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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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Forex crisis will lead to power cuts, warns Ranil

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Udaya pooh-poohs warning

By Saman indrajith

UNP leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday told Parliament that the country would face power cuts soon if the government did not resolve the foreign exchange crisis urgently.

Participating in the third reading debate on Budget 2022, the UNP leader said the forex issue could result in Sri Lanka running out of money to import fuel.

Wickremesinghe called on the government to make a statement on the current situation.

The UNP leader pointed out that Sri Lanka had only Rs. 1.5 billion in foreign reserves, out of which Rs. 300 million were gold reserves, which meant only Rs. 1.2 billion was the liquid amount in foreign reserves.

The former PM said the low foreign reserves could lead to the country facing power issues in the future as there would be no funds left for fuel imports. However, the Minister of Power, Udaya Gammanpila, assured that Sri Lanka had enough fuel stocks.

The Minister said it was reasonable for people to assume that there would be power cuts in the future due to the foreign exchange crisis.

Reiterating that Sri Lanka had necessary fuel stocks, Minister Gammanpila said the fuel in hand was sufficient for the next 40 days.

Although the Sapugaskanda Oil refinery had been closed for 50 days, measures would be taken to resume operations at an early date, the Minister added, assuring that the foreign exchange crisis would not result in power cuts.

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State Minister Ranasinghe assures farmers using organic fertiliser compensation in event of losses

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Provincial Councils and Local Government State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe speaking at a meeting held at the auditorium of the Polonnaruwa District Secretariat yesterday

Provincial Councils and Local Government State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe yesterday assured that the government would compensate any paddy farmer who suffered losses due to adopting organic fertiliser.

Speaking at a meeting held at the auditorium of the Polonnaruwa District Secretariat, the Minister said that even if the government had not proposed to allocate funds in the Budget proposals for possible losses to paddy farmers using organic fertiliser, funds would be obtained from a supplementary estimate for the purpose.

Ranasinghe said that it was wrong to state that the government shifted from chemical to organic fertiliser abruptly. The government had promised to do so in its election manifesto and people had approved it by giving a two-third majority of votes for that. The UNP too had planned to adopt organic fertilisers in place of chemical fertilisers some 30 years back.

The State Minister said that during the past 30 years all the governments had spent billions of rupees to increase awareness of organic fertilisers among officials and the general public. In addition, there had been numerous projects introduced with the assistance of the World Bank to promote organic cultivation in the country.

Minister Ranasinghe said that there were chemical fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides and there was information that some traders sell them at exorbitant prices. The government would get the Consumer Affairs Authority and police to implement the law against the black marketers.

He said that some farmers had raised concern that nano-nitrogen fertiliser would be washed away owing to the heavy rains, but the government would supply that fertiliser again as it was promised by State Minister of Organic Fertilizer Sashindra Rajapaksa.

The meeting was attended by ministry officials and representatives of the farmers’ associations in the Polonnaruwa District.

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Arjuna quits UNP

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World Cup winning captain and former minister Arjuna Ranatunga yesterday quit the UNP over its failure to get its act together

Ranatunga has communicated his decision to leave the UNP to the Leader, Secretary, Deputy Leader, and the Assistant Leader of the UNP.

Ranatunga said, in a letter to the UNP leadership, that he decided to join the United National Front ahead of the 2015 presidential election to make a change for the common good.

He has said as the first step towards that objective he contested the 2015 general election and secured the highest number of votes from the Gampaha District.

Ranatunga said that when many left the party in 2020, he remained with the UNP in order to protect it.

He said in 2020 the UNP suffered a massive loss, “and what is required is to prepare a programme to overcome the present and future challenges”.

“However, as there seems to be no such preparation there appears to be no purpose in remaining with the party”, Ranatunga said.

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