22 April, 2024

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Diaspora Tamils & 13A  

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

President Wickremesinghe’s initiative to implement the 13th Amendment stamped by India in 1987 has created a heat wave of controversy threatening to derail the move and enliven some bitter memories. Political Buddhism is leading the anti-13A campaign, and Mahanayakas, ultranationalist Sinhala politicians and surprisingly even a few intellectuals have joined the chorus to stop its implementation. Muslim leaders too have joined the bandwagon. Some critics are quite diplomatic and express their opposition by questioning the wisdom of the President for prioritizing the issue of reconciliation and 13A at a time when the country demands the nation’s full attention to solve the economic crisis. RW’s meeting with the Indian Prime Minister weeks ago and the subsequent announcement from Delhi to strengthen the connectivity between India and Sri Lanka to the extent of constructing a land bridge between the two countries had sent shivers of fear among Sinhala nationalists. But behind all this a hard fact less noted in public discussion, and that is the relentless push for its implementation from a resourceful Tamil diaspora community, which has grown into a force to be reckoned with in international circles. 

Totaling almost one million in number, the Tamil diaspora community is spread in different parts of the English-speaking Western world with strong concentrations in Canada, UK, US, and Australia. This community, the product of almost seven decades of aggressive anti-Tamil policies and programs promoted by Sinhala nationalists, has organized itself into a centralized political body and acting as the international voice on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils.  

Just as Hitler’s Jewish genocide led to the holocaust, so did Sri Lankan Sinhala nationalism engendered a Tamil exodus; and just as the expatriate Jews strived to preserve and develop their language and culture wherever they settled, worked hard to become economically and financially resourceful, and intellectually and professionally respectable by the communities among which they lived, so are the Sri Lankan diaspora Tamils dedicating themselves to spread their language and culture wherever they settled while persevering to excel intellectually, professionally and economically to become recognizable by the host communities. And just as the Jews eventually became politically influential to win international backing for their demand for a homeland in Arab Palestine so are diaspora Tamils bringing pressure upon their governments and international agencies not to demand for a separate country, which they will never get as long as Tamil Nadu remains part of the Indian federation, but a solution to the Tamil question based on 13A.  There is no better time for them to push for this solution than now when Sri Lanka is caught in a historic economic struggle.   

This development no doubt, has awakened Sri Lankan Sinhalese political leadership lately.  That was what prompted the former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) to promise UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York in 2021 that he would meet Tamil diaspora leaders for talks, although it never happened.  Now, his successor RW too realizes this and that explains his initiatives to implement the controversial amendment. 

Behind the political pressure exerted by diaspora Tamils is the economic clout they command, which could be harnessed for investment purposes. “The wealth of the Eelam Tamils of Diaspora is greater than the entire Sri Lankan economy”, claimed recently a representative from the Tamil American United Political Action Committee based in US.  That is certainly an exaggerated claim, but their financial strength is not in doubt. And it is this financial strength that has embolden local Tamil leadership to agitate for a federal solution via 13A.  And RW also realizes that diaspora investment would help ameliorate the dearth of investment funds available and would enhance his economic recovery effort.    

But to the Sinhala nationalists the economics behind 13A when combined with Prime Minister Modi’s resolve to strengthen people to people connectivity would mean, as one local political scientist headlined his article, “India-led north-east development and southern underdevelopment”. This is pure Sinhala political parochialism echoing in the guise of a demand for balanced economic development.  But wasn’t the development equation reversed in favour of the south during the last seven decades or so?  If one looks at the south biased development of the past, future north-east development would mean redressing the regional imbalance created by seven decades of communal politics. So long as one looks at economic development through communal lens Sri Lanka will never get out of its economic misery. GR also advocated that the solution to the Tamil issue was not devolution of power but economic development, and development according to him meant populating those provinces with more Sinhalese and constructing viharas. What is happening now in Kurundoor is his legacy.    

But once again the issue boils down to the nature of the system that governs the nation’s political, economic and socio-cultural development.  RW does not have the courage to throw out the system with its constitution and usher in Sri Lanka to a new era.  In fact, none of the existing political parties except NPP is advocating to rip the current constitution and draw a new one based on secular democratic principles with accountability and justice as its core values. Under such a constitution won’t 13A become redundant?  If the diaspora Tamil community is really serious to see their kith and kin in Sri Lanka live peacefully with equal rights and justice then it should not fight for concessions like 13A under the new constitution but for the destruction of the whole constitution and the system that upholds it.  The moment 13A is mentioned it sends jitters within another minority, Muslims, who have their owns fears and grievances against the Tamils with whom they are living in north and east. Regrettably, local Tamil and Musim leaders had done little so far to remove those fears through open dialogue. Tamil leaders hope to win their demands with the support of the diaspora half while Muslim leaders as usual are using 13A as bargaining chip for special concessions from RW’s reactionary regime. This is part of their business politics. Also, how would 13A help the Indian Tamil community living in the high lands? They are the most oppressed lot in the whole country, but contributing most to the nation’s economy. 

The politics and economics of 13A are part of the same reactionary paradigm that is governing this country since independence.  Although 13A was inspired by India and legislated under duress its implementation would create more problems than it is intending to solve. And whether India’s BJP government controlled by big capital would compromise with its economic and strategic interests over Sri Lanka for the sake of implementing 13A is a sixty-four thousand dollars question. The time is therefore opportune to bring about a change with a clean slate.  

*Dr. Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, W. Australia

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Latest comments

  • 11
    1

    Right from the start, ‘President Wickremesinghe’s initiative to implement the 13th Amendment’, Ameer Ali makes the article contestable.
    I have said this before; I cannot say it any better. Ranil’s ‘initiative’ to implement 13A,
    is a trade-mark ploy to wiggle out of some pressure financial and political; internal and external.

    • 4
      1

      13A is the ideal solution, it is implementable, and it could satisfy the grievances and aspirations of all communities and religious groups and this is the ideal time.
      Hope for sanity to prevail!

  • 4
    0

    Harmaduroes in the north and the East give us a holiday for poya so we spend time with family and friends but all the liqueur shops are closed alternative is Kassipu,
    If 13A we give holidays according to our culture. (Like Nallur ther etc)
    .
    Change the weekend holidays for Friday and Saturday to help our Muslims brothers Friday for Christians start the official at noon
    On Sundays.
    Or
    Build the bridge and part of India

  • 5
    2

    Every citizen in SL needs the Law and Order established to protect the innocents & NOT to protect the criminals. We need to remove the Economic Parasites in the country as well bring justice to those who brought the economic downturn. We need to START with a New Constitution and stop talking about 13A etc

    • 1
      2

      Naman,
      A new constitution is completely out of the question. Since the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord is binding on both India and Sri Lanka and cannot be abrogated by either party, the 13th Amendment which is the outcome of the Peace Accord should be implemented by Sri Lanka. The more Sri Lanka delays, the more problems Sri Lanka will have to confront it. At the same time, there is a development taking place about Kachchativu’s retrieval, which may also cause a problem to Sri Lanka as the issue of Kachchativu might be taken for decision at any time by the Supreme Court of India. The only way for Ranil Wickremasinghe is to implement the 13th Amendment with one stroke of the pen, like how JR did for the Peace Accord.

  • 10
    0

    “Although 13A was inspired by India and legislated under duress its implementation would create more problems than it is intending to solve.”

    We have to look at the political developments until 13A when it was inspired by India and Tamils or Sinhalese acknowledged it as a mechanism to solve the problems of Sri Lanka. Banda-Chelva pact and Dudley-Chelva pacts are the two proposals accepted by both Tamils and Sinhalese. We have to look at the population distribution at the time of independence which is important in terms of solving the problems. The one sided massacres until 1983 (1958, 1962, 1977, 1981, 1983) by Sinhalese fundamentalists against Tamils lead the migration of Tamils from this island and migration of Sinhalese from South into North East was encouraged by Sinhalese governments lead to change in the population distribution and 13 A was brought by India for purely to solve their security issues.
    The Muslim issue with Tamils started in 1915 when Muslism and Sinhalese were in riots in Kandy and when Tamils spoke to British masters in favour of Sinhalese. The recent Tamil and Muslim conflict in thre North East was sponsored by Sinhalese governments to divide them and there was no riots between people. But it is now come as political business.

  • 7
    1

    ……..There is no better time for them [ Tamil Diaspora ] to push for this solution than now when Srilanka is caught in a historic economic struggle…….
    Says Dr.Ameer Ali.
    I beg to disagree. It was President R.W. who first dropped the 13th A BRICK and flew kites whatever.
    The Tamil Diaspora took up the brick, subsequently. Like Shylock they did not bargain for a pound of flesh when the country was in dire straits with the present economic crisis. In all fairness to them they [Tamil Daspora ] were prepared to throw in their lot.

    Or was President R.W. hoping to draw the funds from the diaspora by flying the 13th A KITE? and subsequently back off by citing various reasons?

  • 4
    3

    The country can not afford to have 9 Provincial councils. It will be COSTLY & ineffective.Do you want some more politicians to fill up these jobs???
    SL Administrative Service should be able to manage the provinces!

    • 1
      0

      naman
      I agree with you that having 9 provincial councils is costly and a cost /benefit analysis should be done.We have options where we can have 9 provincial councils and 100 MP’s in the central parliament instead of 225 or have a referendum in each province to see whther they want provincial councils and have provincils councils only in those provinces where more than 50% vote saying they want it.

      The first thing we should do is see out of our total budget how much of it is going into administration of the country.I dont think we know that at the moment.The people should know that figure frst because it is their money,not the politician’s.

      Then we should compare it with a similar island such as taiwan which is half the size of sri lanka and has a population 23 million which is about a million more than us.

      Then the first thing after that is to see that we have the same percentage of the total budget on administration.Then we can decide what is the most cost/benefit way to do with that.whther with provincial councils/less central parliament/fewer prov councils etc etc.You can fclimb a ladder only step by step unless you want to fall.

      • 1
        0

        Shankar and Naman,
        If memory serves me right, what the original seeking by Tamil Parties of all Shades and Hues was for 2 (TWO) Councils!!!
        A. 1 (One) for the North and East, and
        B. Another one to serve the Balance 7 Provinces!!!
        No one requested 9 councils, which was the idea, solely emanating from the Old Fox’s calibration to confuse the issue and to provide ‘PERKS’ to his favourite HENCHMAN and followers, kept occupied!
        Old Fox is GOOD at MUDDYING THE WATERS to achieve his end!!!???
        That is what it has turned out to be, haven of ill-educated beings, who don’t understand the purpose of the institutions, but make Money – aggrandisement!!!
        Also it was a means to appease, protagonists Lalith A and Preme, to agree to the idea of provincial or Regional devolution!!!
        The main aspiration sought would be achieved by setting up Two (2) councils, which if necessary may be called NE Regional Councils, and SW Regional Councils instead of Provincial Councils!!
        Thus, reducing total Council members for both council to 100!! Problem solved!!!???

  • 0
    1

    Dr. AA.

    13A is already part of the constitution, as are many other things like Tamil language rights, but in practice, those are not upheld because we have a population and leaders who don’t respect or live by the constitution.

    What good is it, then, for the NPP to come up with a new constitution, even if it were not a pipedream for a party that has never had any significant electoral success?

  • 1
    0

    Tamils in SL should REALISE that over the 75 years none of the Governments were truly interested in the welfare of Tamils/ preserving their ethnic and cultural identity.
    In fact it is just the OPPOSITE. The Majority rule has failed in having a truly democratic country. The RESULT is well shown in how the country is carrying the begging bowl.
    It is time to TREAT all citizens equal and it’s time arrest those promote ethnic or religious discriminations even if they are from clergy or from politics

  • 0
    1

    Shankar and Naman,
    If memory serves me right, what the original seeking by Tamil Parties of all Shades and Hues was for 2 (TWO) Councils!!!
    A. 1 (One) for the North and East, and
    B. Another one to serve the Balance 7 Provinces!!!
    No one requested 9 councils, which was the idea, solely emanating from the Old Fox’s calibration to confuse the issue and to provide ‘PERKS’ to his favourite HENCHMAN and followers, kept occupied!
    Old Fox is GOOD at MUDDYING THE WATERS to achieve his end!!!???
    That is what it has turned out to be, haven of ill-educated beings, who don’t understand the purpose of the institutions, but make Money – aggrandisement!!!
    Also it was a means to appease, protagonists Lalith A and Preme, to agree to the idea of provincial or Regional devolution!!!
    The main aspiration sought would be achieved by setting up Two (2) councils, which if necessary may be called NE Regional Councils, and SW Regional Councils instead of Provincial Councils!!
    Thus, reducing total Council members for both council to 100!! Problem solved!!!???

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