By Malinda Seneviratne –
What are the landmark political moments of post-Independence Sri Lanka? We could mention Independence Day, the 22nd of May 1972 when we became a republic, the shift to the ‘open economy’ in 1977, the scripting of the 1978 Constitution, July 1983, the 1988-89 bheeshanay, the passing of the ill-fated 17th Amendment in 2001 and the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. And yes, the 29th day of July, 1987. The last is the least mentioned by those who are asked to respond to the question posed. And yet, just like the 1977 Constitution, the 13th Amendment and the Indo-Lanka Accord that birthed it have had lasting and devastating impacts on Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans.
It is 25 years after the fact. Col. R. Hariharan, a retired Indian military intelligence who served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence and who is a regular commentator on military and political affairs in South Asia has offered a recap of sorts. He has compared two Indian interventions, in East Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
India-lovers have bent over backwards to tell Sri Lankans that India is a friend and was here to help us. They have and they will. Hariharan puts it bluntly. He admits that it was not a love-affair, but one informed by strategic goals. Nothing wrong in that. Countries must do what’s best for countries. That ‘doing’ should be read just like that and not sugar-coated with silly terms like ‘friendship’ and ‘concern’. In short, India was not doing Sri Lanka any favours. We have it now from the mouth of the top intelligence officer.
Hariharan laments that the Accord failed in Sri Lanka: ‘The devolution of powers to the Tamil minority promised in the Accord remains unfulfilled despite the 13th Amendment. But the Accord retains the potential as an instrument of Indian influence in the region.’
The second part of this lament should be flagged. So let us flag: ‘Potential as an instrument of Indian influence in the region’. So, for all the shop-talk about ‘redressing Tamil grievances’ the Accord (and also the 13th Amendment) was about ‘Indian influence in the region’, Messers R. Sampanthan and M. Sumanthiran please note.
Hariharan has to defend frill of course and we are sympathetic to this need. He says, ‘The most significant achievement of the Accord was the introduction of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution which provided a degree of autonomy to the newly created provinces and it still exists as the only constitutional tool available to redress Tamil grievances’.
He does not outline ‘Tamil Grievances’ (note, not ‘aspirations’) and therefore does not have to link the territory-based ‘solution’ to a problem that can be articulated in territorial terms. He doesn’t have to deal with the fact that there is no history that Tamil nationalists can come up with to give beef to the whine about ‘traditional homelands’. He doesn’t have to deal with the demographic reality of the majority of Tamils living outside the Northern and Eastern provinces. He doesn’t have to talk about ethnic cleansing by the LTTE and can be silent about identity-related population densities in the Eastern Province.
Hariharan confesses that Indian had no clue about ground realities. He passes the buck to ‘civil intelligence’ of course, but the bottom line is ignorance. It is clear that realization is yet to dawn. There’s nothing wrong in Indians being patriotic, after all Arundathi Roy (activist) and Harsha Bhogle (cricket columnist) have become very defensive when India seems at risk of break-up or India is critiqued, respectively. Hariharan, moreover, is a military man and not an academic.
What has the Accord done, though, quite apart from trying to satisfy Indian strategic interests? Here, in Sri Lanka, that day in late July twenty five years ago was marked by the burning of buses. It gave an impetus to the JVP which quickly donned a nationalist garb and fed on general public dismay. Close to 60,000 people died in two bloody years. The 13th Amendment helped legitimize Eelam mythmaking, turning randomly drawn provincial boundaries into borders of a fictional homeland. That boundary line has kept feeding narrow Tamil communalist politicians and politics.
The debate should not be about 13 Plus or 13 Minus, but when (and not if) the 13th will be abrogated. India is welcome to its strategic interests. Sri Lanka must be about Sri Lankans and their collective present and future. Fiction doesn’t help. Applauding and legitimating fiction leads to tragedy. The 13th Amendment caused blood to flow. Our children need not bleed too to keep alive that discredited document and certainly not to satisfy India’s strategic interests.