13A Unwanted Even by India Today
Posted on August 24th, 2020

Dilrook Kannangara

India imposed 13A to the Constitution in 1987 at the height of the Cold War. 13A is living testament that Sri Lanka’s non-aligned” policy failed (and the same policy of India failed too!). The northern and eastern provinces were merged and India appointed all councilors for the North in 1988. Only councilors for the East were elected. It was a Tamil majority province that toed India’s geopolitical objectives. With the withdrawal of the IPKF, the Chief Minister booted fearing for his life. However, Sri Lanka continued with the embattled provincial council for another 17 years.

India insisted Trincomalee should be the Main City of the combined province. Although LTTE and its political proxy the TULF previously said the same thing, fearing Indian military foothold, they backtracked in 1987. A clear indication of what India wanted from the provincial council system. Worse, IPKF’s first victims were Sinhala villagers in Trincomalee. Over one hundred Sinhalese were slaughtered for no reason. India was trying to evict them out of Trincomalee.

In 2007 the combined province, which was temporarily” combined pending a referendum, was separated as the two provinces were. The northern province is essentially Tamil-only. But the Eastern province is not. Although the first Chief Minister of the Eastern Province was a Tamil (a former LTTE terrorist), its subsequent Chief Ministers reflect its demographic realities. Muslims are likely to be Chief Minister in Eastern Province.

This is not what India wants. It gives nothing to India under today’s circumstances. In fact, continuation of a Muslim province south of India is certainly not what India wants. This is especially so given the steady sinking of the Lankan Muslim community into extremism.

The old excuse for not doing away with 13A – India wants it kept – is not valid anymore. Therefore, the government’s plan to replace the patched-up Constitution is timely and doable. USA which is not India’s master in the region also want a different setting. USA wants to link up Colombo with Trincomalee. 13A is an impediment to this. Therefore, doing away with 13A does not have any international objections.

Keeping 13A to ward off USA is a foolish tactic. Although 13A is an impediment to US interests in the island, they can easily overcome it with the concurrence of four provincial councils. Instead, US interests must be exploited to get rid of 13A. Locally, 13A is not useful for anyone, not even for Tamils. As for moderate Tamils, 13A offers nothing – over 55% of Tamils live outside the north and east. 13A offers nothing for extremist and racist Tamils either. Taking a departure to TNA, Wigneswaran is laying claims to the entire island, not just the north and the east. So even the extremist sections have no use of 13A today.

The nasty impacts of 13A were most visible during the 2009-15 era when the north and east saw highest ever development activity in history. However, governance was layered. The Centre could not reach out to people there directly. They had to go through the provincial councils. That was how despite wasting billions of dollars, the government was painted as the enemy of the people by provincial racists. Gotabaya regime must not end up like that.

This is the perfect time for a new Constitution without provincial or district devolution. Bringing the entire island under the policy priorities of the Centre is the best for everyone.

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