Not since the 'anti-Tamil pogrom' has Sri Lanka rocked the Indian Parliament as of now on the upcoming UNHRC vote. As irony would have it, the Indian communists are on the side of the US, possibly for the first time ever, that too on affairs of international relations. The Tamil Nadu State Congress leadership has also gone with the prevailing regional political sentiments, publicly urging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take a position in favour of the US resolution in the UNHRC. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the other national party, also has taken a similar position.
Yet, the UNHRC vote is not a vote on emotions, but on competitive diplomacy, where last-minute deals are struck and compromises made. To assume that an Indian vote would tilt the resolution one way or the other is borne again by sentiments, which has no place in the UN scheme other than in terms of what is chosen to be debated -- and not on how the debate concludes. That is based on bloc politics, which used to be between the two super-powers during the 'Cold War' era and is in a way in search of a new modus, since.
Sri Lanka has been playing its card close to its chest. As critics of the Indian Government in India has been pointing out, in 2009, New Delhi joined hands with Beijing and Pakistan to propose a pro-Sri Lanka counter-resolution after the European Union resolution fell through (with five of the proposing nations not voting in favour of their resolution). A counter-resolution, with or without India, is still a possibility. Sri Lanka already has with it Russia, China and Pakistan on its side. A counter-resolution (also involving the three) would have more takers if the US draft fails to capture the imagination of voting members. A compromise, resolution or not, too is a possibility -- and India seems to be keeping its options open for and on such a possibility, too.
The initial Government response to protests in Parliament and pronouncements from political leaders in Tamil Nadu needs to be understood in this context. Prime Minister Singh, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, as the Leader of the Lok Sabha, have variously explained the Government's position more forthright than would have been expected of them. By declaring that no date has as yet been set for the vote at Geneva, New Delhi has indicated its understanding of the criticality of the coming days to the UNHRC process, and for India-Sri Lanka relations, too.
Concern for Tamils, of
The vote at UNHRC is not about sentiments, or about India's willingness to be identified even more with the Tamils in Sri Lanka than over the decades. Increasingly, the Indian concerns have to be different for the Tamils of Sri Lanka than of the Tamil Diaspora groups that are working overtime against the Government of India as well as the Government in Colombo. It is not about a particular party or leadership in New Delhi, but about India as a nation, and Indians as a people, going beyond linguistic and ethnic distinctions.
Contemporary India has been witness to varying degrees of ethnicity-based nationalism emerging in different parts of the country. The polity and a section of Tamil Nadu have been arguing the case of their Sri Lankan brethren going beyond their own continuing identification with the Indian State. This time last year, Tamil Nadu was agitated over Tamil fishermen from Sri Lanka, and not the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN), attacking their fishers in mid-sea.
What it means for
The complexity of the current situation at Geneva, if not handled with care and sensitivity in and by India, could lead to a situation where New Delhi would have lost Colombo for good. On a parliamentary discourse on neighbourhood diplomacy or strategic security, the very same political parties, particularly of the national and nationalistic varieties, could then blame the Government of the day at the Centre for goofing up bilateral ties with an important and friendly nation like Sri Lanka. This could happen in any of the upcoming sessions of Parliament, if not in this very Budget session.
It is anybody's guess why the US, despite being an acknowledged strategic ally and defence partner of India in the post-Cold War era, as designated by the Manmohan Singh Government, should be taking independent positions on sub-continental issues whose end-results are to embarrass New Delhi, no end -- both inside and outside the country. Any forced exit of India from Sri Lankan strategic and political calculations would mean that US would be in direct charge of the non-Chinese, non-Russian engagement in that part of the Indian neighbourhood, too. By going along with the US, purportedly behind the back of Moscow, on these alliance relationships and on the civilian nuclear deal, India may have already lost a trusted and trust-worthy ally.
N Sathiya Moorthy