Implementation of 13th Amendment for national reconciliation after next poll: SL President Sirisena
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
New Delhi has been demanding of Colombo to implement the 13th Amendment in order to smoothen and revise the bilateral relations to the benefit of both South Asian nations.
New Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to implement the 13th Amendment quickly, said that the issue would be taken up after the next parliamentary election and asserted that finding a solution to the vexed Tamil issue remains a priority for his government.
President Sirisena and PM Modi have recently undertook mutual visits to each other’s countries in a way to promote the ties and blow new breeze into Indo-Lankan relations, spoiled for years now, owing to Tamil issue.
Speaking to top newspaper editors and media heads at the Presidential Palace in Colombo, three days after Modi’s historic visit to Lanka, Sirisena said recently he will call a parliamentary election after adopting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which will be presented in the Parliament soon.
This would mean that Sri Lanka would hold the parliamentary poll after 23 April as pledged in Sirisena’s 100 day program. The 19th Amendment seeks to reduce the terms of office of the President to five years, instead of the current six years and unlimited term.
Sirisena said finding a solution to the ethnic Tamil issue remains a priority for his government. Other possible provisions that could be included in a 19th amendment would limit the powers, given to provincial councils under the 13th constitutional amendment (13A), by which they exercise control over the police and over land issues.
India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment on devolution of powers in “letter and spirit” and to fulfill the aspirations of the ethnic Tamils. Tamil Diaspora groups who were earlier seen as anti-Lanka now appear willing to work with the new Sri Lankan government, Sirisena said. Some of the Tamil groups came to see him in London last week, he added. “They spoke in Sinhala and told me that they were willing to engage with government on finding a solution to the Tamil question,” Sirisena said.
Voicing India’s support to efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all societies, including Tamils for a life of equality and dignity in a united Lanka, Modi had said: “We believe that early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process.”
Sirisena said that during his visits abroad and since his discussions with leaders visiting Sri Lanka after he took over as President, he noticed the magnitude of the challenges Lanka is faced with internationally. “We have to face this challenge. We have to settle our internal issues. For that a National Government is essential as then we can work out an acceptable solution,” Sirisena said: “We should accept the presence of diverse opinions on this matter. We must find ways to reach a majority consensus to solve this issue if we want to ensure that there will not be another war in our lifetime. The media too have an important role in this and they should take this into serious consideration.”
In a separate development, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the government may lift the ban on Tamil Diaspora groups imposed by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa government. Samaraweera told parliament that building national reconciliation was important and Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim Diaspora groups have a role to play in taking Sri Lanka forward as a nation.
The Lankan President said his government, in the short time since early January, had managed to turn the international opinion on Sri Lanka. “I was received very warmly by the Queen and the (British) Prime Minister Cameron. Winning over Britain was winning the whole European Union,” Sirisena said.
Recently, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe has come up with an unusually hard and provocative statement suggesting that Indian fishermen would be shot if they were to intrude into Sri Lankan waters. Wickramasinghe alleged that Indian fishermen were taking away the livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen. “Why are you coming into our waters? Why are you fishing in our waters? You stay on the Indian side, Let our fishermen stay on the Sri Lankan side…Otherwise don’t make accusations of human rights violation by the Lankan Navy. You came in there,” he said.
Wickramasinghe’s remark, coming out of the blue, is unhelpful to the cause of India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations. The Premier’s remark came ahead of his talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who just concluded her first two-day bilateral visit to the island nation on Saturday. Moreover, its timing is suspect as it comes barely a week before Prime Minister Narednra Modi’s visit to the country.
Modi was the first India Prime Minister since 1987 to visit Sri Lanka.
The frequent arrest of Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan authorities is a highly emotive issue in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and no Indian Prime Minister can ever ignore this issue.
However, India must understand that what Wickramasinghe has said is not unjust though he should have refrained from using harsh language to drive his point home. For her part, Swaraj met Wickramasinghe in Colombo told him that the issue of fishermen was a humanitarian one and much different from the Italian marines episode in India. The Indian side has taken Wickramasinghe’s remarks in its stride and is committed to deal with the issue diplomatically.
This is evident from Indian foreign office spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that as a first step the two sides had agreed that after PM Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka the two countries’ fishermen association would meet to take the matter forward.
Much is at stake for India and Sri Lanka. In both countries new governments have been installed. Ties between India and Sri Lanka are currently at an all-time high and the two governments are committed to keep the momentum going. It is all the more important for New Delhi and Colombo to forge closer ties bilaterally at a time when China has been upping the ante. Just last year Chinese warships and nuclear submarines had docked in Sri Lankan ports, much to the chagrin of New Delhi. President Sirisena government has dropped enough hints that Sri Lanka will be pursuing an “India-first” policy.
Incidentally, in the same media interview Wickramasinghe has underlined his country’s policy vis-a-vis India and China, and said Colombo was keeping its ties with New Delhi and Beijing separate and shall not “play India off against China”.
Sri Lanka owes a lot to India for its role to end LTTE. Without the help of India, President Rajapaksa could have not wiped out the LTTE. Colombo may have agreed to give concessions even beyond the 13th amendment. We can expect to hear a great deal more on these lines in India-Sri Lanka bilateral engagement
India raised the “humanitarian” issue of Indian fishermen’s rights with Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, who has stoked a controversy by his remarks that they may be shot if they intruded into Sri Lankan waters.
Wickramasinghe alleged that Indian fishermen were taking away the livelihood of Northern Lanka fishermen. The issue of Indian fishermen also figured in the talks that Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had with Swaraj. This is the first time that TNA has raised the issue of fishermen with the Indian government.
Media reports suggest Wickramasinghe and SL government using the Tamil fishing issue for purposes of parliamentary poll that would take place soon and he wants to end sure all total votes of Singhalese populations for his party. .
Sri Lanka’s indigenous political parties thrive on targeting the Tamils and Muslims, at least till now. However, the future looks somewhat promising to minorities in the island nation.
It is presumed that China’s economic back up has emboldened SL premier to use harsh language against India. However, after the recent high of Sri Lanka suspending a $1.5 billion Chinese real estate project in Colombo – a development that brought cheers to India – the Maithripala Sirisena government has waved a red rag in India’s face.
World politicians, especially in developing nations, have been habituated to using the minorities for political and poll purposes. A senior democracy, India wins and losses polls by its ability for misusing the minorities and place Muslims under tremendous strains.