BY ANANTH PALAKIDNAR
In an interview with Ceylon Today, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian, M.A. Sumanthiran, said the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is not an Appendix. “The government should abide by the Constitution and ensure the full implementation of the Amendment before thinking of revisiting it to consider devolving police powers to the provinces.
Following are excerpts:
What is your take on the recent views expressed by the government and several other political parties and individuals on the 13th Amendment?
A: First of all, I would like to emphasize that the 13th Amendment to the Lankan Constitution was mainly introduced to devolve powers, in order to reach a political solution to the Tamil question in the North and East. It is not an Appendix. Therefore, the 13th Amendment, being part of the Constitution, the government cannot simply reject it. The government is intentionally trying to interpret the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in a wrong way and it would even lead to the impeachment of the President. There was a hue and cry to proscribe the Tamil National Alliance for being supportive of the 13th Amendment. Whereas we request what is there in the Constitution to be implemented and nothing else.
So those who agitate against the 13th Amendment do not understand it is a constitutional arrangement to solve a long-standing political issue and not to harm the unity and integrity of the country.
Secondly, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is part of the Indo-Lanka Accord, which is a bilateral international treaty signed between two sovereign countries 25 years ago. However, when the demerger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces was carried out, it was pointed out that there were flaws in the Amendment and it was mentioned that those flaws could be rectified. But, nothing has happened so far and the Amendment still remains a challenge to be implemented in full.
This government is of the opinion that it need not implement the 13th Amendment, but it could revisit certain issues in the Amendment, particularly with regard to police powers. What is your view on this?
A: We don’t accept the 13th Amendment as a final solution to our political problem. This stance was made known to the Indian Government in a letter written jointly by our veterans, the late M. Sivasithamparam, A. Amirthalingam and R. Sampanthan, soon after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord. Even President J.R. Jayewardene agreed to it and realized the necessity of enhancing it further. Later, during President Premadasa’s period and thereafter, in President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge’s time, realizing the significance of the 13th Amendment new moves were made to enhance it by stabilizing the North and East merger.
Even the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the beginning mentioned about following the Indian model in devolving powers under the 13th Amendment. He had even initiated the All Party Representatives Committee to look into the issue.
Therefore, before talking of revisiting and making adjustments on the issues of its concern, the government should first abide by the Constitution and implement the Amendment in toto, if it is to make anything meaningful.
The TNA has interacted closely with the Indian leadership in the past and is looking forward to meet new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. How do you assess the Indian stance on the 13th Amendment? Your fellow parliamentarian, Suresh Premachandran has said that instead of continually chanting the ’13th Amendment mantra’, the Indian Government should get into action to see its full implementation. What do you say about it?
A: Of course the 13th Amendment is a ‘mantra’. Even the previous Indian Government was firm on the implementation of the Amendment. Even the Lankan leaders have reiterated to the Indian leadership on several occasions that the 13th Amendment will be implemented and it would even be enhanced. Two years ago when the present Indian External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, functioned as the Opposition Leader in the Indian Parliament, she led an Indian Parliamentary delegation to the island. She had met the government leaders, as well as a TNA delegation led by R. Sampanthan.
Swaraj, indicating the Indian stance on the Lankan issue, emphasized the importance of implementing the 13th Amendment during her meeting with the government leaders as with the TNA delegation.
Prime Minister Modi has categorically implied the need of implementing the 13th Amendment during his first meeting with President Rajapaksa soon after his swearing-in ceremony. So we don’t see any change in the Indian Government stance with regard to the implementation of the 13th Amendment. So India being instrumental in initiating the Amendment, any government in power in the country will keep on chanting the ’13th Amendment mantra’ for its full implementation.
How do you see the government emphasizing on the TNA’s participation at the Parliamentary Select Committee to discuss the 13th Amendment or any other matters concerning the settling of the Tamil question?
A: Well, the Parliamentary Select Committee is the replication of majoritarianism. We pointed out on a bilateral arrangement where the government won with the support of the majority and the TNA with the backing of the minority could first of all shed their differences before accommodating others in the talks. We prepared a comprehensive report on our stance with regard to the Parliamentary Select Committee. Earlier we had 18 rounds of talks in 2011 with the government. But, nothing fruitful was achieved during those talks.
Therefore, talks on any issue at the PSC with majority parties taking the upper hand, we feel that nothing could be achieved in a meaningful manner.
How do you see the functions of the Northern Provincial Council?
A: Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran, has pointed out his inability in carrying out the administration of the newly established Northern Provincial Council. The government is trying to manipulate everything through the Governor. The President had made several pledges for the successful administration of the Northern Provincial Council. However, the Governor of the Northern Province has more say in the administration of the Province than the Chief Minister elected by the people with an overwhelming support.
The Council’s hands are tied with regard to the police and land powers. Chief Minister Wigneswaran had met President Mahinda Rajapaksa several times, since the Northern Provincial Council was established last year. I have even accompanied the Chief Minister when he met the President. The Chief Minister pointed out to the President on the need of appointing a civilian Governor to the North. But he has said that he would make the change when the incumbent Governor’s period ends in July. The Chief Minister had requested the President to change the Chief Secretary. But nothing has happened so far. Therefore, the NPC administration is largely a ‘lame duck’ with hardly any power for its healthy governance.
What is your view about the stance of Tamil Nadu over the Lankan Tamil issue?
A: Well, our leader has written a letter to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to coordinate with the Central Government of India to find an amicable settlement to the Lankan Tamil issue. Right from the beginning of the Lankan Tamil crisis, the State of Tamil Nadu has been very much concerned about the political developments in the island. So we expect the joint effort of the Indian Central Government and the Tamil Nadu State Government in finding a political solution for our crisis.
The TNA recently met the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) in the East. What was the outcome of that meeting?
A: We met SLMC Leader, Minister Rauff Hakeem, along with the Party’s General Secretary Hassan Ali in Kalmunai last week. We managed to sort out several regional issues jointly, especially the problems that emerged in the Kalmunai Municipal Council. During the meeting the TNA and the SLMC agreed to continue with more talks on sorting out differences between the two parties and on discussing the ways and means of working closely in the future.
The TNA has announced it would seek new suggestions locally, as well as from the Tamil Diaspora with regard to a political solution to the Tamil question. What do you intend by this move?
A: The announcement has been made by TNA Parliamentarian, Suresh Premachandran. Since we are still in the process of settling our political issues, we look forward to receiving new suggestions and we would like to work closely with those who support us in finding a durable solution to our crisis.
The Presidential poll is expected to be held next year. What will be the TNA’s stance on it?
A: We haven’t discussed anything so far on the Presidential poll or on the common candidate either. The minority Tamil-Muslim voters remain a key deciding factor in the election and they represent 25% of the total voter strength. So we have to carefully make our decisions with regard to the Presidential poll and on the common candidate.
BY ANANTH PALAKIDNAR