A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led team, currently on a tour in Sri Lanka, was reported to have said that India was ready to provide the “healing touch” but it cannot be expected to solve the political problems of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
The political worth of this observation has to be measured in terms of how much healing the ‘Indian Touch’ has yielded over the past 3 decades. Be that as it may, we can keep all of that aside and discuss the options for the Tamil leadership given a distinct pattern of engagement with India that indicates certain assumptions.
Tamil parties that have chosen the democratic option have played a stalling game when it comes to discussing grievances. That kind of brinkmanship is probably prompted by political calculations, especially come election time. Even the militants have played the same game during moments of ‘peace’ for example during the infamous Ceasefire Agreement when the LTTE would pick and choose when to talk and when to pout.
The same can be said of successive governments. ‘Talking about talks’ seems to be politically more profitable than actually talking!
But what is the talk about, say, for the TNA at this time, vis-à-vis India? What has India ‘done’ for Tamil people? It is not known that the Indian government began training Sri Lankan Tamil militants long before ‘July 1983’. Top ranking Indian military personnel associated with the IPKF have come out bragging about how India trumped the Tamil politicians (democratic and militant) to have Trincomalee as the capital of the North-East Provincial Council.
It was not about Tamils, then. It will not be about Tamils in the future either, whatever Sonia Gandhi and others might say and however many tears are shed about what they imagine to be the ‘plight’ of Tamils in post-conflict Sri Lanka. So when politicians like Sampanthan and Sumanthiran rush to India like some child in a daycare centre going to a child-minder seeking permission to use the toilet, they should understand that it’s not about love for a community that has cultural and language commonalities with a politically powerful regional entity, that it’s not even about general human concern for a ‘suffering people’, but long term strategic needs of India that will make Manmohan Singh sing this tune or that tune.
The problem is that the TNA didn’t need representatives of the BJP to show them the light. They know, more than anyone else, that this is about political interests that converge. It is good to indulge in tender talk, to talk about healing, being a kindly big-brother etc etc., but that’s not going to make any difference, because countries are not about softness but hard decisions that draw from perceptions of national interest.
Whatever those realities are, the past 30 years have shown that India cannot help anyone in Sri Lanka. India can make things bad, and has, but ‘healing’ is not something to expect from India. The BJP team has to be commended of course for appealing to something that is perhaps rare in politics, but this country has known an ‘Indian reality’. The BJP team has to be praised for pointing out that reality. Again. Not because the TNA doesn’t know, but because it is important to state the fact. Regularly.