A fortnight after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a virtual summit with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, urged the country to address Tamil aspirations with the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Tamil MPs questioned the government’s commitment to the preceding Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.
Jaffna legislator and All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) general secretary G.G. Ponnambalam told Parliament his party rejected the contentious legislation on the basis that it “does not even form a starting point” to finding a solution to the Tamil national question. The ACTC has two legislators in the 225-member House. However, observing that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa might think that because [some] Tamil people reject the 13th Amendment, they have an opportunity to “throw away” the preceding Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, he said: “That will never happen.”
Mr. Ponnambalam pointed to a “massive gap” between the Accord and the 13th Amendment that he called a “unilateral interpretation” of the bilateral agreement by the then J.R. Jayawardene government. “Therefore, whilst we reject the 13th Amendment... the Accord is something we will not reject. On the contrary, we will hold India to account that it upholds the provisions of the Accord in order to recognise the Tamil nationhood and find a viable political solution that is acceptable to the Tamil people,” the Jaffna MP said, speaking during an adjournment motion on international agreements.
Reiterating his point on the Accord, M.A. Sumanthiran, fellow Jaffna MP from the Tamil National Alliance that has 10 legislators in the House, said it was an international bilateral agreement signed between two sovereign nations.
“It has to be honoured. There is no question that one or the other can get away from the obligations under that Accord,” he said, responding to Minister of State Sarath Weeraksekara’s remarks opposing it. “I wish to ask the government what is your stand?” Mr. Sumanthiran said, referring to Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s past assurances — including to India — that he would “fully implement” the 13th Amendment and “go beyond” that to make devolution meaningful.
Differing slightly from Mr. Ponnambalam’s position on the 13th Amendment, Mr. Sumanthiran said it “may have been a starting point” for it established provincial councils, where in the unit of devolution was a province. “But President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his tenure of office has admitted that it is not a meaningful measure of devolution,” he told the House.