Noting that talks to find a negotiated political solution to the Tamil ethnic question are deadlocked, the Indian parliamentary delegation, which wound up its six-day tour of Sri Lanka, has emphasised to the government that the stalemate has to be ended.
“We told [Sri Lankan] President Mahinda Rajapaksa that this stalemate has to be broken,” said the leader of the delegation, Sushma Swaraj.
“He [Mr. Rajapaksa] said we can't bring them [the Tamil National Alliance, the credible representative of the Tamils living in the Northern Province] by force. I said yes, you can't bring them by force, but you can bring them by persuasion,” she added.
This was the theme running through the visit, she explained. “Persuade the TNA, persuade the UNP [United National Party, the main Opposition party], to join the talks. And unless and until the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) works, the deadlock will remain. So in every meeting, we have emphasised on this point,” she added.
In a joint statement, the delegation hoped that the government would “seize this window of opportunity and follow an enlightened approach to reach a genuine political reconciliation, based on a meaningful devolution of powers, which takes into account the legitimate needs of the Tamil people for equality, dignity, justice and self-respect. We have been assured in the past that this will be done within the framework of “Thirteenth Amendment – Plus.”
Asked if she or the delegation brought up with the President the fact that he had made promises of devolution and a political solution in May 2009 (to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon), in July 2010 (to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh), in January 2012 (to External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna), she said: “We emphasised this point in every meeting. Even today with Mahinda Rajapaksaji 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 the Leader of Opposition [in the Lok Sabha] when I called on him,” she said.
“But they say that Parliamentary Select Committee will discuss this and they said that we are very, very 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,” she added.
The delegation also pressed the TNA to rejoin the talks. It appealed to all parties to join the process in the PSC. “He [TNA leader R. Sampanthan] reiterated thrice that he wants a negotiated settlement and that too within the parameters of an undivided and united Sri Lanka. And he said that he is a proud Sri Lankan. We told the government side that if these are the parameters, then there should not be any problem. There is every scope of moving forward,” she said.
One of the many points the delegation raised in the meeting with the President related to the Army's increasingly embedded role in society in the Northern Province. “We told them [the government] that Army is interfering in their [Tamils'] personal life, in their civil life. And the President was very candid. He said he would see to it that the Army would not interfere in their civil life,” Ms. Swaraj said.
On the resettlement programme, she noted that the pace of development “is good,” but “a lot remains to be done.” “There is the question of some missing persons also,” she added. On the question of refugees in India returning, she said that if the conditions in Sri Lanka were conducive, then the refugees would have returned. “It is for the Sri Lankan government to create the conditions that they return to their own homeland,” she said.
Asked to comment on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's comments, dismissing the delegation, she said that she would speak to the Chief Minister. “I will specially speak to madam Jayalalithaa that this visit is not a picnic trip; it is not a junket,” she said.