Which country would not be happy if another country said ‘we have a you-first security policy?’ The cynical have the option of retorting ‘most countries would be terrified if, for example, the USA said something like that.’
The world is not flat. Not all countries are equal in terms of financial might and fire power. So when Sri Lanka says that she has an India-first security policy, it’s almost like saying ‘don’t worry, we will align ourselves with your interests and we will not shift loyalty.’ India-first is essentially ‘China is not first.’
India’s Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Vinod K Jacob has found this ‘encouraging.’ Would India feel encouraged to be still more in-your-face, is that what he means? He could be thinking ‘encouraged by the prospects for better relations,’ but we know that countries love themselves, not others. Others, they use, if they can, and subdue if they cannot.
The generous reading is as follows: Sri Lanka understanding that India, having cottoned on to the Belt and Road Initiative rather late in the day, is jittery about China (so is the USA and this is what the ‘Quad’ which includes Japan and Australian is all about), offers an assurance, a good neighborly gesture.’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has responded (and how!) in a virtual bilateral summit with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Pleasantries were exchanged first. They did the we-are-old-friends number. Rajapaksa listed recent Indian gifts, said ‘thanks.’ Modi eventually got down to business. He called on the new government ‘to work towards realising the expectations of Tamils for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka by achieving reconciliation nurtured by implementation of the Constitutional provisions (as in the 13th Amendment).’ This, he believes, is non-negotiable if there’s to be peace and reconciliation.
When ‘should’ is used instead of ‘could,’ it is presumptuous. It’s like Modi saying ‘Thanks for having an us-first policy, but we are not saying “you-first” and neither are we budging from positions we have taken — just do as we say!’
First, the background. India imposed the 13th Amendment on Sri Lanka. India intervened at a point when the Sri Lankan security forces had cornered the LTTE and the military defeat of terrorism was imminent. All this after India had (perhaps worried about the then Sri Lankan government’s pro-US stand) worked tirelessly to harass Sri Lanka; India funded terrorist outfits, armed and trained them. When Sri Lanka took the hits, didn’t collapse and in fact was about to overcome the threat, India moved in. The terrorist threat, which was hours away from being eliminated, flourished for 22 years more. Tens of thousands perished. India hit national dignity. India cost us dearly.
The fact of the matter is that we’ve functioned without the principal product of the amendment, the provincial councils, for several years. No one is complaining.
And yet, Modi pins Tamil aspirations to the 13th Amendment and insists that this is how we get peace and reconciliation! As though India was ever interested in ‘Tamil aspirations’! The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi wanted to Bhutanize Sri Lanka. High ups in the Indian Peace Keeping Force said it was a victory to stump Tamil parties and get Trinco and not Jaffna as the capital of the North-East. It was about Indian foreign policy prerogatives.
India inserted clauses to subvert Sri Lanka’s right to commerce with other nations on matters of security. The accord sought to concretise random boundary lines in terms of a homeland claim that has no basis in terms of history, archaeological record or demography, effectively helping turn myth into fact. It was illegal to boot.
The bill was presented in part to Parliament. A 9-member bench of the Supreme Court could not conclude on constitutionality. They were divided 4-4. It took a Chief Justice (who happened to be a Tamil) to interpret the opinion of the 9th member in favor of ‘constitutional’. The Provincial Council Bill was passed immediately after the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed, as though father and son were birthed together!
Most importantly India failed to deliver on its side of the bargain. India failed to get the LTTE to join the democratic process by laying down arms. The disarming was eventually done by Sri Lanka. So, in effect, Sri Lanka did India’s work for her AND Sri Lanka continues to affirm her side of the bargain as scripted in the Indo-Lanka Accord. A win-win situation for India, a coup some would say.
Modi has told Rajapaksa about a ‘united’ Sri Lanka. He believes the 13th would do it. Well, the LTTE rejected it.
They wanted more. Modi forgets that constitutional enactment does not necessarily yield unity and more crucially, ‘united’ is not a constitutional term. It’s descriptive of levels of solidarity within a well-defined sphere. Modi, knowingly or unknowingly has adopted the Eelamist vocabulary. Eelamists use the word ‘united’ to mitigate antipathy regarding the term ‘federal.’ It sounds like ‘unitary’ but has nothing to do with such an arrangement.
So where do we stand now? Sri Lanka has gone the extra mile (the you-first gesture). India has said ‘thank you very much.’ India has not been moved by the gesture. Had India said ‘thanks bro, you do your thing, we won’t interfere — just leave China out of it,’ it would have been enough.
It’s like taking a hand extended in friendship, gripping it firm, emptying the vocabulary of a diplomat’s guidebook and then using the other hand to deliver a slap.
It’s all disingenuous. India’s ‘Kashmir Policy’ is a cuss word. One doesn’t have to take sides on the conflict here, but Modi’s moves regarding Kashmir clearly haven’t taken into consideration ‘expectations of Kashmiris for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united India by achieving reconciliation nurtured by implementation of the Constitutional provisions so necessary for peace and reconciliation.’
Good neighbours often chat during unplanned encounters at property-boundaries. A bad neighbour jumps over the fence, stomps over the flowers and condescendingly tells his/her neighbours that their happiness depends on following his/her blueprint for success, taking care to engineer a situation where the neighbours are hesitant to form/strengthen relations with other neighborus.
Narendra Modi played ‘bad neighbour.’ It’s not a good thing to play one neighbour against another. There’s a commonly used Sinhala phrase that illuminates: Apita apey paaduwe inna denna. ‘Paaduwa’ refers to loss. So, it means, ‘alright, we’ll take the hit, but don’t worry about it….just don’t interfere.’