Given the widespread and hardly unfounded perception of Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China, it is all the more important to carefully manage the other pillar of the Indo-Lanka relationship, i.e., that of the Tamil question.
Instead of doing so, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has resumed his project of chipping away at that pillar and thereby endangering the architecture of the bilateral relationship.
Given the ineluctable facts of geography, this island’s relationship with India is its most important single relationship; the one that has to be most carefully calibrated and curated.
Given the domestic geopolitics of both countries—the similar demography of Sri Lanka’s northern area abutting India and of India’s southern cone facing Sri Lanka—the Sri Lankan Tamil question is and will remain one of the two pillars of the Indo-Sri Lankan relationship.
The second pillar is Sri Lanka’s strategic relationship with any power perceived as an adversary, rival or competitor of India.
Both pillars frame the architecture of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord (ISLA) of 1987. The 13th amendment is the child of the Accord, as enshrined in the ISLA’s clause referring to the implementation of the understandings reached in earlier (specified) negotiations between the two governments.
If the bilateral relationship is weakened or even if it remains at its present level instead of returning to its wartime dimensions, Sri Lanka will not have the benefit of India’s umbrella.
In 2007-2009 Sri Lanka prudently positioned itself at the point of overlap of two big umbrellas, those of India and China. Nowhere was this more consciously constructed by Sri Lankan diplomacy than at the UNHRC in Geneva, where it contributed greatly to our success in May 2009 at the UNHRC’s special session.
In the postwar period, the hawks in the state machine and the cabinet pressurized President Mahinda Rajapaksa and moved us from under the twin Asian umbrellas, away from India and towards China, in a choice that was not forced upon us by China.
That choice was made by those ex-military personalities in the Sri Lankan state who had a traumatic memory of Indian intervention, the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and the 13th amendment that issued from it.
Never once did they draw the correct lesson that had the understandings reached between the Sri Lankan and Indian Government between 1984 and January 1987 been turned into law before the Vadamaarachchi operation, there would not have been an Indian intrusion.
It must be said that they pretended that they understood, which is why the then Secretary/Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as a member of the troika, repeatedly reiterated during wartime, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance to India that the 13th amendment would be fully implemented once the LTTE was defeated. This secured India’s support for the outcome or non-interruption of the outcome.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa looks set to renege on that promise and indeed to reverse it.
The statement issued by the Presidential Media Unit following the call paid on President GR by the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla contains the following sentence:
“The President pointed out the urgent need to understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th Amendment and act accordingly.”
It is a single sentence in a statement but has crucial implications for Sri Lanka’s most important external relationship and therefore Sri Lanka’s relations with the world as a whole.
This needs to be unpacked so as to understand its full meaning and implications.
Why is the “need to understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th Amendment” quite so “urgent” and from whose point of view?
Who will “act accordingly” and how?
Still more substantively, what are the implications of “understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th Amendment and act accordingly”? Does it mean the weakness will be eliminated and the strengths retained? Or does it mean that if the weaknesses are deemed to be greater than the strengths, the 13th amendment will be scrapped? Who will decide on “the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th Amendment”, when and how?
Tamil Strategic Option
It appears that the ongoing process of drafting a new constitution and a new electoral law could be the agency for adventuristic, unilateral, majoritarian revisionism.
What then will the Tamil parties do? They cannot expect India to do for them what they will not do for themselves. They have to adopt a triadic strategy consisting of Unity, Realism and Alliance/Partnership.
- Unity: a broad united front and a united platform;
- Realism: a realist stand that is exactly coincident with India’s officially declared policy i.e., the full implementation of the provisions of 13A
Alliance/partnership: As Lord Soulbury advised C. Sundaralingam, the best option is to support the main democratic Opposition in Parliament (at the time in the 1960s, the UNP, now its successor). It can only be achieved on the basis of the defense of the 13th amendment and its full implementation. No less