Ten years after the Indo-Lanka Accord: not even
27 July 1997
The Indo-Lanka Accord was signed ten years ago. Ostensibly the
treaty (that's what it was and is) was meant to provide the Tamils
in the northeast a constitutional basis for realising "their
legitimate political aspirations" - as Rajiv Gandhi would have it in
his hey days. But in reality it brought Sri Lanka quite firmly into
the sphere of India's strategic and economic interests. These are of
course well witnessed and well documented matters.
The continuing relevance of the Accord is that, by the virtue of the
fact that it is technically a treaty, it keeps New Delhi an
inevitable and ultimate factor in any settlement to the ethnic
conflict in Sri Lanka.
Here, we have to keep in mind that the Accord is a very unique
treaty in that it grants to one country the legal right to decide
the political future of a section of another country's people.
Today the provincial council system which was the direct result of
the Accord functions in every province of the country except the
northeast for the people of which it was meant in the first place.
The Accord is a treaty. And as such India expended vast resources to
sign and secure it. The thirteenth amendment to the 1978
constitution is the anchor and very basis of the treaty's legal
status. Indian bureaucrats have not, in the past, refuted the
conclusion which follows from this - that the repeal of the
thirteenth amendment would, in a fundamental way, equal the
unilateral abrogation of the treaty.
Today Delhi may strive, through subtle diplomatic propagandising, to
make the PA and its Tamil cronies believe that it fully backs the
government's devolution package.
This position would be acceptable as bona fides if Delhi can tell
its friends here how it would view the legal status and geopolitical
relevance of the Indo - Lanka treaty sans its constitutional anchor
- the thirteenth amendment.
The ex Tamil militant groups in Colombo who keep harping on the
thirteenth amendment may be doing so with this particular
implication of the treaty in mind. All the non LTTE Tamil militant
groups which had engaged in an armed struggle for the separate state
of Thamil Eelam (or Eelam in the case of EROS and EPRLF) decided to
give up their secessionist cause and join the democratic mainstream
of the Sri Lankan polity in 1987 as a direct result of the Accord.
If not they would have died a slow death in exile.
The armed Tamil groups which became political parties in the Sri
Lankan electoral system were able to do so only by convincing some
of their important members and hard-core supporters that an
acceptable alternative to a separate state could be secured through
the good offices and backing of the Indian government. Ten years
have gone by and they have nothing to show the Tamil people.
"What the Indo-Lanka Accord gave us was a meagre loin cloth to cover
Today we find that even this Kovanam (amude) has been snatched from
us," said the leader of a Tamil party which gave up its armed
struggle after the accord.
In this connection one must say that something that is fundamentally
important to Tamil politics is not taken note of in most current
assessments of the situation in the northeast.
It is the plain fact that the LTTE continues to enjoy a considerable
degree of support among the Tamils which at the bottom is directly
connected to the perception that nothing has been achieved by the
mainstream Tamil political parties through peaceful means.
Those who object to this general perception among the Tamils in the
war torn areas, however, argue that this does not justify the LTTE's
position politically because nothing has been secured all these
years through the war.
The objectors, needless to say, are very much in the minority.
The compelling contrast which justifies the LTTE's war to the
majority of people in the northeast is the way the other groups
which gave up the armed rebellion against the Sri Lankan state have
gone down the drain, as it were, unable, sometimes according to
their own admission, to even secure minor concessions relating to
the day to day woes of the Tamils.
It is the Indo-Lanka Accord which helped bring into sharp focus and
added compelling credence to Velupillai Prabhakaran's long standing
belief and assertion that the Tamil cause would be forgotten and
crushed by the 'Sinhala state' if the armed insurrection in the
northeast were to be abandoned.
The contrast that has emerged in these ten years since India imposed
the treaty on the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils is a stark
one between the increasing political impotence of the other ex-Tamil
militant groups and the growing military power of the LTTE.
Some of the Tamil groups openly grumble today that they made a big
mistake in 1987 by saying farewell to their arms.
Their chagrin means little practically except that it reflects a
general frustration in northeastern political circles. This
ultimately is what continues to lend that cogent legitimacy to the
LTTE's cause among the Tamils.
The events which were triggered off by the Indo - Lanka accord, in
hindsight, have actually strengthened Prabhakaran's 'politics' since
Another important benefit reaped by the Tigers politically in these
ten years is the manner in which the majority of the Tamil
population in the northeast has drifted away from its
psycho-political dependence on India.
The voices which can be raised today among the Tamils to argue
India's centrality in any settlement to the ethnic conflict are few
This brings us to a scenario in which the final political resolution
of the northeast conflict may become further compounded. It is
reasonably assumed that the existence of the Indo - Lanka treaty
binds the Sri Lankan government to have Delhi as a party (however
much in the background and despite the so called Gujral Doctrine) to
a final settlement to the conflict. If this has to be the case then
there have to be among the Tamils credible political forces that can
legitimize and 'sell' India's role as a indirect or direct party to
this final settlement.
But as we pointed out, those who can do this in the northeast
constitute an endangered political species. The EPDP leader Douglas
Devananda fervently argues now that the Indo Lanka treaty was a
golden opportunity which the EPRLF and the LTTE failed to exploit
for the full benefit of the Tamil people in the northeast. He also
speaks of resuscitating the thirteenth amendment.
Devananda is not speaking through his hat. It will benefit everyone
who is genuinely interested in bringing peace to this country if the
PA determines with some finality the exact status of the thirteenth
amendment as the Indo - Lanka treaty's constitutional basis.