Sri Lanka: India Losing Patience With Rajapaksa – Analysis


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By Col. R. Hariharan

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is well known for wrongly timing his foreign visits. In the past his India visits were more successful than his European sojourns because they were diplomatically ‘tenderized’ in advance to avoid any embarrassment to the President.

His two-day ‘pilgrimage’ trip, with an entourage of 70, to Tirupati and Gaya after a stopover at Chennai that ended on February 8, 2013, ‘pilgrimate’ visit was also probably tenderized in advance. But this time, it completely failed for two reasons.

The first was the unusually strong and well orchestrated protests organized across India against his visit over allegations of war crimes and genocide. For some time now, Rajapaksa’s hardening stand on the ethnic issue, coupled with the increasingly authoritarian style of functioning has not endeared him to the minorities. Increasing anti-minority activities of Sinhala chauvinist elements particularly against anti-Muslim activities have added to their nervousness. Collectively these developments offered a wonderful opportunity to anti-Rajapaksa and pro-Eelam lobbies in Dravidian parties of different alphabetical prefixes in India to raise their voices against his visit in high decibel.

The significance of the Communists as well as the as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) backing the anti-Rajapaksa protests should not be missed. In a belated move, the Congress party also added its bit to this sentiment. Perhaps for the first time, nearly all political parties seem to be realizing the importance of the issue at the national level.

The second was the President’s statement ruling out autonomy to Tamils three days before his visit which enabled anti-Rajapaksa protestors to gleefully point out “we told you so.” This ill timed statement beefed up the protestors.

Clearly New Delhi was extremely uncomfortable with Rajapaksa’s visit particularly after he ruled out granting any political autonomy to Tamils of the North to resolve the political gridlock over devolution of powers in his independence day speech at Trincomalee on February 5. He said, “It is not practical for this country to have different administrations based on ethnicity. The solution is to live together in this country with equal rights for all communities.”

This statement ripped off the last vestige of credibility in New Delhi’s Sri Lanka policy. Implementation of the 13thamendment in full as promised by him had been the only hope for New Delhi’s ruling coalition to save its face so far. It not only to kept its Dravidian partner DMK satisfied, but also saved a bit of Congress leaders’ reputation already tarnished in Tamil Nadu. The Congress party was not amused by Rajapaksa’s statement; this was evident from the Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi’s January 30, 2013 reply to DMK leader Karunanidhi’s letter on the failure of Rajapaksa to live up to his promises. She said: “I share your concern regarding the disturbing developments in Sri Lanka vis-a-vis the Tamils. I shall take up the matter with the Minister of External Affairs (Salman Khurshid).”

So it was not surprising that Manish Tiwari, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, made an unusual comment on the anti-Rajapaksa protests on the day of the President ended his visit. He said “We understand the sensitivities which are involved with regard to the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils, especially in Tamil Nadu. We are absolutely in sync with some of the concerns which have been articulated…”

His further noted that India had walked the ‘extra mile’ at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (backing a resolution against Sri Lanka) and engagement with Colombo “in no way means that we are insensitive or we tend to undermine the concerns, which a section of the population of India, may legitimately have.”

Not to be outdone, V Narayanaswamy, Prime Minister’s points man and Minister of State in the PMO, did not mince his words on India’s likely stand at the forthcoming UNHRC session on the issue of Sri Lanka’s accountability. He said:”When the UN brought forward a resolution against Sri Lanka, India voted for it. If UN’s recom-mendations are not honoured by Sri Lanka, India will support any resolution brought by it against the island nation.”

President Rajapaksa invariably met with the Indian Prime Minister ‘informally’ during his non-official visits in the past. Prof GL Peiris, Sri Lanka minister for external affairs, met with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh when he was in New Delhi to attend the 8th India-Sri Lanka Joint Consultative Commission (JCM) meeting on January 22, 2013.

Sri Lanka needs India’s support during the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 2013. It cannot afford to take India’s support for granted anymore after it “betrayed” (as some of my Sri Lankan establishment friends termed it) and voted for the U.S. resolution seeking accountability from Sri Lanka. In this context,an informal meeting with the Indian Prime Minister would have been useful to Rajapaksa to put across Sri Lanka’s case for support.

So it would be reasonable to assume that Prof Peiris probably tried to arrange such a meeting when he met Dr Manmohan Singh. We do not know whether he did so. But such a meeting never came through because Rajapaksa neither visited New Delhi nor met anyone of importance except Alok Joshi, the chief of the Research and Analysis Wing who called upon him at Tirupati after Rajapaksa’s Darshan of Balaji. So either Rajapaksa’s visit was intended only as a pilgrimage or New Delhi wanted to send a clear signal to Rajapaksa of its growing disillusionment with him.

Three senior U.S. officials – Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Moore, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Vikram Singh, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jane Zimmerman – visiting Colombo last month to assess the progress made by Sri Lanka on implementing the LLRC recommendations. At the end of it they gave notice that a ‘procedural resolution’ aimed at “pushing Sri Lanka” to address human rights concerns would be submitted at the next UNHRC meeting. This has set the dovecotes of power in Colombo in a tizzy.

If we go by the comments of the American visitors it looks doubtful whether Sri Lanka would be pushed to the wall. They said, “Certainly we have seen progress in infrastructure development, demining, rehabilitation and the release of former combatants. However there are still families who feel that their loved ones are being held somewhere. There is a desire for accountability with regards to extra judicial killings. Therefore there is a need for accelerated implementation.”

Last month the visiting British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt had also expressed similar assessment of the work in progress in Sri Lanka’s post war recovery. He said that he was pleased to see the post-war recovery process in Sri Lanka, though challenges remained.

These comments are almost the same as those made before the last UNHRC meeting when the U.S. sponsored resolution was passed. However, this time around the U.S. and British statements would indicate they would not go beyond what was done at the last UNHRC. So for all practical purposes the U.S. ‘procedural resolution’ would probably be a tepid one, reiterating all that was said earlier giving Sri Lanka yet another opportunity to save its face by buying time.

Can India accept this situation in an increasingly embarrassing political atmosphere in which it has been placed by President Rajapaksa?

The political logjam building up in Tamil Nadu over New Delhi’s passive response in the past is unlikely to allow New Delhi to continue with business as usual as far as Sri Lanka is concerned. So New Delhi will have to take a nuanced approach in handling Rajapaksa.

Under eight years of President Rajapaksa’s leadership Sri Lanka is full of ‘mores’. It has become more inward looking, more authoritarian, more worried about the dead LTTE rising up again and more paranoid about foreign influence threatening its freedom. On the whole, the country looks less confident of itself and the leader less sure than they were when they went to war against the LTTE.

The reason for this mess is simple. Rajapaksa is one of those political leaders who thrive on conflict situations because they see themselves as the slayer of the dragon on a white horse. A man blessed with uncanny ability for political manoeuvres enjoying nationwide popularity in the wake of his military victory, he could have helped Sri Lanka become a free, happy and peaceful democracy where the majority and minority worked together. But he has chosen to be different. An oligarchy is being positioned to rule the country with key reins of power in the hands of his immediate family. He is supported by a political class that respects only power and not propriety or people.

As a result Sri Lanka has become a land of contradictions. Pious affirmation to the Constitution goes hand in hand with the ditching of constitutional amendments to ensure transparency and integrity. Talks of freeing the people from the tyranny of Tamil Tiger terrorism goes on even as goons intimidate opponents and media staff. Rule of law is quoted even the highest officer of judiciary is impeached through a suspect process. Political horse trading has been replaced by political killings as criminalization politics has gained upper hand.

So subtle back room persuasions adopted by India so far are unlikely make headway anymore. It would be better for India to spell out in unambiguous terms its increasing concerns at the way things are being done in Sri Lanka.

For starters such a statement made at the highest level should include:

  • Non implementation the 13th amendment in full as promised, although it is still figures in the Constitution. Remind Sri Lanka that it is imperative to do so as it forms part of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement which is still in force.
  • Expression of India’s concern at the slow progress made in implementing rehabilitation projects financed by India in war ravaged areas to speed up the process.
  • Expression of India’s serious concern at Sri Lanka’s tardy and selective implementation of the LLRC recommendations which could affect India’s tradition support to Sri Lanka at UN forums.
  • Need for adopting non-discriminative trade practices on Indian business to enable the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement to encourage further Indian investments with an assurance to improve facilitation for such a growth at the Indian end.
  • Kick start the stalled political reconciliation process with Tamils by evolving a game plan with a clear schedule of action. Emphasize India’s readiness to assist in this respect.

Then only Rajapaksa would understand that New Delhi has ended its futile exercise of running with horses and hunting with hounds on complex issues affecting India-Sri Lanka relations which are getting out of hand. And the people on both sides of Palk Strait would understand that India means action now and refuses to be a pushover anymore.

Of course, the $64 question is would India do it? Should not the national parties take it up rather than leaving it to Dravidian parties to keep the limelight on this issue?

(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: [email protected]  Blog: www.colhariharan.org )


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20 thoughts on “Sri Lanka: India Losing Patience With Rajapaksa – Analysis”

  1. Sri Lanka is a sovereign state, NOT a part of India. As such, India can worry about it’s domestic issues and address issues that her own minorities have had since long before the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis. Have we forgotten that it was India that encouraged, trained and armed the LTTE?

  2. Since when did Srilanka has become a state of India. If all other citizens can live in all provinces amicably, and Tamils enjoy all rights in those provinces. If Jaffna too is opened to all citizens there is no problem. President is is very correct in saying there is no need of special provinces to any ethnic group. All provinces belong to all citizens. What is your problem.

  3. Rahuila,

    Where the sinhalese came from ?
    The sri lankan natives are Vedas
    Don’t worry very soon chinese will take care of sri lanka, already the nochicholai power plant changed hand
    if we have few people like you in sri lanka will bring the country back in the doom days again.
    your army didn’t win the war india china pakistan US put together won the war

    1. Everywhere I see this comment that Srilanka did not win the war , but India US China and Pakistan won it for us. They even are ashamed to admit they lost to Srilanka, but try to give credit to India and US too. Of course Pakistan and China were our friends.

      1. Banda
        Sri Lanka is playing cat and mous e game with India and US but you all know how often your leaders visit to india and US ?
        More offen
        The reason is china has it own interest than any other countries wants to help Sri Lanka already china took over nochicholai power plant gave yhe loan took the insurance money out the loan let see your friend china is going to help forget about Pakistan they have their own mess but they want to flex the muscle with india this is the only reason Pakistan is your part time friend they have more terrorist then any other countries in Asia
        Get your fact correct your leader Gota promised to US and now entire country on a hook

  4. Sinhalese should go back first to their home land Bengal, from where the first Sinhalese king Vijay , a Bengali settled in Ceylon and established Sinhalese kingodom, Tamils established their kingdom in Jaffna

    1. Your knowledge of Sri Lankan history leaves a lot to be desired. Ever read about Kuveni and the indigenous Sinhala people who lived on the Island when Vijaya arrived?

  5. Compilation of this write-up is nothing but a politically motivated one to buttress India’s efforts to admonish Sri Lanka for aligning with a world superpower China; which is a threat to India and then the West. Sri Lanka’s fast progress with Chinese financing and related technology is India’s headache. Sri Lankan Tamil issue is just a side show by govt. of India because Tamil Nadu is working hard to breakaway. The UNHRC review is a trivial issue which is not even a drop in India’s so called bucket with a massive hole. At the end of the day Sri Lanka shall prevail and India may mean action now but will have to learn to respect sovereignty of all the countries neighbouring her. Also, in the future India will need Sri Lanka much more than the Western interests.

  6. India was the country that trained, armed and let loose Tamil terrorists on SriLankan trritory.It is SriLanka that is losing patience with India for continuing to support only the Tamils living in SriLanka and also harbouring Tamil separatist activists in Tamilnadu.

  7. Dear Col. Hariharan,
    For starters, I think you have confused your timeline of certain events. President Rajapakse made his Independence Day Speech on the 4th ( not on the 5th as you have stated)February, 2013.
    You stated,”…The Congress party was not amused by Rajapaksa’s statement; this was evident from the Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi’s January 30, 2013 reply to DMK leader Karunanidhi’s letter on the failure of Rajapaksa to live up to his promises”. Sonia Gandhi’s reply was almost a week prior to President Rajapakse’s statement. She could not have known what Rajapakse was going to say on the 4th of February, when she responded to Karunanidhi’s letter on the 30th January, 2013.

  8. Please correct me if I am wrong. Is this the guy who spredicted that the SL Army would not be able to take Kilinochcci from the LTTE?

  9. Iyooo.. for how long India is going to just keep expressing its concerns at highest level.

    For Sri Lank, india looks like a big joke.

    Rajapaksa is telling india in its face they are not going to do any political settlement.
    Is it bit hard for indian government to understand ?

    this kind of diplomacy stopped working long time
    ago. Chinese are in control in sri lanka.

  10. Recovery and Reconciliation for Tamils in Sri Lanka is only on paper. Its a trick word used by the Sri Lankan Government to keep away others but how long they can hide the truth? I’m another witness for Sri Lanka’s Genocide. The previous SL Govs also did the same thing but Mahinda broken the record. LTTE issue came in 30 years ago but the Tamil Political Leaders already raised their national issues with the majority Sinhalese over 60 years ago. You must see the history before LTTE as the Tamil political leaders signed many Pacts with the previous SL Govs but all torn off/failed to implement by the Govs. So Mahinda is not the only one! A true and honest permanent political solution for Tamils must be seen through International Independent Investigation.

  11. This is a very biased analysis . Author has completely omitted how LTTE problem initiated in Sri Lanka and started analyzing the end. Since this author is well connected with Sri lankan ethnic problem since late 70s , he should keep his concise clear.

  12. quote..”So subtle back room persuasions adopted by India …..blah blah blah.”..unquote. Who is India to spell out anything to us? We, in Srilanka, know what we are doing with our country. And we have a leader who has the courage of his convictions. That is the right of a sovereign state.

  13. We can argue till the cows come home. Every Tom Dick and Harry in Sinhala Desam have to read the history of Ilam thoroughly. There is a tendency for people in Sinhala Desam speaking without good references. Tamils were of course were the first to land in SL. The distance between Rameswaram and Thalai Mannar is only 18 Kilometers. The Mongolians travelled from Mongolia to Alaska during winter and further to South America. So stop the foolish argument. New so called discovered lands were occupied by whites and natives were pushed to the corner, later losing their homeland. How many Tamils have become Sinhalese in the South? Many! Of course the silly so called monks can tell good stories including JHU. The Bandaranaikas were Pandarams working Hindu Tamils for the Brahmins. Salagamas who are Chinamon tappers are from Kerala who migrated to Sink. I can go on. So stop mentioning all these new info plucked from thin air. Just give Tamil Eelam (North and East merged) to the Tamils.

  14. What do these Indians think of themselves to be? “Losing patience”? What can India do anyway? Some “cardboard” super power per se. What India needs is educating its illiterate masses and then to try and contain immense problems that exist within the country – i.e.: Tamil Nadu, Kashmir, threats from Maoists from Nepal and guarding from Tibet and then having to keep ducking the super power China are more important than playing unaffordable political scenes internationally by tagging on to the West. It is high time that India puts false illusions aside and wake up to realities on the ground rather than mislead by the West that drives wedges between friendly nations in Asia – that “divide and rule” policy they excel in.

  15. sorilanka was and is never a freind of INDIA.

    My Dear Indians

    in 1965 war – srilanka supported China
    in 1972 war – they allowed pakistan planes to refuel in colombo..

    We indians were betrayed by lanka many times…so it is worth we all PEE that island and make the sinhala drown

    or just divide the island Tamil Eelam and Moodaiya desha ……

  16. i am an indian first and an indian last but that does not mean that i should obscure facts to overplay my indian identity because that would be jingoism and not patriotism. col. hariharan is a tamil first and an indian second. the fact is sri lanka has decimated an insurgency while india remains a land of million mutinies. so we, as indians have a major lesson to learn from colombo. have we learnt any ? NO. why did indira gandhi create the LTTE ? because colombo was in talks with the US to lease the Trincomalee harbour to the US navy to whose detriment ? India’s. India’s tea exports had fallen while that of ceylonese tea had risen ? sri lanka’s sociological and HDI indicators were among the best in south asia but the LTTE ruined these all. in the 1950′s there was a strong Tamil movement in india calling for separation. do we know the whole story how the movement was diverted to sri lanka? even now, tamils of sri lanka and india contest bitterly for fishing areas. why are they bickering about as they can easily reconcile, being tamils? myopic imperatives forced indira to create the LTTE, which eventually devoured rajiv. i can continue digging out such historical tidbits. suffice it to say, col. hari should apply his specialist brain the indian way, not the tamil way. only then shall india emerge as a superpower.one has to dilute his/her regional/ethnic identity to be an indian of the highest order to be of the kind of netaji subhas bose. when will india see his like again? Jai Hind !

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