The new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his very first meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has called for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond in order to address the political aspirations of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Modi’s call was predictable and in consonance with the stance of the previous Congress Government in New Delhi. BJP’s position on the ethnic question in Sri Lanka has also been made public by its former leader of the Lok Sabha and the current External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, who advocated for the devolution of powers within a united Sri Lanka.
What is however new, is the sense of urgency, India is showing in getting the Sri Lankan Government to address the grievances of Tamils in Sri Lanka. In fact, Prime Minister Modi, during his meeting with Mahinda Rajapaksa, requested that ‘Sri Lanka expedite the process of national reconciliation in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka’.
The new administration in New Delhi, which has vowed to regain India’s rightful place in international politics would like to project its clout within its sphere of influence, more proactively than its predecessor did. Needless to say that a country, that aspires to be an international power has to solve problems in its neighbourhood.
Also, the new sense of urgency on the part of the Modi Government is influenced by its domestic political imperatives. While, Tamil Nadu political parties are no longer a part of the BJP-led NDA coalition, their political sentiments are intrinsically linked to the greater Indian politics. Specially, the BJP, which is strongly rooted in the Hindutva ideology, would find that it is hard to discard such domestic concerns.
That explains the urgency of the Modi administration, which wants Colombo to act now. The Sri Lankan Government’s usual calls for time and space would no longer hold water and would likely be treated as a ploy for procrastination. The new administration in New Delhi, which appears to deploy both brain and brawn in pursuance of its foreign policy objectives would find such a gesture as an affront. Sri Lanka, simply, cannot afford to antagonize Modi’s India. Such a folly could be too dangerous and costly.
The incumbent President of Sri Lanka has given an undertaking to the former Government in India to fully implement the 13th Amendment and to explore additional devolution measures termed as 13 Plus. Since the end of the war, the government has changed the tune and some of its key interlocutors have suggested that an undertaking given during the height of the war is no longer valid. The former Congress Government was disheartened by the U-turn of Colombo. Nonetheless, it was not persuasive enough to compel Colombo to implement the 13th Amendment.
Such a vacillation should not be expected from the new administration. Modi means business and was known for ruthless implementation. In fact, during the election campaign, he stressed on the need for a strong government at the centre, claiming that small countries in the region are poking at India.
Now the ball is in the Sri Lankan Government’s court. It has to deliver on its undertaking or face potential repercussions. The 13th Amendment is already part of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Its non-implementation itself is unconstitutional. The reluctance of the government to devolve powers and to implement the 13th Amendment stems from its obsession with the concentration of power. It has deprived Sri Lanka an opportunity to evolve into a country where all its citizens are treated with equality and dignity, irrespective of ethnic, religious and other differences.
Since the day, a new government was sworn in New Delhi, the clock is ticking for Colombo. Now, it has to address, in no uncertain terms, the long neglected political aspirations of its ethnic minorities.