For the first time since the end of the military annihilation of the LTTE in May 2009, and a raging debate within Sri Lanka on the way to go about redressing the political and social grievances of the island nation’s Tamils, India has expressed dismay over reports suggesting that Colombo is mulling over a review of the key issues related to devolution of powers to the provinces.
At an interactive session with a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance, the legislative representative group of the Sri Lankan Tamils in the North-Eastern province, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is reported to have told them that reports of the Rajapaksa regime reneging on its commitment to New Delhi on a political package for resolution of the concerns of the Tamil community in the island nation are disturbing.
Dr. Singh said he was dismayed by reports suggesting that the Government of Sri Lanka planned to dilute certain key provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution ahead of elections to the Northern Provincial Council.
The 13th Amendment is one of the key points of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka pact brokered by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his Sri Lankan counterpart J. R. Jayawardene.
Under the agreement, Sri Lanka is committed to devolving powers to the provinces, including in the Tamil-dominated North and East, to give a sense to the people in these regions that they have a say on most matters related to their governance.
The pact had also enabled the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces into one, subject to a referendum by the people of the east, but it was annulled by the island nation’s Supreme Court months after the Eelam-IV war began.
Since the end of the military conflict in early 2009, Colombo has reiterated many a time to New Delhi that it was committed to implementing the 13th Amendment in letter and spirit and also look at the possibility of 13th Amendment plus. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been hedging on it, triggering misapprehensions among Tamils in Sri Lanka and India.
A spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry said:
“At the meeting, it was noted that the proposed changes raised doubts about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government to India and the international community, including the United Nations, on a political settlement in Sri Lanka that would go beyond the 13th Amendment.
“The changes would also be incompatible with the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), set up by the Government of Sri Lanka, calling for a political settlement based on the devolution of power to the provinces.”
The LLRC was constituted by Mr. Rajapaksa to make recommendations on what should be done to assuage the sentiments of the Tamil community.
The delegation earlier called on the External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, who had served as Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka.
“He [Dr. Singh] stressed on the expectation that the Sri Lankan Tamil community would lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens, and reiterated that India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect,” the spokesperson noted.
The meeting with Dr. Singh lasted 40 minutes.
It is believed that the discussion covered a wide range of issues including provincial elections, the situation in the North and Eastern provinces, Indian development assistance, reports of proposed constitutional amendment.
The six-member delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka, which has been on a visit here from 16-19 June, is led by R. Sampanthan, MP, and consists of Mavai S. Senathirajah, (MP), K. (Suresh) Premachandran (MP), P. Selvarajah (MP), Selvam Adaikkalanathan (MP) and M.A. Sumanthiran (MP).
A TNA delegation had visited India in October 2012.