Sri Lanka And Its Broken Promises: Time For India To Re-Examine The Issue – OpEd

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By Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

It is hard for a man to keep a straight face and tell a lie but President Rajapakse manages to do it every time he has to face the Indians and the International community about devolving power to the Tamil NorthEast. He just did it again when he had breakfast with Sushma Swaraj on the last day of the Indian delegation’s visit to Sri Lanka.

There is now a huge confusion as to who said what. Sushma says Rajapakse talked about devolution and mentioned 13th +Amendment and Rajapakse through the Island denies he said that: “The Sri Lankan government on Monday strongly denied a statement attributed to Indian Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj, that her delegation had received an assurance from Mr. Rajapaksa on his commitment to the 13th Amendment, and his readiness to go even beyond it.”

Raising the matter of the continuing saga of Rajapakse saying one thing to Indian officials and then totally denying the statement when they have gone, under the headline “No assurance from Rajapaksa, says Sri Lankan daily,” R. K Radhakrishnan of the The Hindu, opines on Rajapakse’s promises “This is an exact replay of what happened with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in January 2012. Soon after Mr. Krishna met the President, the Indian side released to the press, a statement, which said the President had agreed to the implementation of the 13th Amendment (which grants some powers to the provinces) as a means to cater to the hopes and aspirations of Tamils in the Northern Province. Then, too, there was no briefing from the government side. A day later, the government’s preferred newspaper, The Island, quoting the President, said he had not discussed 13-plus with Mr. Krishna.”

This clearly illustrates the sad spectacle, the tale of “Broken Promises” that Tamils have experienced under successive Sri Lankan governments and in this case under the Rajapakse regime.

When is India going to Re-Assess?

Rajapakse talks about a home-grown solution to the question of power-sharing but nothing will ever grow on parched earth; when there is a lack of will, nothing will come to fruition. This is a profound reality that India must begin to recognize. How much longer is India going to wait for Sri Lanka to deliver on its promises?

It has a been a history of “Broken Promises” will show how utterly disingenuous Rajapakse is when he told Sushma that “he can’t force” the TNA to join the Parliamentary Select Committee for “talks”, as though this time round he has under his belt a magic formula that’s going to work wonders.

It is surprising that Sushma and the Centre still believe Rajapakse’s statements and continue on the path of no return, with Sushma calling on the TNA and (the UNP) to join the “talks” emphasizing to all that “until and unless the Parliamentary Select Committee works, the deadlock will remain.”

It blows the mind that Sushma is still placing her faith in Rajapakse and wants him to “persuade the TNA to join the talks,” believing that Rajapakse is ready not only to concede the 13th amendment but would go beyond, meaning, granting “more than devolution” (that’s a new one – I have heard of “maximum devolution” once mentioned by Rajapakse), and that he is convening a Parliamentary Select Committee to “discuss” it.

Sushma hasn’t studied Rajapakse when she commented that he must be persuasive with the TNA. Rajapakse doesn’t lack powers of persuasion, only that he is, on the contrary, not short in that department. It may seem that Sushma, like everyone before her, has succumbed to Rajapakse’s powers of persuasion.

Believing Sri Lankan governments has been India’s folly.

This is Déjà Vu over and over and over again. How many Indian leaders and ministers has Sri Lanka fooled?

This was a worry for most Tamils when news came of the Indian delegation’s visit to Sri Lanka which was reflected in the withdrawal of AIDMK nominee by TN Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. (The DMK nominee also withdrew at the 11th hour), the concern being that Rajapakse would manipulate events in his favour and it will be “an eye wash” and she was right.

“Talks” are good – but when promises are broken time and time again, there inevitably comes a stage when certain ultimatums should be given. It’s time that India gave that ultimatum to Rajapakse.

The TNA leader R. Sampanthan in his response to the position of the government of Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) armed with facts, figures, events and quotes uttered by Rajapakse and his emissaries, examines the history of “Broken Promises”, amounting to a virtual dossier of facts, illustrating in no uncertain terms how hypocritical Rajapakse is and how his assurances to Sushma Swaraj ring hollow down to the very core.

Let alone the history of “Broken Promises” since independence, the TNA leader goes on further to examine the course Rajapakse has taken in hoodwinking the world before and indeed after the war and to fob off such irritants like India and the international community who keep insisting that action be taken towards genuine reconciliation that’s based on a lasting political settlement.

Just three years ago, when under Rajapakse’s command the Mullivaikkal massacre took place when forty thousand, possibly much more, perished and the UN appointed panel later found credible evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity which many believe amounted to genocide, Rajapakse issued a “Joint Statement with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon which Sampanthan reminds, “explicitly contained a number of assurances relating to a promised political solution.”

Since that carnage, such assurances have been repeatedly made by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Rajapakse’s emissary at the UNHRC for the benefit of the international community. In the 11th session Samarasinghe glorified the virtues of a home-grown solution: “We have always said that the only durable and lasting solution is a political process which addresses the socio-economic and political grievances and expectations of our citizens through a home grown process acceptable to all sections of our multicultural society. The efforts in this direction Mr. President have already commenced.”

Similarly Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister, GL Peiris and his Indian counterpart have from time to time issued joint statements “on the on-going dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil parties,” and more recently, in his dossier of “Broken Promises”, Sampanthan quotes Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna who at a joint press conference with G L Peiris, on 17, January 2012, subsequent to meeting with Rajapakse, had expressed faith in the so called “dialogue process”: The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and building on it, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers. We look forward to an expeditious and constructive approach to the dialogue process.”

The harsh reality of this high drama played out by Rajapakse and his emissaries is contained in Sampanthan’s expose of the truth of what really happened at these 8 rounds of futile chatter where the Sri Lankan government “reneged” on its promise to respond to TNA’s proposals: the reality is that bilateral discussions commenced between the government and the TNA in January 2011 and continued for over a year without progress, consequent to the government reneging on its own commitment to respond to the TNA proposals made in February/March 2011.

But the futility of the whole “dialogue process” was beginning to emerge when the Sri Lankan government broke its promise for the umpteenth time when the government delegation at the bilateral talks went back on the agreement that “consensus” reached by both parties at this level would be then presented to the Parliamentary Select Committed (PSC) instead went on to “introducing a precondition that the TNA nominate its members to the PSC for the continuation of the bilateral talks.”

It is relevant and important that Sampanthan’s account of events of what was agreed upon at the bilateral talks be studied for a clearer understanding of how Rajapakse has steamrolled the process by withdrawing his delegation in violation of the agreements made and why the TNA finds itself portrayed as the villain, the reluctant participant of the reconciliation process when the contrary is true.

Agreements made at the bilateral talks between the government delegation and the TNA including events there after and how the government delegation withdrew are explained chronologically by Sampanthan:

  • It was agreed that a number of past proposals for constitutional reform, including the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Report, the 1995, 1997 and 2000 Proposals for constitutional reform and the majority Report of the multi-ethnic APRC experts committee appointed by the President, be brought into the negotiation process
  • It was also agreed that the consensus reached between the TNA and the government delegation at the bilateral talks would be presented to the Parliamentary Select Committee [PSC] as the position of the government or as the joint position of the government and the TNA; and that the TNA would participate at the PSC on substantial consensus being reached at such bilateral talks.
  • The said agreement was recorded in the minutes of the bilateral talks of 16 September 2011, stating: “once agreement was reached with the government delegation at these talks, which can be placed before the PSC as suggested, they [TNA] would join the PSC process.” These minutes were confirmed at the meeting held on 20 October 2011.
  • However, in January 2012, in direct violation of the said agreement, the government unilaterally withdrew from discussions with the TNA, introducing a precondition that the TNA nominate its members to the PSC for the continuation of the bilateral talks. This was not only in violation of the agreement arrived at, but would also have nullified the opportunity of arriving at a measure of consensus at the bilateral talks.

This is nothing new. If there are any doubts lurking in the minds of the Indian people, Sampanthan’s dossier of “Broken Promises” would serve as a testament that there is little hope of a satisfactory “home grown solution” ever materializing.

To say, finding consensus and for that matter finding a “Southern Consensus” at the Parliamentary Select Committee is a near impossible task, is an understatement, and the world is again going to bear witness to a charade. There are substantive issues that need addressing, serious issues that have proved elusive thus far: the vexed question of the extent of the political settlement; whether it would be at par with what the state governments in India enjoy; whether police and land powers are “in” or “out” and what then is meant by 13A+ (that’s been rejected by Rajapakse time and again but has been resurrected according to assurances given to Sushma and again been now denied by him). But the TNA as Sampanthan has always said is ready for the long haul if only a measure of consensus was reached at the bilateral talks. It’s a shame that it didn’t happen.

India did assist Sri Lanka in the war. When concerns were raised by Vaikho and conveyed to Manmohan Singh in 2006 and by Karunanidhi to Sonia Gandhi in 2007, both (Vaikho and Karunanidhi) were given undertakings that they were “defensive weapons” and would not be used against civilians. Rajapakse did break India’s trust entirely; allegations are that Indian hardware including chemical weapons were used in the massacre of the Tamil civilian population.

Having prodded India to dilute the US sponsored UNHRC resolution by securing the clause that any advice from the UN to implement the conditions in the resolution could only be given at the consent of Sri Lanka, Rajapakse must be now secretly contemplating the prospect of escaping a war-crimes prosecution in lieu of an undertaking to India that he would reach a political settlement with the Tamils which India wants; a political settlement that he can continue to fudge. Rajapakse must be chuckling at his ability to out maneuver the Indians albeit with a little help from his brother Gotabaya. .

Then there is the “China factor”, Rajapakse it seems has had both China and India competing for his affections and time will tell at what cost to India.

This then is the sad truth and will be the sad fate of the Tamils if India does not change its policy of mollycoddling Rajapakse. Hopefully a new chapter will begin where India will begin to be less trusting and more demanding of Rajapakse.

India’s trust that the PSC would work is misplaced in the backdrop of the history of “Broken Promises”. I can imagine how the PSC process would work. Sri Lanka will be going round in circles, when a repeat of the shenanigans in the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) deliberations will be acted out again. The APRC met 128 times for three years minus the UNP which refused to attend and minus the TNA which wasn’t invited and therefore not party to deliberations, the formal report of which never saw the light of day although was later leaked to the public by some members.

How much longer is India going to wait for Sri Lanka to deliver on its promises?

The Sri Lankan government’s procrastination serves well its political agenda and that of Rajapakse’s. Sampanthan articulates his fears well in his address to parliament: “Moreover, the trajectory of the government’s conduct indicates that, if given time and space, that time and space will be utilized to pursue the agenda that the government has brazenly undertaken despite assurances to the contrary. That agenda entails the silencing of the democratic voice of the Tamil people, the entrenching of power at the centre and the transformation of the linguistic, cultural and religious composition of the North and East so as to negate the need for a political solution.”

It’s time India understood Rajapakse. It’s time India reviewed its position.

(The views expressed are author’s own)

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