By S. Sivathasan -
Implacable is not the word to describe India’s hostility directed towards the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Any and every word in the lexicon can be used to depict the animosity. Geopolitical demands dictate India’s strategies in the Indian Ocean and determine her stance towards Sri Lanka. If India sets about her approach relating to Tamils with honesty and transparency, the latter will have little grievance. ‘Shrewder than thou’ is the despicable attitude that is exasperating. Tamils are not alone in reacting so adversely to such superciliousness.
In India’s reckoning, the Sinhalese are indispensable and the Tamils expendable. In this equation, the former have to be appeased but the latter can be sidelined. If this be the calculated stance, Tamils can take no offence. Trustingly they reposed faith in India, they were lured into it and yet the trust was belied. A misplaced sentiment is an error of judgment. What is intriguing is the continuing farce that is being enacted by India and still more is the dalliance of the latter with an enemy, which has no reason to dance attendance upon them. Repetitively have they spurned us and repeatedly do we fall at their feet. Can an illusory DNA nexus with south India, thwart political calculations and geopolitical considerations? A brush with political nuances can dispel illusions.
Around 1984 Indira Gandhi said, we cannot afford to antagonize Sri Lanka. This was a political pronouncement deriving from her perception in the geopolitical setting. We Tamils yet believe that India cannot antagonize the Tamils. India is dispelling delusions and driving in reality, but to us beliefs are truer.
The beginning point in politics is, know your friend, know your enemy. Sri Lanka made her choice correctly and embraced China. We hugged India and bemoan the enmity. In politics and in diplomacy China wields the rapier. India relies on the bludgeon. Tamils harbor illusions. The invasion of 1987 was one demonstration. To China the economy buttresses the military. Quite correctly China yet remains in America’s pre Woodrow Wilson era. Consolidation of her economy is her primary priority. This phenomenon can be seen as a well synchronized engagement underpinning Chinese policy.
India has failed to comprehend Nehru, his far sightedness and his world view. To India, geographical proximity seems to overwhelm other compulsions. Trincomalee is India’s, is one irrational notion. Missing out the Hambantota opportunity and sulking against China is another. Obsession with China- Sri Lanka nexus is yet another. Demanding oil exploration as of right sums it all. In contrast China is deep and profound. It is little wonder that Kissinger should speak in such glowing terms about the subtlety and far sightedness of Mao Tse Tung and Chou En Lai.
In the Second World War, military strength and strategies apart, it was the US economy together with manufacturing capacity supporting armaments production that defeated Hitler. War in the Indian Ocean will be fought, if the occasion arises, by the respective economies of China and India. It may not be foreseen in the near term. Perhaps a flexing of muscle would do for now. When China displays her prowess in this decade and next, India will have little muscle to flex. Some concoct the myth and quite a few believe that India is on the verge of catching up with China in one lurch and overtaking her in the next.
What was their relative economic strength around 1950? Both nations were almost on par. As of now, the cumulative difference is Himalayan. China is the second largest economy with a GDP of $ 8.250 trillion. It is forecast that by 2030, she will rank first. India is at $ 1.947 trillion. China is the world’s largest manufacturer and more importantly the largest exporter. Her use of steel in 2013 is forecast at 659 million tons and India’s at 77 million tons. China’s use of cement was 1,851 million tons, 56% of world total. India used 212 million tons which was 6.4% of world consumption. China’s, energy consumption was 2,493 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe). India consumed 695 mtoe.
There is a plethora of statistics to support the contrast in growth, the developing gap and the unbridgeable chasm to come about in the future. The figures comprehensively studied can perfect one’s judgment. China has the world’s largest foreign reserves and gold, at $ 3.549 trillion against India’s $ 287 billion which is a little over Singapore’s $ 253 billion. China has also emerged as the world’s largest creditor.
Economic buoyancy has been manifesting in massive investments abroad, which have been judiciously directed towards securing raw materials and energy supplies. Sea borne traffic grew exponentially with two way shipping. Much of the shipping is across sea lanes in the Indian Ocean. It was not without forethought and circumspection that China stated 16 years back “we can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as only an Ocean of the Indians”.
The dynamics of China’s economic growth and the imperatives of security have already mandated development of her sea power. The identified theatre of power play is the Indian Ocean. The targeted transformation is for China to make it the ‘West China Sea’, de facto though not de jure. The programme commenced 10 years back. A single string of dominance runs through all the pearls.
The stringing of pearls has been going on unabatedly. For every pearl, India’s impotent fury stopped with the words “India is concerned”. With China calling the bluff with the war of 1962, words of bravado have lost their veneer of deterrence. But what else can a ‘super power’ do? A power that shuddered at the 4 Tiger planes as a threat to India’s security and declared so! Sri Lanka’s army commander called them toy planes; a slap in the face of India.
Frederick the Great said so succinctly, “diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments”. To Bismarck, building the Prussian army was a prelude to the wars of unification and the diplomatic triumphs that followed. China knows it and acts by it. Hence the great buildup of it’s military might. The army is massive and the navy is formidable. China has the third largest military air force in the world. Defense expenditure at $ 120 billion is 3 times India’s. One doesn’t match the other. Myopic annuals have to be discarded for the cumulative magnitudes of the past and the future.
What is the upshot of it all? With the full complement of instruments South Asia will be treated to a harmonious symphony. It will overwhelm the notes of cacophony Sri Lanka’s neighbor will play. The littoral states of the Indian Ocean know whom to opt for and have already made their choice. The pearls girdle India. Sittwe in Myanmar, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan were not just development projects that were executed. To be added to the string are Marao in Maldives, a base in Seychelles and the future Kra canal to cut through Thailand. These are all designed to secure for China, economic interests and strategic military advantages. Naval bases, intelligence gathering facilities, bunkering and oil storage are among the benefits for China. China’s investments and technological assistance will accrue to the host countries.
A strong factor in favour of China’s management of the polity and her economy is demography. The system of governance too lends itself to prudent and effective social engineering. Her population of 1,350 million in 2010 will go up and then slide to 1,420 million by 2050. India’s will rise from 1,217 million to 1,630 million in 2050. In the fifties when Nehru was asked how many problems he had, he replied 400 million. He added, every Indian had to be fed, clothed, educated and cared for. The year 2050 will have 1.6 billion problems for India. Apart from demographic restraints is the paralysis of democratic chaos. Will the Sri Lankan Tamils be ever thought of either now or then as deserving of attention or worthy of assistance? Will there be even the capacity to offer help?
When viewed in the perspective of global consequences having a cataclysmic impact, the Chinese revolution may rank as the most historic event of the last century. Referring to China, Napoleon said astutely “there sleeps a giant, let her sleep, for, when she awakes she will shake the world”. We see the world being shaken and the equilibrium in Asia being upset. India feels the tremors most. Sri Lanka has identified a weighty ally in China and has latched herself wisely. Changing horses is not the need of the Tamils. They have to dismount the failed one and veer from its presence.
We Tamils hark back to the past, harp on ethnic kinship, prate about cultural affinity, dream of a Bangladesh type solution and continue to live endlessly in a world of make belief.The first imperative for us Tamils is to abandon the ethereal heights, shake off neighborly afflictions, descend to mother earth and awake to political realities. We have to distinguish friends from enemies and spurn the latter. A reexamination is needed of our past perceptions and the conclusions resulting therefrom need to be understood. If the positions were sound they would not have led us into this mire.
The immediate step is to wrest ourselves from treacherous snares and move towards countries worthy of our trust. Valluvar’s advice – do not fear an enemy as lethal as a sword, but dread the enemy who feigns to be friendly. Where do we begin? First the realization should dawn that there are no quick fixes and conversely an understanding that the process is protracted requiring arduous effort. What form should this perception take? Study, more study and yet endless study. Information revolution and knowledge explosion have made study and research easy. A ferment of fresh thought and pragmatic approaches are needed.
Basic to a study of politics is a study of history. In priority will be European, from French revolution through Bismarck and Hitler to the German economic miracles of the thirties and fifties and coming over to modern times. Next is American, from war of independence. Third is Chinese from 1911 and more importantly from the civil war of 1927. There can be no understanding without a study of Mao’s political consolidation and social reconstruction. The sea changes of Deng Xiao Ping are even more important. East Asia is incomplete without post Meiji Restoration Japan from 1868. For capturing power through the democratic process and consolidating it, Lee Kwan Yew’s autobiography is a classic. Volume II can teach the North East how to proceed from third world to first if there be political power. Modern history of India is also significant. Without getting some ‘Glimpses of World History’ Nehru couldn’t have become great.
On this foundation needs to be built, the extensive study of politics embracing economics and the whole gamut of modern frontiers. Who takes the lead? The brightest and the best among the Tamils, in response to a calling. Why so much of study? To chart our course diligently in the labyrinth of politics. For far too long have we – all Sri Lankans — said, politics is a dirty game. When the good left a void, bad specimens filled it. This holds for many a country. Ayub Khan of Pakistan put it very tellingly. For a crop we go to a professional, a barber. To launder our clothes we go to a professional, a dhoby. But the future of 200 million people, we entrust to anybody and everybody who comes our way.
We have to discard the worn out and ring in the new. The resident Tamils with their feet to the ground and the diaspora with leisure and resources at their command have a shared mission. How many are needed for the top notch? We can take the cue from what Lenin said – give me ten revolutionaries and I shall overturn the world. Without losing time, work can be commenced, but the vision should cognize realities and reach beyond fifty years. A cohesive corpus of ideas that can have credence with the multitude will be needed.