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Bhandari’s 13A to Shringla’s 13A



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:

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.”


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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Rising farce of Family Power



Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.

He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.

He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.

“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,

 “If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again.  If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.

“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”

Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength.  In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.

It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.

While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.

Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law?  Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?

What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,

The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.

The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance.  There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser –  from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?

The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to

use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.

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A tribute to vajira



By Uditha Devapriya

The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.

A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.

In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.

One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.

Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.

In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.

In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.

Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.

Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.

Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.

At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”

If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.

Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.

These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.

Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.

As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.

As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.

Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.

That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.

The writer can be reached at

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It’s all about France in Kandy !



Sarah Toucas, Director Alliance Francaise de Kandy

This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.

A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.

All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.

Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.

Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.

To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.

Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar

comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

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