Route to Regional Hegemony
India has shown interest in the implementation of the 13th Amendment in the Sri Lankan constitution. This will weaken the Sri Lankan political entity and provide access to India into the country’s power structure.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s firm reminder, will Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe succumb to the Indian pressure to implement the 13th amendment to the Sri Lanka constitution regardless of a general disagreement within the country? This seems pretty much difficult. According
to Gamini Gunawardane, a retired DIG, the proposal to devolve police powers to the provinces will lead the nation up a blind alley causing further confusion in law and order maintenance. In short, it will spell disaster for the country.
Why is India interested in the implementation of the 13th Amendment in the Sri Lankan constitution? The answer is very simple and clear. The devolution of powers will weaken Sri Lanka as a political entity. In fact, the devolution of power is another way of India getting access into Sri Lanka’s power structure. India’s hegemony in South Asia came under severe criticism when the Bangladesh crisis was seen as an unnecessary intervention and involvement in the Sri Lankan crisis, which proved disastrous and led to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Many such adventurisms were seen as a display of unwanted disciplinary acts by India.
Sri Lanka agreed with India in July, 1987 to transfer certain powers to the provinces as a means to improve relations between rhe Tamils and the majority Sinhalese, following an agreement signed between then Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene to defuse bitter ethnic conflict. Accordingly, for quite some time, India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment on devolution of powers in "letter and spirit" and to fulfill the aspirations of the ethnic Tamils.
It may be mentioned here that on 30 July 1987, a day after Rajiv Gandhi went to Sri Lanka and signed the controversial Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, he was hit on his shoulder by a guard with his rifle; Gandhi's quick reflexes saved him from injury. The guard whisked away by the security personnel later said his intention was to kill Gandhi because of "the damage he had caused" to Sri Lanka. The Accord failed to defuse the tension and on May 21, 1991, Rajive Gandhi was killed in an attack blamed on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Sri Lankan militant organization.
If the background of the accord is studied, which was signed almost three decades back, it becomes clear that the ground realities since then have changed drastically and as such the accord has no relevance in the current state of affairs in Sri Lanka. In fact, the Indians imposed a province based devolution system on Sri Lanka to quieten Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader -- an arrangement they thought might be acceptable to him. But he also rejected devolution lock, stock and barrel. What the Indians offered was a copy of their own quasi-federal system, which they wrongly thought could be appropriate for a country much smaller than the smallest Indian state. On the other hand since Prabhakaran is dead and there is no terrorism in the country, it will be foolish to adjust to a system designed to meet a situation that no longer exists.
Colonel (r) R. Hariharan, a military intelligence specialist on South Asia, who served as head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990, in an article published in The Hindu, writes, “Unfortunately, the Accord is today remembered only for its unpleasant fallout after India unwittingly got entangled in a counter-insurgency war with the LTTE from 1987 to 1990. After sacrificing the lives of over 1,200 of its soldiers, India felt cheated when President Ranasinghe Premadasa joined hands with the LTTE to send the Indian ( peacekeeping) troops out of Sri Lanka before they had completed their job. But India had an even worse experience after the troops were pulled out: in 1991, an LTTE suicide-bomber killed Rajiv Gandhi at the venue of a public meeting near Chennai. The killing, masterminded by LTTE chief V. Prabakaran, had more than a symbolic impact.”
Concluding his article he writes, “It is people, not treaties, which make relations between nations meaningful. Unless India makes a difference in the lives of the people of both countries, its relations with Sri Lanka will not address the broader aspects of strategic security. This is the important takeaway as we look at the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord after over two decades.” So it is clear that implementation of this accord will not help India to maintain a calm Indo-Lankan border.
Those who understand the policing system in Sri Lanka argue that the government would lose control of the country if they devolved the police powers to the arbitrarily demarcated provinces because maintenance of law and order in the country is the primary responsibility of the President and the Parliament. If the responsibility is transferred to the provinces, how could
India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment on devolution of powers in “letter and spirit” and to fulfill the aspirations of the ethnic Tamils.
the President and Parliament possibly discharge this primary responsibility, when the police chiefs of the provinces report to the respective Chief Ministers and that too of different political parties? This lack of cohesion is a sure prescription for chaos and confusion.
According to a retired Sri Lankan police officer, when the British colonial government arbitrarily divided the country, first into five provinces and later to nine provinces for their administrative convenience, they maintained the police as a unitary structure to ensure an effective and uniform Law Enforcement System. “Although we do not have to adopt the colonial methods that are contrary to our interests, we must not throw away the baby with the bathwater,” he remarked while supporting the unified control of the police during the British era.
On the other hand, rejecting the proposal of devolution of power to provinces, Primus Siraiva, a northern provincial councillor, told parliament, responding to a question raised by the opposition, "Police power is important for provinces to maintain law and order otherwise, there could be lawlessness in provinces and the Provincial Council won't be able to control it. But we made it crystal clear that devolution of police power is not acceptable."
There is a general belief among the Sri Lankan police officers that with the transfer of policing to the provinces, the criminals may cross over to other province to avoid criminal proceedings against them. They argue that with rapidly expanding physical communication, especially through the super highways, etc., criminals and crime will be shifting from one province to another, while the police will be unable to nab the criminals for they will have to obtain permission of the relevant chief ministers. Thus the criminals will have a field day enjoying the patronage of the local chief minister. This confused situation, making the police helpless, will be promoting lawlessness in the country and the final victim will be the helpless citizens who are already in a mess.
Those who believe that the police should remain a federal subject in Sri Lanka, argue that this is an effort to mislead the people and would mean the complete collapse of the territorial integrity of this country. Thus, although the government insists that the concept of the unitary character of the state will not be affected, the effective devolution of police powers as envisaged in the proposed constitutional reforms will upset the unitary foundation of the Constitution from within. Needless to emphasise, the ‘unitary’ label will be a mere embellishment or sheer eyewash in such an eventuality.
The implementation of the 13th Amendment challenges the very essence of the unitary concept spelt out in Article 2 of the ’78 Constitution, because unitary policing of the country is the main instrument that enables the government to control law and order in the entire country. The concept that transfer of police command to the provinces can be done within a unitary state is mere hogwash and an exercise in deceiving the people.
Though India has been suggesting that only a full implementation of the provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with additional measures to make the devolution more effective, was the most feasible way of meeting the aspirations of the Tamils, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which has a majority of representatives in the Parliament has turned down this suggestion as being nowhere near their expectations. On the other hand the Jathika Hela Urumiya and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna have also strongly come out against the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as they fear that would pave the way for a separation of the country.
The writer is a freelance contributor.