Colombo Telegraph

Arrogance Of Power: The Southern Polity – The UNP

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

The Indo-Lanka Accord and Sri Lanka’s Fault Lines: July 1987 – Part – 5

Rather than the SLFP or the JVP, it was the utter irresponsibility of the UNP which prepared the ground for the anti-Indian frenzy. It had first gone about cultivating anti-Indian sentiment and then capped it by default on the ethnic issue, thus creating conditions for the arrival of the Indian Army. Prime Minister Premadasa was chief among those responsible for the post- Accord wrecking process. As Prime Minister at that time, he must bear direct responsibility for the July 1983 violence, which brought India into this country. As for dealing with India, his populist anti-Indian approach where he tried to gain political capital through being rude to every Indian emissary beginning with Narasimha Rao and G. Parthasarathy, was most unhelpful. It was a senior member of the Government passing the buck.

From the first All-Party Conference (APC) with TULF participation in January 1984, Premadasa insisted on the preservation of unitary status and stated that the Government could go no further than District Development Councils. The APC reached a crucial stage when on 14th December 1984, Jayewardene presented a draft proposal allowing for DDCs in a province to merge into a provincial council through a referendum in each district. In practice, this would have proved cosmetic in the East since colonisation had made heavy inroads into the ethnic balance.

Even this was unacceptable to Premadasa who indicated his opposition by attacking India as a stumbling block to peace. Mathew went further and got sacked from the Cabinet. The result was more violence in the country and in July 1985, the Government was forced to talk directly to the TULF and all the militant groups in Thimpu. The latter had been opposed to the APCs.

When the Accord was to be signed on 29th July, Premadasa opposed the Accord and he with Athulathmudali boycotted the ceremonies after Rajiv Gandhi’s arrival – in an act of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted, so as to salvage something for themselves personally.

The key ministers supporting the Accord were Gamini Dissanayake, Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel, Justice Minister Nissanka Wijeratne and Foreign Minister A.C.S Hameed. Those who opposed it at the cabinet meeting of 15th July 1987 were Gamini Jayasuriya, Athulathmudali, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Ranjit Atapattu, E.L.B. Hurulle and M.H. Mohamed. Dissanayake and J.N. Dixit, the Indian High Commissioner, are credited with being the principal architects of the Accord. In return for the North-East being merged into one provincial council and Sri Lanka not doing anything adverse to India’s interests, India was to oversee the disarming of Tamil militants and the ending of the militancy.

Premadasa, who had conveniently been away on a foreign trip, arrived in time for the final cabinet meeting on 27th July. He opposed the Accord and was supported by Jayasuriya and Wickremasinghe. However, when Jayewardene stood firm on going ahead, only Jayasuriya resigned. Jayewardene who had undated resignation letters of UNP MPs in his possession and, thanks to the Referendum, a steam-roller majority in parliament, was to have his way. Even on the matter of whether the 13th Amendment introducing Provincial Councils required a nation-wide referendum, Jayewardene had a Supreme Court that would be reluctant to oppose him in toto. Had he done this in 1985 or earlier, the course of the Accord would have been less stormy. But in July 1987 the battle lines within the party were drawn. The presidential elections were due at the end of 1988 and the JVP had built itself up as a potent source of terror.

The time in 1972 when Dudley Senanayake feared bloodshed within the UNP seemed to have returned with a vengeance. Then, in 1972, the party’s internal working was still geared towards constituency based democracy. But in 1987 it was the whip hand of the President that could hold together a party with no ethics and where individuals had got used to seeking their own ends with no holds barred.

Why did Jayewardene delay so long? What were his real intentions? At a press conference after signing the Accord, he was asked why he did not bring up these proposals 4 years ago. Answering in a lighter vein, he said that he was responsible not only for the delay but also for a “lack of intelligence, lack of foresight and lack of courage.” He also took a swipe at the Press saying that it was not only he who was responsible, but also the Press, presumably meaning the tame, blind and unimaginative chauvinism of the latter.

But what had he really been up to? One has to see it partly in terms of his authoritarian impulse and his readiness to use unscrupulous means to get his way. Another was his habit of allowing at a given time some selected subordinates to follow their own inclinations while keeping his options open. He was very likely not serious about his 1984 December APC proposals since his son was going all out with his Israeli West Bank-type projects and Athulathmudali had just got his National Security Ministry into full swing. All this time the TULF was the main negotiator on the Tamil side, and from the Parthasarathy-Jayewardene Annexure C proposals of November 1983 to the December 1984 APC proposals nothing more than individual provincial councils for the North and East was under consideration.

Had the Government agreed then, India would have pressed the Tamil groups to settle. But Premadasa and Athulathmudali would go no further than DDCs, perhaps with Jayewardene’s approval. But once the Tamil groups came in from July 1985, the North-East merger was insisted upon. After the Thimpu talks broke up H.W. Jayewardene, leader of the Sri Lankan team and the President’s brother, agreed in writing to provincial councils in the North and East in private talks with India. The next step was the December 19th 1986 (Chidambaram) proposals offering separate provincial councils, which the LTTE refused to consider.

By crushing its fellow Tamil militant groups, the LTTE had by the beginning of 1987 opened the doors to an outright victory by the Sri Lankan Army. On the eve of such a victory, India on 4th June 1987 halted the taking of Jaffna by violating Sri Lankan air space and air dropping 25 tons of food for civilians. This led to a bout of anti- Indian rhetoric from Colombo with the Government’s encouragement. The next month the Accord was signed. But Jayewardene headed a volatile Government which was disunited in purpose.

Jayewardene wielded the whip by giving his MPs a message on how they should vote on the Provincial Councils Bill (13th Amendment) while addressing the Ceylon Planters Society about 19th September 1987. He said, “The clauses of the Indo-Lanka Accord need no discussion and my party would vote en-bloc for the Accord.” The previous month he had survived a bomb attack at the Parliament Complex. About 10th November, he made Premadasa present the Bill in Parliament and Athulathmudali second it. In the next couple of months, the JVP systematically targetted several members of the UNP Working Committee who were close to Jayewardene, in a bid to isolate him within the party.

*From Rajan Hooles “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power  – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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