Indian hopes for Tamil expectations


By Neville Ladduwahetty

During Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent visit to India the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi standing by his side is reported to have stated: "I am confident that the Sri Lankan government will realize expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace within united Sri Lanka…I am confident the government will work towards reconciliation." (Sunday Island, February 9, 2020).

The other significant statement made by the Indian Prime Minister was: "Stability, security and prosperity in Sri Lanka is in India’s interest, but also in the interest of the entire Indian Ocean" (Ibid). Continuing the report states: "Part of their discussions centered around security of the two countries".

Other issues discussed related to the fishing issue and the utilization of the $400 million credit India had offered during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to India.


Whether Prime Minister Modi was aware of the full implications of describing Sri Lanka as a "united Sri Lanka" is a matter of speculation. However, the fact that he did, cannot be ignored particularly because it was said in the presence of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka that has been unitary not only from the date it became independent but through its history. Assuming however, that he was not aware of the constitutional and legal implications involved in transforming a unitary state into one that is united against the will of the Peoples of a State such as Sri Lanka, his choice of words could only be explained as a statement by a politician to gain political mileage among the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu and should be treated as such.

The realization of Tamil expectations within a united Sri Lanka goes smack against the expectations of the overwhelming majority for a UNITARY Sri Lanka. Under the circumstances not only could there be any justice or peace if the expectations of the Tamil people are to be fulfilled at the expense of the majority, but also a violation of the principle of natural justice for equality of all individuals on which is based the will of the Peoples. It is on this will that democracy functions. Therefore, if the expectation of the majority is that Sri Lanka should function as a unitary State one has to accept the inevitable and find equality, peace and justice within such a framework.

The cry for equality started in 1937 with the flawed notion of what was popularly known as 50-50. This notion was based on the majority community and minority communities having equal representation in Parliament. The fact that it violated the fundamental principle of natural justice of equality of all individuals as sovereign entities to craft equality among communities is an irony of ironies. Commenting on this demand Jane Russel in her seminal work states: "This demand was delivered to Governor Caldecott who was then investigating possibilities for constitutional reform by a deputation from the minorities. The outcry which followed this demand, an outcry not only from the Sinhalese but from a large and influential section of Ceylon Tamils and Muslims provoked the minorities to altering their claim to one whereby the minorities would be given 40% of the seats in the Council…However, the proposal was rejected outright by Governor Caldecott who summarily dismissed any return to "balanced representation" as impractical" ( p. 252, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution 1931-1947, 1982).

Undeterred by this failure the Tamil leadership transformed its campaign for equality by attempting to establish a separate state on the basis of a Tamil majority region. Perhaps realizing the impact of a divided Sri Lanka on India’s own territorial integrity, the compromise formula proposed through the intervention of India was to devolve power to a Tamil majority region consisting of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. Since this formula fell short of Tamil expectations, the campaign to establish a separate state was vigorously pursued to the point that it morphed into a full scale armed conflict. Notwithstanding the vigor with which the objective to establish a separate state was pursued, it too failed in May 2009. However, the legacy these failed attempt left behind was the recognition that the Northern and Eastern Provinces are Tamil majority regions; a recognition that would have a direct bearing on the territorial integrity of India. It is in such a context that one has to heed the comment by visiting Prime Minister that "Part of their discussion centered around security of the two countries" (Ibid).

It is evident from the foregoing failed attempts that by the time Tamil people realize their expectations for equality, justice and peace the security of both India and Sri Lanka would be threatened. Therefore, leaders of both countries need to be extremely circumspect about what they say. Furthermore, the leaders of both countries should realize that in terms of priority, the security and integrity of both states far outweigh the need to address the expectations of the Tamil people in either country. Therefore, the message that should be conveyed to the Tamil people by leaders of both countries is that their expectations have limits and that at no time could it threaten the security and integrity of either country. The fact that this message has not been conveyed thus far has given rise to false hopes among the Tamil people.

If as Prime Minister Modi states "Stability, security and prosperity in Sri Lanka is in India’s interest", it must follow that the expectation of the Tamil people for a federal State with the right of self-determination within a united Sri Lanka, not to mention a host of other expectations, cannot be entertained because such provisions would threaten the security and integrity of Sri Lanka which in turn would impact on the security and integrity of India. India on the other hand, can under Article 353 exercise powers of the Union Government and issue directives to States during an emergency; a Constitutional right that the Union Government has exercised on several occasions. Similar safeguards exist under Articles 154K -154N of the 13th Amendment. Such constraints are perceived by the Tamil people as impacting negatively on their expectations. Under the circumstance for Prime Minister of India to request Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment notwithstanding that the majority in Sri Lanka is opposed to the 13th Amendment as admitted by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and on other occasions declare that he is "confident" that the Tamil people’s expectations for equality, justice and peace would be realized, has to damage his credibility.


The fact that the security of both countries had featured during their discussions is encouraging. In this regard leaders in both countries often focus on the degree of political power devolved to the peripheries. What they need to jointly realize from a security perspective is the direct relationship between devolved powers and the size of the unit to which power is devolved. The tendency is for larger units to break up into smaller units due to regional demands. For instance, India has experienced the birth of three new States created in 2000; a process that started in 1950s in Andhra Predesh. This process is bound to continue. Sri Lanka too is bound to experience similar trends in view of regional demands for greater political power among diverse groups within larger units. Since such changes invariably are preceded by agitation and unrest and even armed conflict, it would be more prudent to address regional interests before they become threats to national security. In the Sri Lankan context this means that as long as the devolved unit remains the Province threats to security and territorial integrity are inevitable. Therefore, if the security of Sri Lanka is in India’s interest as stated by Prime Minister Modi, India should encourage Sri Lanka to devolve power to units smaller than the province for reasons of securing its own territorial integrity.

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