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Bhandari’s 13A to Shringla’s 13A

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President Rajapaksa and Indian Foreign Secretary

by Austin Fernando
(Former High Commissioner of
Sri Lanka to India

Continued from yesterday

India’s security first

Lok Sabha Member Brajamohan Mohanty wished that the Sri Lankan Government would not stand any negotiations with foreign countries to invite foreign forces. Member Mohanarangam (Lok Sabha 27-2-1986) criticized Sri Lanka for inviting Americans, training, and President Zia’s visit.

Sri Lankans’ fear of Indians is deep-seated. When the British Cabinet delegation met PM DS Senanayaka, he had conveyed that he regarded the Indian problem as a danger, and therefore signed a military pact with the British in 1948.

The literature further reveals that India’s neighbours “should not seek to invite outside power(s). If anyone of them needed any assistance it should look to India. India’s attitude and relationship with her immediate neighbours depended on their appreciation of India’s regional security concerns; they would serve as buffer states in the event of an extra-regional threat and not proxies of the outside powers…” After 73 years, Indians’ position remains unchanged. This attitude is reflected in the Letters Exchanged in 1987.

Additional benefits to India

While the implementation of the Agreement is further clarified in the only Annexure in the Agreement, the ‘Exchange of Letters’ (not an Annexure) is concerned with security and economic benefits for India. In PM Rajiv Gandhi’s exchanged letter, reference is made to “the agreement reached.” President Jayewardene’s response mentions “the understanding reached.” The wording confuses the legal status, thus requiring interpretation.

However, the contents of the exchanged letters like broadcasting stations, ports, or airports reflect India’s security concerns. The Oil Tanks being serviced by Trincomalee Port will be of much anxiety for India. One may argue that the contents of Letters Exchanged demonstrate that India’s security interests took precedence over Lanka’s political and security issues in the Agreement. PM Gandhi has fished in troubled waters after the Bangalore meeting.

Flashback to 1986 from 2021

Focusing on the past, I refer to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwart Jaswant Singh (Lok Sabha 13-5-1986). He posed seven questions based on Sri Lankan responses. They are relevant even today.

* What is the Indian stand in the debate on devolution and delegation?

* Where do India and Sri Lanka stand on the amalgamation of the North and Eastern Provinces?

* What is the stand on land use by the Indian Government, GOSL, and the Tamil groups?

* What is the status of the language?

* What is the stand on Law and Order?

* What is the time frame for reaching a solution?

* What is the Indian government’s stand on foreign threats emerging in the context of the Sri Lankan issues?

 Had he lived today, as a former Jawan (Soldier), he would have either joined P Kulandaivelu and V Gopalaswamy in demanding military action or questioned PM Modi and Minister Jaishankar about Indian inefficiency or ineffectiveness.

After 35 years the status in response to Singh is:

* Devolution is ‘paralysed’ by the partial implementation of 13A and delayed elections.

* The amalgamation of Provinces shelved, judicially disfavouring India.

* Land power-sharing, by Sri Lanka’s rejection, is in India’s disfavor.

* The language issue is constitutionally solved but partially failed in implementation.

* Sri Lanka has disfavoured Indians by rejecting the Law and Order issue.

* The time frame for a solution is abstract, even after crushing Tigers 12 years ago.

* Foreign threats have heavily increased in India’s disfavor.

* The background scenarios or environments have changed.

* No military operations in the north and east.

* Ceasing violence and power-sharing, as a remedy, was the then demand. Now the focus is on human rights and humanitarian violations, returning refugees, and participatory development with dignity, equality, and self-respect. One may question whether failed 13A is the best tool for the purpose.

* Interventions were limited to India then, whereas now GOSL is cornered internationally.

* Tamil demands circulated mostly between the TULF and India then, whereas now the Diaspora’s enhanced lobbying has created negative consequences. Nevertheless, the President wishes to discuss with the Diaspora, though some are listed. The need is a mechanism.

* Other than to gain politically in Tamil Nadu because BJP is weak there, the Modi government has much bigger stakes to focus on, for example, ‘Chinese expansionism’, international capital movements, and Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean Alliance’s interests than to toil for Lankan devolution.

* BJP has alternatives to win the GOSL, e.g. Kushinagar aviation, 15-million-dollar grant for Buddhist affairs, financial swap deals.

Fresh thinking

 Based on Jaswant Singh’s queries, and the current situation, instead of pursuing the 35-year-old demand, will not a new power-sharing approach pay richer dividends? For India, in the present geopolitical context, the Exchanged Letter has more to gain than from 13A or the Agreement.

 President Jayewardene strategised by vacillating until 13A finally happened. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a military strategist, must be emulating political veteran President Jayewardene on a different learning curve, i.e., what Sun Tzu said, “In war, practice dissimulation, and you will succeed.”

 I believe the President’s terminology: “must look at” plusses and minuses of 13A is an excuse for procrastination. If Secretary Shringla has gauged this behaviour correctly, he may have the last laugh as his goal must be to gain from Trincomalee Oil Tanks, ports, and aviation, etc, (contents of Exchanged Letters) while pleasing Tamil Nadu and our Tamil groups with 13A.

 Sri Lanka won the conflict in 2009, but still, devolutionary goals set in 1987 are yet to be achieved. Prabhakaran was unhappy and felt he was tricked and revenged. Successive governments have not pursued devolution and debilitated the PCs. The incumbent government must be thinking about new strategies. Therefore, Secretary Shringla’s ‘full implementation of 13A’ demand is likely to be listed for operations.

 Since the war and 13A have not resolved the reconciliation issues, what remains from Secretary Shringla’s demand is what Rajiv Gandhi said in Lok Sabha (4-3-1987.) “We know that no ethnic problem such as this has a military solution.” War victory and peace efforts have not relieved the affected. The tool (13A) has failed to succeed with and without war. To consider it as an all-season remedy may not stand the test.

 Therefore, PM Modi, Minister Jaishankar, and Secretary Shringla can repeat PM Gandhi’s quote to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 35- years later! What was considered appropriate during the war must be adjusted to suit the emerged environments.

Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe governments and the incumbent administration have wasted 12 years from 2009. From Bhandari to Shringla, and Rajiv Gandhi to Narendra Modi, India also has failed in moving the politico-development process to success. Best wishes Secretary Shringla’s turn!

(Concluded)



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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine

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Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today

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by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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