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The 13th Amendment trap

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The 13th Amendment trap
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India’s External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna had informed the Indian Parliament that India had been assured of the Sri Lankan Government’s intention for "the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and go beyond, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers"(Daily Mirror, July 11, 2009). In the background of the support rendered by India to end terrorism and violence in Sri Lanka, India’s wish is that Sri Lanka follow through and consolidate its military gains politically. However, to expect such gains to be consolidated through an out-dated and irrelevant 13th Amendment would cause the gains to be reversed for the reasons set out below.

The humiliating circumstances that culminated in the Indo-Lanka Accord and the chicanery resorted to by the then Sri Lankan Government to implement the 13th Amendment are part of Sri Lanka’s political memory. Also, part of this memory is the transformation of the structure of the Sri Lankan state from Districts to Provinces and artificially creating a Tamil majority political unit by merging the Northern and Eastern Provinces. With the passage of time the assumptions and premises for the 13th Amendment are no longer valid.

The myth of a culturally bonded Tamil community in the Northern and Eastern Provinces no longer exists, nor did it ever exist for that matter, as was clearly reflected in the 1977 election when the Tamil leadership sought a mandate to create a separate state consisting of the two provinces. With the break away of the Karuna faction from the LTTE, and an independent political space being sought for his community, the myth of a unified Tamil community seeking common aspirations was broken. This separation has been consolidated by the demerger of the two provinces. Under these dramatically altered circumstances, devolution would amount to devolving political power to two separate political entities, one in the North with a near homogeneous Tamil majority and another in the East where the Muslims are the most populous.

In addition, the transformed political landscape challenges the relevance of "meaningful devolution of powers" as a concept to meet Tamil aspirations. A region of Tamil concentration exists today only in the Northern Province. The rest of the Tamil community is dispersed in the Eastern Province and in the rest of the country. Under these existential realities, devolution conceived as a power sharing arrangement to meet Tamil political aspirations does not have validity.

Despite these altered circumstances, India seems content with the assurances given by Sri Lanka regarding the commitment to implement the 13th Amendment. This must either mean that India is not fully aware of existing ground realities, or being aware is leaving it to Sri Lanka to bring them to India’s attention and justify the need for an alternative. Whatever the case may be, it must be recognised that if the military gains are to be secured in a meaningful way the peace has to be durable and for it to be so the political arrangement must have relevance.

Implications on India

India together with other advocates, are for "meaningful devolution to provincial units through the 13th Amendment". Whether the implications of devolving political power to a near homogeneous entity with ready access and cultural ties to India’s South have been jointly addressed is not evident from the continued strident calls for the implementation of the 13th Amendment. While assurances regarding its implementation may please the political leadership in Tamil Nadu, the impact of such devolution on India’s territorial integrity, especially in the background of the Kosovo experience as a lesson, has not been debated.

The possible break away of a near homogeneous Tamil entity – the Northern Province - could be initiated by a Tamil diaspora and supported by agencies and Governments with global influence on grounds of self-determination founded on the mandate of the 1977 election. Independent of such trends, the West has not concealed its displeasure with Sri Lanka for not heeding their advice for a cease fire during the final stages of the conflict. Consequently, they are not likely to miss any opportunity to deny Sri Lanka even what it is entitled to; for example, the delay in granting the $1.9 Billion loan from the IMF. These forces and interests could join to the detriment of both India and Sri Lanka with serious effects as long as the unit remains the province.

India is currently experiencing internal instability. From an external perspective India is surrounded by conflicts, except for Sri Lanka in its South now that the LTTE has ceased to be a destabilizing factor. Pressurising Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment with the province as the unit is to invite problems on that flank as well. From a geopolitical perspective stability in Sri Lanka would contribute immeasurably to regional stability and stability in the Indian Ocean both of which impact on India. Maintaining the political unit as the province would tempt parties disappointed in the way events have turned out in Sri Lanka to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka, for gaining access to the Indian Ocean with prospects to destabilise India.


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