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.

Southasia - - REGION SRI LANKA - By Zehra Khawaja

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.

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