Support for Sri Lanka’s Unity and Territorial Integrity is Tied to Tamils Aspirations for Equality, Justice, Peace and Dignity – India!

Support for Sri Lanka’s Unity and Territorial Integrity is  Tied to Tamils Aspirations for Equality, Justice, Peace and Dignity – India!

Veluppillai Thangavelu

The writing is on the wall for every one to see. Only the blind and the deaf will failed to see or hear. This phrase is interpreted  as  apparent signs or indications that something will or is about to happen in the future, especially something bad or unfortunate.

Delivering his statement on OHCHR report on Sri Lanka, Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, Permanent Representative of India, said they believed that respecting the rights of the Tamil community, including through meaningful devolution, contributes directly to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka.

His full statement is as follows,

We have taken note of the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka and her oral remarks. The Council has adopted 7 Resolutions on the question of human rights in Sri Lanka since May 2009, when the three decades old conflict in that country ended.

India has been an active participant in the discussions on these Resolutions and has remained engaged with Sri Lanka as its close friend and immediate neighbor  India’s consistent position rests on two pillars:

i). Support for Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity. 

ii). Abiding commitment to aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity. 

These are not either-or choices. We believe that respecting the rights of the Tamil community, including through meaningful devolution, contributes directly to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. 

Therefore, we advocate that delivering on the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community is in the best interests of Sri Lanka. We call upon Sri Lanka to take necessary steps for addressing such aspirations, including through the process of reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. 

The assessment of the High Commissioner regarding developments nearly 12 years from the end of the conflict raises important concerns. The Sri Lankan Government has articulated its position on these issues as well. In evaluation of both of these, we should be guided by a commitment to find a lasting and effective solution for this issue.

Within  the boudaries of diplomatic niceities the Indian Ambassador Mani Pandey can only go this far, yet his message is clear.

In describing the position of India the Ambassador said it stands on two pillars. Support for Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity is conditioned by abiding commitment to aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity. 

The option for Sri Lanka is not  either or choices. One pillar  must exist in order for the other pillar to exist. If one pillar falls the whole structure falls!  The structure cannot stand on one pillar alone.

Unity and terrirtorial integrity of Sri Lanka depends on fulfilling the aspirations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity. This is not a statement that came from the blues, visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Mody and Foreign Minister Subramaniam Jeyasangar have repeatedly told the Sri Lankan rulers ad nauceam.  Unfortunately, both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa have refused to listen. Both took refuge stating “Sri Lanka is a sovereign and independent country. No outsiders can dictate terms or intefere with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and by inference India as well!”.

Addressing a meeting in Chennai Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 21 February, 2021 said that India has been consistently taking up the issue of the rights of Tamils living in Sri Lanka with Sr Lankan  government and gave an assurance that his administration is committed to ensuring  that “they live with equality, justice, peace and dignity.”

Narendra Modi assured equality and justice for Tamils in Sri Lanka and said his government has always taken care of the welfare and aspirations of ‘Tamil brothers and sisters’ in Sri Lanka. He also claimed that  he is the only Indian Prime Min…to have visited Jaffna, the capital of the Tamil-dominated northern province.

“Through development works, we are ensuring welfare of Sri Lanka’s Tamil community. The resources given by our government for Tamils have been much more than what it were in the past,” he said, listing the projects like 50,000 houses for displaced Tami…in North-Eastern Sri Lanka, 4,000 houses in the plantation areas. railway network to Jaffna, and resumption of flight services from Chennai to Jaffna. (https://www.deccanherald.com/national/narendra-modi-assures-equality-and-justice-for-tamils-in-sri-lanka-951201.html)

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On June 6, 2021 Indian Foreign Minister visited Sri Lanka his first over vewrseas visit to a foreign country during the current year. He held talks with  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa,  Oppostion Leader Sajith Premadasa, R.Sampanthan, TNA leader and many other politicians and dignitaries.

During a joint media interaction with  Dinesh Gunawardena, External Affairs Minister, Subramaniam  Jaishankar underlined India’s backing for Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process and aan “inclusive political outlook” that encourages ethnic harmony.

“As we promote peace and well being in the region India has been strongly committed to the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and our support for the reconciliation process in sri lanka is long outstanding,  as indeed for an all inclusive  political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony,” he said. 

“It is in Sri Lanka’s ‘own interest’ that the expectations of Tamil Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united country are fulfilled. That applies equally to the commitments made by Sri Lanka on meaningful devolution, including the 13th amendment to the constitution” Jaishankar added.  

The progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka will be advanced as a consequebce he asserted.  

His remarks came  in the backdrop of sabre ratling by some SLPP Ministers and  allies campaigning against holding of Provincial Elections. They want to abolish Provincial Council system citing the councils are white elephants. They also want to abolish 13A  imposed on the people by the Indo-Sri Lanka accord signed between President J.R. Jayawardena and Indian Prime Minister in 1987.  In the forefront of the campaign is ultra nationalist Sarath Samarasekra, Minister for Public Security, Wimal Weerawansa, Minister of  Construction, Engineering Services, Housing, and Common Amenities and Udaya Gamanpilla. Minister of Energy Udaya. This trio was also in the fore front vehemently opposed to the handing over 49 % interest in the Eastern Container Terminal  (ECT) to India and Japan in May, 2019.

Initially, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in favour of honouring the tripatriate MoU signed  with India and Japan for a 51/49 per cent government majority. During talks with the Port Trade Unions. He said Sri Lanka should honour the MoU  signed in May, 2019 and the tripatriate agreement involves geopolitical ramifications. He further asserted that “stopping the deal would endanger the 66% of Indian transshipment cargo handled by the ECT. Therefore, in order to remain competitive the deal was needed.”

However, the  politically influenced  23 Port Unions big and small stood their ground. Like Shylock they  demanded their pound of flesh. Geopolitics was Greek to them. Then came the coup de grace de;ivered by none other than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa himself.  He announced in parliament that not one inch of port city will be sold to foreigners. On  01 February  his office in a statement said that the Sri Lankan government has decided to run the ECT as a fully-owned operation of the state-run ports authority.

Obviously  the government succumbed to pressure from the trade unions  and a section of militant  Buddhist monks who opposed the joint venture to develop the strategic cargo terminal. The SLPP, led by the Rajapaksas is also portraying itself as an ultra  nationalistic force opposed to ‘bartering away national assets to foreign entities.

All what India could do is to issue a press statement. It asked the Sri Llankan government asked all sides to abide by the existing understandings and commitment of a trilateral agreement involving Sri Lanka and Japan to develop the strategic Colombo Port’s Eastern Container Terminal (ECT).

“The commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka in this regard has been conveyed several times in the recent past, including at the leadership level. Sri Lanka’s Cabinet also took a decision three months ago to implement the project with foreign investors. All sides should continue to abide by the existing understandings and commitment,” the spokesman for the Indian High Commission Office in Colombo stated.

Strangely when large chunks of land in he Port City, including  88 ha of freehold land was  was ceded handed over to China there was no hue and cry by the Sinhala – Buddhist nationalistic  forces and the Colombo Port Unions. There was stony silence, not even a whisper!

In lieu of investment of $1.4 million the Rajapaksa government vested both freehold and lease hold lands reclaimed as follows:

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Land Reclamation and Allocation

The CA specifies that the area of reclaimed landwill be at least 233 ha and that the PC shall  bear  the  complete  cost  of reclamation,estimated at $1.4  billion.  In  return  the  PC will  have  rights  over  at  least  108  ha  of so-called marketable land –20  ha  on  a  freehold basis  and  88  ha  on  a  leasehold  basis.  A ha = 2.471 acres.

SLPA/GOSL  shall  be  entitled  to  at  least  62  ha  of marketable landand  the remaining  63  ha  will  be  allocated  to  common  areas  such  as beaches,  parks,  roads  and  so  on.  If  the  reclaimed  land  were  to  be  in  excess  or  deficit  of the stated amount, it would be shared among the two parties on 60:40 split favoring the PC. 

Freehold  land  entitles  the  PC  to  outright  ownership  over  the  land; leasehold  means that the project company will be awarded a 99-year masterlease with a hold period of 35 years. The latter means that within 35 years after the granting of that lease,the PC may request GOSL to grant a fresh lease of 99 years to anybody, including itself, as it deems fit.  After  35  years,  it  may  only  request  a  lease  for  99  years  minus  the  number  of  years elapsed since the 35thyear of the master lease. In effect, the PC has complete ownership over 20 ha and a 134-year lease on 88 ha (chrome-extension://gphandlahdpffmccakmbngmbjnjiiahp/https://fsi-live.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/colombo_port_city.pdf

It was left to the much maligned Yahapalana government  to renegotiate the deal and remove the clause contained in the  2014  agreement signed by the Rajapaksa government. The 88 ha (         ) freehold given on perpetuity to CCCC  was converted to leasehold in 2016.  Under the revised scheme  China will be given 270 acres on a 99-year lease with no freehold rights. (https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/3009731/next-hambantota-welcome-chinese-funded-us14-billion-port-city)

Thus it will be seen the  pro-Chinese  politicions like Wimal weerawansa and Uthaya Gamanpilla (a Tamil name)  shut their eyes, close their ears and don’t open their mouths when the country involved is China.  On the contrary they go  beserk  and fire cylinders when  President  Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants to give 49% of the ECT to India and Japan. Of course,  these two are lightweight politicians leading fringe parties with no mass support, but they seem to punch above their weight!

The SLPP  government has now signed another agreement with China to  to install a hybrid renewable energy system in three islands Analaitheevu, Nainatheevu and Neduntheevu(Delft Island)  off the coast of Jaffna peninsula  at a cost of USD $12 million.  The Neduntheevu  Island is only 48 klms away from the Indian coastal town of Rameshwaram.

This despite the efforts by the State Minister  Dulles Alahapperuma to get the installation done by India free of cost! Apparently the anti-Indian Ministers in the cabinet favoured China over India for political reasons.

In February, 2021 the Sri Lankan government said it was in talks with the Chinese government to construct a new maximum-security prison. Also last year, Sri Lanka’s state-owned Bank of Ceylon entered into a long-term facility with the China Development Bank, the largest development financial organisation in the world, for USD $140 million while Sri Lanka’s economic crisis worsened amidst piling debt repayments.

According to official data from August 2020, China owns approximately 10 % of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt.  The burden of  foreign debt is slowly sinking into the India ocean thanks to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s utopian joint ventures. Sri Lanka’s foreign debt repayment is USD 4 bn in 2021, 4.5 bn in 2022,  4.2 bn in 2023, 4.4 bn in 2024 and 5 bn in 2025! (Data from the Department of Exterrnal Resouces, Sri Lanka)

The Rajapaksa government instead of solving problems it is bent on multiplying them at geomatric progrogression on multiple fronts. Most of the problems are man made like the cremation of Muslim died  of coronavirus epidemic. The government relented only because they needed the votes of 4 Islamic countries at the UNHRC.

The Sri Lankan government has opened a second front against Hindu Tamil in the Northeast. The state has stepped up land grab under the guise of  digging for Buddhist Heritage. Last  November, 2020   the Archaeology Department, along with Buddhist monks seized  the Vedi Arasan fortress in Neduntheevu,  The Buddhist monks claimed the Vedi Arasan fortress belonged historically to a Tamil Buddhist King. The  Archaeology department has issued a gazette acquiring an acre of land in Neduntheevu,  claiming that it contains a ruined Buddhist monastery complex. According to a report in the Sunday Times, the land was declared an “archaeological reserve” under the Antiquities Ordinance Act.

On February 21, Shavendra Silva attended a ceremony as chief guest to lay the cornerstone for the construction of a 100ft Buddhist Stupa in  Thayidy, Jaffna where there are no Buddhists!  The land for the erection of the Stupa is a private property but occupied  by occupation army.  

The ceremony was attended by all departments of the military and members of the Buddhist clergy. Silva was invited as the chief guest by the Commander of the Jaffna security force, General Priyantha Perera.  Kandyan drummers led the accused war criminal to the site where he laid the foundation stone.

In the east 2,000 such Buddhist sites of importance have been identified by Archeological Chakravarthi Metananda Thero. Thousands of acres of lands have been identified  in places like Thiriyai, Pulomoddai, Kutchchavel in the east and places of  Hindu worship in Kurunthur, Vedukkunarimalai, Neeraveli Cemmalai Pillaiyar temple in the North. Several cases against the Archeological Department is pending before courts.

Predictably the Tamils of the northeast are not taking this Sinhala – Buddhist hegemony lying down. The P2P showed that the Tamils cannot be kept under the gun easily. Not a single day passes in the  Northeast without people staging hunger strikes, roadside marches and rallies against the government.

The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 said that the construction of such sites and Buddhist statues in non-Buddhist areas in the North-East, despite objections from locals and leaving civil society with the perception of “Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialism”.

Coming on the heels of Sri Lankan government renreneging on the 2019 Colombo Port Memorandum of Agreement, Sri Lanka cleared a Chinese energy project in three islands off Jaffna peninsula that are barely 50 km from the Tamil Nadu coast.

On January 18, the Cabinet approved a proposal to involve Sinosoar-Etechw in Joint Venture in China to install ‘hybrid renewable energy systems’ in Nainativu, Delft or Neduntheevu, and Analaitivu, located in the Palk Bay.

The three islands concerned are quite close to Tamil Nadu, India.  Analaitheevu is just 29 kms from TN coast. The other two  Nainatheevu and Neduntheevu are also close to TN coast. Justly,  the security interests of India on its southern flank  will be compromised if this scheme goes ahead.

India has not commented on the proposed installation, but sources in Colombo said: “security concerns were raised”, citing the project site’s proximity to the Indian coastline

True to form,  the  loose, loud-mouthed and brash Minister Wimal Weerawansa has proclaimed  that under no circumstances will the hybrid renewable energy system for the 3 islands will be given to India. This is when India has  not officially evinced interest in the  hybrid renewable energy project.  They why on earth  Minister Vimal Weerawansa is jumping in his seat when other SLPP Ministers have not uttered a word in public? The question arises whether SLPP is unable to put  the genie back into the bottle?

In this gloomy background it is hilarious for some SLPP Ministers to plead with India to support Sri Lanka at the UNHRC 46th sessions. The vote on the resolution moved by the core group of countries is scheduled for March 22nd of this month.

As mentioned at the beginning  the choice is not between support for Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity and the  abiding commitment to the aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity, it is both! 

About editor 2213 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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