Sri Lankan party threatens Indian goods’ boycott

By P.K. Balachandran, IANS

Colombo : An influential Sri Lankan political party has threatened to call for a boycott of goods from India if it continues to “interfere” in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, The Island daily said Wednesday.

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“If India fails to stop interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, the JVP would request the public to boycott Indian products,” Somawansa Amarasinghe, leader of the Marxist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), said at a public meeting in Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka Tuesday.

Amarasinghe was quoted in the Sri Lankan media as saying that India had forced the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to implement a devolution package to the Tamil-speaking north and east Sri Lanka as envisaged in the controversial 13th amendment of the constitution.

It has been the JVP’s case that the 13th amendment was forced down the throats of Sri Lankans in 1987 as a consequence of the India-Sri Lanka Accord signed that year.

No call by the JVP can be taken lightly in the current political context, because it has 38 members in the Sri Lankan parliament and the Rajapaksa government is dependent on the JVP MPs for its survival.

If the JVP does call for a boycott of Indian goods, and enforces it, the loss to India will be tremendous.

India exports $1.8 billion worth of goods to Sri Lanka every year. The island is India’s largest trading partner in the south Asian region. India is the fourth largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka, having pumped in $500 million. India had also given Sri Lanka credit to the tune of $281 million in the past four years.

And if India takes retaliatory action, Sri Lanka too could suffer greatly because after the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement came into operation in 2000, Sri Lanka’s exports to India had increased manifold to reach near $500 million.

Twenty years ago, in 1987-88, the JVP had tried to enforce a boycott of Indian goods in protest against the India-Sri Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment.

“Indian dogs go home” was one of the many anti-Indian slogans scrawled on the walls and roads of downtown Colombo. The JVP asked people not to buy “Bombay” onions, an essential element in the daily diet of Sri Lankans.

The present ruling party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which was in the opposition in 1987-88, had also held street demonstrations and organised the Gandhian “satyakriya” campaigns.

Amarasinghe said that the Rajapaksa government was now trying to implement a measure rejected by the people from the very beginning.

“The JVP has spoken much against separatism and always opposed devolution of power. We stand for a unitary state,” Amarasinghe said.

Any devolution of power to the Tamil-speaking north and east, while the war against the Tamil Tiger terrorists is at a critical stage, will be wrong, the JVP has been saying.

President Rajapaksa has, however, said that he wants to “fully implement” the devolution package envisaged in the 13th amendment because there is already a consensus on it. It is already part of the law of the land, having been passed by parliament by due process twenty years ago.

All parties, including the JVP, are participating in the provincial councils set up under the 13th amendment. All that he is trying to do now is to “fully” implement the provisions in letter and spirit, Rajapaksa says.

But the JVP and the Sri Lankan media are saying that Rajapaksa has been under pressure from New Delhi to implement the 13th amendment because it is India’s brainchild.

They see the alleged Indian role as an expression of India’s continued hegemony over Sri Lanka.

To buttress their case, the opponents of the 13th amendment point out that India had gone out of the way to welcome president Rajapaksa’s decision. While refraining from commenting on all other matters relating to Sri Lanka, India’s Ministry of External Affairs had officially expressed its happiness and hoped that the decision to fully implement the 13th amendment would be the “first step” towards a devolution package acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka.