By Tisaranee Gunasekara -
It is now a virtual certainty. Barring some last-second, utterly unforeseeable, development,India will vote for the new US resolution on Sri Lanka. The original resolution has been amended to take on board Indian concerns. Indian worries would range from a reactive lurch by Colombo in Beijing’s direction to the impact an intrusive resolution might have on Delhi’s own ‘freedom of action’ in Kashmira nd elsewhere.
The Indian input ensures that any international investigation into alleged human rights violations by the Rajapaksa administration will happen “only in consultation with and with the concurrence of Colombo…. The provision for taking the Lankan government into confidence was part of the US resolution of March 2012 as well. It had been included at India’s insistence….” (The New Indian Express – 9.3.2013). Though the 2013 resolution is far more critical of Colombo than the 2012 resolution, it is equally toothless; just a slightly harder tap on the knuckles, nothing more.
The Rajapaksas will be irked if India votes for theUS resolution, however watered-down. Tamil Nadu would be irked that an international investigation into war crime allegations was rendered effectively impossible by India’s input.Delhi, in its desperate efforts to satisfy both Colombo and Tamil Nadu, may end up by satisfying neither.
India’s capacity to compel the Rajapaksas to do anything they do not want to died in Nandikadal, with Vellupillai Pirapaharan. Though the possibility of another Indian intervention to save the LTTE a la 1987 ended when a Black Tigress garlanded Rajiv Gandhi with death, the fear that Delhi would renew its patronage of the LTTE (indirectly or surreptitiously) never stopped haunting Colombo. During the Fourth Eelam War, the Rajapaksas took infinite care to anticipate Delhi’s reactions and to prevent any Indian response which would tilt the politico-military balance in the LTTE’s favour. Presidential Sibling Basil Rajapaksa was tasked with neutralising India, and did so, to perfection.
Whenever Delhi pressured about a political solution,Colombo pretended to succumb. Extravagant promises were made and specific deadlines given, with seeming solemnity and sincerity. They would be forgotten the moment Delhi’s eyes moved elsewhere. The APC was a masterstroke which allayed Indian (and Western) anxieties, at a critical time, and camouflaged anti-devolution actions on the ground. A series of few well-placed, but not overgenerous, economic concessions were made to compensate for the continued absence of a political solution.
After the annihilation of the Tiger, whatever tactical influences India had vis-à-vis the Rajapaksas waned into near nothingness. Post-war, the Rajapaksas can afford to ignore Indian concerns because they believe that India has no aces left, while they have two: China andPakistan.
So India is in a bind, caught between an unresponsive Colombo and a churning Tamil Nadu. Last week, Delhi increased its financial aid to Colombo, probably to compensate for the coming Geneva vote. India might announce its decision to back the US resolution early, in order to ward off or tone down the general strike in Tamil Nadu, planned for March 12th by the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO). The strike has already drawn significant support from across the political spectrum, including from Congress-ally, DMK (Mr. Karunanidhi wants the day to be declared a holiday).
But moderation and vacillation are not the same.Delhi’s pendulum-swings are likely to antagonise Colombo and radicalise Tamil Nadu. While the Congress administration would be concerned about the electoral fallout, Indian state would be worried that a seething Tamil Nadu might become a fertile breeding ground for a reactivation of Tamil separatism in the sub-continent.
With every road is fraught with danger,Delhi may opt to do as little as possible, for as long as it is politically tenable.
The Spectre of Impeachment
Given India’s unwillingness/inability to do anything other than play a reactive role, the future trajectory of the ‘Lankan issue’ will be determined in Washington,London,Brussels and Beijing.
Whatever noises they might make for public consumption, the Rajapaksas would know that they cannot come to grief in Geneva. The real danger is in New York, and, there, the Siblings are assured of two Security Council vetoes, at least for the time being.
The outcome in Geneva is important, not in and of itself, but because of its potential impact on the Hambantota Commonwealth.
Currently, the greatest of all the Rajapaksas desiderata is a star-studded Hambantota Summit. President Rajapaksa must be counting the days until he can welcome the British Queen.
He may have his Summit but it might be a far dimmer affair than he hopes for. And if his Commonwealth Dream is killed, it may not be by war crimes allegations (British establishment, given its past and its present, is unlikely to harp too much on that), but by the litany of anti-democratic deeds the Siblings committed, post-war.
The ghost of the unjust impeachment is haunting both Geneva and London. The Bar Human Rights Committee (the international human rights arm of the Bar of England andWales) has lent the calls for a Hambantoa-boycott an unprecedented gravitas by adding its influential voice to it. It did so, subsequent to the Report on the impeachment prepared by Geoffrey Robertson QC, at its request. In his Report Mr. Robertson argues that if Queen Elizabeth/any member of the British Royal Family attends the Hambantota Commonwealth it will strengthen the Rajapaksa Siblings by providing them with useful photo-opportunities: “Royal seals of approval serve the propaganda interests of people like this, and no-shows by powerful nations would signal the unacceptability of their behaviour”.
The Khuram Shaikh case is the other ghost haunting the Hambantota Commonwealth. 15 months after Mr. Shaikh was murdered (and his Russian companion was allegedly gang-raped), the case is languishing in a legal-wilderness. The main suspect, Rajapaksa acolyte and the Chairman of the Tangalle PS, Sampath Chandrapushpa, is out on bail and back at his job. Ironically, if the Hambantota Commonwealth happens, the alleged murderer of Mr. Shaikh will be a special invitee to it, in his official capacity.
Last week Mr. Shaikh’s brother and the Shaikh-family MP Simon Danczuk were in Colombo seeking to jolt into action the unmoving wheels of justice. By all accounts they failed. “Mr. Danczuk said…that senior Sri Lankan ministers had refused to meet him…. The British MP also expressed concern over the political interference in the case…. ‘The case is moving slowly not because the country’s justice system is slow but there is political patronage in this case… There is concern that one of the suspects is alleged to be close to the President of the country….’ the British politician complained” (Daily Mirror – 8.3.2013). Mr. Danczuck said that he will lobby the British government and the British Queen to boycott the Commonwealth Summit.
If the Rajapaksas are compelled to make some behavioural modifications to save the Hambantota Summit, we, ordinary Lankans, will benefit from it. Since the financial burden (and the public-inconvenience) of the Summit will far outweigh its niggardly national benefits, a venue-change/boycott too will not hurt us.
For Lankans, caught in a debilitating losing-streak, a tussle over Hambantota will constitute a rare – and welcome – win-win moment.
*A clarification: I am not back with the Sunday Leader. The paper is carrying already published material, with strategic cuts.