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Amendment Deception: Sri Lanka’s Misled Generations and Societal Illusions

Did the enactment of the 13th Amendment, in late 1987, make a difference in the lives of Tamil speaking people?

9 mins read
President Jayawardene (Left) with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (center). [File Photo]

The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) is being wooed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa and Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake seeking its endorsement at the forthcoming Presidential Poll.

The ITAK, widely known as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), has received repeated assurances as regards the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in late 1987. Wickremesinghe is yet to officially announce his candidature at the forthcoming Presidential Poll and two other main contenders – Premadasa and AKD, too, are keen to reach consensus with the ITAK as quickly as possible.

For them, ITAK’s endorsement is of crucial importance. The ITAK, consisting of 10 MPs, is widely believed to be divided over the polls strategy, particularly at a time the major candidates have declared commitment to the full implementation of the contentious piece of legislation.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is now in two minds as to throw its weight behind Wickremesinghe or field a candidate of its own, and will have to state its position on the 13th Amendment without further delay.

The only political grouping to publicly declare its opposition to the 13th Amendment is the Sarvajana Balaya consisting of the National Freedom Front (NFF), Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), Mawbima Janatha Party (MJP), Democratic Left Front (DLF), Communist Party (CP), Yuthukama, et al. That grouping is yet to officially announce its presidential candidate though there is widespread belief that MJP leader, entrepreneur Dilith Jayaweera, eyes the candidature.

Whatever the consequences, serious candidates will have to deal with the issue at hand, pragmatically. Fifteen years after the conclusion of the war, the 13th Amendment, that had been forced on Sri Lanka by India in line with the latter’s overall strategy meant to establish an administration in the merged North-East Province beholden to India, is the eye of the storm, so to speak.

It would be pertinent to mention that in addition to the 10 seats won by the ITAK, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP/two seats), Ahila Ilankai Thamil Congress (AITC/two seats), Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK/ one seat) and Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP/one seat) won altogether six seats.

The EPDP and TMVP are certain to back President Wickremesinghe’s candidature whereas there is uncertainty regarding the likely stand of TMTK and AITC. Former parliamentarian M.K. Sivajilingam’s recent declaration that he would contest the Presidential Poll unless Tamil political parties agreed on a common candidate, however, is unlikely to influence the Tamil electorate with his one man show.

Therefore, Tamil political parties, too, are under tremendous pressure to take an informed decision. TNA parliamentarian Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran, PC, publicly regretted the joint LTTE-TNA decision that caused Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the 2005 Presidential Poll. At the time the ITAK announced the polls boycott order, on behalf of the LTTE, it had 22 seats representing the Northern and Eastern electoral districts. Today, the ITAK is down to just 10 seats with serious differences of opinion causing overall deterioration of its standing among the Tamil community.

Unfortunately, major candidates, in their undue haste to reach agreement with the ITAK, appeared to have failed to conduct proper assessment of the ground situation.

Furious reaction

Lt. General (retd) Jagath Dias, the former Army Chief of Staff, insists that the country’s unitary status cannot be diluted, under any circumstances. Commenting on the recent political developments, the Gajaba Regiment veteran asserted that no political party exercised the power, whatsoever, to negotiate with the ITAK/TNA, or any other party, regarding the country’s unitary status.

An irate former General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the 57 Division, that had been tasked with liberating Kilinochchi, emphasized the responsibility on the part of all political parties to revisit the 13th Amendment as that piece of legislation in its entirety is illegal. “The issue is the 13th Amendment. Therefore, it should be repealed. Repealed without delay. Those who find fault with the granting of police and land powers, in terms of the 13th Amendment, are playing politics with the issue,” Lt. Gen. Dias said. “Shame on them. They should be ashamed of themselves for bending backwards to appease the ITAK/TNA that surrendered its own authority to the now defunct LTTE,” Dias declared.

Recalling the infamous Indian ‘parippu’ drop in June 1987 over Jaffna, Jagath Dias, who had been engaged in ‘Operation Liberation’ to regain control of the Vadamaratchchy region at the time, questioned the legality of the 13th Amendment, enacted under controversial circumstances. In fact, the first phase of ‘Operation Liberation’ had been completed with Dias, at Vasavilan, with his battalion.

The war veteran stressed that those who sought to woo the Tamil electorate, by granting them police and land powers, should at least bother to examine the origins of terrorism here and the enactment of the 13th Amendment.

The writer, too, firmly believe Lt. General Dias’s assertion that India launched its terrorism project here to create an environment conducive for the introduction of legislation aimed at meeting their objectives. Now, 15 years after the eradication of terrorism, Sri Lanka is still struggling to deal with a law that was enacted to appease those seeking a Federal system of government here.

Lt. Gen. Dias stressed that he questioned the rationale in retaining the 13th Amendment in the draft Constitution prepared during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President (2019 Nov-July 2022).

That draft Constitution proposed to do away with a separate Provincial Council election and to constitute Provincial Councils with those elected separately out of those who contest for Local Authorities which shall constitute 70% members and the balance 30% nominated proportionately, based on the votes obtained by parties at the Local Authority Elections. It was proposed that every elector should be entitled to vote to elect a Local Authority member to represent the ward he is residing and to elect a Provincial Council member to represent his Local Authority, from among the members contesting in his Local Authority area.

Having been a frontline combat officer with the famed Gajaba Regiment with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Dias is one of the very few senior retired officers who threw his weight behind nationalistic groups, though he kept out of politics.

“If we are really serious about enacting a new Constitution, the country should do so. It should reflect the post-war ground situation. We eradicated the LTTE’s conventional power for once and for all. That is the reality. Tamil political parties should realize that. The major political parties shouldn’t pursue the same old agenda meant to woo the Tamil electorate. What all political parties represented in Parliament must, without fail ,understand is that the Constitution should reflect the post-war situation and without allowing minority groups to hold the country hostage to their parochial interests.”

Having served the Army for over 35 years, Dias retired in Dec 2015. He kept quite a low profile though, a couple of years ago, he declared support for a Sangha led grouping, the Coalition Against Partition of Sri Lanka campaigning against the 13th Amendment. Lt. Gen Dias served as its Convener.

“Let me explain what political parties shouldn’t do. There should be general consensus among them that the 13th Amendment cannot be utilized as a tool to win over the Northern electorate. They should be told of the situation in the post-LTTE scenario.”

Difficult path ahead

Political parties are seeking to advance their despicable agendas at war-winning Sri Lanka’s expense. The SLFP-led coalition that provided leadership during the war is no more. Instead, we have the SLPP, led by war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, but trapped in Ranil Wickremesinghe’s machinations.

Wickremesinghe, who had been one of the architects of the one-sided 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), which was signed in secrecy with the LTTE that brought us closer to the brink of unprecedented catastrophe, seems confident of securing the TNA’s endorsement. The UNP leader obviously has the edge over both the SJB and JJB/JVP leaders as he had previously worked closely with the ITAK/TNA. What would the ITAK/TNA prefer, the full implementation of the 13th Amendment or a much wider devolution package, something that can be safely called 13+?

The JJB/JVP declaration in support of the 13th Amendment is certainly a triumph for the devolution lobby. Having waged a murderous campaign in the ’80s against, what the JVP then called expansionist Indian strategy here, the Marxist party, possibly spoilt by filthy lucre of the decadent West, has now donned business suits to globetrot and conveniently amended its policy, forgetting the needless blood it shed. Probably, the JJB/JVP has realized the extreme difficulty in advancing their political agenda and amended strategy in the run-up to the public protest campaign aka Aragalaya, launched in March 2022.

The acceptance of the 13th Amendment, as well as the post-Aragalaya relationship with India and the US, should be considered in line with the change in the JJB/JVP overall strategy to suit the times.

Did the Expert Committee, appointed by ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in late 2020, to formulate a new draft Constitution, properly deal with the 13th Amendment? The group, headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, produced a draft Constitution, though there were divergent views on Provincial Council polls held in terms of the 13th Amendment. The Expert Committee proposed some far reaching changes to the existing system but still a section of the nationalist group opposed the move. General Dias is one of those critics who believed the 13th Amendment should be repealed. But, that seems implausible for obvious reasons.

Professor A. Sarveswaran, a member of Romesh de Silva’s Committee, is of the view that the structure, introduced by the 13th Amendment, should be retained. Others disagreed. Professor G.H. Peiris, Manohara de Silva PC and Samantha Ratwatte PC asserted that the 13th Amendment is prejudicial to the independence, sovereignty, unitary character, territorial integrity, and national security of the State. They favoured the repealing of the Provincial Councils, established under the 13th Amendment. The overwhelming majority of those who made representations before Romesh de Silva’s Committee supported a unitary state and were against the Provincial Council structure introduced by the 13th Amendment. But, in the run-up to the presidential poll, major parties/alliances seemed to be in favour of the Provincial Council polls. Sarvajana Balaya appeared to be the only group taking a different view.

The section of Romesh de Silva’s Committee report, that dealt with 13th Amendment is evidence that the issue at hand remained unresolvable in the foreseeable future. Manohara de Silva has explained how their proposals effected far reaching changes to the existing Provincial Council system but those opposed to the concept seemed hell-bent on getting rid of it.

Karu for 13A

With the Presidential Poll just a couple of months away, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in his capacity as the Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ), has declared his support for SJB leader Premadasa’s anticipated promise to fully implement the 13th Amendment. The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) that has been engaged in a controversial reconciliatory moves with the backing of a section of Maha Sangha, too, supports the SJB leader’s move. Taking a common stand on the SJB’s leader’s declaration, the NMSJ and GTF are pushing for political parties represented in Parliament to build on the SJB leader’s declaration.

Premadasa, the first Opposition Leader to make such a declaration, is quite confident of the SJB campaign. Close on the heels of Premadasa’s Kilinochchi declaration and subsequent meeting with the ITAK/TNA leadership, rebel SLPPer and former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris was in Jaffna to promote Premadasa’s candidature. The former academic declared, in Jaffna, that unlike other leaders (an obvious reference to Wickremesinghe and AKD), Premadasa wouldn’t make empty promises.

The stand taken by the NMSJ and GTF matter, but whatever the political parties represented in Parliament and various other groups aligned with them say in respect of 13th Amendment, it would be pertinent to examine public sentiments.

Did the enactment of the 13th Amendment, in late 1987, make a difference in the lives of Tamil speaking people? That should be examined, taking into consideration that the LTTE shunned the Provincial Council system and the Tamil speaking people, living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, had no qualms in overwhelmingly voting at the 2010 Presidential Poll for General Fonseka whose Army crushed the Tiger terrorists’ formidable conventional fighting capabilities in the battlefield itself in 2009. Had the Rajapaksas listened to the West and allowed the Tiger Supremo Prabhakaran and the rest of his inner circle to be rescued by the West we would still be wracked by their terror. The country should be ever grateful to the Rajapaksas for rescuing the country from terrorism, while bringing forth unprecedented development projects to the country at the same time, whatever their detractors, paid for by the West, say about them.

In spite of bombastic declarations by some Tamil politicians and Tamil Diaspora groups over the years, Tamil public participation at the Mullivaikkal commemorative event, in May, has apparently deteriorated with each passing year. Over the years, the public appeared to have realized that various interested parties played politics with the issues at hand and pre-poll talks on the 13th Amendment formed part of their agenda.

Premadasa earned the wrath of Sarvajana Balaya with former ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila and Gevindu Cumaratunga mercilessly attacking the proposal. They warned of dire consequences in case the Provincial Councils were granted police and land powers. They shouldn’t forget that years ago, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his second term, declared his readiness to grant 13+. What did he really mean by it?

Shamindra Ferdinando

Shamindra Ferdinando is a Deputy Editor of a Colombo-based daily newspaper, The Island.

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