As India’s Prime Minister between 1984 and 1989, Rajiv Gandhi neither asked Sri Lanka to adopt a federal constitution nor did he get involved in the drafting and implementation of the 13th Constitutional Amendment (13A), says A Varatharajaperumal, former Chief Minister of the now defunct North-Eastern Province.
“When we met Rajiv in 1986, the Indian PM categorically said that India would not ask Lanka to adopt a federal constitution. But Rajiv was quick to add that the Lankan Tamils were free to put to their government any constitutional proposal they liked,” Perumal told the New Indian Express.
Asked why the Indian PM shied away from federalism, Perumal said that it was probably because Rajiv had battled a strong pro-autonomy militant movement in Punjab.
Perumal, who was CM for 14 months between 1988 and 1990, recalled that neither Rajiv nor his successors pressed Colombo to implement the 13A in letter and spirit though it stemmed from the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.
“India had failed to honor the commitments it had made when it entered into an Accord with Sri Lanka in 1987. India had no role in the drafting of the 13A, nor did it oversee or monitor its implementation. It remained passive as Lankan governments kept violating the 13A by not devolving power over land and police. North and East were separated in 2006 with no protests from anywhere,” he recalled.
Asked to explain India’s stand, Perumal said: “One of the reasons was opposition to the India-Lanka Accord in India itself, with DMK leader Karunanidhi and the Prime Minister-to-be, V.P.Singh, using it to beat Rajiv with in the run up to the 1989 Indian parliamentary elections, which Rajiv lost.”
With Rajiv’s assassination by the LTTE in 1991, India adopted a “hands off” policy vis-à-vis Lanka, which continues to this day with New Delhi only paying lip service to the Tamil cause.
“New Delhi’s focus is now on improving India-Lanka relations. The West too has its agenda. Once that agenda is fulfilled, it will drop the human rights issue. In this scenario, it is better for the Tamils and Sinhalese to talk to each other directly and arrive at a settlement,” Perumal said.
Still active as the head of a faction of the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF-Varathar), Perumal feels that the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), now dominated by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), should concentrate on securing its rights under 13A of the constitution.
“The Tamils’ long standing and legitimate demand for federalism cannot be attained in one go, as they expect. Their history shows it is not possible to take a huge leap to reach the cherished goal. But the goal can be attained by a series of short hops.”
“The NPC should stop passing resolutions on political issues and work towards securing its rights under 13A and also correct many of the shortcomings in the 13A,” Perumal said.