tamil politics for Tamil political partoes to write letters of a political nature to Indian political leaders seeking their help to exert pressure on their counterparts in Sri Lanka regarding issues concerning the Tamil national question in the Island.
In this instance, key members of Tamil civil society have written directly to the Indian PM asking for his aid to bring about early provincial elections in general and the northern and eastern councils in particular. The Tamil people are the dominant entity in the Northern province and the single largest community in the Eastern Province. . Provincial councils ceased to function in the East in 2017 and the north in 2018.
A remarkable aspect of the Tamil civil society letter is its open criticism of contemporary Tamil political leaders over elections not being held to the Northern and eastern PCs for many years.
The letter states – “It is unfortunate that our Tamil political leadership is disunited merely for political reasons, and it continues without having any meaningful working programme to attain the aspiration of Tamil people. However, a majority of the people desperately need a Tamil administration at the provincial level,”
Among the signatories to the letter described as a peoples petition were – Srila Sri Gnanasampantha Paramachariya Swamigal, Nallur Atheenam. Srila Sri Vasutheva Kurukkal, Veenagana Kurupeedam, Bishop Kingsley Swampillai, Retired Bishop Trincomalee, Bishop Joseph Rasiah, Bishop of Batticaloa. Rev. P. J. Jebaratnam, Vicar General, Jaffna. Bishop Dr. V. Pathmathayalan, Bishop, Church of South India- Jaffna, Prof. S. Pathamanathan, Chancellor of Jaffna University, Dr. V. Vivekanandarajah, Former Chancellor of Eastern University,Dr.K.Premakumar, Former V.C, Eastern University, Prof. Pon Balasundarampillai, Former V.C., Jaffna University. Prof. C.Arulmoli, Eastern University, Prof. T. Krishnamogan, Eastern University, Prof. S.Mounaguru, Former Dean, Faculty of fine arts, Eastern University, Prof. S.Padmanaban, Dean, Faculty of Hindu studies, University of Jaffna and Kosalai Mathan, Deen Facultry of Law, Jaffna University.
Tamil Civil Society Letter
The full text of the peoples petition sent by Tamil civil society members of Northern and eastern Sri Lanka to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is as follows –
“We the undersigned members of Civil Society living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka wants to bring our following concerns to your kind attention.
Firstly, we thank the Government of India for their immense support and cooperation for the Government of Sri Lanka, particularly during the last sixteen months in providing the much needed financial and other necessities to ease the hardships the people of Sri Lanka faced.
We are also grateful for the generous support your government gave in rebuilding the infrastructure in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and other connectivity projects such as Jaffna- Colombo Railway, Palaly – Chennai flights and proposed Tamil Nadu- Jaffna ferry services.
These projects along with the many intended investment programs will certainly help to regenerate the stagnant economy of Tamil Provinces along with the other Provinces and generate desperately needed employment opportunities.
It is fourteen years since the war ended but the social and economic conditions of our people have not progressed as expected. In addition to the hardships all Sri Lankan people are facing due to the bad management of the economy, Tamil people are facing additional difficulties.
For example, education standards are rapidly going down in Tamil Provinces. Agricultural sector made hardly any progress mainly due to the occupation of fertile lands in Tamil provinces under various pretexts. The vast majority of the people and many leading members of various civil society organisations feel there is a need for an approachable Tamil administration at Provincial level to plan and manage all sectors efficiently.
At present this is only feasible by having an elected Provincial Governments in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It is unfortunate that our Tamil political leaderships is disunited merely for political reasons and it continues without having any meaningful working program to attain the aspiration of Tamil People. However, majority of the people desperately need a Tamil administration at provincial level. This was amply demonstrated by the fact that since the end of the war, the largest number of people voted in any elections, was only in the 2013 Provincial elections.
We are fully aware that the Government of India has been consistently calling for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and to have a functioning Provincial Councils in the Tamil Provinces.
We earnestly appeal to you to reiterate that position and use this opportunity to persuade the visiting President Hon Ranil Wickremasinghe to call for an early Provincial Council election Srilanka.”
Meanwhile veteran Trincomalee district MP and Parliamentary group leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Rajavarothayam Sampanthan has also sent a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 17 July 2023. The purpose of this letter was to request PM Modi to get President Wickremesinghe to speedily ensure power sharing arrangements with the Sri Lankan Tamil people. The Tamil leader in his letter says – “In this background we respectfully urge Your Excellency to prevail upon the President of Sri Lanka when he visits New Delhi around the 21st of July 2023, to fulfil the commitments made to India with regard to sharing powers of governance with the Tamil People of the North-East in Sri Lanka without any further delay.”
TNA leader Sampanthan who was first elected to Parliament in 1977 has been involved in most initiatives taken since then to resolve the Tamil national question. This includes the Indo – lanka accord and 13th Constitutional Amendment of of 1987. As such it has been customary for Sampanthan to relate the history of past efforts undertaken to resolve the ethnic crisis through power sharing arrangements. The nonagenarian MP does so at political discussions,conferences, conversations and through letters
In that context Trinco MP Sampanthan’s latest letter to PM Modi is also a history lesson of sorts. The Letter is Reproced here in full – – –
TNA Letter to Indian PM
July 17, 2023
His Excellency Shri Narendra Modi
Prime Minister of India.
THE VISIT OF HE RANIL WICKREMASINGHE TO NEW DELHI
I write to you as the leader of the largest parliamentary group of the Tamil Parties in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil People have consistently given us a mandate to work towards a political solution to the Tamil National Question by means of a federal arrangement in the North-East, which was recognized as the ‘historical habitation’ of the Tamil speaking people in the Indo-Lanka Accord that was signed on the 29th of July 1987 provided for a measure of devolution to the provinces, including land and police powers.
The Government of India has actively engaged in this pursuit for the past 40 years and we are grateful for the firm commitment expressed by India to find a just and lasting solution that satisfies the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil speaking peoples to live with dignity, self-respect, peace and security. We remain committed to a political solution based on a federal structure that recognizes our legitimate aspirations. The Tamil speaking peoples have always been the majority in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution was introduced after the Indo-Lanka Accord, establishing a provincial council system that envisaged devolution of powers to the provinces. But the Amendment was introduced into a Unitary Constitution making the exercise one of decentralization instead of devolution, to which I along with my leaders, Messrs. Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam responded by writing to the Prime Minister at that time, Shri. Rajiv Gandhi. We pointed out several flaws in the proposed amendment and consequently the Government of India obtained an assurance from President J R Jayawardena that those will be rectified. It is against this background that every effort made thereafter moved in the direction of surpassing the Thirteenth Amendment towards a federal structure.
First, in 1993, the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee during President R. Premadasa’s tenure recommended devolution based on the Indian model. It suggested that the Concurrent List be either abolished or that most of the subjects in it be transferred to the Provincial List. It further proposed an Apex Council linking the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils.
Second, the government proposals for constitutional reforms in 1995 and 1997 under President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and the Constitutional Bill of 2000, all proposed extensive devolution of power, and abandoned the unitary state structure.
Third, in December 2002, talks were held between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in Oslo. At these talks, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government delegation was led by Prof. G.L. Peiris, who after reaching this agreement, said the following at a press conference:
Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities…And the parties agreed to, on that basis, discuss matters further.
Fourth, in 2006, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed an All Party Representative Committee (APRC), and a committee of experts to formulate proposals for a new constitution. At its inaugural meeting, President Rajapaksa outlined their task in the following words:
We must explore past attempts from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact onwards…People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement, without overreliance on the centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities…There are many examples from around the world that we may study as we evolve a truly Sri Lankan constitutional framework including our immediate neighbour, India…
Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country given the background to the conflict.
The multi-ethnic expert committee involved in the APRC process, in their main report, proposed an extensive power-sharing arrangement similar to the Constitution Bill of August 2000. The final APRC report meanwhile suggested important improvements to the Thirteenth Amendment including the abolition of the concurrent list.
Finally, following the conclusion of the armed conflict in 2009, the government made certain pledges to implement and build on the Thirteenth Amendment.
On 26th May 2009, President Rajapaksa issued a joint communique with the visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon stating:
President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.
The very next day, on 27th May 2009, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which the aforesaid commitment by President Rajapaksa was incorporated in the following words:
Welcoming also the recent assurance given by the President of Sri Lanka that he does not regard a military solution as a final solution, as well as his commitment to a political solution with the implementation of the thirteenth amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
In June 2010, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India made a statement with regard to Sri Lanka. He stated:
The Prime Minister emphasised that a meaningful devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would create the necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement. The President of Sri Lanka reiterated his determination to evolve a political settlement acceptable to all communities that would act as a catalyst to create the necessary conditions in which all the people of Sri Lanka could lead their lives in an atmosphere of peace, justice and dignity, consistent with democracy, pluralism, equal opportunity and respect for human rights. Towards this end, the President expressed his resolve to continue to implement in particular the relevant provisions of the Constitution designed to strengthen national amity and reconciliation through empowerment. In this context, he shared his ideas on conducting a broader dialogue with all parties involved. The Prime Minister of India expressed India’s constructive support for efforts that build peace and reconciliation among all communities in Sri Lanka.
This commitment was then repeated in May 2011 when External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris visited New Delhi. A joint press statement with the Minister of External Affairs of India stated:
The External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties. A devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.
This commitment was reiterated once again in Colombo in January 2012. After meeting President Rajapaksa, visiting Indian Minister for External Affairs, Hon. S. M. Krishna speaking at a joint press conference with Minister G. L. Peiris, stated:
The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and building on it, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers. We look forward to an expeditious and constructive approach to the dialogue process.
Most notably thereafter, on 13th March 2015, Your Excellency spoke in the Sri Lankan Parliament and stated:
Today, my top priority is to make the States in India stronger. I am a firm believer in cooperative federalism. So, we are devolving more power and more resources to the States. And we are making them formal partners in national decision-making process.
However, in total disregard of the pious promises and repeated assurances on its part, the Sri Lankan State has not only failed to fulfil its commitments, but has also attempted to abort the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution by resisting brazenly the continuous demands for the devolution of land and police powers and by misappropriating powers already enjoyed by the provinces by legislative manipulations.
Crisis of Confidence
This has led to a crisis of confidence in regard to the willingness on the part of the Sri Lankan state in honouring its obligations under the Indo-Lanka Accord in the resolution of the National Question.
We firmly believe that the Tamil People’s safety, security, identity and existence as a Nation is inseparable from the national security of India especially in its southern neighbourhood. Sadly, the twin purposes for which the Accord was signed, namely, the safety and security of the Tamil People and the security of India, remain elusive even after the lapse of 36 years.
In this background we respectfully urge Your Excellency to prevail upon the President of Sri Lanka when he visits New Delhi around the 21st of July 2023, to fulfil the commitments made to India with regard to sharing powers of governance with the Tamil People of the North-East in Sri Lanka without any further delay.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
This is an enhanced version of the “DBS Jeyaraj Column “appearing in the “Daily Mirror” of 22nd July 2023.It can be accessed here –