India seems to have temporarily suspended its soft diplomacy with Sri Lanka; at least it did, when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his ‘dismay’ to a visiting Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation over current moves to introduce drastic amendments to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
But there is no public spat, yet, though India is, besides worrying about the fate of the 13th Amendment’s fate, continuing to worry about the increasingly emboldened ‘strategic understanding’ between Colombo and Beijing. Instead, it is now known senior diplomat and India’s serving National Security Adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon is to visit Colombo in July.
New Delhi-based sources confirmed Menon’s visit is primarily to discuss the merits of implementing the 13th Amendment in its current form and to express India’s concerns about moves to alter an agreement that was initiated in seeking a solution to Sri Lanka’s national question. He is expected to impress upon the government India’s sentiments on moves to dilute a constitutional amendment with strong Indian facilitation.
While Colombo has already begun to play down Menon’s visit, who does not undertake trips of irrelevance in his present capacity as India’s National Security Advisor, is also to take up issues of joint defence co-operation between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives at a time when Colombo appears to be getting closer to Beijing and moving the former envoy to Colombo, further away from Delhi.
19-member PSC appointed
Meanwhile on Friday, a 19-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) headed by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was appointed to propose suitable constitutional changes to the controversial amendment. This committee includes Ministers Prof. G.L. Peiris, Maithripala Sirisena, W.D.J. Seneviratne, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Susil Premajayantha, Douglas Devananda, A.L.M. Athaullah, D.E.W. Gunasekara, Rishad Bathiudeen, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Weerawansa, Basil Rajapaksa, Lakshman Seneviratne, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Muttu Sivalingam, Janaka Bandara and Sudarshani Fernandopulle.
There are other aberrations as well. One such being the petulant approach of the United National Party (UNP), which has a historical duty to ensure the amendment is improved upon not diluted, having introduced it in 1987 as a solution to the growing Tamil militancy in the North, clamouring for a separate homeland in the North.
The UNP has adopted the position it would not announce its nominee to the PSC until and unless the government announces its stance with regard to its understanding with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has openly expressed its lack of faith in the government process. Besides the UNP and the TNA, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) too is boycotting it on the basis the party has never deviated from the position the said amendment should have been repealed years ago and not continued for over two decades with a provincial administrative system that, according to the JVP, had failed to deliver.
Amidst moves and counter moves, there are two aspects, according to New Delhi, to be factored in. India is finally showing signs of exasperation with regard to Colombo’s lack of responsiveness to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and is indicating moves to tamper with the constitutionally- guaranteed power-sharing arrangement should not be tampered with.
The second aspect is that, India has no wish to be portrayed as aggressor or an administration seeking to interfere with an internal issue, though with broad bilateral implications. This makes India stick to its stance of quiet diplomacy and lobby elsewhere, yet turn the heat on for such as the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC) to express its displeasure over the manner in which Colombo continues to handle the Tamil question and demonstrates a refusal to share political power with other communities.
With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) out of the equation, India has openly called for an independent and credible investigation into allegations of human rights violations and loss of civilian lives in Sri Lanka. There was nothing soft about the stance India took in Geneva. With so much pussyfooting with the 13th Amendment and political will absent to ensure the Tamil question is politically dealt with, Delhi did resort to a strong response, which of course, also was influenced to a large extent by Tamil Nadu, the giant neighbour’s prodigal state when it comes to the Tamil issue. At the end of the day, India did support a US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka and sought to champion the human rights cause in post-war Sri Lanka through its strong call for accountability.
Besides the call for power sharing, India’s unexpressed worry is China and its growing influence in Sri Lanka. There is speculation that, following moves to establish a naval base in the Maldives, the untied states would next seek a foothold in Sri Lanka’s picturesque and strategic Trincomalee, to have another military base. It would also be important for India at such an event, with growing economic ties between the US and China, to be concerned about regional security, as India sees it. Menon’s visit, therefore, is one not undertaken for a solitary cause but one that would also serve as an assessment of future defence interests of Sri Lanka’s giant neighbour.
India’s role emphasized
In this backdrop, TNA parliamentarian, M.A.Sumanthiran was quoted by The Indian Express as having said: ” India should take ‘measures’ to ensure the Sri Lankan Government does not succeed in robbing Provincial Councils of certain powers under the 13th Amendment,” laying emphasis on India’s role as regional leader with the ability to arrest such a development. While Colombo seeks to portray Menon’s as one that is ritualistic and more to do with India’s defence co-operation with Sri Lanka and the Maldives, it is much more than that. India in its history has never wasted Menon’s time on issues of no importance. He will talk defence and will talk 13th Amendment. His portfolio is written for both.