Veteran Tamil leader and Leader of Opposition in the Sri Lankan Parliament R. Sampanthan recalls how the then government and TULF, the main Tamil party, had marathon negotiations for 20 days during 1986 that brought about the 13th Amendment of Constitution.
"The Tamils' struggle for self rule had been in the political arena shortly after Independence. When the accord was signed in 1987, it was almost 40 years. The accord itself was preceded by various rounds of negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil side under the auspices of the Indian government after the riots that took place in 1983," says Mr. Sampanthan who was involved in the negotiations.
Though the agreement acknowledged the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, it also emphasised that the autonomy of various cultural groups should be preserved. There were Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers living in Lanka, each having a distinct culture and linguistic identity, says Mr. Sampanthan.
The accord paved way for the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution which is considered the first significant step towards devolution of powers between the Sinhalese and Tamils.
The accord also favoured holding a referendum, which the Tamil parties opposed.
"If Rajiv Gandhi had not been killed, the matter (ethnic conflict) would have been resolved," feels Mr. Sampanthan who hopes that the government's effort to rewrite the constitution would find a permanent solution to the issue. "An effective substantial devolution will give people a sense of self rule, a sense of belonging to the country, and that the country belongs to them," he says.
Mr. Sampanthan also says that India's interest in Sri Lanka is not limited to economy or strategy and strongly feels that his neighbour remains committed to in resolving the Tamil issue.