India’s national security adviser Shivshankar Menon has a tough task cut out for him when he meets Sri Lankan leaders in Colombo on Monday. It is tough because the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has more or less decided to do away with the 13th amendment to the island nation’s constitution. Last week, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid had reiterated India’s position when Sri Lanka’s economic development minister and president’s brother Basil Rajapaksa called on him. A couple of months ago, prime minister Manmohan Singh had warned against the dangers of dropping the 13th amendment that guarantees some measure of autonomy to the councils in the northern and eastern provinces.
With elections to the provincial councils due in a few months, any decision to abrogate or water down the 13th amendment would have dangerous consequences for Sri Lanka. The Tamil minorities would feel cheated that they had been taken for a ride by the leaders of the majority community. The constitutional provision owes its origin to an Indian initiative that resulted in the India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987. At that time the ethnic conflict was in full rage and Sri Lanka played ball with India to restore peace in its Tamil-dominated areas. But, in two years its army was able to decimate the LTTE and annex Jaffna.
The hawks in the ruling establishment think they need not bother about the 13th Amendment when the Tamils are no longer in a position to challenge any decision thrust on them. History bears witness to the fact that no community can be kept in subjugation for long. India has rightly taken the stand that the amendment needs to be strengthened to instill greater confidence in the minds of Tamils that their interest lay in a united, peaceful Sri Lanka. Menon should impress upon Sri Lanka that any tampering with the 13th amendment will not only adversely affect bilateral ties but also let down Tamils who need to be brought back to the national mainstream.