By Dayan Jayatilleka –
A recent article by Rear Admiral (Retd.) Weerasekara on ‘Provincial Councils and Sovereignty’ (Daily FT) reveals the nature of the real contradictions and contending political ‘lines’ within the ruling bloc. It further reveals the mindset and ideology of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and those close to him. Finally, it provides an inkling of the disaster that awaits.
The Minister of Public Security and State Minister for Provincial Councils asks “…Who are the internal and external forces demanding PC elections as soon as possible and why?” He goes on to say “…let the popularly elected Sri Lankan Government deliberate on the PC system and a new Constitution and not be forced into hasty PC Elections.”
The public knows from uncontradicted coverage in the mass media, the answer to his question– as he does himself. “The internal force…demanding PC elections as soon as possible” is the most experienced politician in South Asia and one of the most experienced in Asia, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. As for “why?” well, that is a question that Minister Sarath Weerasekara should ask him, in Cabinet.
While Minister Weerasekara forcefully opines “…let the popularly elected Sri Lankan Government deliberate on the PC system and a new Constitution and not be forced into hasty PC Elections”, the Prime Minister was widely reported to have asked the Elections Commission to ascertain the possibility of holding the elections speedily under the existing Constitutional framework and the old regulations so as to cut the Gordian Knot that the UNP-TNA-JVP had tied. Reports say that there are many in the Government including at the levels of the PCs, who support the PM’s view.
Minister Weerasekara’s diatribe also reveals the thinking and attitude of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It is the President who appointed as the State Minister for Provincial Councils, someone like Weerasekara who holds a totally negative view of the PC system, signaled in this article as “Whenever I express myself against the Provincial Councils…”. This is hardly likely to indicate the most constructive approach to the subject he has been handpicked to handle, despite the ethnic and external sensitivities.
He also believes that “…13A…provided a political framework for Tamil separatism after the military defeat of the LTTE…The Indo-Lanka Accord was designed in secrecy and imposed without consultation of the Sri Lankan Parliament to create a Tamil homeland in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to appease Tamil separatism…”
That sentiment does not explain why the LTTE separatists waged war against the 13th amendment and the Indian peacekeeping force. Nor does it explain why the non-separatist, federalist TNA in its earlier avatar of the TULF, has never accepted the 13th amendment as basis or framework, from the late 1980s to date.
It does however reveal the animus that the State Minister for Provincial Councils has towards even this modest degree of provincial semi-autonomy. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intention in appointing Rear-Admiral Weerasekara in charge of the Provincial Councils becomes clearer by the utterance of his appointee. It is to uproot and exterminate the PC system and effect a rupture from the Indo-Lanka Accord. If this was not an objective the President shared, he would surely not have appointed Rear-Admiral Weerasekara.
Minister Weerasekara has his take on India’s perceptions and interests which tell us that he thinks that the government of Sri Lanka is in the clear because India knows what’s good for it, or would be in the clear if India did so, and if it didn’t, then it is India that will pay the price.
“…Jayatilleka forgets India’s own fears over secession from the Indian Union. A former British colony that experienced the devastating partition upon independence, India is highly sensitive to external interests who would like to see the country broken into pieces like Yugoslavia. The break-up of Sri Lanka would undoubtedly facilitate the creation of Greater Eelam and the balkanization of India. The massive threat posed by the Dravidasthan movement led to the adoption of the draconian anti-secession amendment to the Indian constitution in 1963. Since then, the interests of South Indian Tamil nationalism shifted to Sri Lanka.”
It has not occurred to Minister Weerasekara that it is precisely India’s settled conviction that the 13th amendment is an alternative to the alienation of Tamil Nadu and the possible creation of Greater Eelam, that makes India keep stressing the need for its implementation.
The Minister finds comfort in a specious parallel with India’s recent policy on Kashmir.
“In August 2019, the Modi Government in India stripped the contentious state of Jammu and Kashmir of autonomy after seven decades depicting it as a ‘historical blunder’.”
Weerasekara also displays a pathetic tendency to hector Delhi, accompanied by wagging finger: “Likewise, it would serve India and other external powers well to correct the historical blunder of intervention in Sri Lanka and allow Sri Lanka to determine her mode of internal governance.”
What Weerasekara fails to digest is that his perception of India’s best interests and the similarity between President Gotabaya’s policy on the Provincial Councils and Prime Minister Modi’s on Kashmir notwithstanding, the External Affairs Minister of India said what he did in Colombo, in the precincts of the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs, about the 13th amendment, meaningful devolution and the commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka.
A far more intelligent, educated and sophisticated but no less nationalist Sri Lankan Minister of National Security, than Sarath Weerasekara, namely, the late Lalith Athulathmudali, miscalculated Indian responses to unilateral Sri Lankan action as regards the Tamil North. He ran the question through a computer in the USA which said that India would not intervene (The Hindu scooped the story jeeringly, at the time) whatever military action the Government took in the North.
Rear Admiral Weerasekara was probably a young Navy officer when Minister Athulathmudali ordered the Sri Lankan Navy to turn back the Indian Red Cross boats bringing relief supplies to a beleaguered North. When the boats were turned back the minister was jubilant. He failed to realize that it was just a tripwire, or that there was Plan B which involved Mirage 2000s accompanying the airdrop, with a message conveyed to President Jayewardene that any hostile action would be responded to by the Mirages causing unacceptable levels of damage to Sri Lankan military assets.
Minister Weerasekara has not learned the lesson. Not even after the issue of the threatened abolition of the 13th amendment and the actual destruction of the monument on Jaffna campus caused, according to The Hindu (India), the Sunday Times (Colombo) and the Sunday Morning (Colombo), politically significant protests in Tamil Nadu, prompting Indian communication of concern through its diplomatic channels and the reversal of the decision of the authorities regarding the monument.
Given that the Gotabaya regime that Minister Weerasekara is part of, cannot control Indian behavior, it would be prudent for him to ask himself whether Colombo should ignore what the Indian Foreign Minister said and go right ahead and behave on the assumption that the Tamil Question and the mode of governance as pertains to it are purely internal matters, and whether Sri Lanka can enforce or defend that position. If his deterrent is mandatory military training for those 18 and over, he should recall that former Yugoslavia had mandatory military service.