By Ashik Bonofer
The “inclination” of the Government of India to support the US sponsored resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which goes for voting on 23rd March, comes as a surprise to most Sri Lankan watchers in India and abroad. Knowing India’s stand all through, this time again the general feeling is that India would support Sri Lanka in the Human Rights council similar to its earlier stance since the end of Eelam War IV. Although India has expressed inclination to support the US resolution, it has also cautioned that it would wait until it receives the full copy of the text of the resolution. Is this stand by India final or is it just a ploy to reduce tensions created by the political parties in Tamil Nadu? What were the circumstances that pushed for change in its stand? What will be the repercussions of this new stand by India? The following discussion attempts to find some answers to these important questions.
India’s decision though unexpected is timely when its support is crucial for arm twisting the Sri Lankan Government to address the issue of accountability, war crimes committed during the Eelam War IV and also expediting the process of reconciliation, which the Sri Lankan Government has delayed for years. India’s support to the resolution will also provide a boost to other nations in the Human Rights Council to support the resolution. Will India’s support make difference, which the US has not been able to achieve? Until now this resolution was seen as a western diktat to the developing world, especially on the issue of human rights. Most African and other developing states were uncomfortable with this diktat hence required a non-western front nation to lead the way. With India supporting this resolution, there is a chance that other developing nations will soon follow suit.
What was the reason for India to change its stand? For the past two years and more, Indian government has been supporting and protecting the Sri Lankan government in various international forums. India gave its unconditional support to Sri Lanka despite the pressure from the political parties and human rights groups from Tamil Nadu and aboard. Foreign Minister’s statement in the Parliament last week and also Prime Minister’s letter to the DMK chief was ambiguous on India’s stand at the Human Rights Council. But circumstances in the Indian polity in the last one week have proved that Congress should take its allies demands serious. Starting with Congress’s poor show in Utter Pradesh elections followed by West Bengal Chief Minister’s demand to remove the Railway Minister and finally DMK leader’s threat to withdraw support to the government has all added fears to Congress leadership of its dwindling support base. With grim prospects of losing support of its allies it appears that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to change his stand.
Is DMK’s threat the only reason for Congress to change its stand? Threat from DMK is not new to Congress. A similar threat was also issued at the time of the arrests of Mr. Raja and Ms. Kanimozhi in the 2G scam but with no avail. But this time the pressure there was from all sides. Also the Congress’s waning popularity in Tamil Nadu could be another reason. The Tamil Nadu Congress for a change is seen proactive in their stand on the Sri Lankan issue. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) President B.S.Gnanadesikan issued a press release on 18th March that the TNCC would continue to demand for support to US sponsored resolution with the Central government. By this stand the Congress hopes to rectify its poor performance in the past elections. Whether the voters would fall for this ploy can only be answered by time.
What would the repercussions be for India from this new stand? India’s new stand must have already shaken the apple cart. Relations between both the countries will be at the flow for some more time. There is a chance that Sri Lanka will turn to China and Pakistan for support and would go the extra mile to prove to India that it can counter India’s influence in the region with the support of both these nations. There is also chance that Sri Lanka would provide China easier access into Indian Ocean with more projects and closer economic relations. While all these could have an effect on India’s larger security parameters, India’s new stand will help in boosting its global moral image on human rights concern. Security issues can easily be handled considering India’s regional supremacy. But India should not miss this opportunity to prove to the world her high moral standards and prove to the external world that India continues to be the leader of the developing world.
(Ashik Bonofer is a Research Fellow with Center for Asia Studies, Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected])