Development before Devolution

The problem with Foreign Ministry media statements is that after one was heavily criticised recently by members of their own senior staff, and the contents therein severely challenged, they have lost their credibility.

And so, when visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshanker Menon was quoted as having said that Indo-Sri Lanka relations have reached "an unprecedented level of depth and quality today", one can be excused if it was to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It might have been better received if it came by way of a joint statement leaving no doubt. The Indian High Commission in Colombo said it was not consulted in drafting the statement, but did not deny its contents either. They were expected to issue their own statement last night.

Given India's problematic relations with its northern neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh in particular, its South Block (External Affairs Ministry) officials like Mr. Menon must surely appreciate Sri Lanka's continued and genuine friendship.
Whichever way you look at it, even though Sri Lankan politicians may have provoked the Indian leadership by some acidic comments during electioneering back in 1977, India's retaliation by way of sponsoring a separatist insurgency in the country cannot be considered an appropriate or prudent response. The punishment did not fit the crime, so to say.

India at the time had grand designs of destabilising all its neighbours, something the short-lived Janatha Government of Morarji Desai totally rejected, but carried on afterwards.

At the time, Sri Lanka was economically making rapid advances, while India stagnated with its regressive inward-looking socialist policies.

Today, times have changed and tables turned. India is economically in full thrust while Sri Lanka falters. And while India desires peace and stability, the country is faced with the curse of cross-border terrorism unleashed by its own government a quarter of a century ago. But enough of the past. Though India has a moral obligation to end what it started in Sri Lanka, there is a need to look to the future from today - not the past. Unfortunately, one of the remaining hang-ups of the past is for the incumbent Congress Government in New Delhi to stick to the Sri Lanka Constitution's 13th Amendment which it force-fed on this country through the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.

Caught in a time warp of sorts, India insists that the 13th Amendment is the panacea to Sri Lanka's northern insurgency and the way to a political solution. The Sri Lanka Government is saying "yes", quite clearly knowing that this is not the answer, but simply wanting to keep this Indian (Congress) Government happy until the LTTE is completely liquidated from the battlefield.
What the people of the North need now is reconstruction: jobs; to ply their trade, profession and livelihood; schools, universities and technical colleges; infrastructure; petrol; soap; betel leaves; their rice and dhal - not the 13th Amendment.
Going by what we have seen of the 13th Amendment and its offspring, the Provincial Councils in the South, the people have had enough of it. It has created thoroughly useless councils serving neither the people nor the province. Why should it be any different in the North and East?

Yes, Mr. Menon has asked for a 'democratisation' of the North and East post-LTTE, but this does not mean it need be through the 13th Amendment. There must be fresh thinking of devolution that will help the people administratively, economically and socially, not for political parties to appoint their hangers-on and relatives.

If the PC elections have another column in their ballot paper asking if the voter wants that council to continue, the answer will be a resounding "NO" for sure.

Many other bilateral issues also seem to have escaped the discussions in Colombo, one of them being the controversial Sethusamudra project which the Indian Government went ahead with little consultation and concern for its long-term impact on Sri Lanka's economy and environment.

There has been almost no talk of the number of Sri Lankan refugees who have been in India for nearly 25 years living miserably by most accounts. India has expressed concern for the humanitarian needs of the civilians trapped in the on-going conflict, but isn't this also a humanitarian problem on its side of the fence?

While one must credit India for overcoming the political pressures from some of its politicians in Tamil Nadu to intervene more directly in Sri Lanka's military push, what is needed is an economic revival of the North and East. The cheques pledged by western countries, Japan and aid agencies once a political solution came into play can come now. Quibbling about the 13th Amendment can come later.

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