24 July, 2024

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India-Sri Lanka Economic Partnership & Ethnic Reconciliation

By R Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s July 20-21 visit to New Delhi ended with India and Sri Lanka jointly evolving an economic partnership vision to speed up Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs released the India-Sri Lanka Economic Partnership Vision document on July 21, 2023 after the visiting President met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The document titled “Promoting Connectivity, Catalysing Prosperity: India-Sri Lanka Economic Partnership Vision” shows that both countries have agreed upon promoting multilateral connectivity for catalysing Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.

In the media statement released after the vision document was adopted, Prime Minister Narendra Modi summed up the vision – ‘to strengthen the maritime, air, energy and people-to-people connectivity’ between the two countries. The vision is to accelerate mutual-cooperation in tourism, power, trade, higher education and skill development. It said the vision was India’s long-term commitment towards Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, the Vision statement is likely to be welcomed particularly the decision to allow the use of Indian rupee for trade settlement between the two countries and operationalising UPI based digital payment system.

However, some of the decisions like facilitating investment from India in the divestment of Sri Lankan state owned enterprises and discussing an Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement are likely to provoke the opposition protest.

PM Modi’s statement indicated that some of the perennial unresolved issues between the two countries were also discussed, though the Vision document did not mention them. These included the humane approach needed to handle the issue of Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lanka waters and ethnic reconciliation.

On ethnic reconciliation, PM Modi spoke of President Wickremesinghe telling him about his inclusive approach. The PM’s statement hoped “the Government of Sri Lanka will fulfil the aspirations of the Tamils. Will drive the process of rebuilding for equality, justice and peace. Will fulfil its commitment to implement the 13th Amendment and conduct the Provincial Council Elections. And will ensure a life of respect and dignity for the Tamil community of Sri Lanka.”

India’s Foreign Secretary Kwatra at a media briefing said the PM conveyed to President Wickremesinghe that India continues to look forward to a political solution that addresses the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, self-respect within the framework of a united and prosperous Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary also indicated that China’s increasing forays into the Indian Ocean was also touched upon during the meeting.

13A – Elephant in the room

President Wickremesinghe in his media statement said he shared with the Indian PM “comprehensive proposal” he presented earlier for “furthering reconciliation, power sharing through devolution and the multiple elements of the Northern development plan. The President’s ‘comprehensive proposal’ envisaged implementing the 13 A in the North and East excluding the grant of police powers to the provincial council. However, at the all party conference convened on President Wickremesinghe’s return from Sri Lanka, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) stuck to its demand for holding the PC elections immediately and finding a federal solution to the ethnic reconciliation. The stand of many political parties including the main opposition SJB on the President’s proposal is confused and not clear.

The TNA in a statement issued on July 30 ““The TNA unequivocally conveyed to the President at the very first all-party conference on 10 December 2022, that the PCs Elections must be held without further delay. We also discussed measures necessary to make devolution meaningful. Several discussions were held with the President and at the second all-party conference on 26 January 2023, we again reiterated our position. It was the same position that was conveyed at the last all-party conference that was held on 26 July 2023.” So, the President’s effort on implementing 13A sans police powers for the PCs has become a non-starter. It is doubtful that President Wickremesinghe would expend his energies on this issue, as there is a lot of churn up within the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) whose support is essential for the President to act.

It is time Tamil parties accepted the proposal of implementing 13A sans police powers, provided policemen posted to the North and East have functional knowledge of Tamil. This would be a true test of sincerity of the President’s intent to implement 13A in a modified form. It will also be an acid test for mainstream political parties on their support to ethnic reconciliation.

But the President may not want that as his priority is likely to be to delay the holding of the PC elections rather than burying the 13A issue once and for all. After all, political parties on all sides need the ethnic confrontation issue as the carrot when they go to the voters in the next poll, whether it is the PC or presidential poll next year. So 13A is likely to continue to be the elephant in the room in future discourse between India and Sri Lanka on ethnic reconciliation.

The roots of 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka Constitution lie in the1983 Black July pogrom and its aftermath. Though Tamils have faced violence at the hands of Sinhala majority in 1956, 1958, 1977 and 1981, Black July was vastly different in scale and execution of targeted violence against Tamils and their properties and businesses.

It escalated the traditional ethnic confrontation to irreconcilable ethnic conflict situation. The pogrom initially orchestrated by the ruling United National Party (UNP) under President JR Jayawardane, was triggered by the death of 13 soldiers ambushed by the LTTE near Jaffna on July 23, 1983. When the arrival of their bodies was delayed for an ill-conceived state funeral in Colombo on July 24, over 10,000 Sinhalas went berserk. In the week long pogrom that followed over 3000 Tamils were killed, over 200,000 people were displaced and countless houses and 2500 business enterprises of Tamils were destroyed.

Though four decades have passed its scars are still hurting the process of ethnic reconciliation. The Black July pogrom led to major intervention by India that resulted in the India-Sri Lanka Agreement 1987(ISLA). India’s military intervention to ensure the enforcement of the ISLA was far from smooth. Events in its aftermath has left a lot of bitterness on both sides of the Palk Strait.

One of the fortuitous things ISLA achieved was enabling the passage of the 13A. It may not be as powerful as the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that led to the abolition of slavery and servitude in the country. But 13A’s impact on the ethnic reconciliation was significant: it gives a level of autonomy to the Tamil minority with the creation of provincial councils. Though provincial councils were created, they were never given powers over the police and land. In the absence of these powers, they have been reduced to glorified municipalities.

President Wickremesinghe cannot wish away the implementation of 13A because PM Modi is firm on it. He had hoped in his statement “the Government of Sri Lanka will fulfil the aspirations of the Tamils. Will drive the process of rebuilding for equality, justice and peace. Will fulfil its commitment to implement the 13th Amendment and conduct the Provincial Council Elections. And will ensure a life of respect and dignity for the Tamil community (italics added) of Sri Lanka.” The use of three “wills” in the statement indicates his mindset. PM Modi is determined to win over the voters from Tamil Nadu in the 2024 parliamentary election. Resolving the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka will give him a huge leg up in the election, at least in BJP’s reckoning. RW should not underestimate Modi.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired MI specialist on South Asia and terrorism, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. 

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    People-to-people connectivity quotes,

    Communication is merely an exchange of information, but the connection is an exchange of our humanity
    Cricket matches Sri Lanka India Bangladesh Pakistan countries and money goes to first to be given non-self-sufficient countries and next to other one said four counrtries define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship, All Needs Help.

  • 0
    1

    What the Tamil politicians should understand is by having the President’s 13A approved first by the Parliament and then going for PC elections would be a positive strategic move to show that the people accept the new 13A based on election results. If the PC elections are held first and then the new 13A is passed it may show that it does not have the support of the people.

    • 2
      1

      B1
      I do not get it?
      There is already a 13A and are we having another 13A assigned to the President?
      One can further amend 13A or supplement it. But whatever is the change it cannot be another 13A.
      It is best if it is a bill to implement 13A in whatever spirit it was passed by parliament.

  • 1
    3

    Looks like Modi has got what it wanted.
    Does Ranil care for 13A?
    Or does Modi care if Ranil cares or not?

  • 7
    1

    In order to deliberately change these areas’ demography, history and culture and convert them from Tamil Hindu or Muslim/Christian in some instances, to Sinhalese Buddhist. This is called structural genocide and ethnic cleansing, just like how China is now doing in Tibet and the Uigher region, and it is a war crime. This may have been acceptable until the early 20Th century but not now.

    Now that Modi/India and the Sinhalese Sri Lankan government have got what they wanted Tamils and sec 13A can go to hell and this international agreement that clearly states land and police powers are to be given to the merged Tamil provincial council can be watered down, to suit India and the Sinhalese mutual needs. Recent events with regard to the behaviour of the Sinhalese Sri Lankan state, the armed forces, and the police, both of which are 99.99% Sinhalese hardly speaking a word of Tamil, prove the need for having land and police powers in the Tamil areas in the hands of the Tamils/Tamil speakers and not the other way around.

  • 3
    0

    India and the West especially the USA, have decided to abandon the Eelam Tamils and their just rights, other than mouthing useless platitudes, that will not amount to anything and woo the Sinhalese, for their own selfish strategic short-term interests and this man, despite calling himself a Tamil, is shamelessly mouthing what India wants and urging the island’s Tamils to meekly accept their third rate status and a very watered down sec 13A, which itself is not perfect but to some extent guaranteed land and police rights, a form of safeguard. India signed this international agreement with Sri Lanka and due to this so much blood was spilt, especially Eelam Tamil blood and lives and now just like the Sinhalese is reneging, to suit its needs. What a short-term stupid selfish strategy. It is only a strong vibrant prosperous Eelam Tamil community living in their own land in the north and east of the island, protected from further Sinhalese racist encroachment, with their just rights enshrined, will ensure the safety and security of India’s southern flank and even the west’s interests and not the other way around.

    • 3
      0

      The Sinhalese have a history of using cunning and not honouring any agreements and have always been pro-China pro-Pakistan, despite liking the West and their live styles and running to the West anti-Western. Strangely it is not the Eelam Tamils but the modern present-day Sinhalese who are of predominantly South Indian Tamil ancestry, around half of them purely or predominantly descended from South Indian Tamil immigrants who arrived on the island during the Portuguese and Dutch colonial era or even later in many parts of the once Tamil North West coast and DNA also proves this. Eelam Tamils share around 17% of their DNA with South Indian Tamils but modern Sinhalese around 70%, due to the large-scale assimilation of South Indian immigrants to the Sinhalese identity from ancient, medieval to modern times. Yet despite all these panderings to them by India and the West, they are a largely anti-Indian anti-Western lot and want to destroy the island’s ancient Tamil Saivite history and heritage and Tamil people and language, despite the fact a few centuries ago, many of their own ancestors were Tamil. Well, you are no better than them. We say in Tamil Paddikitathu Thevaaram Iddikirathu Sivan Kovil, in your case, Perumal Kovil and this is what you and India are doing.

      • 3
        0

        This is what the Sinhalese are literally doing in the Tamil north and east literally and forcibly destroying many ancient Hindu temples and forcibly converting them to Buddhist Viharas with fake history. Claiming ancient Tamil Naga Buddhist sites, many of them Mahayana,( Sinhalese were never Mahayana Buddhists but ancient Tamil Buddhists were) as their own now. The so-called Sinhalese police and Sinhalese armed forces are in cohorts with these Sinhalese racists and Buddhist fundamentalists. Tamils need a federal solution with land and police rights. Not Tamil-speaking Sinhalese policemen who will still be racist towards the local Tamil Hindus, Christians and Muslim Tamils or Moors. Stop being short-sighted. The West/USA may not be bothered but Sri Lanka especially NE is at your doorstep and once Sinhalese take control, of these ancient Tamil homelands and destroy the Tamils, you will soon see China and maybe even Pakistan on your southern doorstep.

        This is what the Sinhalese are literally doing in the Tamil north and east literally and forcibly destroying many ancient Hindu temples and forcibly converting them to Buddhist Viharas with fake history. Claiming ancient Tamil Naga Buddhist sites, many of them Mahayana,( Sinhalese were never Mahayana Buddhists but ancient Tamil Buddhists were) as their own now. The so-called Sinhalese police and Sinhalese armed forces are in cohorts with these Sinhalese racists and Buddhist fundamentalists.

  • 1
    0

    Mixing politics and religion is a lethal combination. Buddhists monks and some racists like Sarath Weerasekara, Udaya Gammanpila and Savendra Silva have declared war against Hinduism, something unheard of in the annals of Ceylon. These extremists have erected Buddhist Viharas where there are no Buddhists. In Thaiyiddy in Jaffna peninsula the army has erected a Vihara in private land owned by Tamils, but now forcibly occupied by the army.

    At Kurunthumalai a Buddhist monk with the help of the same army have constructed a Vihara defying court order. Again in Navatkuly Savendra Silva has constructed a Vihara on land belonging to the Railway Department. He led a convoy of Buddhist monks and lay Buddhists for the opening ceremony.

    The constitution gives “foremost place” to Buddhism, but does that mean Savendra Silva can take the law into his hands to build Buddhist Viharas and plant statues of Buddha at government expense?

    Obviously, the government, Buddhist monks and the army have not learnt anything from a bankrupt Sri Lanka.

    What these Buddhist monks, Sarath Weerasekera, Udaya Gamanpila (his name suggest he is of Tamil origin) Savendra Silva are not preaching Buddhism but are engaged in rowdyism!

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