Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene sign the historic Indo-Sri Lanka accord in Colombo on July 29, 1987. File photo
This writer is impelled to write this letter by the statements said to have been made by Tissa Attanayake, General Secretary of the UNP and H. A. Sumanthiran, in The Island newspaper of 26-06-13, the former’s statement on page one, under the caption ‘UNP opposes dilution of 13A’, and the latter’s statement on page three of Midweek Review, under the heading ‘Dangerous games with devolution?’
In order to present the case, I reproduce two excerpts from TA’s and HAS’s statements. TA’s, “The 13th amendment was a sequel to an accord between two sovereign nations and not a private agreement between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J. R. Jayewardane, as claimed by their critics”. HAS’s, “India must act decisively to request a formal explanation from the Government of Sri Lank as to the reasons behind these attempts to dilute the Thirteenth Amendment. It should also impress upon the Sri Lankan govt. that such an act means breaching the Indo-Lanka accord, an international agreement governed under international law”.
The gist of the argument of TA and HAS is that an agreement between two sovereign states cannot be amended. Is this argument tenable? Definitely not. Why? Since independence from the British, in 1948, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) had been a sovereign state making its own laws in Parliament and governing the whole of the island comprising of the nine provinces. The Jaffna Tamil community spokesman S. J. V. Chelvanayakam had been demanding a federal state comprising the Northern and Eastern Provinces to which demand the majority community, the Sinhalese were not willing due to their fear of the disintegration of the island based on ethnic divisions. Their wish was and is to have an independent sovereign unitary state.
Prabhakaran of the LTTE was not satisfied with this position and hence he went further than a federal state and was fighting for an independent Tamil state called Eelam comprising the Northern and Eastern Provinces. As he was unable to confront the Sri Lanka army he was helped by Indira Gandhi, PM of India, at the behest of Tamil Nadu which state being mainly Tamil had their kith and kin in Jaffna. Having got strengthened by India the LTTE was waging a fierce battle against the Sri Lanka army. At Vadamarachchi the LTTE lost. When the Sri Lanka army was about to defeat the LTTE fully India intervened directly.
The Indian government warned Sri Lanka to stop the war. India wanted to supply aid to the Jaffna Tamils and when that was refused they dropped parippu in Jaffna. Was this the decent behavior of a sovereign state with a neighbouring sovereign state? After Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, her son, Prime Minister of India, coerced, bullied and intimidated Sri Lanka to stop the war and grant a Provincial Council to the combined Northern and Eastern Provinces. Therefore, to save face, JR agreed to give Provincial Councils not only to N & E but also to all the other provinces too in July 1987. Briefly this is the genesis of the so called 13A.
Sri Lankans never ever wanted Provincial Councils. Any state in India is a huge area many times bigger than Sri Lanka. For India it may be necessary to have ‘states’, such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala etc but in Sri Lanka, a province is a small area. 13A is based on the Indian constitution wherein Provincial Councils have been established on lines similar to Indian states. This is an incongruous establishment. Therefore, Sri Lanka as a sovereign, independent country has the right and obligation to amend an unsuitable and unwanted constitutional arrangement that was foisted on Sri Lanka by intimidatory India.
It is absolutely unnecessary for Sri Lanka to get India’s permission to amend its constitution. India has no right whatsoever to interfere with our internal affairs.
Unlike Sri Lanka India, has many ethnic problems, for example, take Kashmir which is a state beset with Hindu-Muslim rivalries. Jinnah was persistently proposing a plebiscite to form a government of the people’s choice where the majority is Muslim. But India never agreed to it. If Sri Lanka were to ask India to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir to solve their ethnic problem will they accept it?
What the writer wishes to impress is that sovereign governments have no right to compel other sovereign governments to interfere in their domestic affairs.