External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the visiting TNA delegation on Friday that New Delhi continues to look at the 13th amendment as the framework for a political solution. This was the first engagement of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) with the new leadership in New Delhi, though their first interlocutor was an old acquaintance. Swaraj had met with the visiting delegation members in her earlier role as the Leader of Opposition, when she led a parliamentary group to the island nation in 2012.
During the long meeting, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was basically in listening mode. The TNA delegation informed her in detail how the Northern Province chief minister CV Vigneswaran was unable to function, hemmed in by Colombo-appointed bureaucrats taking all vital decisions.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Sampanthan said, “India’s involvement in the resolution of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is vital.”
“They (people who live in Sri Lanka) have their roots in India. Their culture is Indian and everything is Indian. So, I think India is one country that can play a major role,” he said. Sampanthan said that the delegation explained Swaraj “the difficulties people are facing, the aggressive programme implemented by the Sri Lankan Government to change the democratic composition of the northern and eastern provinces and the cultural and linguistic identity of the areas.”
He said that the Sri Lankan government has not taken any steps to “implement the 13th amendment for devolving powers to the Tamil minority.”
Giving the details of the meeting, spokesperson in the External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin said:
Question:Today, the Tamil National Alliance from Sri Lanka met our External Affairs Minister. What was the agenda of this meeting? Can we expect any outcome from this meeting?
Official Spokesperson: A six-member delegation of the Tamil National Alliance from Sri Lanka is in Delhi. The Delegation is led by Mr. Sampanthan who is a Member of Parliament there, a veteran Tamil leader. If any of you want the names of the other delegates, they are: Mr. Senathirajah, Member of Parliament; Mr. Suresh Premachandran, MP; Mr. Selvarasa, MP; Mr. Selvam Adaikalanathan, MP; and Mr. Sumanthiran, MP. This is a parliamentary delegation.
This is the first delegation of the TNA to visit India after the new Government in India has taken office. Obviously this is part of our effort to engage with the Government of Sri Lanka as well as all political parties in Sri Lanka as part of the ongoing process of reconciliation.
The TNA delegation made a presentation to the External Affairs Minister in a fairly detailed manner about what they perceive as the current situation in Sri Lanka is in terms of the political environment and their engagement or otherwise with the Sri Lankan government.
On our side the External Affairs Minister did patiently listen to them, and she stressed the need for a political solution that addresses substantially the aspirations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka for equality, dignity, justice and self respect within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. The delegation is meeting tomorrow with the Prime Minister and they intend to put forth a detailed projection of their understanding of the situation as well as suggestions that they may have in this context about Indian engagement on this issue.
There was also, in addition to this, a discussion about the Indian developmental projects in the region including in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. This included the housing project as well as hospitals and various other projects including reference to the Sampur thermal power project also.
Question:Have you taken any decision on sending the Sri Lankan refugees back to their homeland?
Official Spokesperson: No, there is no decision as you are aware. However, this was raised in the context of the discussions by the TNA delegation saying that the number of Indian refugees who would like to go back and resettle, however, they are having difficulties because of land-related issues in the Northern Province.
Question:Dr. Subramanian Swamy had visited Sri Lanka recently. He returned and called the Tamil-Sinhalese crisis a linguistic problem and not an ethnic problem between the two communities, and that it is only a problem of mistrust. Does the Government of India also view it in the same manner, or are there problems that exist in terms of devolution of powers and what the Government of Sri Lanka really needs to do for the Tamils?
Official Spokesperson: Geeta, I just explained to you what the External Affairs Minister mentioned as our appreciation of that situation, and let me repeat it for you. ‘A political solution to the issue that addresses substantially the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, dignity and self respect within the framework of a united Sri Lanka’ was our position and remains so.
Question:On Sri Lanka, when you say substantial solution, that is the Thirteenth Amendment, right? Or are you alluding to something else?
Official Spokesperson: You are aware that the Thirteenth Amendment was stemming from the India-Sri Lanka Accord, and that is something that the Sri Lankans have themselves adopted as their legislative framework, and that is the framework in which we are working currently.