My friend Dayan Jayatilleka, who I believe should be more of the academic that he can be and less of the politician he is, after his excellent work in countering anti-Sri Lanka moves in the international arena, has now focused his entire energy to defending and justifying the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Dayan has not exactly written profusely on the 13th Amendment, for his articles in Sri Lankan newspapers of late are largely cannibalizations of each other; in other words he’s done a lot of cut-and-paste.
He has commented extensively on a piece I wrote in the paper two weeks ago. He has called it ‘The 13th Amendment, Indo-Lanka ties, Sovereignty’ .
I claimed that Dayan doesn’t tell us why our relations with India are predicated on the implementation of the 13th Amendment. Dayan responds by referring to a joint statement issued by the Government and a top-level Indian delegation on May 21st where the Government pledges to implement the 13th. One could say that is a tacit admission on the part of the Government that the 13th is in fact the bed rock on which Indo-Sri Lanka relations stand or will flounder. Governments, however, are not made of saints or the all-knowing (the regimes of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s predecessors are excellent examples).
As to the ‘why’ of it, Dayan points to Tamil Nadu and the 70 million Tamils in India, and tells us that the Indian ‘Centre’ will not risk alienating these people. Well, that kind of fear-mongering was quite evident in the last days of the LTTE. The Centre, it so happened, did not budge. Just two days ago, Karunanidhi was quoted as saying ‘we should not anger the Sinhalese’. So much for the compelling character of the Tamil Nadu factor! India made several mistakes with respect to Sri Lanka, beginning with training Tamil militants and ending with parippu droppings prior to the Indo-Lanka Accord. India paid a price.
Why India insists on the 13th I do not know, but if India is really interested in seeing Tamil grievances in Sri Lanka resolved, then India should understand that the 13th (or a ‘ 13th Plus’) does nothing in this regard. Perhaps it is partly the fault of successive Governments, for not having educated India on the real issues. This is understandable because politicians are politicians and will only think of power and of people only to the extent that they serve ambition. Politicians, for example, are fighting shy of setting up institutions that can correct general citizenship anomalies and capable of insulating citizen from themselves. Naturally. To assume that the anti-intellectualism this gives rise to amount to ‘the best we can have’ is to admit that we as a people are lazy, intellectually and otherwise.
Dayan claims that the 13th Amendment ‘is the concrete expression of the Indian concern balanced off with Sri Lanka’s sovereignty’. If this is the case, then the 13th is what Dayan says it is not (“the implementation of the 13th amendment is not the tithe or “protection money” (kappan) paid by the Sri Lankan state to Tamil separatism and/or our Western critics and adversaries” –www.groundviews.com of June 13, 2009). One can call tithe optimum given practicalities but it remains tithe.
He says that sovereignty should not only be asserted, it has to be defended and defensible. This is true. He says ‘If we lose India, we even lose the Non-Aligned Movement [and are] left naked’). That’s Dayan’s view. It is not necessarily true, though. I would hesitate to say that dumping the 13th where it should be dumped (trashcan) amounts to losing India or that losing India amounts to being undressed by the Non-Aligned Movement. I believe instead that a true examination of ‘Tamil grievance’ and meaningful inter-community reconciliation underwritten by democratic process can allow us to lose the 13th and retain India’s friendship, assuming of course that losing India amounts to national suicide.
Dayan’s views on Tamil grievances and aspirations are even less compelling. Yes, every civil group needs political and cultural space, but political and cultural space are obtainable without pinning it down to territory and especially a territory which cannot be justified given history, geography and demography. We know that Eelamist propaganda has tried to disguise interest as fact and this is why many in the international community believe that ‘political space’ has to have a geographical referent.
He argues that grievances not being solved by institutions do not warrant them to be dumped in the trashcan, citing Parliament and Presidency. He is correct. These institutions have other functions. The 13th however addresses interests and not grievances. It is a white elephant, a burden, and is a wasteful way of doing things. Just because no Tamil politician would ‘settle for anything less than the 13th’ it does not mean that we are stuck with the 13th or have to settle for it. No politician wants the 17th Amendment corrected or even implemented as is. Does this mean that we shut up and settle for ‘as is’? No. Tamil politicians have played the communal card. Interests clashed, the Eelam lobby lost. The Eelam lobby was in fact the worst enemy of the Tamil people. If reconciliation and a full flowering of inter-communal harmony is envisaged then we need to return to grievance and resolve these, democratically and based on fact, not fantasy.
Ask any student of politics what the defining feature of nations with devolved structures is and he/she will answer ‘a centralizing tendency’. This is true of the USA and it is true of Canada. The ‘Indian Moment’ of devolution has passed. Sri Lanka is not in devolution mode. We are in development mode. Reconciliation must happen in this context. Constitutional reform should reference the needs of development, of resettlement, rebuilding and recovery. Dayan’s India-fear or India-respect is out of sync with current realities. So too his fascination with the 13th Amendment.
The 13th, in other words, should be viewed in terms of what it does and does not do; whether or not it is in line with current realities and the stated objectives of the Government in terms of improving the overall quality of life of the citizenry. It is by no means an Engelsian ‘necessity’; it is ‘necessity’ only in terms of a mistaken assessment of India’s political wisdom/power and a politician’s self-interest. There is no earthly reason why we should continue to pay for Rajiv Gandhi’s whim. The man’s dead and so is his India.
It is a burden on the overall polity, a postponement of grievance-resolution, an affront to the democratic spirit (in both conception and practice) and all things considered an anachronism that is moreover an incongruent eyesore in terms of the overall institutional structure. All these things rebel against its implementation and agitate for its unceremonious dumping, sooner rather than later.