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Sri Lanka has moved on, so should India

19 November 2013 05:14 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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There are some extraordinary implications of the two resolutions passed unanimously by the Tamil Nadu Assembly on India’s participation in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting being held in Colombo this week.

The first is that the Government of India should cease all meaningful ministerial engagement with Sri Lanka in protest against the alleged violation of Tamil human rights. It is not enough, said the Assembly resolutions, for the Prime Minister to stay at home: even the External Affairs Minister shouldn’t grace a multilateral summit precisely because it is being hosted in Sri Lanka. For all practical purposes, the political class of Tamil Nadu has deemed that Sri Lanka is an enemy country.

Secondly, in its anxiety to appear as the great protector of the  minority Tamil interests in Sri Lanka, Chennai has successfully imposed a bizarre principle on Indian foreign policy: that India knows what is in the best interests of the Sri Lankans Tamils than those Tamils themselves.

The facts speak for themselves. After the 26-year civil war culminated in a bloody finale in the summer of 2009, India took the position that Colombo must take urgent steps to address the political aspirations of the Tamil-majority Northern Province.

This basically involved ensuring the speedy and undiluted implementation of the 13th amendment that had been forced down the throat of Sri Lanka by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in his 1987 agreement with former President J.R. Jayewardene.

After a series of false starts and a considerable amount of scare-mongering over the alleged insincerity of President Mahinda Rajapakse, the elections to the Provincial Council in the Northern Province were completed in September this year.

Despite the motivated propaganda that the elections would be rigged by the so-called army of occupation, the polls were held in a peaceful atmosphere. There were no accusations of rigging and the turnout was impressive.

The results revealed a landslide victory for the Tamil National Alliance, an umbrella alliance of traditional politicians and former guerrillas linked to groups that had been persecuted and even decimated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which had made no secret of its belief in a one-party state of Eelam.

Following the election, the Chief Minister of the province, a respected former judge of the Supreme Court, made an appeal to the Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna either before or after attending the CHOGM in Colombo.

The point is worth noting. The democratically elected government of the Tamil-majority Northern Province had not asked India to boycott the CHOGM which was essentially a multilateral event. Instead, it had requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to come to Jaffna to familiarise himself with the changed environment.

This is not to suggest that there are no points of conflict between the Central government in Colombo and the provincial authorities in Lanka. The Provincial Goverment, for example, wants the military governor to be replaced with a civilian representative; the local Tamils are fiercely opposed to the Sri Lankan Army requisitioning large tracts of lands for the establishment of cantonments in different parts of the Northern Province; and there are also concerns over Tamils who are either missing or are in custody.

Yet, while these are emotive issues that agitate Tamil opinion, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula, it is important to distinguish the post-election Tamil politics from the violent separatism that was the hallmark of Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009. The TNA is present in Parliament in Colombo and more often than not works in tandem with the Leader of Opposition Ranil Wickramasinghe and his United National Party.

In short, the periodic tussles between the Tamil groups and the Rajapaksa administration are no different from the conflicts over Centre-state relations in India. These are issues for the players in Sri Lanka to resolve among themselves, without India meddling in the process.

By ignoring the realities of post-civil war Sri Lanka, India is guilty of a grievous blunder. By going ahead with the boycott of CHOGM by the Prime Minister, New Delhi has, in effect, indicated that it is unconcerned with the views expressed by the elected Provincial Council.

More to the point, it has signalled its faith in the extremist Tamil Diaspora, dominated by unrepentant supporters of the LTTE, that seek to sabotage the process of ethnic reconciliation and keep alive separatism.

It is no secret that a section of the DMK is heavily influenced by the pro-Eelam extremists who want to keep alive their separatist struggle through Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK, which is otherwise wary of the LTTE, has chosen to engage in competitive pandering so as to deny the DMK any political handle to whip up Tamil nationalism.
Ideally, the Centre should have allowed the two Dravidian parties to play this self-serving game and proceeded to do what was in the national interest. Unfortunately, so weak is the UPA-2 government and so politically vulnerable is the Congress Party that the line of least resistance was preferred over common sense. It is unlikely that the boycott would yield returns for the DMK-Congress combine in the general election of 2014. The plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils will not be an electoral issue.

However, by siding with the most extremist of Tamil voices, India has essentially delivered a calculated snub to the moderate Tamils who are attempting to regain their economic prosperity and political role in Sri Lanka in an environment that is free of ethnic tension.



" The periodic tussles between the Tamil groups and the Rajapaksa administration are no different from the conflicts over Centre-state relations in India. These are issues for the players in Sri Lanka to resolve among themselves, without India meddling in the process "



India’s meek capitulation to extremism has undermined the Tamil moderates in Sri Lanka and given a handle to the Sinhala chauvinists who charge Tamils with extra-territorial loyalties.

Ideally, India should have a benign presence in Sri Lanka and take into account the deep civilisational ties that link both the Sinhala and Tamil communities to the land across the Palk Straits.

Unfortunately, the weak and short-sighted dispensation in New Delhi has ended up identifying itself with forces that have a vested interest in continuing the conflict on both sides of the Palk Straits.

The writer is a senior journalist
Courtesy Deccan Chronicle


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