Mano Ganesan, leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) believes that ‘India has the moral duty and political right towards the Tamils of the North and East since the 13th Amendment is the child of the Indo-Lanka Accord.’
Prime Minister Modi, when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Delhi, flagged the 13th Amendment. That ‘flagging’ (of a dead horse, should we add?) has excited Tamil politicians. M.A. Sumanthiran and S Sritharan of the Tamil National Alliance have spoken about ‘Indian pressure’ almost as a given, something wholesome and necessary. They, like others, have often talked of the 13th Amendment as ‘just a start’. That’s Chelvanayakam’s ghost talking, ‘a little now, more later’.
Well, we’ve had the 13th Amendment for 30 years now. It was not an Indian baby nor an Indo-Lankan baby. In real terms it was Rajiv Gandhi’s first step in extending India’s hegemony in the region. He famously said ‘This is the beginning of the Bhutanization of Sri Lanka!’ But then again, arm-twisting aside, the accord certainly carries the Indian signature. Does that give India a ‘moral authority’ to see it implemented?
If we talk moral authority, then we need to consider the Indo-Lanka Accord not as an inflation of favorite parts but its entirety. Part of the agreement was for India to disarm the LTTE. India didn’t hold up that end of the bargain. The moral authority argument ends just there.
Now all provincial councils, set up in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment, are dissolved. Indeed, some were dissolved a couple of years ago. The administrative arm of the state continued to function, however. So far, no complaints. No agitation for elections, not from the democracy-darlings fronting for the United National Party (UNP) whenever its political fortunes seemed to be going down the tube and not even from the raucous Tamil communalist politicians screaming ‘India’s Baby, India’s Baby!’
It is not, let us repeat, India’s baby. The people of Sri Lanka never wanted it. Their views weren’t obtained. The 13th Amendment was illegally enacted and in a scandalous rush to boot. To claim that India still has some stake on account of an Accord that died the day the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) left the island, is silly or else sycophantic. To plead for Indian ‘pressure’ so that Sri Lanka’s political landscape can be altered can be read, if one were generous, as a sign of helplessness. Another reading is possible: par for the course of Tamil communal politicians.
The Tamil nationalist formula would retire for a considerable period of time any chance of inter-communal reconciliation. That’s a recipe for political instability. A weak, unstable state is of course something that may make certain Indians salivate, but Narendra Modi would know that desperate leaders could willingly barter sovereignty and much else besides to the highest bidder. Indians talk about China’s footprint in Sri Lanka. Indians aren’t exactly cheering on USA’s designs via SOFA and the MCC Compact either.
All that is external. There’s an internal element here. Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans. Defunct provincial councils that’s not inspiring any whines from any quarter. A Tamil nationalist project based on a myth model that has served only the petty projects of two-bit Tamil politicians. A war waged by warriors spawned less by Sinhala chauvinism than Tamil nationalist who nurtured in THAT baby unrealistic aspirations. A nation that requires healing.
Interestingly, the communalism and the anti Sinhala and anti Buddhist rhetoric have all been couched in the language of oneness, secularism and almost an erasure of identity. Well, erasure of all identities except those of the non Sinhala and non Buddhist sections of the population. ‘ONE SRI LANKA!’ they shout, but not exactly in undertones interject ‘Tamil National Identity,’ and Religious Identity (yes, all religious communities except Buddhists). Having the cake and eating it. Trying to ride two donkeys with one backside.
The abolition of the 13th is necessary on account of its unholy enactment and failure to resolve issues that have been mislabeled. Would that sort matters out? Obviously not. Neither will ‘development.’ There’s an issue of belonging which the ‘full implementation of the13th’ cannot resolve (because it was ill-conceived and utterly out of sync with geographic, economic, demographic and historical realities). It is nevertheless an issue that requires priority attention.
President Rajapaksa has referred to ‘inclusive nationalism’. What’s inclusive here? Is it for the subjugation of all identities, communal and religious, to some vague notion of ‘Sri Lanka’ and ‘Sri Lankanness’? Is it some kind of ethnic assimilation, which is another term for gradual and/or coerced dissolution of minority identity in that of the majority community? Is it a celebration of all identity communities? He has not spelled it all out. Not yet.
However, if there is to be a Sri Lanka which is inclusive, then an important non-negotiable would be the full restoration of Rule of Law and ensuring the absolute independence of the judiciary, quite apart from addressing and resolving representational anomalies (and not just on the subject of identity).
This country is made of a lot of things and people are one element. There are resources that have to be protected and used in ways that are wholesome. There is talent that goes unnoticed and eventually wasted because the talented are not ‘properly’ positioned or are made invisible by certain structures and processes. There are notions of ‘development’ that are inclusive and those that result in costs that are not counted or are ignored out of boorishness, ignorance or simply because people don’t want to deal with inconvenient truths.
President Rajapaksa may or may not have a comprehensive understanding of ‘nation’. One hopes he does, because that would be a good thing. Then he would not ‘forget’ anyone. He would not forget things like carbon neutrality. He would not forget history and heritage. He would not make anyone feel a lesser citizen or one who has to depend on the largesse of someone else.
He has told Prime Minister Modi (and also others who take note) that he will speak his mind. This is a good thing. We’ve had politicians of all hues promising the undeliverable, to one and all. The UNP in particular has hoodwinked the Tamils (going by patterns of loyalty in elections) into believing that their grievances will be redressed and aspirations realized.
In any event, obtaining such inclusivity will be difficult because of the 13th Amendment (among other things). Simply because it was a monumental blunder and an affront to reason. Thirty years is long enough for people to realize this. Keep it, and Tamil communalists will stand on it and scream. Take it out and the true dimensions of grievance have a chance of being articulated, i.e. the frills will be done away with.
It’s not India’s baby now, anyway. India is out of the equation and can claim equation-residence only on account of nostalgia or hegemonic intent. Modi is obviously far too intelligent for such puerile indulgences. No, it is not India’s baby. It’s Sri Lanka’s irrational irritation.
If India insists on the 13th or some version along those lines as price for ‘help’ then Sri Lanka, which cannot really declare war on India, should say ‘udau epa….vadath epaa’ (Help? Thank you, but no. Just don’t harass us).
Sumanthiran has expressed hope that the new President will engage with his party. Nothing wrong in that. Indeed, it would be good for the President to meet the TNA and other parties representing districts that rejected him in favor of Sajith Premadasa. He can listen to them. He can tell him his story and his plans.
Those plans, whatever they are, cannot be about the Tamils and Muslims only. They will have to be about the Sinhalese too. And they will tell us what he thinks about categories of people outside of ethnic and religious colors. The ‘ethnic’ and ‘religious’ let us not forget have stolen center-stage to the point that many subjugated and neglected communities have been made invisible. A nationalism that includes Tamils, Muslims, Sinhalese and other identity based groups but excludes the many underclasses whose woes are forgotten or imagined not to exist, will be partial inclusivity. That won’t do.
India has certain moral obligations, I’m sure. Indians would know them. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has moral obligations. That’s obtained from manifesto and tested in implementation of the same. He’s known to be a workaholic. Let’s see how he works and whether or not it will work.
This article was first published in the Sunday Observer [December 8, 2019]