Sri Lanka’s coming constitutional changes – Part II

  • IASbaba
  • September 8, 2020
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Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

Sri Lanka’s coming constitutional changes – Part II

For First part of the article click here

Concern for India about SriLanka’s 20th Amendment

  • Fear of China’s incursion in India’s sphere of Influence: The Rajapakshas have shown greater inclination towards China in the past when they were in Power. With China becoming aggressive in the region, it may find suitable partner in present SriLankan government to further its interests at the cost of India’s interests
  • Concentration of Power doesn’t end here: Armed with a two-third majority in Parliament, the Rajapaksas may not be content only with bringing in the 20th Amendment. 
  • Tamils will be impacted: The fear, especially among the Tamil minorities in SriLanka is that the 13th Amendment will go too. An internal problem of Sri Lanka will have repercussions on India given the Tamil ethnic linkage between two countries.

Brief History of Sri Lanka’s Civil War

  • In the years following independence, the Sinhalese, who resented British favoritism toward Tamils during the colonial period, disenfranchised Tamil migrant plantation workers from India and made Sinhala the official language.
  • As ethnic tension grew, in 1976, the LTTE was formed under the leadership of V. Prabhakaran, and it began to campaign for a Tamil homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, where most of the island’s Tamils reside.
  • When war between Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese majority erupted in 1983, India took an active role to avoid the refugee like situation experienced during the formation of Bangladesh (1971 War)
  • Indo-Sri Lankan Accord was signed in 1987 to provide a political solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict.
  • It proposed the establishment of provincial council system and devolution of power for nine provinces in Sri Lanka (also known as The Thirteenth Amendment).
  • The ethnic war (civil war) ended in 2009 when LTTE was eliminated by the then Mahinda Rajapaksha government.

What is the 13th Amendment that caters to Tamil issue in SriLanka?

  • The 13th Amendment was a consequence of the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka between 1987-1990. 
  • It flowed from the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987. 
  • Sri Lanka is a unitary country, and the 1978 Constitution had concentrated all powers in the centre.
  • The agreement was aimed at finding a way forward on devolution of political powers to the then North-Eastern province, comprising the Tamil dominated areas of the island country.
  • Under the terms of the Accord (also known as the Jayawardene-Rajiv Gandhi agreement), the Sri Lankan parliament brought in the 13th Amendment, which provided for a system of elected provincial councils across Sri Lanka

What is the progress with 13th Amendment?

  • This system of Provincial Councils was proposed specifically for the north and the east to tackle issues there. However, it was implemented in other provinces too. 
  • Short lived NE Council: The irony was that while the North-Eastern provincial council could barely survive the violent and bloody circumstances of its birth and died after a short-lived futile struggle against both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, each of the remaining provinces in the Sinhala dominated areas have had elected provincial councils. 
  • Perceived as Indian Agenda: The irony was all the greater as there had been much opposition by Sinhala nationalists to the 13th amendment as an Indian imposed provision.
  • Not Implemented in Spirit: Devolution of powers to the councils was only in name as the Centre retained all financial powers. 
  • Long Struggle: It was only well after the war ended, under much pressure from India, and after the first elections were held to the Northern provincial council in 2013.

Why there is opposition to 13th Amendment?

  • Demands of Majority: As it came up in a specific response to the Indian-mediated Tamil demand for power sharing, there has always been a strong lobby by majority Sinhala population in favour of repealing the provision. 
  • Seen as encouraging Separatism: As with Article 370 in the Indian Constitution, the 13th Amendment is seen as encouraging Tamil separatism and secessionism. It is the only provision in the Constitution that is a slight nod in the direction of Sri Lanka’s Tamil national question. 
  • Resurgent Majoritarianism: The demand for doing away with 13th Amendment comes up every now and then, especially in times such as now, of a resurgent Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.

What are the challenges with regard to 20th Amendment vis a vis Tamils?

  • Fear of abolishing Provincial Councils: The Minister for Provincial Councils and Local Government is an ardent campaigner for the repeal of the 13th Amendment and the abolition of Provincial councils.
  • Mahinda Rajapaksha’s sincerity is in doubt: Mahinda Rajapaksha expansively spoke of a 13 Plus solution for Tamil demands for political power sharing but his sincerity was in doubt.


While the abolition of the executive presidency appears no more realistic, it will be retrograde if the idea of sharing more power with the provinces is abandoned altogether.

Connecting the dots:

  • Kalapani Issues with Nepal 
  • India’s neighbourhood first policy

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