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India-Sri Lanka Ties Post-UNHRC Vote – Analysis

“Backstabbing” was one of the countless reactions that emerged from Sri Lanka after India voted in support of the United States (US) – initiated resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The 22 March 2012 resolution called for accountability on part of the Sri Lankan government to the widespread human rights violations during the final phases of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. Since then, Sri Lankan media have reported a rise in anti-India feelings in the island nation, some even advocating that Sri Lanka explore a friendlier tie with China, which voted against the resolution, to counter India.

Explaining India’s Vote

India - Sri Lanka Relations

India - Sri Lanka Relations

India’s decision surprised many both inside the country as well as outside, although the Indian Prime Minister, a couple of days before the resolution was put to vote, had indicated his government’s ‘inclination’ to vote in favour. In spite of that, there was a widespread anticipation that maintaining its good relations with Sri Lanka will ultimately push New Delhi to reverse its decision. At the worst, sceptics thought, India would abstain.

Many believe that India’s vote was heavily influenced by the political parties in Tamil Nadu, although in the past years, especially during the final phases of Eelam war, New Delhi did manage to remain immune from the pressures exerted by the state’s political parties of intervention to bring the war to a halt.

Days before the UNHCR resolution was put to vote, both the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu had asked New Delhi to vote in favour of the resolution. However, to interpret the decision as a result of the influence Tamil political parties would be a flawed generalisation. In fact, before 22 March, experts predicting that India would vote against the resolution, were constantly harping on the rapidly declining influence of Tamil Nadu on national politics. The ruling AIADMK is not a part of the ruling coalition in New Delhi. The opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the DMK, since its massive electoral defeat in April 2011, too has lost much of its clout and bargaining power in New Delhi. New Delhi sanctioned the prosecution of many of DMK’s senior leaders on corruption cases- a development which would have been virtually unimaginable in a scenario when the DMK called the shots in the state. To imagine that this non-existent influence suddenly dictated the government’s decision on the UNHRC vote is crediting both the DMK and the AIADMK with far too much than what they have.

Thus, on part of India, the vote against Sri Lanka was nothing short of a demonstration of independent action. In addition, it was also some sort of a moral and ideological awakening- values that need not be estranged from real politik every time. It was an admission of the fact that a policy of engagement for the last three years has not been achieved in pushing Colombo to do all that it could for the Tamil population and hence time is ripe for a course correction.

Impact on Bilateral Ties

Sri Lankan foreign ministry ruled out any impact of the UNHRC vote on the New Delhi-Colombo ties. New Delhi too hoped that the historical ties would flourish in spite of India’s stand. Even then, a minor impact can not be ruled out. The rise of Chinese influence in Sri Lanka in the form of development of the Hambantota port has aroused New Delhi’s concern about this constituent of the Chinese ‘string of pearls’ strategy. Many in India also feel that Sri Lanka is perfecting the art of playing the China card to extract favourable policies from New Delhi.

Much would, thus, depend on whether India pursues the UNHRC vote to its logical conclusion, in the face of an obdurate reaction from Colombo. Prime Minister Singh had rationalised India’s decision as one that would protect the dignity of the Tamil population. It remains to be seen whether India’s concern for the Tamil population continues beyond the bold decision of 22 March or stops with this show piece demonstration. And for those who believe in the ‘domestic politics theory’, it is a test case to judge the limits of such a phenomenon.

From Sri Lanka’s point of view, it is unlikely that the Mahinda Rajpaksa government would let the bilateral ties between the two nations run into a cold phase. As the dust settles, Colombo would be grateful to New Delhi for having toned down the wordings and intensity of the resolution. It is now time for Sri Lanka to rethink its actions for the past three years. The choice for Colombo is between reform and addressing the genuine grievances of the Tamil population, and withdrawing into a shell- a la Myanmar and continuing the same policies which has brought about the present fate on itself. When a wind of change has started blowing all across Myanmar, it would be highly imprudent for Colombo not to see wisdom in a make over.

This article was also published at IPCS:

About the Author

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray
Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray
Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray served as a Deputy Director in the National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India and Director of the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM)’s Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati, Assam. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the South Asia programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore between 2010 and 2012. Routray specialises in decision-making, governance, counter-terrorism, force modernisation, intelligence reforms, foreign policy and dissent articulation issues in South and South East Asia. His writings, based on his projects and extensive field based research in Indian conflict theatres of the Northeastern states and the left-wing extremism affected areas, have appeared in a wide range of academic as well policy journals, websites and magazines.

17 Comments on "India-Sri Lanka Ties Post-UNHRC Vote – Analysis"

  1. If Tamil Nadu cares so much about Tamil nadu people living in Sri Lanka, why dont they take them back?

    • Please thread your words with thought .This is not taking back tamils . Your Word sounds reasonable if india have pushed them to srilankans. these people have been living there since ages . Will it sound reasonable to say , leave your house and never return back . why are you hell bent on defying the rights of particular section / community

  2. India a much bigger country was totaly subjugated by Brits several centuries ago with only 600 british soldiers.
    After that Indians were fighting on behalf of their white masters conquering and keeping an empire.
    This lack of self respect and submissive non assertive nature is sadly still there.
    Srilankans of all ethnic back grounds detest this.
    One said that in the sub continent we have Taml Tigers, Srilankan lions and Indian domestic cats also known as P–i-s.

  3. It is clearly evident that the West is in the game of reconquering the planet. They killed Libyan leader , who was a dictator, they robbed 200 billion of his money without a trace.
    They regard some kings and Sheiks as democratic and instigate and destabilize other nations.
    India has become their puppet.

  4. Sathya deva….the Libyan leader gadaffi was killed by his own countrymen in an uprising against dictatorship and for democracy. His assets were frozen inside the banks not stolen by the west. The west has no interest in conquering the world….. Are you mad? Or just illadvised? Anyone with any sense will find your comments a joke. Please go and educate yourself on the world around you and perhaps change your friends.

    • The question is are you living on this planet? You seem to be living in a world where everyone considers the BBC, CNN and Aljazeera can only say the Truth and Nothing but the Truth and in a land where people believe that jostick made of western sewege smell good enough to be offered to deities in a Kovil!

    • Andrew,

      There is a clear agenda to reshape the world and each activity or event is twisted to fit the overarching strategy. I dont believe you don’t know this!

  5. I totally agree with Sthya Deva. By voting in favour of USA at UNHRC India has lost her position as a regional power among asian nations. While all Asian nations stood with Sri lanka only India was with the USA.

    This is something that India should get to their account.This means India’s stance over the resolution not accepted at all by any of the asian nations and this gives a clear message to all other nations that if India could betray to her’s closest neighbour, member of saarc infront of USA, Then it can happened to them at any time.

    At last being the respected democtratic leader of Asia, india has fallen to the position of USA puppet.

  6. Gamini Gunasekera Mendis | April 5, 2012 at 3:30 am | Reply

    Defeating the LTTE Terror, did not expect by none including India. The propaganda network that the pro LTTE diaspora has activated globally including in India, does make sure to buy the help that they need to punish Sri Lanka from all levels. In my understanding, India did not help Sri Lanka to overcome the LTTE Terror at all though it has had engaged to help since the inception stage and once with the IPKF that had ended up with the chaos. However, today India helped itself to be cornered in the region where the United States is dying to have some sort of strategic control to tame the booming Asia. India must
    remember that it has nurtured the LTTE Terror giving them exile, training, facilitating their cause, and so on. Also, India has even lost Premier Rajeev Gandhi and still India justify the sin related to the LTTE Terror. Having a solid rapport with the rest of BRICS nations, India can NOT isolate Sri Lanka in this Indian made LTTE issue. An unspoken post colonial complexity of not having a homeland, exploits by the LTTE diaspora to get Global and Indian Tamil sympathy for their cause. India lost its ancestral cousin who always thought naively that India will stand right beside as a big brother whenever it needs help as a neighbor and family of brotherhood. We know that the corrupted politicians like Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi holds India at gun point as a hostage ..

  7. India created & trained tamil tigers,when the IPKF came to Srilanka the Srilankan tamils thought they had come to save them,when they realised the indians had other plans for their own interest, the tigers attacked & killed & maimed thousands of indian soldiers,later on the tigers plan was to have a seperate state in tamilnadu,the Srilankan sinhalese & also most of the Srilankan tamils are very wary of the bully India,the general feeling now is to lean towards China,with whom Srilanka has had an excellent relationship.

  8. India’s talk about Tamil dignity

    Where are the Sinhalese dignity and Mr. Rajeev Ghandhi dignity shame on India?

  9. This writer is in a vain attempt try to garb the Indian decision to vote with the US in a moral and ethical dress while the whole world knows that if India did not vote with the US the Indian government would have fallen at the budget vote as blackmailed by DMK.
    The reason for DMK to go to this extreme was the instigation of Jeyalalitha by Hillory Clinton. This demand would have snowballed in to a even bigger routing to the DMK come general elections. That forced DMK also to demand the same though at a higher decible. Even Jeyalalithas own victory last year was a result of rampant corruption of the then ruling DMK and not any particular popularity of Jeyalalitha who every one knows is no better when it come to corruption.
    Sri Lankans will have real anti Indian sentiments only when it comes to Sri Lanka Vs India cricket encounters. But the way Sri Lankans are treated in south India by a handful of goons instigated and protected by tiger supporting politicians is not funney and resented.And that resentment is directed towards India and not towards TN as we do not concider TN as a seperate country as yet!
    If India is really interested in guaging the anti Indian sentiments in Sri Lankan populace they do’nt have to rely on news paper reports. India has consular offices in the nothern most Jaffna and Southern most Hambanthota in addition to central city Kandy and ofcourse Colombo.
    The chinese card actually is played by the Indian brahmins in the south block whenever they want to interfere,not by Sri Lankans.
    The US and the EU are the major trading partners of the chinese and they also borrow big time from the chinese, then no chinese card and that did’nt deter India from voting with them.
    In the”BRICS” does’nt “I” stand for India and followed by “C”right next to it stand for china? How can India if suffer from this so called china phorbia work togther in a forum like BRICS? String of pearls and the necklace are nothing but coined terms to be used when needed to interfere in others affairs.
    India would do well to show the world that they do care about the Tamils,first by getting the Tamils in Tamil nadu off the clutches of these pathetic set of corrupt,plundering celluloid hero politicians.
    Finally, India should really engage in a fact finding effort of all Sri Lankan Tamils to find out what they want. Not what some in the north want or east wants,if they want to find a solution for the tamils. If India imposes itself on a solution to the north and be content in calling it for Tamils,it will be losing even the square one.

  10. The headaches that Srilanka currently is suffering from as the UN human rights commission vote etc… was created by India,because it was India in the first place who created the Tamil Tiger outfit,to destabilise Srilanka,the Tigers whom the Indians created were not kittens,gradually they went out of their mentor & creator India’s control,& refused to listned to them,because their plan was after gaining a seperate state in Srilanka there next step was to train seperatist rebel terrorist in Tamilnadu in order to have a seperate state in India,if they had realised their first step of a seperate “eelam” state in Srilanka by now India would have been enjoying the fruits of their actions,which they exported to Srilanka,by the way of suicide bombings in Bombay,New Delhi,Kolkotta,etc…& the Naga’s would be claiming for their share of their pie,by demanding a seperate state for them,& the Sikh community embolden by the events would claim for a seperate “Khalistan”& the Kashmiris would by exploiting the situation would intensify their terrorist attacks by getting the support of the pakistani extremist elements,India would not be able to trust their own security forces officers as they come from Tamil, Naga,Sikh Muslim & various other communities,some countries call India the dog cage of the world,& today perhaps not Srilanka but it would probably India who would have had to face the UNCHR vote by killing innocent civillians while trying to put down seperatist elements,in Srilanka a proverb says “Do not poke your nose in to your neighbours internal family matters taking sides or else you would be despised by both,former indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was beaten on the shoulder with a rifle butt by a sinhalese sailor & killed by a tamil girl,as the saying goes “you reap what you sow”,very soon there will be photos appearing in news papers of the Srilankan President smiling broadly shaking hands with Mr. Manmohan Singh,but his mind would be wishing it was the chinese prime minister instead, China was always a trusted friend of Srilanka,the indians are worried about the basic facilities provided by the Srilankan government for the tamil war refugees in Srilanka,but they had to first put their house in order,there are millions of indians who die of hunger,& malnutrion,a french friend of mine described the bombay slums as the living hell on earth,the IPKF indian forces(worlds 4th largest army)came to Srilanka to try & finish the small group of tigers,they failed utterly & lost thousands of soldiers with a couple of high ranking officers, in the face of the other regional countries, the indian army was humiliated, they had to leave like a dog battered with its tail between its legs its reputation as a formidable force was shattered,Srilanka will finally have the last laugh.

  11. Pirabhakaran and rajapakse were simply unacceptable – P. killed Rajiv and and R. bribed him to stop Tamils from voting ( Ranil would have easily got their votes).

    India needs to forget about P. and do the right thing based on principles, i.e.. human rights. Hopefully we won’t have another P. but R. keeps doing things to create another P. :

    1. ”President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to lead a campaign organized by the government to muster the support of the people against the Resolution passed at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva” -MR To Lead Campaign To Get People’s Support, 1 April 2012,

    2. ”The criminal justice system of Sri Lanka is in decline. Across the country numerous reports document that illegal arrests and detention continues to happen indiscriminately. …” – SRI LANKA: A sorry state of affairs — illegal arrests and detention, Asia Human Rights Commission, 3 April 2012,

    3. ”Unless soon reversed, there is an acute danger of national catastrophe that arises from the current trajectory of the Sri Lankan government” – National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, 5 April 2012

    4. Horrible rise of disappearances in post-war Sri Lanka continues unabated, 5 April 2012,

    I thank the author wholeheartedly for writing this.

  12. India should have stood firm like Rajapakse. During the last phase of eliminating the ruthless LTTE terror group Rajapakse had much western pressure to stop his actions. If he did, another 10 to 20k civilians would have been suicide murdered by the LTTE by now. This is one reason why the west is using the UNHRC to punish Sri Lanka. My take is India was afraid of retaliatory actions of the west if they did not vote with them.

  13. Andrew says: “The west has no interest in conquering the world….. Are you mad? Or just ill advised? Anyone with any sense will find your comments a joke.”
    Andrew, you are the joker. If you are so blinded by your own propaganda, there is no cure for you, mate. Look at history, my friend. The Western nations have conquered, committed mass murder and genocide all over the world. Has any other group killed more human beings than Whites? These days they the same thing, but using proxies, vassals, just to appear a bit more civilized. But only the deaf and blind like you fail to see through the thin veneer of deception.

  14. We applaud India’s right action and its courage to ask Sri Lanka accountability of its actions during the end of the war. Tamils will always remember this Indian support along with US.

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