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India’s U-Turn On Sri Lanka – OpEd


India’s decision to vote in favor of a United States sponsored UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution censuring the Sri Lankan government for alleged Human Rights aberration during the ethnic conflict has raised several eyebrows.

The sudden eagerness on the part of New Delhi to dump the stated policy of abstaining on country specific strictures in international forum is attributed to the Indian government’s coalition exigencies. After all it is a fairly open secret that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime’s diplomatic maneuver on the Tamil issue has all along been orchestrated by New Delhi despite a standing Sri Lankan foreign policy objective of creating and exploiting a wedge between the administration in New Delhi, dominated mostly by upper caste Brahmins and the Dravidians residing in the southern tip of the sub-continent. Colombo has for long perceived its connection with Southern India as the primary source of a perennial concern to Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity. As gentle persuasion led to nothing but exasperation three years down the line post civil war, the astute Rajapaksa wasted no time in exploring possibilities in the massive victory that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces gained over the dreaded Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Encashing the Sinhala sentiment, he got himself re-elected for a second term and even tinkered with the Constitution to get rid of the bar that prevents him from contesting future presidential polls. As the Indian government continued lending crucial diplomatic support to the ruling dispensation in Colombo, the president seemed disinclined to grant the Tamil minorities any elbow space to function as equal citizens in a country split vertically on racial line. Some insignificant progress based on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendation thus remain an untenable excuse for any Indian prime minister to allow a free flow of aid and assistance running into billions of dollar.

Despite the significant foreign policy adjustment that many believe were undertaken ignoring the present geo-political realities, India continues to remain a principled ally of the island nation. It was at New Delhi’s behest, the UNHRC resolution was adequately amended before adopting a sugar coated version that acknowledges the inherent right of the Sri Lankan government over its citizens’ welfare. However, the Indian leadership miffed by President Rajapaksa’s continued defiance on enhancing the powers of devolution beyond the scope of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution actually wanted to rap Colombo in the knuckles. A cornered regime is expected to be more amenable to a gradual reform process in order to withstand further international retribution which might be even more intrusive and punitive. It remains to be seen how far the gamble has paid off especially when India seems to be experiencing goose bumps over her relationship with the immediate neighbors. Domestic political compulsion have already derailed the growing Indo-Bangladesh bonhomie with a longstanding friend of India like Sheikh Hasina Wajed feeling betrayed due to the cancellation of river water accord. Even Bhutan has gone back on a pledge of allowing India to use her territory for constructing a strategically significant connecting road near the Chinese frontier. In fact asymmetrical power equation has traditionally been a trigger for the smaller nations in India’s South Asian neighborhood to suspect New Delhi’s motive. There is no denying the fact that perception of threat remains historically intrinsic to any relationship that exists between a small and big power. Furthermore, for New Delhi this subtle coercion applied through the balanced UNHRC resolution is expected to yield dividend as far as Sri Lanka’s blooming relationship with China is concerned. The Sri Lankan leadership’s enthusiasm in embracing Beijing and India’s bete noire Pakistan actually made the Indian foreign policy establishment ruffle up its feathers in anger. China’s $100 million yearly military aid package including offensive hardware like fighter aircraft, anti aircraft guns, artillery weapons along with an increased involvement of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence to mount surveillance on LTTE movements did not go down well with the Indian security apparatus. Colombo’s shopping spree across the world capitals for sophisticated armory to consolidate its military strength, allowing the Israeli counter intelligence agency Mossad to have a foot print in the island’s troubled north across Palk Strait and hiring British mercenaries to train Sri Lankan soldiers in guerrilla warfare tactics were perceived to be a strategic threat for India. Through a systematic effort to erode India’s regional pre-eminence, Colombo actually ended up bolstering China’s aggressive diplomacy of counterbalancing New Delhi’s influence on regional geopolitics. Consequently, in spite of not being a part of South Asia technically, Beijing has successfully established its grip over the strategically significant Indian Ocean region.

Given India’s nationalistic heritage and a legacy of nurturing anti-colonialism sentiment, it would be virtually impossible for any elected government to turn a blind eye to the plight of the minority Tamil population in Sri Lanka for long. The establishment in New Delhi strongly felt that a viable solution to the ethnic imbroglio can be achieved through genuine devolution of police, financial and land use power to the provincial councils. However, Colombo’s antipathy toward the West and a growing eagerness to nurture new friends has to be factored into any future policy initiative on this score. Sri Lanka is not averse to tying up with donors in the Far East replacing the Western nations, possessing a habit of sermonizing recipients on moral standards. Also, India must leverage its quiet yet effective role of keeping the Tamil constituents in check during the fag end of the fourth Eelam war to influence President Rajapaksa into admitting the war excesses and have him initiate appropriate remedial action. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to impress upon the point that the fight against the LTTE during the penultimate stages of the civil war had degenerated into an unethical one whereby even civilian population waiving white flags were brutally eliminated. As a responsible State, Sri Lanka has the obligation of delivering justice. Last but not the least, the tendency to hurl vitriolic abuse on anybody questioning the conduct of some officials during the course of the conflict will vitiate the atmosphere further. It is time for the political leadership in the island nation to display statesmanship in rooting out the trust deficit that has penetrated deep into the Lankan psyche and give the Tamils an opportunity to be a part of nation building as an equal partner.

This article was also published at Arab News

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Seema Sengupta

Seema Sengupta is a journalist based in Kolkata, India and a Contributing Writer for The Korea Times, Seoul. Her articles have been published by Asia Times Online, South China Morning Post, The Bengal Post and other newspapers. Recipient of National Award for Excellence in appreciation of excellent services rendered in the field of Freelance Journalism, 1999. She can be reached at [email protected]

6 thoughts on “India’s U-Turn On Sri Lanka – OpEd

  • April 19, 2012 at 8:02 am

    very well written article indeed. I guess the article has not left any aspect untouched. It is true that we cannot overlook the sentiments of our brothers (Tamils) and for that reason India had to take the step against Sri Lanka. Looking forward to more such articles.

  • April 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

    “It is time for the political leadership in the island nation to display statesmanship in rooting out the trust deficit that has penetrated deep into the Lankan psyche and give the Tamils an opportunity to be a part of nation building as an equal partner.”

    Valid observation but incorrect conclusion. Tamil politics in Sri Lanka (not the Tamil people) and politics in Tamil Nadu are race based since early 1900s. Just take names of the political parties across Palk Strait. Almost all political and civil activism in Tamil dominated areas of Sri Lanka starts with “T” and in Tamil Nadu with “D”. The core political ideology is “we Tamil movement”. While other progressive nations have political activism based on political theory/science, bearing party names with words such as “Democratic, Liberal, Labour, Socialist, National etc.,” these guys seem to have stuck in the 17th century. Therefore the question is, not that “statesmanship (or lack of it) in rooting out the trust deficit” but more correctly “statesmanship in rooting out the out of place political ideology”. That is exactly what Sri Lanka government attempted and partly succeeded in. Any one thinking the West is keen in fostering “Tamil political ideology” for the love of Tamils is a fallacy. We must remember they fight tooth and nail eradicating idealogy of Islam. Why? Their main target or catch may not necessarily be Sri Lanka. That was the reason why two foreign ministers (from UK and France) took so much interest in negotiating LTTE leadership surrendering to a third-party (i.e. the West). Had that eventuated they could have nibbled and toyed with many south asian countries – namely Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka – litterally where ever British settled Tamils as cheap labour.

    I do not think Sri Lanka should give in to Indian voice, as long as it is drummed-up in the West. At this point in time India has assumed policeman’s role while orders came from the DIG from US. India, understandably, living the dream of being a supperpower. Good on them. Interesting to see what the future holds and only time can tell. Not long ago Hilary Clinton payed a dedicated visit to Tamil Nadu (not India).

    • April 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Thanks Seenigama.

      It is indeed sad that most commentators not to mention the politicians miss the reality (knowingly or unknowingly). As long as people are discussing theories with their heads above the clouds, the benefits of any act will only trickle down to the people on ground.

      These ‘brainies’ should look at the ground and workout pragmatic plans to benefit all and sundry.

  • April 19, 2012 at 11:28 am

    What’s with’rap in the knuckles’! How is this done?The article is full of such ‘raps’ ignoring the fact that it was India that armed,trained and occasionally led SL’s Tamil terrorists who returned the compliment by (1)taking on the invasion force of the Indian People Killing Force (IPKF)as it was called in Jaffna,(2) killing 1200 Indian soldiers and then blasting ex PM Rajiv Gandhi.It lost its moral stance in SL as it has in many parts of India, not ending with Kashmir.
    Should not write for writings sake.

  • April 19, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    India has never endeared itself to her neighbours due to her arrogance and selfish behaviour. So her action at UNHCR is not surprising. Sooner than later, the restive states will seek their independance from the centre, thanks to the dishonesty of the rulers. Its then that we’ll have the last laugh. All the abstruse arguments in the article are mere excuses for their disregard for the rights of a sovereign nation to defend themselves. India will learn its lesson.

  • April 20, 2012 at 9:57 am

    I am not sure how one sees the the recent visit of the Indian Parliamentary delegation to SL. I already hear the praises heaped on SL by the delegation on the progress made on resettlement. Unless India acts firmly with SL it will continue to prevaricate.Sl needs a good shake up.


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