The domestic opposition to the 13th Amendment, both from within hardliners in the UPFA and outside, is mounting. Large crowds took part in a public rally in Maharagama last Tuesday. It was organised by the newly formed National Collective to Abolish the Provincial Council System. It was held with tight Police security. Some 25 organisations including the Bodu Bala Sena, Sihala Ravaya, Jathika Hela Urumaya and the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress took part in the event which drew members of the Buddhist clergy from temples countrywide.
The others supporting the campaign were Deshiya Surekeeme Jathika Viyaparaya (headed Ven Elle Gunawansa Thera), Deshapremi Bhikshu Peramuna (Ven Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera), Jathika Sanga Sammelenya (Ven Rajawatte Chappa Thera), Desha Hishaishi Jathika Viyaparaya (Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara) and the United Three Wheeler Driver’s Association (Lalith Dharmasekara). Organisers said Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, had promised to be present, but later said he would send a representative. They said that Minister Wimal Weerawansa too had extended his support. The event was streamed live on the Bodu Bala Sena website.
Some of the brief comments made by speakers: Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena : “President Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to keep the independence of this country. Because of this other national groups protected him. He protected this nation. He defeated the terrorists. Nearly 27,000 troops sacrificed their lives and more than that figure were injured. We are suspicious that we will lose the land which was won this way.
“What we are trying to do today is to save this President from that misfortune and help him rule for several more years. We will protect you because you are the one who protects the unity of this country. This government did not have a strong mechanism to defeat the foreign forces. Late President J.R. Jayewardene was made to kneel in front of Rajiv Gandhi because of the terrorism in this country. Now that the terrorists are defeated, why do you have to kneel before anyone? Now, after defeating the terrorist you can rise as a lion and defeat the political forces using the help of the national force. We warn the President not to take advice from the wrong people and fall in trouble. Holding elections in the North and East will only make political forces stronger. Today the war is over. We have to think of starting ways to protect the unity of this country or face problems…..”
Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thera, Head of the Bodu Bala Sena: “The provincial council system was forced upon us. Now certain foreign groups and NGOs have started to pry on us and introduce the system to the North where there are Tamil and Muslim nationals. If this power is given to these people it will be very dangerous. Even your children and the next generation will be affected badly by this. So we are telling the President, ministers and foreign forces that we are against the 13th Amendment. This is a Sinhala Buddhist country and others can also live here. If in case they go ahead with it then they will have to introduce these powers to these areas over our dead bodies.”
Patali Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Technology and Research – General Secretary of the Jathika Hela Urumaya: “They say that this (Indo-Lanka) Agreement was made with India and if Sri Lanka abrogates it on its own, India will react to it. That day India promised President Jayawerdene that through the agreement it will end terrorism from the country within 72 hours. When the agreement was signed on 29th July 1987 only 679 soldiers were dead in the separatist war but afterwards the number increased to 26,678. It was Tamil Nadu and India’s central government which brought in terrorism. Since they did not keep their promise the agreement was politically cancelled after the 72 hours. If they are threatening us, if (Buddhist) monks are being attacked in Tamil Nadu, if they are damaging our economy and attacking our people; we stayed this long with patience and because we do not engage in ruthless politics like in Tamil Nadu. We should tell India that we lived in this land for thousands of years by creating our own identity, culture and Sanga Sasana. We will live for thousands more with strength. We wish to remind Delhi and Tamil Nadu of this
“They say that India will take back Kachchativu if the agreement is cancelled. We should say that people in our country are patient and also very sympathetic to the national cause. That was why there was terrorism in the country. When the right time comes all the nationals in the country will stand and fight. And the first step for this is the one we are taking here in Maharagama.
“India should remember that when Bajaj three wheelers go in this country, when Airtel is sold and oil is sold through IOC, these are done through our compassion. But still if they are threatening our freedom, unity and government, the people in Sri Lanka are ready to answer those with non-violence…..
Ven. Medagoda Abayathissa Thera, senior lecturer at Sri Jayawardenapura University: “The main question is: do we need provincial councils? In political science they teach three aspects that need to be there to introduce this system to a country. One is that the country should be large. China, India and other such countries are large and so it is hard to manage the country. Another is if there is a natural river, desert or forest that divides the country then it is fine to have the provincial council system. The third reason is if there are groups who fight and cannot stay together.
“In Wellawatte, Maradana and such areas, Sinhala and Tamil people are living together. So we don’t need this system. If we take a look at the money spent on the provincial councils we see that about 75-90% of it was on council buildings, vehicles, fuel costs and salaries. Police power is very dangerous too. There will be state police and provincial police. The DIG who is appointed under the provincial council should work according to what the Chief Minister says. That shows that the provincial police will be politicised…..”
The National Collective plans to hold meetings in other important towns. This will be particularly significant at the North Western (Wayamba) Provincial Council elections. The largest concentration of Army soldiers come from this province. Needless to say it would be equally important in the Central Province where a sizeable volume of voters are plantation workers of recent Indian origin. At the NPC polls, unwittingly for the Government, changes to the 13th Amendment will become the key issue. The UPFA is yet to finalise its list of candidates. Sections of the Government believe EPDP leader Douglas Devananda may be asked to field his own candidates. For the main opposition UNP, which has shown a muted response to the 13th Amendment issue, with no formal statement, the challenges are many.
Hence, four years after the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas, the national debate today is over the future of the 13th Amendment. The UPFA finds itself in an unenviable position. Placating a mounting domestic demand would create a powerful foe. Ignoring the domestic demand during polls time may be politically disastrous. Ironically it is a situation brought about by the UPFA leaders’ lack of foresight or strategy. They have miscalculated their strategy with India and the Western led so-called ‘international community’ and become their captives. Grandiose plans of hosting world leaders have exasperated their plight as having to listen to the dictates of foreign powers. At some point, the tight rope walking may come to a head. That would be their dilemma.