By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Someone asked: Indian Prime minister has stressed the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Would the Thirteenth Amendment be a solution to the political aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils?
My response was: The fact that Indian Prime Minister stressed the importance of fully implementing the Thirteenth Amendment to the visiting Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has received the urgent attention of the Tamils, is true. But it is the expectation of the Sri Lankan Tamils that India would take without delay immediate steps to find a solution based on North-East merger and a federal system encompassing the North and the East based on the right of internal self-determination (which is available to the North Eastern Tamil speaking people in terms of the International Covenants) with immediate effect. It is the general expectation of our people that a new constitution should be prepared collectively by local and foreign constitutional experts which could permanently solve the problems of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Today the Thirteenth Amendment which is part of the Sri Lankan constitution remains unimplemented in its entirety. For the moment it needs to be fully implemented. It is therefore necessary to withdraw Acts such as Act No.58 of 1992 which have stultified the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment. It is necessary to immediately merge the North & the East in terms of the Thirteenth Amendment. The insufficient Land and Police powers already in place in the Amendment must fully be implemented.
But even if these are fully implemented the Thirteenth Amendment would not solve the long term needs of the Tamils nor even the immediate problems faced by them.
Therefore since the Thirteenth Amendment does not grant sufficient powers the Tamils expect India’s intervention as soon as possible to bring about a long standing solution. Everyone must realize that we Tamils have been made puppets in the hands of the South under the Thirteenth Amendment of the Unitary Constitution. We must all remember that the Tamil speaking people are the majority in the North and East. Our lands, language, culture, life style, traditions & places of worship are being negatively affected by the powers the majority community enjoy under the Thirteenth Amendment. We are fast moving towards a future where our individuality would soon be lost.
The Tamil speaking people are subjected to repression today as never before. India should realize that our homelands and individuality are facing extinction soon. India seems our only salvation. Our people expect India to help us positively to reestablish our lost heritage and fame and free us from our present pathetic plight and predicament.
When the Indian Premier came over here in 2015 he spoke of co-operative federalism when he addressed our Parliament. This gave the Tamils hope and expectation at that time. It is necessary for us to remind the Indian leaders of this fact. We would like to specially bring this to the notice of the Indian Foreign Minister Hon’ Subramaniam Jeyashankar. He held many posts here in Sri Lanka. He knows the pluses and minuses of the Tamil community here.
I understood clearly when I was Chief Minister here that the Thirteenth Amendment was a legal innovation which gave rights with one hand and took back those rights with the other.
The Thirteenth Amendment inserted into a Unitary Constitution has failed miserably to satisfy the long standing reasonable political aspirations of the Tamils. Even economic development cannot proceed according to the needs and aspirations of our people. All powers are vested in the Centre.
Even though devolution of powers was the intention and expectation, the Thirteenth Amendment has many short comings. The Governor appointed by the President wields executive powers. The crisis that ensued on my depriving Ministerships from certain members of my Board of Ministers is a good example of the short comings of the Thirteenth Amendment. It is law that the Governor must implement the decision of the Chief Minister. But for reasons best known to the Governor he did not in this instance publish the dismissal of certain Ministers in the Government Gazette which enabled the Courts to go so far as to state that the power of appointment and dismissal of Ministers are entirely in the hands of the Governor. (Ministerial rights metamorphosed into Monarchistc rights!) Courts are reluctant to question the errors committed by Governors who are the handmaids of the President. It is the President who wields the power of dismissing the Provincial Council. The authority and activities of the Governor could be curtailed or stifled by the President. When this seems to be the reality what exactly was the purpose of devolution of powers professed under the Thirteenth Amendment? It all seems an eye wash to my understanding.
The finances of the Provincial Council cannot be utilized by the Council without the permission of the Governor. I tried frantically to establish a Chief Minister’s Fund while in office. But the Government did not allow its establishment.
As the churn broke just as the butter was forming a project which was formulated to cultivate fruits and vegetables in the Vanni District for export was sabotaged by making an incorrect statement that part of the land earmarked for the project was Forest Department’ land. A financial bonanza that was to accrue to the benefit of the entire Country was deliberately denied fruition due to the parochial, prejudicial attitude of the powers that be. It is quite clear the Centre is not interested in the Northern Province developing by itself.
Next the police and land Pand’s powers are vested with the President. Many powers including land powers vest in the President under the Thirteenth Amendment. It is through this Thirteenth Amendment that several Central Government Departments and Authorities have expropriated the traditional homelands of the Tamils in the North and East. Not only that. These Departments and Authorities are involved in opening up Buddhist places of worship in our areas. Everybody is aware of what is happening today at the Neeraviyadi Pillayar Temple premises where encroachers are acting contrary to Court’s orders. If such high handed acts by Buddhist priests continue in the North and East, the Tamils who got converted to Buddhism over 2000 years ago and later jettisoned Buddhism to get back to their old Saivite religion, may well again be forced to be converted to Buddhism.
It is due to these short comings in the Thirteenth Amendment that the Tamil Leaders have been condemning this Amendment from the time it was formulated. First they wrote to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on 28th October 1987 pointing out the shortcomings. Thereafter we have been continuously bringing to the notice of our successive governments and the outside world, our difficulties. Therefore India should not expect by calling upon the Sri Lankan Government to fully implement the Thirteenth Amendment that they would ensure the continued existence and security of the Tamil people nor preserve the individuality of the Tamils nor fulfill the long delayed reasonable aspirations of the Tamils.
May be Thirteenth Amendment could be a stop gap arrangement. If the Thirteenth Amendment is scrapped the very next day there would be full scale occupation of the North and East by the majority community. We believe India has recognized the opportunistic behaviour of the successive Sri Lankan governments both in their words and deeds. We hope they have realized that such opportunism would not be in the best interests of the long term security of India. Therefore I would like to call upon India to ensure on a long term basis the continued safe and secure well-being of the Sri Lankan Tamils and also ensure the long term Indian interests by taking steps to establish a federal setup in the merged North Eastern Province.
Our President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has repeatedly said that it is not possible to do anything in Sri Lanka contrary to the wishes of the majority community. This is an appropriate pointer to the fact that all communities in Sri Lanka are not viewed equally by the Sri Lankan Authorities. The North Eastern Sri Lankan Tamils are the Original inhabitants of this Island. The Sinhala language came in to existence only in the 6th or 7th century AD. There were no Sinhala speaking persons in Sri Lanka before that time. We Tamils continue to be the majority community in the North and East even today. Then how could His Excellency the President say that nothing contrary to the wishes of the Sinhala majority could be done in the entire Island of Sri Lanka. Does that mean dictatorship of the Sinhala majority has blossomed out in Sri Lanka? The fact that the Tamil speaking people in the North and East have in large numbers voted decisively for devolution of power as the solution for the ethnic question, shows acute polarization between the Sinhala speaking and Tamil speaking communities in this Island. This necessitates the urgent need to find a quick solution to the ethnic question and it must be underlined that India’s continued safe security lies in such solution.
*Justice C.V.Wigneswaran – Former Chief Minister, Northern Province and Secretary General, Tamizh Makkal Kootanii