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I am grateful for the request to write about India and the 13th Amendment because, while I have referred to the subject in different contexts, it would be useful to assess precisely what Indian priorities are, and how we should respond to these. In doing this, we should be clear about the principles involved –

  1. As Sri Lankans, our own national interest must come first. This includes both safeguarding the integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka and also ensuring that all our citizens can dwell contentedly in their country, with access to equal opportunities and full participation in politics and development.
  2. As South Asians we must also recognize the important role India plays in the region. This means that, without any violation of our own interests, we must ensure that India does not come under undue pressure from any quarter because of us.

It is clear that we got into a conflict situation with India because we violated the second principle. While India could have reacted less aggressively, I believe the Jayewardene government must be held responsible for allowing India to come under pressure from two quarters. The first was pressure from Tamilnadu, because of what was perceived as, not just discrimination, but also violence against and oppression of Tamils.

Jayewardene presents a baby elephant to American President Ronald Reagan and the American people, 1984

President Jayewardene presents a baby elephant to American President Ronald Reagan and the American people – 1984

The second set of pressures however was more worrying for India, as is clear from the provisions of the Indo-Lankan Accord. The Sri Lankan agreement then to ensure that foreign policy decisions took Indian interests into account (as spelled out with regard to Trincomalee and its oil tanks as well as broadcasting facilities to other nations) made it clear that Jayewardene’s flirtation with America in the Cold War context had worried India deeply.

We must remember that those were days in which America saw India as a hostile element, and had no scruples about engaging in activities calculated to destabilize the country. Salman Rushdie’s brilliant account of language riots in India in the fiftes, in which Tamilnadu hostility was the most aggressive, has a brilliant cameo in which he suggests the American contribution to street violence. And while obviously no direct causal connections can be diagnosed, there is no doubt that America would have been quite happy in those days for India to split up – and the obvious instrument of this would have been Tamil Nadu, with the longstanding American connection to the area, through missionaries in particular.

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue. Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

In writing many years ago about the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987, the single most crucial element in bilateral relations since the independence of both countries, I made the following assessment –

The full text of the Accord, revealed only after it had been signed, indicated that in order to win peace Jayawardene had gone far down the road he had tried to avoid. It had already been let slip the previous week that the President would have discretion to postpone the referendum whereby the east could break free from the north if the union proved unsatisfactory. Apart from this and an agreement to appoint an interim administration for the area (which would allow immediate power to the terrorist groups), there was also an appendix to the Accord that, in dealing with Indo-Lankan relations as apart from the internal conflict, made clear that Sri Lanka had formally accepted Indian suzerainty over the region. 

In this appendix, which took the form of an exchange of letters of intent, Jayawardene agreed to ‘reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel’, that ‘Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests’, that ‘the work of restoring and operating the Trincomalee oil tank farm will be undertaken as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka’ and that ‘Sri Lanka’s agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations will be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka are used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes’.

Perhaps there had been little gain to the country from Jayawardene’s manoeuvres over the past few years and the letters of intent did no more than enunciate what should have from the start been accepted as a cornerstone of any realistic foreign policy for a small country situated so helplessly at the tip of India.  Yet that this should have been set down in writing was indeed a triumph for Gandhi.[i]

In an earlier version of this analysis, I had noted the type of manoeuvre Jayewardene had engaged in, viz ‘with regard to the Voice of America, Israeli agents, Pakistani military training, and the shadowy companies that had been chosen for the tank farm concession’[ii]. I had argued before that Jayawardene’s efforts to present himself as a knight on the side of the West in what turned out to be the dying years of the Cold War were potentially disastrous for Sri Lanka. So it proved, and in getting this reversed India engaged in a programme that sadly provided terrorist groups with support that facilitated their development into dangerous entities.

Rajiva Wijesinha

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