Jaishankar asks Lanka to fulfil hopes of Tamils

India – Sri lanka relations

Approx Read Time: 5 min

India - Sri lanka relations
India – Sri lanka relations

In News: India – Sri lanka relations

  • The Indian External Affairs Minister is visiting Sri Lanka for his first overseas visit of the year.
  • Speaking to the media there, he talked about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment.

News Summary:

  • During his visit to Sri Lanka, his first overseas visit of the year, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held bilateral discussions with the foreign minister of Sri Lanka.
  • Sri Lanka thanked India for extending tremendous support to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Lankan foreign minister said India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy made “a very positive impact” on Sri Lanka’s health sector and the economy during this critical period.
  • Lanka also expressed interest in accessing vaccines from India.

Comments on the issue of Tamils in Lanka:

  • Jaishankar also spoke to the media about the issues of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
  • He talked about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment.
  • He called upon Sri Lanka to meet its Tamil minority’s expectation of greater devolution of powers as part of the reconciliation process.
  • He noted that it is in “Sri Lanka’s own interest” that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka are fulfilled.

About: The 13th Amendment to Sri Lankan constitution

  • The 13th Amendment to Sri Lankan constitution is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene.
  • Purpose:
    • The purpose was to resolve Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict that had aggravated into a full-fledged civil war.
    • Its objective was design a power sharing agreements between the Centre and the provinces were made.
    • Sri Lankan civil war was between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which led the struggle for Tamils’ self-determination and sought a separate state.
  • Main Provisions:
    • The 13th Amendment led to the creation of Provincial Councils.
    • It assured a power sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern.
    • Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police are devolved to the provincial administrations.
  • Status of Implementation:
    • The provincial administrations have not made much headway because of restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President.
    • In particular, devolution of land and police powers, part of 13th amendment, has not been implemented so far by any Sri Lankan government.
    • Their reasoning is that if police powers were handed over to the provincial councils, it would simply lead to politicization of police work.
    • Initially, the north and eastern provinces were merged and had a North-Eastern Provincial Council, but the two were de-merged in 2007 following a Supreme Court verdict.
    • Since all the provisions were not implemented, it is called as 13 Minus.

Controversy around 13th Amendment:
  • The 13th Amendment carries considerable baggage from the country’s civil war years.
  • It was opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE.
  • Opposition by Sinhala Nationalist Parties
    • They thought it was too much power to share with Tamil community.
    • A large section of the Sinhala polity, including the leftist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which led an armed insurrection opposing it, saw the Accord and the consequent legislation as an imprint of Indian intervention.
    • Though signed by the powerful President Jayawardene, it was widely perceived as an imposition by a neighbour wielding hegemonic influence.
  • Opposition by Tamil Community
    • The Tamil polity did not find the 13th Amendment sufficient in its ambit or substance.
    • However, some including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which chiefly represented the Tamils of the north and east in Parliament in the post-war era, see it as an important starting point, something to build upon.

Significance of 13th Amendment:
  • Till date, the 13th Amendment represents the only constitutional provision on the settlement of the long-pending Tamil question.
  • It is an important measure of devolution of powers to Provincial Councils.
  • It is considered part of the few significant gains since the 1980s, in the face of growing Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism from the time Sri Lanka became independent in 1948.

Recent Demands in Lanka for Abolition of 13th Amendment:
  • Many senior political leaders often openly call for the abolition of ‘provincial councils’ and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
  • They deem the councils in a small country could be more effectively controlled by the Centre.
  • The opposition is also from those fundamentally opposed to sharing any political power with the Tamil minority.
  • However, all political camps, despite vehemently opposing the system, have themselves contested in provincial council elections.
  • The councils have over time also helped national parties strengthen their grassroots presence and organisational structures.

India and 13th Amendment:
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has referenced the Amendment more than once, especially during high-level bilateral visits.
  • After the new government led by the Rajapaksa brothers was formed in Sri Lanka recently, India once again expressed hope that the new government in Sri Lanka will realise the aspirations of the Tamil community in the island nation.

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