India – “Do as we say, not as we do”

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It’s the irony of ironies that while on the one hand, the Indian Government is at least ostensibly calling upon their counterparts in Colombo to re-energise Provincial Councils, they have themselves adopted Sri Lanka’s doomed pre-1987 District Development Councils (DDCs) at home.

This is what India has done to ward off separatist tendencies in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, its longstanding headache ever since Independence and the creation of Pakistan next door. The state had ‘special status’ until a year ago, when the New Delhi Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped it of its constitutional safeguards and thereby its autonomous status, bifurcated the state, brought it under the Union Home Ministry, dissolved its state assembly, locked up its local politicians, imposed week-long curfews and lockdowns not related to COVID-19, and right now, is holding elections to newly created DDCs instead of a state assembly. All this while urging Sri Lanka to proceed with Provincial Councils.

The local politicians in J&K have got trapped in a quagmire. On the one hand, they do not want a political vacuum in the state leaving India’s ruling BJP to have monopolistic control of these DDCs.

There has been in Sri Lanka, a clamour, ever since the Provincial Council system was introduced under what was officially termed the “India-Lanka Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka” of July 29, 1987 a.k.a. the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. Significantly, there is no termination clause in the hurriedly drafted Agreement signed in Colombo that was under a curfew as people had taken to the streets in protest. Events have long overtaken that 1987 Agreement (rebus sic stantibus). Peace and normalcy have returned to the country since 2009.

The provisions of the Agreement are in the main, therefore redundant on applicable principles of international law. It is passe. Sri Lanka may not be able to abrogate the Agreement, but it can withdraw from it. Maybe, a new one of Friendship and Cooperation needs to be signed.

Such a withdrawal would still be symbolic, because the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that introduced Provincial Councils is a separate legal exercise, but still, it will stop India using that Agreement which is no longer worth the paper it was signed on, from using it as the benchmark for bilateral relations.

The fact that the TNA leadership has requested a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister through the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo is a serious matter. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution that prohibits advocating a separate state must be extended to those seeking foreign interference in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. It would be no different if some of the Kashmir politicians were to seek an interview with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan through the Pakistan envoy in New Delhi.

The recent call to hold Provincial Council elections is not really emanating from the North these days. It is coming from the ruling party in the South — or from some of them. There is a counter-call as well from within the Government ranks. Those who want Provincial Councils scrapped refer to them as ‘white elephants’, of no use to man or beast. Draining public finances, they are administratively merely duplicating the work of local councils and the Centre. All that the system aims to do is to give those ruling party members who missed the bus in getting a seat in Parliament an opportunity to enjoy the perks of public office at the expense of the public purse.

Nobody really opposes devolution of power from Colombo to the provinces. The ideal unit of devolution, however, in a country the size of Sri Lanka is a District, with a few members in each, inclusive of the MPs of the district. Unfortunately, the then UNP Government made a hash of the first elections to DDCs in the North in 1981. Those DDCs were nevertheless what was in motion when the July 1983 race riots took place and India stepped into the equation they had adroitly planned out. That intervention rewrote the political dynamics of this country.

It was not an accident that the 1987 Agreement called for the merger of the North and East provinces, the very antithesis of devolution — a sop for an “Eelam”. It was only by the saving grace of a never-held Referendum and a subsequent Supreme Court order that this merger was dismantled.

That was how India saw it then, but times have changed. Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka but in Jammu & Kashmir they want a replica of the 1980 Sri Lanka model which they scuttled in 1987; a case of “Do as we say, not as we do”.

Britain – “Do as we say, not as we do”.

 In most democracies, political parties say one thing in Opposition and when in office do exactly what they critiqued back then. The difference is that powerful nations extend this beyond their borders on the principle that ‘foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy’. They always get away with it by way of some unwritten rule in international affairs, an omerta of sorts among the big powers.

 

The most recent International Criminal Court (ICC) report is a textbook case of this theory. The 180-page report has confirmed that British troops committed war crimes in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. Hundreds of Iraqi detainees were abused, some killed and some raped by British soldiers, the report states. But, the ICC then says, despite the damning evidence, it will not prosecute any of them.

The British Government has stated that they will not allow their soldiers to be crucified by international tribunals and that they are drafting new laws to make it harder to prosecute British soldiers. It is this British Government that is co-sponsoring a resolution calling for war crimes investigations into the conduct of Sri Lankan soldiers during the final stages of the military conflict against the LTTE in 2009. Another case of; “Do we as we say, not as we do”.

source: Editorial Sunday Times 

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