New Delhi concern at talk of 13th Amendment repeal in Colombo
The 13th amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution, a product of the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayewardene 1987 accord, is once again a matter of discord.
The ongoing one-upmanship between the Sri Lankan government and TNA, which represents a vast majority of Tamil population in the island nation, has taken a dangerous turn with many within the government, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, demanding that the 13th amendment be repealed altogether.
Though the 13th amendment, which guarantees devolution of power to the provinces and comprises several other major concession to the Tamils, has often been pejoratively referred to as an "imported solution", rarely has it been subjected to such attack by parties within the ruling coalition.
Indian officials say they were "surprised" by the development, but added they would respond at the right moment.
Sources confirmed that Gotabhaya will be visiting India this week, and that the issue will be taken up with him. Gotabhaya's call for abolition of the 13th amendment is said to be in response to the "post-war strategy" of the TNA. India has repeatedly, and successfully, sought a reiteration from Lanka of its commitment to the 13th amendment, saying it was imperative for reconciliation after the war ended in 2009.
Despite raising doubts about the agenda of TNA, described by India as a credible body, President Rajapaksa had stated earlier this year that his government remained committed to 13th amendment. A joint statement issued by the two countries last year had said that "a devolution package, building upon the 13th amendment, would create conditions for genuine reconciliation".
Indian officials underlined how Lanka made the same commitment in the 2008 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which looks at the human rights record of all UN member states every four years. Interestingly, Lanka's record will be reviewed again by the UPR in early next month with India being one of the three countries that will carry it out. "This is not just a commitment made to India but to international agencies," said an official.
The reconciliation talks, which started after the war, collapsed in January with President Rajapaksa insisting that the process could be taken forward only through a Parliament Select Committee (PSC). The TNA has refused to join the PSC.
While ties have suffered because of India's vote at the UN Human Rights Council against Sri Lanka, PM Manmohan Singh did try to save the situation when he met Rajapaksa last month and assured him of New Delhi's support at international fora in future. In the talks, though, India also conveyed to Lanka that it looked upon TNA as a credible entity with which talks must be resumed. The relations now threaten to hit an all-time low with the talk about scrapping the 13th amendment altogether.
- Asian Tribune -