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Bhandari’s 13A to Shringla’s 13A

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by Austin Fernando

(Former High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India)

It was Romesh Bhandari who made initial peacekeeping efforts in Sri Lanka on behalf of PM Rajiv Gandhi. Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has taken over the task. Shringla’s recent efforts have awakened an interest in the much-delayed Provincial Council (PC) elections.

Changed moods of Government

Concurrently, on Army Day the President showed flexibility about minority aspirations. The Minister of Finance offered chunks of money to ground-level politicians and promised legal amendments to expedite the process of holding the PC elections in early 2022.

Minister Ali Sabry has said the draft for a new constitution will be available before the end of 2021. The new Constitution may happen in 2022. If PC elections are held before this event, it may mean that the PCs are intact.

Mixed responses from politicians

PCs are a constitutional arrangement. They have been in existence sans Land and Police powers and continuously they have been weakened by withdrawing of certain devolved powers. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ministers Basil Rajapaksa, and GL Pieris promised Indians the implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A). Mahinda Rajapaksa even supported ’13A+’. (See: https://island.lk/crisscrossing-13a-abolition/)

In Delhi, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed on 29-11-2019 that the 13A could not be implemented “against the wishes and feelings of the majority [Sinhala] community.” There are no antagonistic feelings against 13A among the Sinhalese. Of course, there is criticism that PCs are white elephants. These days worse criticism is expressed about the Parliament, Executive, and Bureaucracy, and I pray they would be allowed to exist!

However, the President informed Secretary Shringla that he had to “look at weaknesses and strengths of 13A.” (The Hindu 3-10-2021) This ought to have been an appropriate ‘excuse’ if he had made it in Delhi. Since Indians demanded this at his first meeting, his response 22 months later reflects his unpreparedness, lack of commitment, and disinterest or implies that he has some other plans, even dubious.

What to look for?

One may recommend presidential advisers to study 13A and reconciliation-related literature authored by eminent persons, published by respected institutions (for example, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Foundation for Co-Existence, and Berghof Foundation), and judicial review records, (Such as 13A Supreme Court Determination, Vasudeva Nanayakkara vs. KN Choksy, Maithripala Senanayaka vs. GD Mahindasoma, many on land) before briefing the President.

They can obtain information from legal luminaries, university academia, and Viyathmaga or Eliya Groups. Additionally, Hansards, Lok Sabha proceedings, statements by Tamil groups, the MEA, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will help broaden their horizons.

Reaching 13A

Before agreeing or disagreeing on implementing the 13A it is appropriate to understand the circumstances under which it came into being.

Extensive pressures for power-sharing originated after Black July, which triggered a wave of migrants and led to Sri Lanka coming under pressure from Sri Lankan Tamil groups and Tamil Nadu.

The Indian leaders have acted differently. For example, Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi considered Palk Strait fisheries, restoration of peace and normalcy, return of refugees, and participation in economic activities as important. Although it is being claimed in some quarters that the Indians wished for Sri Lanka’s division through devolution, they were always concerned about Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, integrity, and unity.

By December 1985 Tamil political groups commenced demanding Indian interventions, notably after President Jayewardene invited India’s help for a solution (February 1985). For instance, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) (1-12-1985) presented its representation to PM Rajiv Gandhi seeking extensive power-sharing. Some important highlights were:

 

* Sri Lanka-‘Ilankai’ being a Union of States

* Amalgamated Northern and Eastern Provinces, whose territory cannot be changed without its consent.

* Parliament empowered to make laws for subjects under List-1 that had Defence, Foreign Affairs, Currency, Posts/Telecommunications, Immigration/Emigration, Foreign Trade/Commerce, Railways, Airports/Aviation, Broadcasting/Television, Customs, Elections, and Census only.

* List-2 had all other subjects, including the controversial Law and Order, Land, with the State Assembly possessing law-making powers.

* State Assembly empowered to levy taxes, cess/fees and mobilize loans/grants

* Special provisions for Indian Tamils

* The elected members to be given enhanced powers

* Upgrading the judicial system, for example, Provincial High Court to Appeal Court.

* Muslim rights cared for.

 

The Jayewardene government rejected the proposals. The TULF again addressed PM Gandhi (17-1-1986), referring to the traditional homelands and demographic imbalances. President Jayewardene steadfastly advocated a military solution and asked the Tamils who fled to return and stop using Indian soil for violence against Sri Lanka.

However, the raging conflict increased casualties and deaths, interpreted as ‘genocide’ by MEA Minister BR Bhagat and several Lok Sabha members. Some Lok Sabha Members demanded punitive interventions.

P Kolandivelu said: “…Sri Lanka is a tiny island. Cannot it be crushed? Within 24 hours it can be done. But I am not asking it to be crushed.” (29-4-1985)

V. Gopalaswamy said: “I would also request the government to undertake every possible means, including military intervention to solve the problem.” (13-5-1986) He referred to a pacifying Indian government statement: “It shows the spineless cowardice approach of this government.” (8-5- 1987)

PM Rajiv Gandhi would have been mindful of these criticisms. He vented out frustration in Lok Sabha, as well when abroad, for example in Harare. The criticisms projecting India and him as weaklings would have pressured him to get tough, which he did on June 4, 1987, by violating Sri Lanka’s air space.

Gandhi would have been satisfied with GOSL’s proposals of July 9, 1986, drafted after P. Chidambaram’s discussions. The proposals were to maintain Sri Lanka’s unity, sovereignty, integrity, and unitary nature, and implement under the existing constitutional framework. There were Annexes proposed as Notes on (i) PCs, (ii) Law and Order (iii) Land settlements, and (iv) Mahaweli Project.

While PM Gandhi was frustrated over delays and inconsistency, President Jayewardene also faced a dicey situation, as explained by former Foreign Secretary AP Venkateswaran. His narration may explain why President Jayewardene finally had to accommodate the 13A solution, for which he is mercilessly blamed.

“The president of Sri Lanka, Jayewardene, sought a separate meeting with Rajiv Gandhi … Apart from PM Rajiv Gandhi, Natwar Singh, an earlier colleague in the IFS, P. Chidambaram and myself were present at the meeting. The Sri Lankan President’s entire efforts were directed towards urging our PM to send the Indian Army to prevent his government from falling. His arguments were well-rehearsed, and he pleaded that the Sri Lankan Government would collapse soon, without India’s help. He said the Sri Lankan government could not withstand the attacks from the (JVP), Janata Vimukti Peremuna from the south, and LTTE forces from the north.”

(Source: https://www.icwa.in/WriteReadData/RTF1984/1497424044.pdf)

This political vulnerability will justify his behavior.

The reactions to the proposal and TULF’s revised formulation received in Delhi went deep into power-sharing. Indians followed by sending Ministers P Chidambaram and Natwar Singh to Colombo for discussions. It should be recalled that they were in attendance (Mid November 1986) when President Jayewardene was pleading for Indian assistance. A month later on December 19, 1986, they submitted a set of proposals. Summarily they were:

 

* Eastern Province to be demarcated minus Ampara Electoral District

* A PC to be established for the new Eastern Province

* Earlier discussed institutional linkages to be refined for North and Eastern PCs.

* GOSL’s willingness to consider a proposal for second stage constitutional development for the two provinces.

* GOSL’s willingness to create a post of Vice President for a specified term

* The five Muslim parliamentarians from the Eastern Province may be invited to India to discuss mutual concerns

 

The military operations continued irrespective of these communications and discussions. They provoked Indians, who knew the vulnerable ground situation. The Indians threatened, on February 9th, 1987, to withdraw unless Colombo pursued the political option.

Withdrawal would have had an adverse impact. The potential support for political stability or existence would have been lost. Beggars can’t be choosers! Therefore, Sri Lanka responded swiftly on February 12, 1987, focusing on the need for Tigers to eschew violence, promising that the military would cease operations in response; lifting embargoes; assuring negotiations; strengthening the administration; implementing a general amnesty; releasing those in custody not charged in courts under the Prevention of Terrorism Act; considering the outcomes of discussions Indians and GOSL held so far, including 18-12-1986 proposals. This also declared that GOSL will not conduct operations against civilians. Space was thus created for India to up the ante.



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Features

UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Features

Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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