India hopes Rajapaksa will fulfil Tamil promise
With Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa heading for a landslide win in the first election after the LTTE rout, India is hoping he will use the electoral boost to fast-track the long-deferred devolution package for the Tamil minority and bring permanent peace to the island nation.
The poll results, in which Rajapaksa beat his closest rival Sarath Fonseka who commanded the army to crush the LTTE rebels, mark continuity for New Delhi as it will be dealing with a familiar regime in Colombo.
"We have always said that devolution and reconciliation hold the key to lasting peace in Sri Lanka. We are hoping that this process will now be taken to its logical conclusion," government sources told IANS.
"The prospect for reconciliation has definitely brightened. Rajapaksa realises reconciliation with Tamils alone can bring stability and prosperity to Sri Lanka," A.S. Kalkat, who headed the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in the island country under the 1987 Indo-Lankan accord, told IANS.
"Rajapaksa may not be able to give a new political dispensation to Tamils revolving around devolution right away. But now that he is firmly in the saddle, he can bring in his own people in parliament in the forthcoming parliamentary elections," said Kalkat.
Agreed Major General (retd) Ashok Mehta: "A second term would mean a far more confident and more empowered president. It gives him a lot of operational freedom to put Tamil reconciliation process on fast track."
"Having won the elections, he has no excuse now but to come out within a devolution package for Tamil minority," said Alok Bansal, a Sri Lanka expert at the National Maritime Foundation, a military think tank.
Bansal, however, said India will have to wait and watch for any progress in this direction till the parliamentary elections, due in the next months, take place.
If Rajapkasa's party manages a comfortable majority in the parliamentary elections with MPs sharing his vision of reconciliation, his hand will be strengthened further. "He has a major opportunity to go down in history as a statesman and bring in permanent peace in his country," Bansal said.
Soon after the Sri Lankan troops eliminated the top leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year, including its chief V. Prabhakaran, bringing to an end 26 years of bloody civil war, Rajapaksa had made fulsome promises about giving their just due to the Tamil minority that comprises around 12 per cent of Sri Lanka's
In his campaign speeches, both Rajapaksa and Fonseka competed for Tamil vote. Fonseka in fact tried to to project Rajapaksa as anti-Tamil. Now, Rajapska will be under pressure to do something tangible for reconciliation with Tamils, said Kalkat.
In fact, Rajapaksa promised 13 amendment plus 1, meaning he was ready to give more than what was laid down in the 13th amendment, which deals with devolution of powers to provinces and was incorporated into the Sri Lanka Constitution after the 1987 India-Lanka Accord.
With the electoral uncertainty over, India is also hoping that the process of resettlement of internally displaced persons, for which it has already pledged Rs.500 crore (approx $100 million), will also be speeded up.
Seven demining teams from India are working to facilitate reconstruction and re-settlement of Tamils.
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