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13th amendment — remedy, or problem?

By Rajpal Abeynayake

(June 29, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) What’s militating against the implementation of the 13th amendment, is that it’s a direct import from India, and that it was moreover conceived in a shotgun arrangement.

However what is left unsaid largely is that after decades of Prabhakaran driven separatism, the 13th amendment to a vast swathe of the Sri Lankan polity, seems too closely tied to the events of our separatist era.

There is a yearning to clean the slate and make a new beginning —— a truly new beginning that is not a reheated offering of yesterday’s leftovers.

13th amendment minus

The other thing about the 13th amendment is that it is clear that the government is pushing for 13th amendment minus, not 13th amendment plus.

One constitutional lawyer mentioned that what the government wants as the 13th amendment is a two page document shorn of its pith and essence, dealing with the grant of police and land powers to the provincial administrations for instance...
But shorn of all the surface level cackle, the real problem a lot of people who are opposed to the 13th amendment have, is the fact that it flies too close to perpetuating all the Eelam myths that were propagated by Prabhakran and Co., by concocting, for instance, a spurious homeland concept borrowed from the Arab-Palestinian conflict discourse.

Those who argue on the side of the 13th amendment, say that it is a simple constitutional device that would satisfy India and satisfy everybody else without placing a strain on the unitary structure of the Sri Lankan state.

Most say that it is possible to take a chance with the 13th amendment as it is not a prop for Tamil militancy, because it is primarily not federalist in character.

Everybody also points to India, and particularly the recent example of Rahul Gandhi uniting the gargantuan and unwieldy Congress Party and going onto defeat sectarian forces while championing the cause of (the now celebrated) Indian secularism.

Many point out that if India can be secular, and if India can eschew sectarian politics, it’s the Indian model and the Indian imported 13th amendment that suits Sri Lanka.

But nothing in the Indian sectarian political model is similar to what happened in Sri Lanka in terms of Prabhakaran driven separatist violence.

Advani and the Hinduthva bandwagon was not based on any homeland concept; the very suggestion would be ridiculous of course, because Rahul Gandhi was credited with putting an end to majoritarian assertiveness, not to minority-based separatism, by dealing a coup de grace to BJP sectarian politics. The point is that even the Hinduthva propelled Advani brigade was not battling any minority agitating on the basis of a homeland concept. Instead, the BJPs s majoritarian assertiveness was to entrench the already dominant Hindu culture in India, even though that dominant culture was facing no substantial challenge in terms of homeland-based separatism as in Sri Lanka, or any other minority uprising based on a narrative of language rights and discrimination.

So, why try to plant Indian Bombay onions in a vegetable patch that was prepared for Sri Lankan bathala is a question that can be asked by those who are wary of the direct Indian transplant that the 13th amendment amounts to in essence?

Besides, the Indian centre is notoriously known to hold together despite all disparate forces and fissiparous tendencies, not due to some innate strength in Indian constitutional structures, but because India is so large that the centre has a greater gravitational pull, if you will, that holds all together at the core —- a fact which is buttressed by the existence of the powerful south block heft of India’s bureaucratic mandarins.

People also say nothing survives in the vicinity of the giant oak or the sprawling banyan —— which is why they have frequently pointed case by case, to the so called ‘structural failures’ in nations neighboring India, in which regular destabilisations, according to a great many analysts, could hitherto be traced to some sort of intervening Indian influence.

This phase of interfering Indian regional hegemony is now palpably over, and this can even be heard loud and clear from the Indian political establishment itself which opines these days, viz. Sri Lanka’s problem for instance that “yes, mistakes were made by us.”

Homeland myth

But all that notwithstanding, the fact remains for most people that it was Sri Lanka that was destabilized once upon a time, be it by India or any other foreign power, and that it was Sri Lanka that was victim to a homeland myth that grew into a monstrous and unwieldy movement for separatist secession.

Therefore, most people rightly reject the Indian model for Sri Lanka out of hand, because they feel that Sri Lanka’s separatist baggage makes for a totally different kettle of fish that cannot be compared to the political reality in India with its very strong centre and its regional position as a superpower, which does not lend to any destabilization of this structural entity from any kind of force acting from without.

However, notwithstanding whether the Indian modeled and imported 13th amendment is not recommended here just because India is secular and yet quasi-federated and is a successful constitutional model, there are those who yet say that there are no demerits in the 13th amendment which they say would on all accounts be the pragmatic solution, with the least potential for damage, particularly considering that it has the blessings of the all important regional superpower, India herself.

But the 13th amendment is by itself a lot of leftover baggage. Already, people cite the fact that Pillayan has scuttled the government’s proposed local government Reform Bill, using the powers vested in him under the 13th amendment, as a danger signal to the centre.

Now, this sort of thing, it is felt, can be handled if it happened in India without any grave danger to the Indian centre, but with our recent separatist experience, a great many analysts come away feeling that the 13th amendment is a little too dangerous for comfort, close on the heels of a virulent separatist movement which was basically predicated upon a mythicised homeland idea, which very soon for many observers of Sri Lankan events, went from mythicised slogan to accepted postulate.

All things considered, therefore,& though the case for the 13th amendment appears to be weak, it is not as weak as it seems, as in practical terms it comes with the advantage of already being an entrenched clause in our constitution.

But being part of the constitution may be one of the precise reasons the 13th amendment raises a red flag to those who are vary of it; they do not want to be handed a fait accompli, which it is felt is too closely tied to our separatist history and its one time sponsorship by the very power that now recommends the same amendment for us.

It is my guess therefore, that, whether the 13th amendment (13th amendment minus it is going to be, and that’s certain...) is eventually accepted or not as the ready made panacea for Sri Lanka’s long history of political conflict, there would be a long hard period of introspection and collective rumination on the part of the polity before deciding what exactly to do with this piece of constitutional tinkering which is part of our constitutional document whether we like it or not, and which has now taken centre stage in our current political discourse..

Courtesy: Lakbima News
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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