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Is the 13th Amendment the Panacea for Post Conflict Settlement in Sri Lanka?

by Gus Mathews

The Eelam wars have finally ended, but the detritus of war, most visibly the IDPs languishing in the detention camps still remain. While the search for hidden arms caches, de-mining and the weeding out of the remaining Tamil Tiger fighters is on-going the political process of rejuvenating democracy in the North is progressing unabated. Into this heady mix is also the perennial question of ‘whither the 13th amendment?’

The original administration system of nine provinces was inherited from the ex-colonial power. The new system with devolved political, land and police powers was foisted on Sri Lanka by the Indian government of Rajiv Gandhi.

This system devolved power from the centre to the provinces and represented in a large measure a microcosm of the Indian state system of governance. This system was intended to ameliorate the ethnic conflict between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese - a conflict that was given succour and encouragement by Rajiv’s predecessor and mother Indira during her tenure as Indian Prime minister.

Indira Gandhi’s adventurism in the mid 1980’s was for the control of Sri Lanka to enable India’s geo-political agenda in the Indian Ocean through its proxy the Tamil tigers. However the proxy Tamil tigers rebelled against the vision that her son and successor Rajiv had subsequently imposed on them and what ensued was the assassination of Rajiv by the Tamil tigers and the death 100,000 Sri Lankans and a war that was prolonged lasting nearly thirty years.

Like all solutions that are expedient and cobbled together on a whim without any thought and debate it was bound to fail. Even at its inception the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces (the cornerstone of the 13th amendment) was unceremoniously thrown out by the courts as unconstitutional.

Paradoxically this system of governance currently devoid of the seminal devolved land and police powers was implemented in all other provinces except the North due to the Eelam wars. The aftermath and the end of the wars have given way to undue haste to bring the North into the fold of the provincial system.

Unlike India, the original colonial provincial regional demarcation in Sri Lanka was not based on ethnicity – though many of the separatists would like you to believe otherwise. India’s linguistic and cultural regionalism is very clear and a federal state system was the ideal solution for a country of sixteen major regional languages and a plethora of dialects as the cohesion of India despite its nascent problems has demonstrated.

Sri Lanka on the other hand does not possess the distinct regional nature of India as Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays, Burghers and the even the smaller minorities like the Chinese have lived in all parts of Sri Lanka. Also in comparison Sri Lanka is smaller than most individual Indian states. While the Northern Province may have a majority of Tamils, the rest of the Tamil population and the other minorities are spread throughout Sri Lanka.

The question remains whether the plurality of Sri Lankan society can be maintained despite the 13th amendment?

In essence can 14 percent of the Sri Lankans who consist of ethnic Tamils of whom 7 percent live outside the North and the East (the 7 percent who live outside are also Sinhala speakers in addition to Tamil) dictate the dismemberment of the unitary nature and the state of Sri Lanka and discount the aspirations of the majority and the rest of the other minorities?

In essence can 7 percent of the population dictate a system of governance that is suited to India than to Sri Lanka – a provincial system that will create a mono ethnic enclave – a system that envisages the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut?

Sri Lanka is not India they both have a totally different medieval, political and colonial histories. Even the British realised this and administered Sri Lanka separately to that of India. They did not make the same mistake that they did with Burma (now Myanmar) and India – the repercussions of this are still prevalent in Myanmar today.

The majority Sri Lankans have for centuries shed immense amount of blood in the past and the present for this right to preserve the unitary nature of Sri Lanka as the Eelam wars have recently demonstrated. They are prepared to do so again and again.

It is no coincidence that the Sri Lankan army is entrenched in the North to ensure that the Tamil tiger debacle will never rear its head again and as is now will be confined to the dustbin of history. Moreover the majority Sri Lankans look upon the 13th amendment as a stepping stone for the separatists to carve out an Eelam in the future.

The TNA (Tamil National Alliance) politicians (who were in the pockets of the Tamil tigers), despite their entreaties to India the regional power, to enforce the Indo-Sri Lanka accord will not achieve the ethnic regionalism that they crave. As the Sri Lankan President has suggested Sri Lanka will only entertain an indigenous solution and comparisons with Indian or for that matter Canadian solutions will not work for Sri Lanka.

So how will Sri Lanka manage the demands of India for the solution it imposed? For a start the political dynamics are not the same as in 1987. Sri Lanka has comprehensively defeated the Tamil tigers that even the well trained and armed Indian army could not. On the diplomatic front Sri Lanka has utilised it friendship with China, Pakistan very adroitly. It is no coincidence that Sri Lanka has been awarded observer status in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation).

Any direct interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka will be detrimental to India in the long run. Sri Lanka is not Bhutan or Sikkim (the relatively small Himalayan Feudal Kingdoms) that Indian military might annexed into India. Sri Lanka is a sophisticated functioning vibrant democracy that encompasses an electorate with 98 percent literacy that even during the zenith of the Eelam wars conducted elections.

Moreover does the great Indian army that met its match in the Tamil tigers have the stomach to take on the Sri Lankan forces that routed the Tamil tigers? It will be a no win situation for either side as events in the past have demonstrated.

In essence India’s interest in the 13th amendment is primarily for geo-political reasons and to partially placate the Tamil Nadu politicians who have been primarily the originators of this schism. Sri Lankan Tamil politicians took a leaf out of the DMK’s (Dravida Munnetra Kazaham) policies in Tamil Nadu and applied it to Sri Lanka. The DK (Dravida Kazaham the fore-runner to the present day DMK) movement commenced in the 1930s and was initially conceived to unite the Dravidians of South India into a separate entity called Dravida Nadu with a view to obtain Independence from Great Britain.

However with the dawn of Indian Independence all but Tamil Nadu remained as the rest of the Dravidians, namely Kerala, Karanataka, Andra etc all fell in line with the regional ethnic solution of post colonial India. Unfortunately this Dravidian Tamil aspiration took root in Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan Tamil politicians and was instrumental in prolonging this imported schism with disastrous consequences for the Sri Lankan Tamils ever since.

It is no coincidence that Velupillai Prabaharan’s ultimate aim was to forge a Tamil state of over 70 million Tamils independent from India encompassing present day Tamil Nadu in India and Eelam (the North, East and North West parts of Sri Lanka). As the Sri Lankan President remarked ‘Sri Lanka has also fought India’s war against the Tamil Tigers’.

The colourful ethnic tapestry of Sri Lanka as a model for nationhood has been successful with the other smaller minorities and indeed with most of the Tamils who live outside the North – but it is the Northern Tamils who have rejected this model based on their flawed self importance and biased view of their ethnic separateness.

In a world where globalisation and communications is rapidly advancing is it not time that the Northern Tamils and their TNA leaders realised that their immediate future and that of their children and grand children are interminably entwined with the rest of the nation of Sri Lanka. Incidentally the other smaller minorities in Sri Lanka have thrived and have successfully retained their culture, language and religions without any discrimination from the majority.

So how do we resolve this conundrum?

How do we give the Northern Tamils the self importance that they crave for and still retain the unitary nature of Sri Lanka?

ronically the answer lies in the confidence building measures between the Northern Tamils and the rest of the peoples of Sri Lanka. The following actions are imperative:

-Indeed the constitution has already been amended giving the Tamil language official national status in government and other areas.

-The government must also re-iterate that the all Tamils despite their internal differences and wherever they live in the island nation are an integral part of Sri Lanka. It should also enact legislation to ensure that discrimination on the basis of race, in jobs and other social needs is outlawed and heavy penalties imposed. An institution and mechanisms to ensure that this legislation is not thwarted by politicians, racists and separatists alike should be incorporated into law.

- The Tamils on their part should disavow their mantra of their ‘homeland’ being the north and east and insist that indeed their concept of homeland consists of the whole of Sri Lanka.

- Legislation to outlaw any political party based on race and religion should also be enacted, and the constitution of each political party must enunciate this in clear practical terms. Hence any ultra nationalist Sinhalese and Tamil separatists political parties based on race and religion must be made to wreak the opprobrium of Sri Lankans of all ethnic origins.

- The Tamil politicians should desist from involving external countries like India and the USA into the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and should make that policy abundantly clear – hence all international contact will be only with the Government of Sri Lanka. This will the create confidence in the majority community and the other smaller minorities that the Tamils are not a fifth column for India and its geo-political ambitions. It will also strengthen the relationship of the Tamils with the rest of Sri Lankans as they would have given notice that they are not expecting outsiders to resolve their issues.

So what will become of the 13th amendment? Sri Lanka is already burdened with its imposed introduction. There is speculation and conjecture from various sources that a second parliamentary chamber is being considered in the proposed new constitution. Irrespective of the political machination that ensues regarding the nature of any future constitution, for any government of any political hue it will be politically difficult to replace the 13th amendment. It can be diluted however with regard to provincial politics and in turn enhanced on the national stage.

A provincial system without land and police powers would be appropriate with elected chief ministers and other representatives of the provinces constituting a second chamber in parliament. This second chamber can have national powers in matters relating to revision of legislation, scrutiny of public appointees, scrutiny of government spending and other executive functions. This is a function that many parliaments have in place similar to the Indian ‘Rajya Sabah’, the ‘USA Senate’ and the ‘House of Lords’ in Great Britain. This will ensure that provincial representation will also be part of the national governance by parliament.

Will these adjuncts to the Sri Lankan constitution be, in the spirit of the ‘Indo – Lanka’ accord that the Tamil politicians swear by and moreover will it satisfy the separatists? A clear explanatory education of what this means for the future of Sri Lanka and its economic and political stability must be pursued and inculcated into all Sri Lankans of all ethnic hues and disposition.

This solution will sit comfortably with the majority community and the other minorities as it preserves the unitary nature of Sri Lanka and it will also to a degree give the Northern Tamils a direct power base in the upper house to hold the President and parliament to account directly. This is a solution worth considering for the future of Sri Lanka and all its peoples.


There has most probably been a small group of Tamils in the Jaffna peninsula living alongside the Sinhala. This however does not apply to the Vanni and the eastern coast. The Vanni "Tamils" were brought in by the Dutch from India as serfs to work the tobacco plantations. The Sinhala were evicted from these lands. At the same time when the King in Kandy lost control of the littoral to the Dutch, the northerners moved in. They are therefore recent migrants to these areas. The central province "Tamils" were similarly brought in by the British during the Raj to work the plantations (coffee first, then tea) on land confiscated from the Sinhala peasants. Sri Lanka never had an area of any significance purely for the Tamils.

The war was about land, and nothing but land, for which the Tamils had no right. The greed with which they pursued this dream was dressed up as the fantasy, Eelam, which itself is a bastardized form of the word Hela.

Posted by: Ram2009 | September 25, 2009 03:33 AM

A rabid Sinhalese who has strangely chosen the blog “Ram2009” wants the world to believe “there has MOST PROBABLY been a small group of Tamils in the Jaffna Peninsula…” and he goes on to suggest Tamils have no claim to land or national status either in the NEP or elsewhere in the land. Put differently in language that may be music to him and his ilk “you are not needed in this pure Sinhala Buddhist land.

Get the hell out of here, pronto” We know he is not alone in this thought, in as much as we know, there are millions of Sinhalese who think this lot should spend more time with their shrinks for their own good. The latter group of persons know that both races have been here for thousands of years and what is needed is to work out the necessary accommodation to live in unity and peace in the future.

This blogger and his soul-mates want to believe in the constructed and imagined history they have woven for themselves and would love to see that plan now in motion to make Tamils in the Island an endangered species. Dear man, this will not work – more so in today’s enlightened world. You might end up doing more harm to your lot than the “good” you think you are going to do.

Do also note if this country happens to disintegrate sometime in the future, it will be because of dregs like you and those ill-educated plebians in the priesthood who have succeeded in de-stabilising this once peaceful land – starting from their false nationalism in the 1950s.

Many Buddhist Sinhalese have sadly accepted this reality some years ago. As to those peaceful and useful Christian Sinhalese – the fact they remain mute even against violent attacks on their churches tells it all.


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | September 25, 2009 08:55 AM

So why cant you divide Sri Lanka into three states in lingustic or ethnic basis, we can divide North, South, and Central provinces. Follow indina model it is best suited for Sri Lanka as well. North can be Northern Province, Tamils. South can be South Province, West Province, Sabaragamuwa, North West and Uva. Central can be Central, North Central and East Provinces, where Tamils and Singhala live in large. Three Cheif ministers enough for a Small country.

Posted by: Rajiv | September 25, 2009 09:16 AM

In Short, NO!

The 13th Amendment won't satisfy TAMIL COMMUNALISTS who are still Dreaming of SEPARATION. After all if it was the 13th Amendment they wanted they could have had ONE HUNDRED TIMES BETTER than 13A if they had just voted for Ranil in 2005. TAMIL SEPARATISTS will reluctantly take whatever they can get for now and try to build on it for the future. The Truth is they just don't have a choice after losing this war so badly. The only thing they can hope for is to keep the embers of TAMIL COMMUNALISM alive so that in 10 years of so when no one is paying attention they can Regroup and rebuild their Political Infrastructure and rally the Tamil Masses around their SEGGREGATIONIST IDEOLOGY once again.

What the President needs to do now is capitalize on the situation and DESTROY the TAMIL COMMUNALIST INFRASTRUCTURE once and for all. Don't set the stage for anothe Ethnic Conflict. GIVE THE TAMIL COMMIES NOTHING... No 13th, no devolution.

Push for TOTAL ETHNIC INTEGRATION - drown out ethnic dominance of all provinces. Make sure that Ethnic Groups are not allowed to control certain areas (NORTH and EAST especially) and engineer a balance of Ethnicities so that in 10 years everyone will be forced to deal with and live with Multiculturalism. This is the only way forwrd for LASTING PEACE.

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | September 25, 2009 10:43 AM

Ram You better learn your history before commenting nonsense under such disguised name. You reply does not even applicable to the topic.

Posted by: RubyC | September 25, 2009 01:59 PM

Somewhere in the depths of hell, Prabhakaran is smiling that his legacy will live long thanks to the likes of Ram2009... such vile communal hate and untruths served up the catalyst for the separatist dreams for the likes of Prabhakaran and Uma Maheswaran.

If Ram2009 has his way, then the next 2500 years would be just as glorious as the past 2500 years.

Posted by: Gini Appu | September 25, 2009 06:27 PM


Dilly-dallying and fooling around with the 13th amendment has taken the shine out of the matter. Sampanthan, Anandasangaree and other Tamil leaders now are
agreed the 13th A has lost its relevancy. NM was right when he told in Parliament now that 20 years is gone the minorities will have to be given more than what was originally agreed to and not given. If MR Bros Inc are unable to solve the problem in spite of a series of approvals by the larger Sinhala Buddhist State - lead by the Buddhist clergy and the extremist-supremacist cabal - then suggestions such as yours may have to come into play.
Perhaps one would be that suggested by the man who started the Dividing game – SWRD himself. He proposed a few years after he came back from Oxford – North-East Province to the Tamils in their traditional homeland; The South to the Low Country Sinhalese and the Central Plains to the Kandyan Sinhalese. The Muslims, who began asserting themselves after Ashraff in the late 1980s, will be in all 3 units now that they have achieved incredible population growths. Lets not fool ourselves – the Kandyan and LCS division is as strong as ever and cannot be wished away. Viewed from all sides, MR’s Govt appears to have exacerbated the problem after May 17 though the State media gets hoarser by the hour saying “the war is won and everything is tiketyboo” Who, for pete’s sake, is buying this load of bull?


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | September 26, 2009 01:38 PM

My own little knowledge of 13th amendment leads me to think that 13 th Amd is much like the right of individuals in some rich western states to bear arms, a recipe for disaster. Self rule to a large extent by the provincial governments is great, but a central government presence is essential to root out bullying in small villages.

I long for a happy state of North and the east and indeed the whole of Sri Lanka where people in live in dignity and brotherhood and economic prosperity evenly shared, yet we must be vigilant not to let it degenerate to the old order.

We do not want small family dominated southern provinces; university education confined to english educated elites; government employment to political appointees, Kovil entry to high casts and a Vellala run Jaffna provincial goverment run by postal orders from Switzerland and Canada, with constitution driven powers to have their own Poice and army constantly waging war on folks living in Kebithigollawa and Aralaganwila.

Posted by: Tissa Wije | September 28, 2009 04:17 PM

I agree with Ram, Tamils don't even know their History... they have spent the past 25 years breeding IGNORANCE and REVISIONIST PROPAGANDA into their own communities to dupe themselves into believing they are this PURE RACE of people... They are not even a PURE RACE,..they are a collection of INBRED SOUTH INDIAN RACES who Primarily spoke the LANGUAGE of TAMIL... I look at LTTE and TAMIL DIASPORA RALLIES as I do the NATIONAL SOCIALIST RALLIES in Zeppelin Field circa 1933 in NAZI GERMANY. These DELUDED BOBBLE-HEADED FOLLOWERS all nodding in Unison to the same LIES that are REPEATED AD NAUSEUM by Fanatical Fascists who are only good at telling the masses what they want to hear....

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | October 7, 2009 02:07 PM

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