| by Rajasingham Jayadevan
( June 2, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian ) Many battles have been fought by the warring parties – won and lost - since the adoption of the 13th amendment in 1987, and the war too eventually ceased in May 2009 with the overwhelming power of the state and the international support. But the implementation of the infamous 13th amendment to the constitution has become a political football game even after the end of the war.
The lethal cocktail of the UPFA alliance and the unwilling President who likes to thrive on hypes and dramatics, is deliberately beating around the bush the very issues that are central to the conflict. This is further escalating the tensions between the communities. The government is continuing with its historical anti-Tamil hysteria further with its bogey prop ups of imaginative revivalism of the LTTE. The Tamil and Muslim people have become fodders in the escalation of the antithesis of the anti-minorities government of Mahinda Rajapakse.
The 13th Amendment is the only provision in the statute to deal with bloodied history of the post independent Sri Lanka. If not for the Indian intervention, the 13th amendment too would not have been achieved. The 13th amendment did not come as a straightforward devolution to the Provincial administration. Instead, built in is, the mechanism that undermines the very basics of sincere devolution. The excessive powers vested with the government under the ‘concurrent list’ has effectively reduced the provincial devolution to a charade. The government is enjoying its outright privilege with the concurrent list, is not ready to go further to strengthen the available devolutionary mechanism.
Earlier, in January 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo reported in a cable (189383: confidential, January 29, 2009) on External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit that President Rajapaksa had spoken of a 13th Amendment Plus plan (Hindu-26/3/2011).
Following from that on 10 July 2013, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon — who met top Sri Lanka leaders here in the last two days — emphasized the need for Colombo to fulfill its commitment to India and the international community regarding a political settlement that would go beyond the 13th Amendment of the country’s Constitution. Speaking to the Indian media here after a breakfast meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday, Mr. Menon said: “We have made our views clear on how we would like to see much more positive and forward movement towards reconciliation and a political resolution of the various issues which have led to ethnic politics being so polarized and fragmented in Sri Lanka in the past.” (Hindu )
If Premier Modi did articulate it during talks with Rajapaksa, the same views were expressed by his External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, when she visited Sri Lanka as Leader of the Opposition. She headed a parliamentary delegation. She told a packed news conference on April 21, 2012 at the Hotel Taj Samudra that President Rajapaksa had given an assurance he would implement the 13th Amendment and “go beyond.” (Sunday Times 1/6/14)
The present Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told reporters following the meeting between the two leaders that Prime Minister Modi had called for “full implementation of the 13th Amendment and beyond” – the infamous ‘13 Plus’ mantra that the Indian Government has been insistent about since the end of the war. Singh said the 13th Amendment had been “discussed at some length” between Prime Minister Modi and President Rajapaksa. When a journalist pointed out that government ministers had denied reported assurances given by the President to Indian External Affairs Minister (S.M.) Krishna in January, the Indian Opposition Leader replied, there is no question of ministers saying and denying anything. The President himself said he would concede both the 13th Amendment and the plus.” (DBS)
Following the election of the Northern Provincial government in 2012, failures of the 13th amendment has become a international issue. The shallowness of the 13th amendment due to the over-powering concurrent list, is stampeding the very political mandate yearned by the Tamil people in the north and east.
It is none other than the the judicious former Supreme Court Judge C V Wigneswaran, the Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council who is now experiencing the blatant failures of the 13th amendment. Of the nine provinces, eight provinces are under the control of the government and are just lame duck managements that will only extend the centralized agenda of the government. None of the other eight provinces, except for the Eastern Provincial Council now and then, are making any noises about the deficiencies in the 13th amendment. As for them, devolution of power and unwanted interference of the government are not important, so long as their pay packets and the kick backs are not hindered.
Before going further to plus the 13th amendment or go further than the 13th amendment there must be a dressing down exercise to strengthen the existing provision. The concurrent list must come under serious review and must be heavily scaled down. It must be brought down to the level of Queens power in the British constitution or more fairly the powers of the President of India.
The present 13th amendment in the political sense is the biggest fraud in the constitution of Sri Lanka and the anomalies that are oxygenating the failures must be dealt by reducing the powers vested in the concurrent list. This is what the Chief Minister of Northern Province is asking for and government is not responding.
Unless Indian intervention that brought about this appalling constitutional arrangement deal with the very problem with due authority and interest, the very uncompromising government of Sri Lanka will be allowed to flirt further in an unreasonable manner.
If there is no government is not willing scale down the concurrent list , 13 + must be the only next stage. Without permitting the government to drag on this process, Tamil people must be facilitated a free and fair referendum with the Indian involvement to democratically decide on a federal arrangement. This referendum must give two stark choices, one to be for the traditional and historical Tamil areas to be within Sri Lanka under a defined federal arrangement or to join India as its 29th federal state.
There must be an end to the heavy-handedness of the un-mitigating control freak governments of Sri Lanka that have thrived on the Buddhist-Sinhala hegemony for far too long.