The Sri Lankan Government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been “advised” by the Government of India led by Prime minister Manmohan Singh to refrain from undertaking any rushed moves to make hasty changes to laws relating to the Thirteenth Amendment in the Sri Lankan Constitution.
The 13th Constitutional amendment enacted in September 1987 was introduced in consultation with India as a result of the India-Sri Lanka agreement signed by Rajiv Gandhi and JR jayewardena on July 29th 2013.
The Rajapaksa regime is currently contemplating a new 19th Constitutional amendment that is likely to have far reaching consequences for the substantial powers and unit of devolution with regard to the Provincial councils structure set up due to the India inspired 13th Amendment.
External affairs minister Prof.GL Peiris has presented two cabinet papers seeking to make changes to the 13th Amendment and related laws.
It is against this backdrop of contemplated changes to the 13th amendment that New Delhi has issued what is referred to in diplomatic jargon as a demarche.
The demarche advises Sri Lanka not to engage in any hasty moves to make changes that would affect areas relating to the 13th Amendmend and structures set up under it. New Delhi has advised Colombo to refrain from any such changes until the elections to the Northern Province Council are held in September as announced by President Rajapaksa.
Earlier India expressed caution to Sri Lanka about matters concerning the 13th Amendment when Indian Foreign minister Salman Khurshid telephoned his counterpart Prof.Peiris last month. News of this telephone conversation was kept under wraps initially by Sri Lanka. However after sections of the Indian media reported on it Colombo too was constrained to respond with its own “spin” on the issue.
Currently the Indian demarche veiled in the form of an advisory note was communicated directly to a senior Sri Lankan diplomat in New Delhi by a high ranking official in the Indian external affairs ministry.
Both sides are treating the matter as a low key routine exchange and keeping the matter away from media exposure.
Observers however opine that the cautionary note couched in the guise of “advice” is being treated rather seriously by the Lankan Govt.
The Rajapaksa regime is now seen as backtracking on the 19th amendment proposal and is contemplating a few changes to the 19th amendment as originally envisaged.
In what is perceived as a time buying exercise the Rajapaksa Govt is also saying that a fresh Parliamentary Select Committee would be appointed to delve into all aspects of proposed changes to the 13th amendment.
This revised stance is seen as being influenced by the opposition within the cabinet to the proposed changes by key ministers and the hitherto unpublicised response by India.
India is playing an important role in ensuring that the forthcoming Commonwealth summit in November 2013 is held without any hitches in Sri Lanka.
India expects the Sri Lankan Govt to hold elections to the Northern provincial council before the Commonwealth summit.
President Rajapaksa is expected to constitute the Northern Provincial council formally on June 26th 2013 and call for elections.
This is expected to reassure India that President Rajapaksa is delivering on whatever was pledged as a prerequisite for the Commonwealth summit.
While the announcement of a provincial poll for the Northern council seems to be certain what is uncertain is whether the elections would be held as”.
Given the current state of the judiciary in Sri Lanka after the de jure chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was removed from office and the de facto chief justice Mohan Peiris assumed office, it is speculated that the attempts to scuttle the envisaged northern poll through legal recourse may get the green light.
It is expected that there would be protracted legal wrangling throughout the “time” when the Commonwealth summit would be in progress and a final decision would be announced after the summit is concluded.
This is likely to afford the Govt an opportunity to satisfy India that the promise to hold Northern provincial polls is being honoured and make the Commonwealth summit a success. Thereafter the poll could be put off.
Informed Indian sources said that South Block is aware of such a possibility and is keenly observing developments. “The recurring phenomenon of bad faith is something to be expected”the sources said.
TNA IN DELHI
Meanwhile as written in these columns earlier a Tamil National Alliance delegation is currently in New Delhi for consultations. The TNA team led by Trincomalee district MP Rajavarothayam Sampanthan consists of Jaffna district MP’s Somasundaram Senathirajah and Kandiah Premachandran and national list MP MA Sumanthiran.
The TNA delegation met with former Foreign secretary and current National security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon on Monday June 17th. The TNA is scheduled to meet Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh and External affairs minister salman khurshid on Tuesday Hune 18th.
The TNA discussions with Indian leaders and officials in New Delhi will primarily focus on the future of the Indian inspired 13th amendment to the constitution of sri Lanka and the forthcoming elections to the Northern Provincial council.
The TNA is expected to request India to ensure that the 13th amendment is not amended further by the Rajapaksa regime and prevent powers of the Provincial councils being devalued.
India in turn will emphasise the need for the TNA to commit itself firmly towards the 13th Constitutional amendment and cooperate with New Delhi’s efforts to persuade President Rajapaksa to implement provisions fully
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org