By Dayan Jayatilleka –
I could not believe my ears when I heard Gajan Ponnambalam, an excellent parliamentary speaker, as are CV Wigneswaran, R Sampanthan and MA Sumanthiran, drawing a distinction in one of his speeches, between (a) the Indo-Lanka Accord which he said the Tamil leaders endorsed when it was signed, and (b) the 13th amendment, which he said the Tamil leaders criticized and did not embrace (I’m paraphrasing him charitably).
Four things do not seem to have occurred to him:
1. The only political lifeline that the Tamils have is that afforded by India, in the form of Prime Minister Modi’s reiterated endorsement of the 13th amendment.
2. The Sinhala supremacists are trying to de-link the 13th amendment from the Indo-Lanka accord or to delegitimize the Accord, because the latter is more difficult to dispense with.
3. Any Tamil attempt to cut the umbilical cord between the Accord and the 13th amendment only does the job of Sinhala supremacism.
4. The stance of the mainstream Tamil leaders regarding the 13th amendment should hardly be a proud memory, given the sinkhole that Tamil politics went down between 1987 and 2020, having failed to capitalize on the democratic reform that India succeeded in securing for the Tamils.
The Tamil politicians seem to be in denial about what exactly is on the regime’s agenda, though there are plenty of signals in the public domain. There is also evidence of how the hawkish regime views India and Prime Minister Modi in relation to the Tamil question.
When an individual (in this instance Ms. Shivanthi Ranasinghe) listed in official releases as ‘Deputy Director–International Relations & Foreign Media’ of the Office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, writes a ‘Wolf Warrior’-ish article openly critical of India and its Prime Minister Modi—and me, but that’s not important– without a standard disclaimer that it represents only her personal views and not those she holds in her official capacity, it is worthy of notice. Ten excerpts from the Presidential staffer’s article follow:
1. “…Indian Premier Narendra Modi ignored all these glaring facts when he reiterated the long-hackneyed demand for ‘Tamil aspirations’ at the virtual bilateral summit with Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa on 26 September 2020.”
2. “It is just not possible to devolve power to the Tamils in the north and east.”
3. “…Thus, for PM Modi to speak of ‘Tamil aspirations’ without addressing this anomaly is questionable.”
4. “Dr. Jayatilleka…is aghast that a State Minister dared to state the obvious that the Indian Premier was out of line. Yet, as the subject minister, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera was correct to point out that implementing the 13th Amendment or to change the unitary status of the country to a united nation is a decision solely for the people of Sri Lanka. As a subject expert, Minister Weerasekera was also correct to note that the 13th Amendment is not a solution for Sri Lanka.”
5. “This was a bilateral summit and as such, was between nation to nation. Thus, neither country can address the concerns of only one community…The very implication that arises by doing so is undiplomatic and therefore unacceptable…PM Modi committed quite a faux pas by calling on the Sri Lankan Government to ensure equality, justice, peace and respect to Tamils.”
6. “…if we are to silently concede to India simply because it is a larger force and a member of an even greater force, what should be our position if the Muslim nations collectively impose on us to deliver on the ‘aspirations’ of the Muslims?”
7. “…Therefore, it is very clear that unless force is used the 13th Amendment is not feasible. Even then, it will not resolve any real or perceived grievance, but likely create problems of unmanageable proportions.”
8. “Yet, as observed by Dr. Jayatilleka, “Prime Minister Modi only reiterated what he had said many times before”. The reasons for India’s continued interest in an unattainable objective ought to pique political analysts’ interest…India uses the 13th Amendment to keep Sri Lanka off balance.”
9. “…In this context, PM Modi was wrong to reiterate his call for the 13th Amendment’s implementation – especially when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had already articulated his position on the matter.”
10. “In the past, this has been a bait for the Tamils in the north and east to turn antagonistic to their own Government. This kind of interference on (sic) Sri Lanka’s internal affairs had not only led to the destruction of innocent lives, but had been catastrophic to India as well. Therefore, it behooves India also to move out of ‘traditional politics’ and partner with Sri Lanka towards a peaceful coexistence with all stakeholders.”
Thus, the key takeaways from the Presidential staffer’s article are as follows:
1. Prime Minister Modi transgressed egregiously when he referred to ‘Tamil aspirations’ in his virtual summit with Prime Minister Rajapaksa.
2. Prime Minister Modi should not have referred to the 13th amendment because President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has already made his views clear on the matter. The Indian PM should have deferred to the red line drawn by President Gotabaya.
3. Devolution of power to the Tamils of the North and East is off the table. The 13th amendment and a political solution for Tamil aspirations based upon that amendment, are off the table. India and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi should get with the (Gotabaya) program and operate within the Presidential parameters.
Tamil politics today are divisible into three schools of thought, all of which are irrelevant.
a) The TNA which keeps nattering on about the previous efforts to abolish the Presidency and negotiations which went beyond the 13th amendment. This is as sensible as being on a bullet-train heading one direction and complaining that its not headed in the opposite direction.
b) The Tamil radical nationalists such as Wigneswaran and Ponnambalam who try to outflank the TNA on the grounds that the latter’s strategy of partnering Ranil’s UNP and pushing for a new constitution has crashed and burned.
c) The EPDP which feels vindicated that its TNA rival has shrunk and the radical nationalists cannot deliver, while its own pragmatism and consistent stand in support of the 13th amendment has helped it secure valuable political real estate.
All these competing perspectives are irrelevant.
The TNA’s incantation about a new Constitution going beyond 13A is laughable, because the dynamic and the process is headed in exactly the opposite direction.
The Wiggy-Gajan line is no less irrelevant because the tightness of the US Presidential race means that even if Biden-Harris squeak through, there will be no viable Tamil strategy, based on the expatriate community that can take the Tamils anywhere beyond 13A, bypassing India. The only pathway to Washington DC for the Tamils is through Delhi—and Delhi has spoken: 13A is what it feels is a viable stand for India and the Tamils.
The EPDP line will, sadly, be discredited because the regime is clearly targeting the 13th amendment upon which the EPDP stands.
The simple facts are that:
(A) the 13th amendment and provincial devolution itself are about to be dismantled
(B) The Sri Lankan regime is delinking India from the Sri Lankan Tamil Question
(C) There are no factors powerful enough to take the Tamils beyond the 13th amendment
(D) Apart from India there are no factors that can even defend existing Provincial devolution and the 13th amendment
(E) It is likely that re-demarcation of the provinces will be effected so as to eliminate any Tamil ethnic majority or Tamil-speaking majority provinces
(F) Electoral reform will truncate the proportional representation component.
Therefore, four strategic conclusions are logically inevitable:
1. The Tamil struggle must be understood as a defensive struggle not an offensive one; it is to defend the 13th amendment, the existing provincial boundaries and the electoral system of proportional representation.
2. The position the Tamils take simply must interlock with the position of their most powerful potential ally, Prime Minister Modi and India, and that position is the implementation of the 13th amendment.
3. Any political, programmatic-strategic gap between the Tamils and India/Modi, would doom the former.
4. Given that the differences between the Tamil parties are rendered irrelevant due to the regime’s targeting of a political solution to the Tamil Question, provincial devolution and the 13th amendment, the broadest Tamil United Front in defense of the Accord and 13A is an urgent imperative and the only lifeboat within sight.