NPC Polls: Onus Is On The President

By Dinesh D. Dodamgoda

In an interview with a daily English newspaper, the Defence Secretary opposed the holding of Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections. According to the Defence Secretary, “empowering a hostile provincial administration with land and police powers will have grave repercussions”. He further stated, “police powers in the hands of those still pursuing a separatist agenda can pose a severe threat to national security.”

Defence Secretary’s argument has logic. He presumes that the NPC administration has an inherent hostility which can pose a severe threat to national security by pursuing a separatist agenda. Therefore, according to him, “Just because India or some other country gets angry, we cannot stop doing what is good for our country.”

The strategic focus in the discourse that Defence Secretary initiated is whether it would be possible to create a separate state in the Northern Province, if or when a party or a coalition that is not-aligned to the central government wins the NPC election?

As it was indicated by the Defence Secretary, India is the main country that pressurises the Sri Lankan government to hold NPC elections in September, in fact, it was a pledge given by the Sri Lankan government to India on several occasions and it played a decisive role in harnessing India’s support in getting Hambantota confirmed as the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) venue. India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid spoke to his counterpart Prof. G. G. Peiris a week ago over the phone, and reminded that the SL government’s commitment to hold the NPC election. Hence, it is evident that India, Sri Lanka’s Big Brother, plays a decisive role in pushing the NPC election agenda forward.

The Tamil population in Sri Lanka has become an important strategic issue to Delhi, especially in an era of coalition politics in India. Since there is a considerable public sympathy within the Tamil Nadu state for the issues of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Central Government in Delhi tried their best to ‘balance’ the Tamil Nadu political sentiments in order to avert any negative influence on the Central Government. This is more obvious now as a general election for the 16th Lok Sabha is scheduled to be held next year, 2014. Any actual or perceived discrimination against the Tamils in Sri Lanka is highly sensitive in current Indian politics. However, can India’s strategic importance in ‘balancing’ the Tamil Nadu political sentiments pave the way in creating a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, posing a severe threat to SL’s national security?

In terms of India’s security concerns, it is obvious that India does not want a separate Tamil State anywhere in Sri Lanka, as this can stoke Tamil regional sentiments in India. Tamil nationalism is an issue of security concerns not only to Colombo but to Delhi as well. As it was evident in an Indian context a few years ago regarding discrimination against Tamils in Malaysia, Tamil nationalism and even ideas of regionalism can flare up with any opportunity Tamils in Sri Lanka has in creating a separate state.

Furthermore, India can hardly support in breaking up another country as India faces threats from many secessionist movements. Moreover, India cannot have any unpredictable neighbour in Northern Sri Lanka as that could pose threats to India’s closely located nuclear, space and defence establishments.

Against this backdrop it is possible that India will oppose any move to create a separate state in northern Sri Lanka by any group that would win NPC Election. Therefore, foregoing the NPC election under a pretext of ‘threat to Sri Lanka’s national security’ will not convince India at all. However, if the SL government is adamant about trimming land and police powers from the provinces or not holding NPC election in September, it will certainly impact negatively in Delhi politics up to an extent that would erode Indo-Lanka relationship drastically.

However, it was reported that the Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa had promised the ITAK leader R. Sampanthan, to release all other lands, except the 50 acre-land acquired for the Sampur Electricity Scheme. It may be the case that Mr. Sampanthan wants to hold on to the promise given by Minister Basil Rajapaksa hence, Mr. Sampanthan does not want to talk to Defence Secretary in this regard.

However, as it was mentioned by Minister Basil Rajapaksa when addressing representatives from Indian media earlier last week,
“it was ultimately President Mahinda Rajapaksa who would take a decision in this regard.” So, the strategic focus is now on President Rakapaksa to see what would be the decision he wants to take in this regard?

1 Comment for “NPC Polls: Onus Is On The President”

  1. Sunimal

    It looks like the President is in a deadlock.

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