International Relations

The 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka: A Controversial Pursuit of Power

  • PM Modi’s recent appeal on Sri Lanka to follow through on its promise to enact the 13th Amendment has sparked debate in the political sphere.
  • The ruling party, led by President Wickremesinghe, rejected the possibility, claiming that the President lacked the necessary mandate.
  • President Wickremesinghe had previously vowed that the Sri Lankan government would “fully implement” the 13th Amendment.

What is the 13th Amendment?

  • It is the result of the July 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, signed by then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene in an attempt to end the ethnic conflict and civil war.
  • The 13th Amendment established Provincial Councils and guaranteed a power-sharing framework that would allow all nine provinces in the country to self-govern, including Sinhala majority districts.
  • Education, health, agriculture, housing, land, and police are all devolved to provincial governments.
  • Since the 13th Amendment’s introduction over 35 years ago, Sinhala nationalists have fought against its full implementation.

Obstacles to Full Implementation

  • Historic Demand: The Tamil polity in Sri Lanka contends that even full implementation of the 13th Amendment falls short of meeting the historic demand for self-determination.
  • Unfulfilled Promises: Successive governments have vowed to fully implement the 13th Amendment but have failed to do so, further complicating the situation.
  • UN Human Rights Council Resolution: In October 2022, the UNHRC passed a resolution urging Sri Lanka to follow its pledges on devolving governmental authority for reconciliation and the enjoyment of human rights by all citizens.

Why is it contentious?

  • The 13th Amendment carries a lot of baggage from the country’s civil war.
  • Both Sinhala nationalist groups and the LTTE were vehemently opposed.
  • The opposition in Sri Lanka perceived the Accord and the legislation that followed as an imprint of Indian interference.
  • It was commonly viewed as an imposition by a neighbour with hegemonic power.
  • The Tamil polity, particularly its dominant nationalist element, does not consider the 13th Amendment to be sufficiently broad or substantive.
  • Some, though, see it as a good beginning point, something to build on.

Reservations in India

  • Provincial administrations have not made much progress due to constraints on budgetary powers and the President’s overriding authority.
  • The rules relating to police and land, in particular, have never been applied.

The Importance of 13A

  • To date, the Amendment is the only constitutional measure addressing the long-pending Tamil topic.
  • In addition to ensuring some degree of devolution, it is seen as one of the few substantial accomplishments made during the 1980s in the face of expanding Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.
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