A delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) called on the Indian High Commissioner, Gopal Baglay, here on Friday. The High Commissioner congratulated the TNA for its performance at the recent general elections. He reiterated India’s longstanding position on peace and reconciliation and the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution which had created elected Provincial Councils in the nine provinces of the island nation with a modicum of devolved powers.
The 13A came as a result of the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Though elected councils came into being as part of the Accord and the 13 th., Amendment, the powers that the councils should have got as per the 13A have not been devolved. Powers over land and police are still not devolved.
Speaking to newsin.asia, the TNA spokesman and Jaffna district Member of Parliament, M.A.Sumanthiran, said that High Commissioner Baglay assured the delegation that India has a “strong commitment to the principles underlying the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and that the Accord cannot be viewed as a mere piece of paper.”
Envoy Baglay further said that New Delhi is “closely watching” developments in Sri Lanka in regard to all issues including the 13A. Sumanthiran said that in the one and a half interaction, the envoy asked penetrating questions about various issues, especially the President’s proposal to do away with the 19A. President Rajapaksa feels that the 19A curbs powers he is entitled to as a directly elected Executive President and hampers his ability to administer the country as per his electoral mandate.
However, High Commissioner Baglay said that the details of the implementation of the Accord would be left to be worked out by two local parties concerned, namely, the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil parties.
On what India might do if the Government of Sri Lanka jettisons the 13 th., Amendment, as feared by the Tamils, the High Commissioner said that there would be “interactions at the highest level” between India and Sri Lanka.
Five representatives of the TNA met the envoy: They are R.Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah, M.A.Sumanthiran, Selvam Adaikalanathan and D.Sidharthan.
There has been speculation that the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will abolish the 13A as part of their plan to centralize the administration and cut needless expenditure. A section of the majority Sinhala community feels and the media feels that the Provincial Councils are White Elephants imposed on hapless Sri Lanka by India in the late 1980s.
But political sources say that elected Provincial Councils will not be abolished because the Sri Lankan political class ( including the Sinhalese political parties), has developed a vested interest in their existence. They provide an institution vested with some powers which are between the grassroots level Preadeshiya Sabhas and parliament. They offer channel of political mobility.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is in favour of retaining the elected Provincial Councils and had openly said when he was Lankan President, that if he abolished the councils, Sinhalese politicos will themselves demonstrate in front of his office.
And importantly, in his speech inaugurating the newly elected 9th.parliament on Thursday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa spoke only about the abolition of the 19th.Amendment, not the 13A. He said that there would be a new constitution but did not mention the 13A. He avoided the issue of devolution altogether.
In parliament on August 21 the TNA MP. S.Sritharan flayed President Gotabaya for avoiding the long-standing Tamil question including devolution and pointed out that India, which had signed the 1987 Accord, could not be silent if the Lankan government reneged on its commitments in the Accord. It is India’s moral responsibility to see that the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord is adhered to and that the promise to solve the Tamil question is kept. The Western countries, “which supported the Sri Lankan government to fight the war” had been pressing the Lankan government to address the Tamil question. The Lankan government must heed their advice, Sritharan said.
However, ironically, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the main Tamil outfit in the 1980s, had opposed the 13A saying that it was inadequate and signed without taking its consent. Even today only the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and a rump of the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) faction led by the followers of the Late Pathmanabha, support the 13A. Other Tamil parties like the TNA want more than 13A. And a section of them supporting the Tamil Makkal Thesiya Koottani (TMTK) are even seeking self-determination for the Tamils and an internationally monitored referendum on the Tamil question.
When Mahinda Rajapaksa was Lankan President between 2005 and 2014, he had promised 13A Plus in response to pressure from India. But the promise was not kept. During the United National Party-led “Good Governance” regime between 2015 and November 2014, an effort was made to draft a new constitution but it was thwarted at the last moment by a lack of political will at the top-most level and also a constitutional crisis in 2018.
On August 20, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to draft a new constitution but it remains to be seen as to how far his regime would go to devolve power to the provinces, whether it will downgrade or upgrade the powers of the Provincial Councils.