Push for 13A not dropped
Devolution not discussed during FM’s Delhi visit
By Easwaran Rutnam
India is engaged in backdoor diplomacy to ensure the rights of Tamils are secured and its friendly relations with Sri Lanka are also maintained.
On top of India’s agenda is to secure the full implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A) to the Constitution, despite the new Government saying that will not be possible.
Asked by The Sunday Morning if the 13A is no more a topic of discussion between Sri Lanka and India, the Indian External Affairs Ministry recalled that the matter had not been dropped.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs External Publicity and Public Diplomacy (XPD) Division Undersecretary – Press Relations Shishir Kothari noted in an email to The Sunday Morning that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised the issue during the visit of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in India last November.
Kothari referred to a statement made after the talks between Rajapaksa and Modi, in which Prime Minister Modi had said: “We also openly exchanged views on reconciliation in Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa told me about his inclusive political outlook on ethnic harmony. I am confident that the Government of Sri Lanka will carry forward the process of reconciliation to fulfil the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, peace, and respect. It also includes the implementation of the 13th Amendment. India will become a trusted partner for development throughout Sri Lanka, including the North and East.”
However, the matter had not figured in talks between India and Sri Lanka during the just-concluded visit to New Delhi by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar hosted the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka for delegation-level talks on 9 January 2020, followed by a working lunch for the visiting delegation.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry said that both Ministers discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and explored ways to further strengthen the close and friendly ties between India and Sri Lanka.
“The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister reiterated the importance communicated by President Rajapaksa on exploring newer areas of co-operation with India with emphasis on skills development, vocational training, and capacity building, and requested India’s support. The External Affairs Minister assured full support to such initiatives on the basis of the recognised strength of India’s institutions in these areas and based on Sri Lanka’s requirements. The two ministers also exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interest, including climate change and counterterrorism,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said.
Tamil leaders’ stance
The need to ensure the full implementation of the 13A and devolve powers to the provinces was emphasised in Parliament last week by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
TNA Leader R. Sampanthan noted in a speech in Parliament that the current Government must ensure maximum possible devolution within the framework of a united, undivided, indivisible Sri Lanka.
However, India, it is learnt, is prepared to give the new Government time to settle and will keep most of its engagement on sensitive issues behind closed doors.
India does not want to scuttle its relationship with the new Government, particularly since Sri Lanka is also close to China and Pakistan, two countries with which India has serious issues.
The 13A to the Constitution was India’s baby and has been a sensitive topic over the years.
Under the 13A to the Constitution, Sri Lanka has promised to devolve powers to the provinces but the current Government, under President Rajapaksa, has refused to make any commitments on the matter.
Rajapaksa had told the Indian media last month that he would focus on developing the North as opposed to devolving powers under the 13A.
Former TNA Parliamentarian and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) Leader Suresh Premachandran had said that he is doubtful the 13A will ever be fully implemented.