ISSN 2330-717X

Rule Of Law Or Law Of The Ruler?: India’s Stand On Sri Lanka – Analysis


By J Jeganaathan

In a move to sensitize the Indian Government about the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, and to satiate the expectations of an electorate which gave an absolute mandate to her party, AIADMK Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa unanimously adopted a special resolution seeking punitive actions against the Sri Lankan government for its alleged war crimes during its war with the LTTE. The resolution demands economic sanctions against the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and indicts all those who perpetuated such crimes, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as ‘war criminals’, as per the findings of the UN panel report on accountability in Sri Lanka.

How will this recent assertion in Tamil Nadu affect the Indian government’s approach towards Sri Lanka? And why is New Delhi silent on the UN panel report?

The resolution in the Tamil Nadu assembly is a surprising development for political pundits and policy-makers in New Delhi, who have remained silent on the issue of human rights violations and war crimes since the UN report was released. Unlike the DMK government which did not take any tangible actions on the Tamil issue, Jayalalithaa government appears very serious and proactive. Although the resolution has been seen as a parochial political move by Jayalalithaa to damage Karunanidhi’s legacy as a Tamil saviour and regain the confidence of Tamils around the world on her stance on the Sri Lankan issue, it also reflects the collective will of the people of Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, AIADMK’s stand is very well known to the world as anti-LTTE but pro-Tamil in Sri Lanka.

New Delhi’s apathy on the UN panel report can be attributed to two factors – security fears relating to the growing Chinese influence and political misunderstanding of its own domestic Tamil constituents. As a result, the government is facing an intense policy dilemma over the Sri Lankan issue. The China factor is real but not the dominant one. However, the political misunderstanding is based on a blind belief that the people of Tamil Nadu do not share the grievances and sufferings of their cousins in Sri Lanka, having completely lost their sympathy after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Why is the mainstream Indian media so indifferent to the Tamil issue? There is a common fear among conservative bureaucrats in India who still believe that Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka poses a serious socio-political challenge to pan-Indian nationhood and the LTTE is per se a threat to India’s national security and strategic assets. This perception was prevalent even before Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. One should not forget that Rajiv Gandhi was physically attacked by a Sinhala army soldier during his state visit to Colombo. Also, the Sinhalese rejoiced at the death of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, while the Tamils in the Jaffna mourned.

This fear has been consistently substantiated by the parochial mainstream Indian media by toning down the real public sentiments of the Tamils in India. For instance during the peak of the war, the national media censored various sensitive information from the war zone in order to calm down the public sentiment in view of the parliamentary election. Nevertheless, the facts related to war crimes somehow sneaked into the public domain, thanks to internet and YouTube. But it did not have much of an effect. None of the leading English newspapers have given enough attention to this matter. A reputed English daily published from the south gave adequate coverage to war crimes and human rights abuses in Darfur but covered meagerly those in Sri Lanka.

Underrating the Tamil factor in national politics which had actually played a decisive role if not a dominant one during the National Assembly polls would only strengthen the separatist feelings among the Tamils. The pro-LTTE director-turned-politician Seeman’s effective campaign during the assembly elections overshadowed that of Rahul Gandhi’s to such an extent that not even a single candidate handpicked by Gandhi made it to the Assembly. The people of Tamil Nadu have displayed their political maturity by choosing a moderate path of completely ostracizing the Congress Party in Tamil Nadu politics, rather than adopting a radical approach. The Sri Lankan Tamil issue has generated anti-government (UPA) sentiments in Tamil Nadu but not anti-India feelings as feared by many conservative bureaucrats and political leaders.

The UPA government is now under immense political pressure after the Tamil Nadu government’s audacious move on the issue of human rights violations and war crimes. It is unfortunate that the findings of the UN panel report which concern our national as well as regional security and strategic interests are not even discussed in Parliament and hardly figure in our national debates. Even the European Parliament held an emergency meeting to discuss the UN panel report. Instead of understanding the feelings and expectations of its own Tamil constituents, the UPA government along with the media is trying to underrate the Sri Lankan Tamil issue in national politics. It is high time for the Indian government to decide whether it stands for the rule of law or the law of the ruler on the Sri Lankan issue.

J Jeganaathan
Research Officer, Regional Security Programme, IPCS
email: [email protected]

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IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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