BY R.K.RADHAKRISHNAN – THE HINDU –
The events seem to be a replay. It was External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna then. It is India’s Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj’s turn now. A leading newspaper in Sri Lanka has claimed that no discussion was held regarding the devolution of powers to States when the Indian MPs delegation met President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Soon after Mr. Krishna met the President in January 2012, the Indian side released to the press a statement, which said that the President had agreed to the implementation of the 13th Amendment (which grants some powers to the provinces) as a means to cater to the hopes and aspirations of Tamils in the Northern Province. Then too, there was no briefing from the government side. A day later, the government’s preferred newspaper, The Island, quoting the President, said that he did not discuss 13-plus with Mr. Krishna.
Now, it is Ms. Swaraj’s turn. She met the President for an unscheduled breakfast meeting on April 20, and then again, with the MPs delegation on April 21. The delegation was here to study the ground situation, and was the outcome of a heated debate during the last winter session, on the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Again, it is The Island that reported that the issue of implementing the 13-plus was not even raised at the meeting between Ms. Swaraj and Mahinda Rajapaksa. “The Sri Lankan Government yesterday strongly denied a statement attributed to Indian Opposition Leader, Sushma Swaraj that her delegation had received an assurance from President Mahinda Rajapaksa of his commitment to the 13th Amendment and his readiness to go even beyond it,” the newspaper reported on Tuesday.
“GoSL sources said that President Rajapaksa had met the Indian Opposition Leader twice on Friday and Saturday, but such an assurance was never given or asked for.
“During Saturday’s breakfast meeting at Temple Trees, President Rajapaksa recalled how India had forced the 13th Amendment on the then Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene. Saturday’s meeting was attended by the entire Indian delegation, along with Indian High Commissioner, Ashok K. Kantha, now engaged in a stepped-up campaign for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, sources said.
“Responding to a query by The Island, sources alleged that an attempt was being made to pressure the government over the devolution process, in the wake of India voting for a resolution moved by the U.S. targeting Sri Lanka at the last sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. In the run-up to the Geneva vote on March 22, India sought an assurance from the GoSL regarding the 13th Amendment, sources said.
“In fact, President Rajapaksa, during Saturday’s meet, had declared that even CWC leader Minister Arumugam Thondaman, who represents the hill country, wouldn’t be comfortable with land and police powers being in the hands of a Chief Minister in line with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
“Sources emphasized that the GoSL’s commitment was for a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), which the President believed could propose a settlement which all parties will agree with,” the newspaper’s page-1 story said.
At a press conference at the end of the visit of the MPs delegation to Sri Lanka, Ms. Swaraj was asked: “You said that the President gave you assurances on a political solution. Even the last time – when Mr. Krishna was here – the Indian side said that the President had agreed to implement the 13th Amendment. But this was denied by the President later…”
This was her reply: “President himself spoke about 13th Amendment plus. So it’s not a question of a Minister saying or denying or confirming. The President himself said 13th Amendment plus.”
This reporter pointed out to her the following: “Sri Lanka has promised devolution of powers to meet the aspirations of Tamils in May 2009 to Ban Ki-moon; in June 2010 to Manmohan Singh; in January 2012 to S.M. Krishna. In your discussions with the Sri Lankan President did you feel that they were serious about devolution?
Ms. Swaraj’s reply: “We emphasised this point in every meeting. Even today with Mahinda Rajapaksa ji and as you rightly said, we also reminded them that you have given assurance to the Prime Minister of India, the Hon. External Affairs Minister of India and even to me, as Leader of Opposition when I called on him. But they say that Parliamentary Select Committee will discuss this and they said that we are very, vey serious. We said that you are not only talking about 13th Amendment but also 13th Amendment plus. That means something more than the devolution of power. And we have emphasised upon them that a stalemate has come. There is a deadlock in talks. We also appealed in that all party meeting that this stalemate has to be broken and we have to move forward. And today also we told the President Mahinda Rajapaksa that this stalemate has to be broken. He said we can’t bring them by force. I said ‘yes, you can’t bring them by force, but you can bring them by persuasion’. Persuade TNA, persuade UNP, to join the talks. And unless and until the Parliament Select Committee works, the deadlock will remain. So in every meeting, we have emphasised on this point.”
Mr. Rajapaksa is in South Korea on a four-day State visit.