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Sri Lanka: Prospects Of Thirteen Plus And Forerunner 13th Amendment ( 13A) – Analysis


By Ravi Sundaralingam

Almost quarter of a century has passed since the infamous 13th amendments (13A) to the Sri Lankan constitution were made under heavy Indian pressure. It had the Indian sign for failure, some would say, from the beginning following the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord in July 1987 between President JR Jeyawardene, and Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi.

Those believe in superstition are certain that they could have foretold its fate at the instant a Sinhala soldier swung his gun and hit Indra’s son during the guard of honour in his name in Colombo. Soon the LTTE murdered him, in Tamil Nadu of all places, as President Premadasa armed and funded the LTTE to fight his war against India, and the VP Singh government brought home the IPKF at the request of Premadasa.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

That brought an end to the open and direct Indian intervention in the island’s affairs, and thereafter everything India did went behind the screens and scenes. This held true even during the darkest hours in the island’s history when more than forty thousand Tamils were slaughtered in two weeks.

The event as much as its denial are only comparable to few others in the world, like the Turkish massacres of the Armenians, and the whole scale massacres of the Jews, Gypsies, and the Russians by the Germans. They alone will forever be the millstone for the Sinhala nation if they do not come to terms with their government’s deeds, and exorcise the demons in them about the Tamils and others in the island to make total peace with them. For all the economical power the Germans have, and even for their attempts to come to terms with their past, and the industrial power house Turkey one day will be, their burden have been unbearable.

The event itself is now made into a premier horror show in the international media. Even for the impotence and the political prevarications the ‘international community’, it has now acknowledged the findings of the UNSG commissioned Special Panel as serious, and its authenticity accepted by the UNHRC during its 10th sitting last month.

Twenty-five years later it seems India is determined to play an openly direct role in the island once again; this time, ‘without the baggage of being on the side of the Tamils, having supported the government’s war against the LTTE’. There is also that whispering voice keeps mentioning the word 13+, enticing the Tamils with vague promises and antagonising the Sinhala nationalists.

Those lived though the 13A to the Mulliyavaikkal period, and survived with intellectual, political and most importantly human dignity, especially those who have been part of the process, rather than being an observer or an occasional commentator, have witnessed far too much in terms of the human conditions, far too much to file them behind a UN Report or recall them here.

Yet, in the interests of sanity and self-preservation, just to prevent the broken Tamil communities are taken for a ride, on yet another tantalising false promise, it is necessary to record some of the fundamental changes in the island, regional and global conditions.

In the meantime it may also help us to assess the prospect of the positives with the ‘new Indian intervention’, and the much talked about but, not yet concretised 13+ through the experiences of its predecessor, the 13A.

Under the13th Amendment

The 13A and its origins always add confusion and frustration for the islanders for vastly differing reasons.

At the local level it has added another practically unimportant, yet politically and socially significant administrative layer to otherwise dormant provincial politics.

It was an effective political weapon against the LTTE’s in the Eastern Province to drive a wedge and a death knel to the Tamils’ claim for the single contiguous Northeast Province. Yet, though the opportunity was gained by the 13A there is no denying that it was the splits in the LTTE’s ranks and its inappropriate routine ruthless methods to subdue its former commanders, the socio-economical disparities between the Eastern and their cousins in Jaffna, and the animosity with the Islamic communities raised to a higher level by the LTTE were the bedrock of reasons on which the government was able to recruit and conduct an effective military war against it.

And later the former-LTTE leaders were pitted against one another, which they continue even today, to diminish any political power they had to leave the Tamils rudderless and powerless in the province. In the North, its promise of a chief-ministership was used in a bidding war to undermine the role of the Tamil politicians, who had supported Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE and or those changed sides after the defeat of the LTTE. A process was also used by the state to wipe out the historical role of the Jaffna Peninsular has played in Tamil politics. Regional and religious differences used as a ploy against the LTTE are also used to decimate Tamil leadership and consign the traditional Tamils political parties to play the bit parts in the villages.

The 13A in part has given encouragement to a religious form of Apartheid among the Islamic communities. The (1) domination of the Tamil politics of the North-East provinces, (2) land issues in the East with their Tamil neighbours (3) socio-economic disparity, (4) LTTE’s atrocities (5) psychologically empowering allure of the Pan-Islamism, (6) advantages due to the absence of Tamils in competition for political favours and jobs, (7) arming and recruitment of some youths in the Sri Lankan armed services or paramilitary forces, (8) complacent attitude towards the simple arithmetic of their growing numbers, and (9) enticement of the ‘Islamic nation theory’, have helped to create a fundamental contradiction between them and other communities in the North and East. This meant they have also become a pawn in the hands of the state and the Islamists due to the non-existent powers of the 13 A.

Instead of searching for a common approach to solve their fundamental problem with the Sri Lankan state, they have also become further separated from the issues that affect all the minorities in the island.

In effect, without even being implemented, the 13th amendments have been very counter-productive for the Tamil speaking communities in the North and East provinces.

Among the Sinhala communities the new political tiers created have become part of the political strategy of every party, hoping to carve out a role in the national politics by consolidating their position in particular districts and provinces. In a sense this can be considered a positive consequence due to the 13 A, for bringing the regional politics beyond the Western province and its adjoining regions to the attention of the centre. However, deeper look at these regional politics and the new political culture will reveal that the toothless nature of 13 A does nothing to empower local or regional politics and not even to democratise the central bureaucracy.

On the contrary, the war-psychosis created to defeat the LTTE and the peculiar nature of the social and economic conditions during the civil war have created new chieftains to take advantage of the new tier of ‘government’ to consolidate feudal power. Since the 13 A only delegates and not decentralise power, the regional strongman has no option but to serve the feudal lord of the land, the President. This trend has set a general process that has destroyed all local democratic institutions and practices and put them into the hands of a few regional mafia-bosses. Using the powers bought for the loyalty to the feudal lord, and his feudal position in the region he now aspires to control a district or an entire province than the small constituency he used to intimidate.

Sovereignty as Shared Experience

At the South Asian regional level the Sinhala nationalists view the amendments with mistrust and consider it an infringement on the “sovereignty” of the island by the big brother India.

Feudalists often misconstrue the meaning of “sovereignty” on two counts: (1) as the ‘absolute power’ of the government, which meant the leadership of a feudal lord, and (2) as ‘the right’ to divorce themselves from the surrounding and their obligations to the “outsiders”.

In the colonially derived states deficiencies of truly democratic structures are obvious. The nature of producing and maintaining a ‘leader’ often leads to the condition whereby the term “sovereignty” becomes associated with the unassailability of the rule of a particular government of a feudal leader. In these states sovereignty is not considered as the aggregated sovereignty of the peoples and individuals. It is not even the ‘collective power’ of the state. It is only the will of a government to exercise absolute control over everyone and every institution, public or private.

Therefore, ordinary people have no real rights; not just to exercise their views, even to exist. Anyone considered an enemy of the government (leader) can be treated as a traitor and s/he will be declared an enemy of the country and even be executed privately.

In most of the medium size feudal states, and those with dominant ethnic communities, the leader, party, and the government are the “holy-trinity” of political power and the meaning of sovereignty of the country. Therefore, democratising the structures of political power on the basis of nations or communities is an impossible task even with outside push, unless the feudal nature of the political culture itself is transformed.

In order to satisfy the need to belong or seek protection or “make money” feudal countries would promote cooperation with the outside institutions and countries. However, they see the ensuing relationships are unilaterally decided in their favour by the term “sovereignty” during any dispute.

So, the Pakistanis will cry foul of the violation of their “sovereignty” for the raid inside their country. Yet, the residencies of the internationally wanted terrorists in Pakistani cities and military citadels would not be considered a violation of the sovereignty of their people or transgression of their obligations to other countries’ sovereignties. And if the accusations were true, one of India’s neighbours could be providing naval facilities for the Somali-pirates, paying no heed to the regional or neighbours’ security and sovereignties, yet feel it has its sovereignty intact.

Vast majority of the feudal states would sign their consent to the obligations for being a member of an international institution like the UN. But would unilaterally abandon part of their obligations that ties them to international standards of behaviour towards their own people by citing the provisions within for sovereignty, and still expect to the meaning and treatment of full membership.

In our view, sovereignty in practice is a shared experience among the countries, particularly in a region, and within a country a shared experience among empowered peoples and individuals; certainly not an indivisible absolute quantity.

We should have by now learned, advanced or otherwise, living in the most modern urbanised centres or remotest parts of the world, in our globalised world every thing we consume, material or otherwise, from a tiny dust of gold to drop of water, from a piece of land for its treasures beneath to the things that grow on it, have been tagged, priced and probably bought and sold by several unknown marketers already.

As for humanity, on the same token, every man, woman and child, advanced or otherwise, should have real accountable value, so should their drop of blood or tears, and their work whether from an ivory tower or deep below in the death-trap mines. No state or world power should have an assumed power to usurp anyone’s life or labour with impunity, which in essence are the basis of shared sovereignty.

Some would dismiss our idea of sovereignty and its finer points as a shared experience of common globalised values, as a flight of fantasy. They will tell us that the global market and human greed have seen off these sorts of arguments for common values in life forever. Unless of course, the great thinkers of the day will say, there was a sea change in our thought process about life, and search for the pleasures of live.

Yet we see at least at superficial level, advance nations pooling resources and sharing sovereignties to maintain or improve their collective power. And watch a feudal state use its assumed sovereignty as its last line of defence against the “interferences of the outside world” to further isolate its peoples and individuals making them poorer in every sense.

Democratising a feudal state?

However, the question is how to democratise and restore sovereignty of its people in a feudal state, especially caught up in the argument of the hegemony of one race over all others and claiming the guardianship of a religion or language, is real. A problem in the island accentuated by Sri Lanka’s victory of its feudal war in the 21st Century against the historical enemy, the Tamils.

Is it then wise to pressurise such a state into any deal, particularly about an ‘internal’ issues between its peoples?

The fact if it can be forced into a deal itself raises the question of the future of such a deal, in detail and sprit. If anything, the 13 A is a case in point, testament to our argument, as some of us are still demanding its implementation after twenty-five years.

If the ‘new Indian intervention’ were to be meaningful on the ground, forcing a government with popular support for achieving a victory against the Tamils through the defeat of the LTTE into an agreement would not do. Then in a feudal state, where the real meaning of sovereignty has nothing to do with the people, there must be alternatives means to persuade the population to face up to their local, international and regional responsibilities.

As sovereignty is identified with the government of the day in a feudal state, where state is just an ‘office’ for the government, a forced agreement with a particular government means nothing in the long run.

The old Indian intervention in the Tamil struggle has brought nothing but untold incalculable disaster to the Tamil communities. India used the struggle for its own purpose and quick results by only allowing the ascendancy of the Tamileelam groups, eventually allowing the LTTE to physically destroy others so that its political leadership could be imposed on the Tamil militants, which India established during the Bengaluru Talks.

India probably realised this seriously flawed strategy on hindsight, when they couldn’t persuade the LTTE to abide by the Delhi-deal and ended up fighting it in the streets of Jaffna and in the jungle of North and East. Most cynical among us would suggest it was the general Indian strategy designed to achieve the same end, just as it had done with Bhindranwale.

Though, the protest against the Tamils against the 13 A were from the Tamileelamists, the arguments based on the “right to self-determination” were and still are sound and reasonable.

In the advance stages the arguments on sovereignty are not about borders and enactment of laws behind barbed wires. It is about peoples and individuals and the right to their belonging and the rights to use them productively.

It seemed India also believed in this principle when it organised a ‘triangular conference’ in January 1985 in Thimbu, Bhutan, whereTamil representatives and Sri Lankans met with the ‘Indian presence’ in the background. This first step, instead of being encouraged to grow into a tripartite process of seeking peace and reconciliation, and a forum for discussing a political solution, took a sudden turn when the LTTE alone was taken to Bengaluru Talks, and the “talks” thereafter materialising only as a bilateral agreement between two “sovereign” states through the Indo-Lanka Accord.

Talks and military actions

Those observed the correlation between every “talk” and military actions on the ground would have noticed the way Indian strategy worked.

The first “talks” in Thimpu happened immediately after the LTTE’s massacre of the Buddhist pilgrims in Anurahapura, and at that time the most devastating attack on any Sri Lankan armed services and the police station in Chavakachcheri by TELO. That followed coordinated attacks on the Army camps mainly by the LTTE in North and East and a large number by EROS in the East, and a concerted bombing campaign in Colombo against ‘economic’ targets entirely by EROS. Lankan diplomatic activities hardly had any success against India’s influence in most of the international forums. So there were the Bengaluru talks and finally, when Rajiv sent Indian Jaguars to drop food-parcels in Jaffna where Lankan army was gaining ground, the military activities ended, and IPKF arrived.

Then there was the period of attrition between India and LTTE that defined the next phase to the detriment of the Tamils. Athulathmudali was sharp enough to foresee the advantages, and Premadasa under serious pressure from the JVP campaign took his advice and the advantage of the situation. In a strange twist of history the LTTE took refuge in the Sri Lankan military camps, followed by the exit of IPKF and the murder of Rajiv.

After that was the period when LTTE seemed to have spun out of control as India took a back seat, allowing for an artificial military balance to settle. Sri Lanka took Jaffna peninsular, and LTTE established in Vanni. This created the conditions for the first time in the island’s history for the Sinhalese to elect a government that wanted to have peace and share power with the Tamils. President Chandrika’s attempts were never appreciated by the LTTE or by the Tamil Expatriates and encountering the usual obstacles from the chauvinist elements within, and the murder of the architect of her proposals Neelan Thiruchselvam by the LTTE, died at birth.

Among the Tamils those fell for the anti-Indian propaganda, and the ‘independence’ and the might of the LTTE had their days following this period, as India now worked from a distance. India was no longer the regional power of the 80s with only the local issues to concern about, but a growing international power. It doesn’t have to rely entirely on covert ‘military’ strategies, and had firm regional policies following the Gujral doctrine. “Action from a distance” is the basic theme primarily to mend fences with all its neighbours, including Pakistan.

Naturally just as now about Ahamadinejad, Chavez, Gadaffi and the Chinese filling the void left by India, the speculations were many decibels louder as the mighty Norwegians landed and built the bridgehead for the West to destroy Indian regional influence. How the plaintiffs in the world in dispute with their states faired with the Norwegians as ‘facilitators’, was a question never even came up.

Yet, the opportunities were there to ‘cash in’ for the LTTE after its very successful military period, when even the total capitulation of the Army in the North was talked about. Its MoU with Ranil’s government was legally and strategically the best ever achieved by any Tamil political group. Instead, it allowed all its achievements, paid in full by the blood of Tamil braves, and the opportunity slip out of its hand and out of Tamil’s history by is stupid-insolence in seeking absolute control over North and East.

Now came the tragic part of the Tamils recent efforts to assert control over their belongings as India along with the international community decided that the LTTE can no longer be part of the equation, and should be eliminated. The new military strategy, in accordance with the time of reviving the authority and the integrity of the states, was to support the Lankans fight the war to an end. To this end there were no questions about its conduct during the war, except for the murmurs by the international Red Cross and charity organisations.

Sri Lankan armed forces were let loose to bomb, fire missiles and attack the heavily concentrated civilian centres with mortars, heavy guns, and tanks as the world kept its silence. Those spoke of Indian impotence in the presence of Norwegians, the West, Chinese and everybody else, and chided us for suggesting that India ultimately decided Tamil’s fate, now wanted it to intervene to stop the war. Unfortunately, India had long decided that the Tamils as a people should no longer be in a position in Sri Lanka to mount any challenge to the state.

Then, one may wonder why now the international community ask for accountability from the Sri Lankans, when virtually all of its members were selling arms and, some providing surveillance to assist its war? If they had the aerial photographs of the bombardment of the Tamil civilians kept captive by the LTTE, when there were official complaints by the Red Cross and others about such attacks, why did they keep silent, why produce those pictures now?

Now there is no need for the Indians to conduct “talks” with the Tamil representatives; there are none. It doesn’t have to make the same mistake of singing a bilateral agreement on an ‘internal issue’. The issue, from all its practical purposes are out of Tamils’ hands and into the ‘international community’, in the form of ‘human rights’, not as the issue between a state and a people in dispute about their historical belongings.

Taking ownership of 13 Plus:

Who will cash in on Tamils blood? Having failed to cash in on the blood spilt during the years of valour and sacrifice, can they at least gain some of the rights over their belonging on the blood spilt during the Tamil holocaust? Not if they continue to believe in the pressure by the West on human rights alone.

The world knows what Sri Lanka is, and the military and diplomatic deals it had made with all of them, before the international community sanctioned the defeat of the LTTE.

If the government had done more atrocities than they agreed to, they would find a way to cash in on his mistake for their benefits. When someone is pushed into a cul-de-sac, those providing a way out for the desperate would be the first to favour. Sri Lankan government is in a desperate state looking for a way out. The “Chinese are coming” propaganda put out in the Indian media, and the “East stick together” nonsense dreamed up by the Lankans seem fantastic as our concepts on humanity for common purposes and finely tuned notion of sovereignty.

We have seen how the Chinese value the West and India in their advice to the Pakistanis for their offer of bases and strategic alliance, and in the statements about the bases in Sri Lanka or in the vicinity. We heard India demand a central role in Central Asia during the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting, and recognise their relationships are at a deeper level. We have also witnessed the non-appearance of the joint statement when Prof. Peris went to Bejing, who will now persuade the most easterly of nations, Russia to be on Lanka’s side. Failing that, they will wait for Chavez and Ahamadinejad to send Somali-pirate ships to save its sovereignty.

However, Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, if they truly believe in their sovereignty, and sincerely want to keep their affairs within the island they must learn from the past mistakes on both sides.

The Sinhala nationalists must respect that the enemy they defeated also had a fierce belief in their independence and fought the Indians with Lankan support; at the same time understand its folly from the price they had to pay in the end.

Though they may not think the Tamils as a serious challenge to their state any longer, the question of ownership and rights of the minority communities will always remain. Unless, they are not addressed adequately they will be an impediment, threatening peace and harmony never to arrive in the island.

It is unfortunate instead, Sri Lanka seemed to have chosen the same path as the LTTE did and in trying to eradicate the issues themselves by eliminating its perceived enemies. LTTE didn’t count on the fact when it runs out of enemies outside they will come from within. This is not a dictum of life, but always guaranteed because, the elimination of enemies only eradicates the symptoms and not the causes.

The total control the leader Pirbaharan had over every aspect of LTTE’s affair became less as the organisation grew, and he had to accept the idea of delegation, thereby loss of absolute power. Chopping and changing the leadership within the organisation worked most of the time but started to fail when regional strongmen developed with their own following. Sri Lanka following the same trend has already dealt with the leadership by putting Sarath in prison and many other military leaders either dismissed demoted or promoted to various posts in the civil administration.

This does not mean the army is firmly under the control of the President or his brothers as the beating up of the TNA MPs in Jaffna few days ago shows, for which his police force has apologised but the army is still denying the incident altogether. When Tamils or their present leadership pose no direct political threat, it can only be interpreted by many outside as an indirect message to India, a type of caning for its approach in the island. The passage towards peace and reconciliation through the new phase of Indian intervention clearly has to pass many choppy waters yet.

Sri Lanka must add more to the meaning and action for the term sovereignty, and trust the Tamils than further alienating a broken people. This cannot be different to the brave decisions India has to make with regards to Kashmir or any of its other restive regions.

The hope for the13 Plus+ has much to do with this mutual trust and willingness for reconciliation from all the communities in the island than the than the chop and thrust of the strategic manoeuvrings of India or the international community. The formative years of the 13+ has been harsh and hazardous preceded by its cousin the 13 A, and unfortunately left for the “outsiders” to nurture it. If Sri Lankan government is to avoid the same mistakes as LTTE, and Tamils missing yet another opportunity to make progress to make peace with their Sinhala brother than seeking ‘revenge’, they must somehow take its ownership.

Irrespective of the anti-Indian propaganda in Sri Lanka, the material in the public domain after the recent Indian delegation’s visit also suggests India wanting exactly that.

The author can be contacted at:” [email protected]

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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