We are reminded of the performances of great players of the past: S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, J. R. Jayewardene, Colvin R. De Silva, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and many others. There is one factor common to all these politicians: they all vacillated in their position not particularly for political advantage but for their own political survival.
SWRD commenced his career promoting federalism in the 1920s and went on to enact the Sinhala Only bill which resulted in the political and social fabric being torn apart. Colvin R. De Silva, Lanka’s Marxist prophet, soon after the Sinhala Only bill declared: ‘One language – two nations; two languages – one nation’. Twenty years later he drafted and guided a constitution which not only retained the Sinhala Only Act but also gave Buddhism the ’foremost place’ among all religions.
Chelvanayakam was one of the founders of the first Tamil political party, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and refused the join the UNP under the leadership of D. S. Senanayake. He then formed the Federal Party, a much more hard line Tamil party than the ACTC but in 1965 he allied his party with the UNP led by Dudley Senanayake. The Federal Party under his leadership broke away from the UNP when the agreement between him and Senanayake fell through and then went on to form the Tamil United Liberation Front which was committed to create a separate independent Tamil state.
Leaders from both sides of Elephant Pass have kept on shifting their positions on this vital national issue and even today many are hemming and hawing on the question of retaining or abolishing the 13th Amendment. Many vital national issues could be affected on the future this amendment.
No doubt this amendment is a ‘made in New Delhi’ product forced upon the then President J. R. Jayewardene after Indian troops were landed in Sri Lanka. It was punishment to Jayewardene who had the impertinence to call the self proclaimed ‘Empress of India’ names and pal up with her arch rival Moraji Desai. New Delhi’s pretence was that it was to help the Tamils in the North and East to gain a degree of autonomy from the Central Sri Lankan government but the paradox of it was that the LTTE leader Prabakaran did not want this kind of autonomy or devolution but a separate state and took on the Indian forces. This gross Indian interference in our internal affairs caused outrage among the Sinhalese and although it was included in the Constitution 26 years ago, successive governments have been unable to implement it.
The 13th Amendment has assumed geopolitical dimensions with India’s alignment with its new found ally, America, which for reasons of its own have recognized India to be the ‘regional power’ of South Asia and at New Delhi’s behest is hounding Sri Lanka together with its Western allies on alleged violation of human rights. There could be no other reason for this only superpower in the world nit picking on this small far away country, which just two decades ago they said: ‘did not appear on their radar screen’.
Abolition of the 13th Amendment would be a slap in the face of the ‘regional power’ by its small neighbour and could lead to serious consequences.
The present regime contributed to this American and Indian antipathy. Flushed with the ‘historic’ victory over terrorism, it back-pedalled on it pledge to implement the 13th Amendment and did more damage by getting China involved in the construction of a strategic sea port and airport just a mile or two away from the main sea route between the Middle East and the Far East in addition to giving China a free run in development projects. India considers Sri Lanka as its ‘backyard’ meant for its exclusive use.
Quite apart from these external pressures, there is a basic obligation on the part of all governments to look after the interests of their own citizens.
However much government supporters and its media may claim that a great amount has been done for rehabilitation of Tamils after the terrorist conflict, even apolitical Tamils still feel they are second class citizens. Language rights, inability to communicate with the government in their own language, the presence of large military detachments in their areas, military being involved in civilian issues, seizure by the military of privately owned lands are some of the allegations made against the government.
If any attempt is made to implement the 13th Amendment with success it has to be done with the consensus of both Sinhalese and Tamils. If not greater harm would befall the entire country. Repetition of time worn theses, legal and academic punditry will not convince the ordinary people – those who really matter – about the abolition or retention of the amendment.
Removal of the amendment which has been in the statute book for 26 years albeit not implemented is bound to worsen inter communal relations as well as relations between Tamils and the government. Whatever political party that will control a new Northern Provincial Council should realize that any unilateral attempt to implement the laws relating to deployment of a police force and land use is bound to erupt in chaos.
Let the amendment remain in the Constitution and the attempt to implement it be made only when consensus has been reached.