27 May, 2019

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India And The 13th Amendment

By Rajiva Wijesinha –

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

I am grateful for the request to write about India and the 13th Amendment because, while I have referred to the subject in different contexts, it would be useful to assess precisely what Indian priorities are, and how we should respond to these. In doing this, we should be clear about the principles involved –

a)     As Sri Lankans, our own national interest must come first. This includes both safeguarding the integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka and also ensuring that all our citizens can dwell contentedly in their country, with access to equal opportunities and full participation in politics and development

b)    As South Asians we must also recognize the important role India plays in the region. This means that, without any violation of our own interests, we must ensure that India does not come under undue pressure from any quarter because of us.

It is clear that we got into a conflict situation with India because we violated the second principle. While India could have reacted less aggressively, I believe the Jayewardene government must be held responsible for allowing India to come under pressure from two quarters. The first was pressure from Tamilnadu, because of what was perceived as, not just discrimination, but also violence against and oppression of Tamils.

The second set of pressures however was more worrying for India, as is clear from the provisions of the Indo-Lankan Accord. The Sri Lankan agreement then to ensure that foreign policy decisions took Indian interests into account (as spelled out with regard to Trincomalee and its oil tanks as well as broadcasting facilities to other nations) made it clear that Jayewardene’s flirtation with America in the Cold War context had worried India deeply.

We must remember that those were days in which America saw India as a hostile element, and had no scruples about engaging in activities calculated to destabilize the country. Salman Rushdie’s brilliant account of language riots in India in the fiftes, in which Tamilnadu hostility was the most aggressive, has a brilliant cameo in which he suggests the American contribution to street violence. And while obviously no direct causal connections can be diagnosed, there is no doubt that America would have been quite happy in those days for India to split up – and the obvious instrument of this would have been Tamilnadu, with the longstanding American connection to the area, through missionaries in particular.

By the seventies India had emerged as a strong and relatively united nation, though the pot did not cease to bubble, as was seen in the Punjab in the early eighties, and as the continuing Naxalite problem indicates. But most worrying for India were tensions in Kashmir, and what seemed unremitting external involvement in the promotion of terrorism – as was illustrated most graphically when the only victims of the American counter-strike in Afghanistan to the Al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole were terrorists being trained for activities in Kashmir.

The irony was that Al-Qaeda had initially been encouraged by the Americans, in their deployment of fundamentalism to get rid of the Soviets from Afghanistan, a stratagem that as we see they have continued to deploy, in Libya and Syria as well as elsewhere. They provided funding for Pakistan under General Zia to train terrorists, and quite naturally General Zia and some of the more extreme elements in the regime he had set up thought it right and proper to use this funding for terrorism in India too. Naturally too, in the Cold War context, the Americans did not see anything amiss with this, though I would like to think they did not actually encourage it.

In such a context it is understandable that India was deeply disturbed by Jayewardene’s efforts to enter the Cold War on the American side. Given his scarcely disguised hostility to India’s Congress government, his provision of facilities for the Voice of America, and his efforts to promote American usage of Trincomalee and the oil tanks, were to my mind culpable, and amply explain the Indian reaction.

That was the main reason for Indian intervention, as is clear from the fact that, once we had signed on the dotted line, and promised not to engage in such adventurism, India ceased to worry about us. We got nothing but unstinting cooperation afterwards, and we should never forget the sterling support India provided to us to deal firmly with the Tigers. I refer here not only to the last few years, when there was so much pressure from the West to let the Tigers off the hook, but even earlier when Indian support helped us overcome some of the more threatening aspects of the Cease Fire Agreement and the incapacity of the Wickremesinghe government to stand firm against Tiger pressures.

But whilst safeguarding its own integrity and security were and are the Indian priority, we must also remember that it must also keep its own citizens content. Therefore we should help India avoid pressures from Tamilnadu with regard to the welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka. I should note however that doing this will help us to fulfil not only the second principle I noted above, but also the first: we owe it to ourselves to make sure that all our citizens are content, and have equal access to opportunities, and in promoting this we will help India also avoid internal pressures.

In this context we should recognize that India has not asked for much. The Accord introduced Provincial Councils, but we must accept that there was no alternative, given that Jayewardene had ensured that the District Councils he had set up earlier were totally ineffective. Having started them off on a negative footing with the appalling antics in Jaffna of Cyril Mathew and his cohorts during the DDC elections in 1981, he proceeded to starve the Councils of funding and turned them into a joke. In order then to ensure effective local input into governance, it was essential to introduce a unit with greater authority.

But we should note that the Accord severely limited the powers of Provincial Councils. National Policy on all matters remained the prerogative of the Central Government and, with regard to what was an excessively large Concurrent List, it was noted that, in the event of any disagreement, the will of the Central Government would prevail.

Unfortunately given the lack of any understanding of principles of governance, in both Jayewardene and the regimes with very different priorities that succeeded him, we failed to establish clearly the parameters through which Provincial Councils could function effectively within the limits laid down through national legislation as to the policies they must adhere to. Conversely, because of the incapacity of most Provincial administrations, we did not see active use of the powers available under the Concurrent List, with regard for instance to education, which would have made it clear both what Provinces could achieve, and how this was no threat to the Central government, provided it made clear the policy framework to be followed.

Given then that we have not really seen effective implementation of the 13th Amendment, it would make no sense to agitate now for its abrogation, either to do away with devolution, or else to increase the powers of devolved units. However it does make sense to promote clarification, not necessarily through amendment, but through the development of guiding principles as to how to enforce National Policy while promoting local initiatives, and how to resolve conflicts through consultation before resorting to legal mechanisms.

At the same time we should also move towards greater devolution to smaller units, because we have seen, in areas in which Provincial Councils have exercised power, appointing teachers to schools for instance, that they have been as useless as Central Government in providing solutions to the real problems people face. In this regard I have no doubt India would be supportive, since when the 13th Amendment was introduced India too had only two principal tiers of governance, but since then they have moved forward in a way I believe they would want us to emulate too. The introduction of the Panchayat system in the nineties suggests that they saw the need for bringing governance closer to the people, and this is something we can easily move to ourselves, in fulfillment of the President’s commitment to add on to the 13th Amendment for the purpose of empowering people more.

As he had already indicated, in stressing in his manifesto too the need for a Second Chamber, 13 plus does not mean increasing the power of Provincial Councils. It means furthering the fuller participation of all our citizens in politics and development. One important element in that is increasing the input of the regions in central decision making, and we should for that purpose adopt the system in use in almost all other countries with regional differences, namely a Second Chamber based on equal representation for all regional units. Adding on mandatory representation in the Executive for representatives of all regional units would also be an addition that would strengthen the link between people and government.

I believe then that India would be perfectly happy with the basic principle of the 13th Amendment, which is Provincial Councils with limited but effective powers. They would also welcome, and I think we should provide this so as to lessen the various pressures to which they are subject, much greater consultation of the people of the North and East with regard to development issues as well as social welfare measures. In addition to institutionalizing this through a Second Chamber as well as more effective local government, we can immediately ensure mandatory local consultation through instructions to Grama Niladharis to discuss both development and protection issues with the citizenry, and report formally to the next level of administration. Equally that level should ensure rapid responses to any problems brought to its attention.

Finally, while I believe we should do our best to assuage Indian concerns, I believe India should also help the Sri Lankan government to assuage Sri Lankan concerns. I had mentioned previously to Indian interlocutors the damage done by continuing insistence on the part of the TNA on a merger of the North and East. Though I have been reassured, including by elements in the TNA, that this is only a bargaining point, it raises serious concerns about separatist tendencies. Instead of playing into the hands, as it were, of those opposed to any form of devolution, India should make it clear that the merger – which is about power to politicians, not power to the people – is not on the agenda. That would immeasurably reassure those concerned primarily with the integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka, and help them to work more actively to promote full participation in politics for all our citizens. And that in turn would relieve India from the pressures with regard to Sri Lanka it faces from so many quarters.

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Latest comments

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    What poppycock! This is indeed a unique argument by the learned Professor, where the PC system is not introduced properly to the places that needed it and a decision on its efficacy is made based on its implementation in places that didn’t need it!

    The Provincial Councils though introduced for the benefit of the North and the East were implemented throughout the island. How can the learned professor make any judgement as to the efficacy of the provincial councils in the North and the East, when they were never allowed to function properly there?! The greater devolution of powers to smaller units of the country could be considered for the other provinces – but not for the North and the East. Let them at least be given a chance. By all means get rid of all the other provincial councils. The reason why there is inefficiency and corruption is because those Provincial Councils were never needed.

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    ” The first was pressure from Tamilnadu, because of what was perceived as, not just discrimination, but also violence against and oppression of Tamils.”

    I think this is very dishonest presentation.

    why did not you talk about the Tamils or Tamilnadu running their affairs based on the Tribalism. How Tamil Dravisthan, Tamil anti-Hindi, Anti-Hindu affiairs leached to Sri Lanka ?

    I think with the use of the word “perceived” you presented how you think about it.

    • 0
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      Once again Softy comes up with comment that is the model of clarity as well as a surefire understanding of complex issues.Where, I womder,where exactly is he soft?

  • 0
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    Those days, India was Pro-USSR and at that time India did not like India becoming Pro-American.

    I think this analysis is useless.

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    Rajiva, why are your comments only directed towards TNA, what should the Government of Sri Lanka do? Why don’t you discuss why TNA is asking for the merger of the two provinces? If the reason why TNA is asking for the merger can be resolved then there won’t be a request from TNA. Do you agree?

  • 0
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    Well, the truth is, no one yet has backbone to say, PCs are white elephants and Sl should dissolve it and go back to normal. Stop waist everyones time. If India need to get SL support, they can get it with good way, never with aggressive. We SL voters dreaming and waiting someone will come and take a firm decision and dissolve the PCs. Same as SL army destroy LTTE.

    • 0
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      Same argument repeated over 30 years!
      I wish SL never learn anything…seems like yesterday booze still not over for you!

  • 0
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    To an ordinary citizen of SL like me all these attempts to resolve the problem either through tinkering of 13 A or any any other amendments to the constitution is useless because:
    1. all of them empower the President who has the power over life (economic or human rights) and death of the voter, the lower level power center to the extent of negating the wish of the voter by manipulating the cross overs to change the power balance the voter wants.2. The provincial councils became white elephants without funds and councilors fattening their pockets following the leaders above,opposition pro. leaders bent with the wind and abused their power as much as possible. It is the henchmen and hit men who made hay while the sun shined. The voter became a bystander deft and blind because he was powerless to change the situation. This happened because the starting point and for constitutional changes was the empowering of the top power center and not the voter. What is needed is to think of changes that bestows the power to control his MP to the voter.The starting point and first priority is the voter for constitutional changes which means less power hunger and honesty among politicians which is impossible without checks and balances including restrictions to reduce the room for cross overs and wealth acquisition. Tamil leaders should not try to facilitate Tamil Nadu priorities and ask for things that create suspicion and fear of separation among nearly 75% of the Sri Lankans and fan racial hatred among communities to strenthen their power over people. India is justified in thinking of its security as it is a divers country both race and language wise,must think of keeping the country together in the face of external dangers. India is doing what the US did to secure their country and grate valeueslike democracy, free enterprise and human rights. Unless these values are all over the world they are not secure. Why hate the US? is it because they are richer? India is doing the same thing because we have not followed the non align foreign policy. We are now following a policy of ” I will teach you a lesson if you don’t toe the line mind your own business and painting others black if they don’t agree. Where is Buddhism in this country that promoted harmony and kindness through out history until we got freedom. Have the leaders corrupted the Sangha by dragging them to politics?C

  • 0
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    this article does not have anything new. Same opinions have been expressed before. I am still waiting to read something written about how India factor influences the flow of investments to Sri Lanka after the per capita income exceeded US$ 2000.00. This is particularly important because a few days ago the GOSL gave the nod to a Singapore based American Company to develop a large industrial estate in Trincomalee.

  • 0
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    Could Rajapaksas and their comrades understand what Prof. Rajiva Wijeyasinha has written?

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