Sri Lanka President Wickremesinghe backs India-mooted 13A as solution to Tamil community's demand for political autonomy

Addressing a group of professionals in Jaffna, the capital of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the devolution of power shouldn’t merely be a political concept but an economic reality.

Published - January 05, 2024 04:21 pm IST - Colombo

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Ranil Wickremesinghe | Photo Credit: Reuters

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on January 5 backed the India-mooted 13th Amendment as a solution to address the minority Tamil community's long-pending demand for political autonomy.

India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment which was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987. The 13A provides for the devolution of power to the Tamil community.

Addressing a group of professionals in Jaffna, the capital of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the devolution of power shouldn’t merely be a political concept but an economic reality.

The 13A became a part of Sri Lanka’s constitution in 1987 through the direct intervention of the then-Indian government led by prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It created nine provincial councils for nine provinces with a temporary merger of the North and East which the Tamil minority claims is their traditional homeland.

“If we examine the provisions of the 13 Amendment, there is ample authority to establish a robust local economy. We pledge not to intervene in those affairs. I am encouraging you to take the initiative," Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

Presently, the Western Province is the sole region capable of substantial independent spending, while others are financially dependent on it, he said. "This situation warrants reconsideration. By utilising the powers within the 13th Amendment, each province can chart its course to development. It’s time to put these powers into action,” he said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe's willingness to grant full powers other than police to provinces was shot down by the powerful Buddhist clergy who claimed the move could endanger the unitary state of Sri Lanka.

An all-political party meeting called by Mr. Wickremesinghe last year to reach a consensus on implementing the 13A ended up in a stalemate.

“Take Japan, for instance, it is not a federal state yet various departments and regions are well developed...Look at the United Kingdom - Scotland and Wales have their own developed economies. Why can’t we emulate such functioning regional economies,” the president asked.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which fought for a Tamil homeland for nearly 30 years had rejected the 13A.

They fought the Indian Army that was deployed as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord.

In 2013, the Tamils for the first time voted for their own chief minister for the North. The previous provincial elections were severely hampered by the LTTE’s armed campaign.

The current Tamil political parties stay sceptical of the political will in the majority Sinhala south to fully implement the 13A.

The Tamils put forward their demand for autonomy since gaining independence from Britain in 1948 which from the mid-70s turned into a bloody armed conflict.

Over the years, the Sri Lankan government has been aggressive against Tamilian groups following its war with LTTE which collapsed in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

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