14 April, 2024


After The Modi Visit

By Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

The recent visit of Prime Minister Modi seems to be generally seen as a triumphant deployment of Indian soft power, as a highly sophisticated exercise in Indian diplomacy. But I am left with an uneasy feeling about some of what actually transpired during the visit. The soft glove of Indian diplomacy was certainly much in evidence, but I and doubtless many others could sense behind it the iron fist of a regional great power dealing with a small and weak regional neighbor. The assumption behind the deployment of Indian soft power seemed to be that the small neighbor belonged to the sphere of influence of the regional great power.

Consider the implications of former President Rajapakse’s charge that he was unseated from power by an international conspiracy in which central roles were played by India’s RAW, British intelligence, and the CIA. He seemed to be giving particular emphasis to the role played by RAW. He declared, for instance, that he had actually asked for the removal of the RAW agent in Colombo but by that time the conspiratorial plot had been advanced too far. Most important for the purposes of this article is that he was asked – by an Indian journal in the course of an interview – about the Modi Government’s role in the conspiracy. His response was that they had nothing to do with it because the plot had been hatched and set going long before Modi and his Government came to power. For sheer disingenuousness, surely, that response is hard to beat. MR affects to believe, and ostensibly wants others to believe, that RAW played a cardinal role in overthrowing MR without the knowledge of Prime Minister Modi and his Government. The truth rather is that MR dared not make charges against Modi and his Government without being able to produce a shred of evidence. In other words, he made obeisance to India’s power.

Modi - Naguleswaram Temple Jaffna 2015I had the impression during the Modi visit that we were witnessing a replay of 1987. President JR failed disastrously to understand the geopolitics of his time. He believed that he could get closer and closer to the US without there being adverse repercussions on our relations with India. He failed to understand that in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan such relations would be seen as inimical to India’s vital interests. What happened thereafter was that by 1987 the Soviet troops had been withdrawn from Afghanistan, the US made up with India and both joined hands in imposing the Peace Accords on Sri Lanka. JR declared in public that he had no alternative to accepting Indian diktats because Sri Lanka found itself isolated in the world. President MR, in his turn, got closer and closer to China, even to the extent of agreeing to cede a slice of Sri Lankan territory for China to hold in perpetuity, and complains that he has been overthrown by RAW, that is by India. That charge has not been echoed by any other country, not even by India’s hostile neighbors. MR had isolated himself internationally just as JR did.

It is important for the purpose of maintaining good relations with India to try to make sense of the charge that RAW played a central role in overthrowing MR. In recent years Sri Lanka has acquired a geopolitical importance as never before. China is establishing a Maritime Silk Route in which Sri Lanka has a pivotal position as part of a strategy that has been causing concern to India and the West as well. Much earlier India had been expanding its naval power and showed clearly that it wished to establish a predominant position in the Indian Ocean. A conflict of interests between India and China is implicit in these developments, and it would be understandable if India wanted a change of regime in Sri Lanka whose Government was seen as getting too close to China. India could have wanted a change of regime also because there was not the slightest prospect of moving towards a political solution of the Tamil ethnic problem as long as MR was in power. It had to be expected, perhaps, that RAW, the CIA, and British intelligence conspired to overthrow MR. But to jump from that to the conclusion that that was why MR was actually overthrown is a huge non sequitur. It is a hard undeniable fact that the elections were held under the auspices of the MR Government, that the resources of the state were used illicitly to promote MR’s candidature, and that the elections have nevertheless been regarded as free and fair. The outcome was that MR was outvoted by a solid minorities vote together with a substantial proportion of the Sinhalese vote. A majority of the Sri Lankan people wanted democracy and an end to our ethnic problems, and therefore MR had to go. The notion that he was overthrown by secret service plotting is nonsense. We must all hope that the Indian political bigwigs have the good sense to laugh off MR’s wild allegations.

It has to be expected, as a matter of hard reality considering the actual norms of international relations, that India would want something like a predominant position in relation to Sri Lanka. That certainly does not mean the satellisation of Sri Lanka or any kind of attaint on its sovereignty. For decades we managed to have excellent relations with India by observing one cardinal principle: Sri Lanka cannot by itself pose a threat to India but it could do so if it gets together with some other country against India. President JR did not understand that principle, and President MR did not quite understand its practical implications, as shown for instance by the Indian reaction to the visits of those Chinese submarines. In such situations we have to sense the hard iron behind the soft glove of diplomacy. However the new Government should have no great difficulty in working out satisfactory relations with both India and China provided it bears in mind the cardinal principle that I have mentioned and two important facts: there is no reason why India should want to dominate Sri Lanka, and there is no reason why India and China would want their mutual good relations to be spoilt because of Sri Lanka.

The irritant of Indian fishermen intruding into our territorial waters remains, and so does the major problem, the Tamil ethnic one. I found Prime Minister Modi’s position on the latter quite disappointing. Obviously the Indian side fully appreciates the fact that there is a prospect of a political solution under the new Government whereas there was none under MR. Prime Minister Modi quite rightly placed his emphasis on the need for patience and flexibility on the Tamil side. But he also advocated going beyond 13A, not in a tentative manner but quite categorically. The problem is that “going beyond 13A” could mean anything if it is left undefined, including even a confederal arrangement. He also referred in a positive way to what he called “cooperative federalism”, forgetting that federalism has been an F word in Sri Lanka, as indeed it has been in India itself. Perhaps an explanation for what look like faux pas might be found in the fact that Modi has never held office at the Centre, only at the Provincial level, and that as a doer of exceptional ability he is mindful of what more can be done through a wide measure of devolution. That may be the explanation, but it is not the best frame of mind in which to contribute towards a solution of Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem.

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Well presented Sir and many a point I have covered too.

    • 5


      Yes he did:

      He ought to know all the special words Sinhalese hate: Sure they hate the ‘F’ word, and also don’t forget ‘G’ word they hate these days:

      May be our friend Izeth hates the ‘G’ word also.

      Most important of all, does Izeth Hussain know that the Sinhalese hate the ‘T’ word?

      If Gnanasara, and his followers have their way, the Sinhalese will soon hate the ‘M’ word and the ‘I’ word also.

      You know what I am talking about.

      • 7

        On a more serious note:

        OK, let us accept that the Sinhalese people don’t like the ‘F’ and more so the ‘T’ word:

        S, what do we do?

        All these 67 years the ‘T’ people of the island have undergone severe oppression under the ‘likes and dislikes’ of the ‘S’ people who dominate the state and the regimes simply because of their numbers but nothing else.

        So, does our learned political scientist, (is he?) advocate that democracy means giving in to the rule by the ‘likes and dislikes’ of the majority ethnic group, or people?

        This is what they did in Nazi Germany, my friend: Go and brush up your political science or social science or whatever you learned to think and write crap like this.

        Surely, Democracy cannot be the rule of the majority by its whims and fancies!

        • 2

          Colombo Telegraph,

          I have a strong suspicion that CT has been hacked and under the control of somebody else.

          May be some mal-ware is at work.

          Please check your cyber security.

    • 6

      “Aliyaarai valiaar varutha, valiaarai theivam varuthum” is a Tamil proverb that means:

      When the strong oppress the weak, god will punish the strong.

      Modi is a reincarnation of Lord Rama, who visited the island and warned the descendents of Ravana to be just to the Tamils.

      In Hinduism, Lord Siva performs four acts:
      1 – create, 2- protect, 3- destroy the wicked, and 4- bless his people;
      and usually he sends Lord Rama to do the destoying.

      Hope things are settled amicably to restore the historic rights of Tamils, and not let the history repeat itself.

  • 7

    China’s security apparatus is a sleeping giant. China will wake it up if its economic interests are violated.

    As it is, Chinese army takes many liberties with the Indians in the northern borders. Indians can only helplessly watch and let it happen. If China wants something from India they will grab it and India can do nothing.

    India is like a chocolate waiting to be broken into pieces and eaten. China on the other hand is a solid monolithic behemoth.

    China is not interested in world domination like USA. They seem to be at the moment just get on with business, making tonnes of money. Although with what the stupid Indians are doing will change the way China operates. They will begin to buy politicians, destabilise small nations use UNHCR etc to grab influence just like the USA.

    I am a keen observer of powers of Karma-Vipaka – Cause and effect. India had something coming for them for what it has done to Ceylon on account of “helping Tamils”.

    I rekon it has already started.

    • 8

      India under Modi will emerge as a powerful country within a decade and in alliance with the US, it will keep China in abeyance!

      Sengodan. M

  • 12

    I thought you were a Muslim intellectual of a different, refined calibre unlike the cheap stuffs like Rauff Hakim . Now, why cavil at “Federalism” – What is wrong with that sublime concept?, Why rake up issues, unless you want to ingratiate yourself with Sinhala racists like Dayan Jayatillaka, Mahindapala et al.
    Let the Tamils decide what is good for them – You don’t try to define what they need. Leave them alone Sir.

    • 6

      These Muslim “thopi piratees” – turncoats are the same!

      They twist and turn to suit their own interests, or their pockets, that may not be in the interests of the Muslims in Sri Lanka.

      • 5

        This kind of word (thopi piratti) is uncalled for. Despite his biases, it is a good article.

        I personally do not consider that Federalism would be accepted in Srilanka, for at least another 10-15 years. But the more they delay it, the case for an independent homeland would remain.

        After all the losses Tamils have suffered, it would be foolish to expect that they would settle for only 13, which was insufficient even in 1987; now times have changed.

  • 5

    India is THE regional power. So long as Sri Lanka is mindful of same and does not act in any manner that will be construed as anti Indian by India, there is nothing to fear or worry. It is not that Sri Lanka should become a satellite of India at any stage. If Sri Lanka would treat the Tamils as equals and grant them a fair degree if autonomy ( let us leave aside the provocative ‘F’ word here), Sri Lanka could remain a truly independent country. Modi’s reference to cooperative federalism need not be taken too seriously because the level of federalism in India is not too high( a far cry from that of Canada) and India would in no way wish any of its neighbours enjoying a higher level of federalism than itself!

    Sengodan. M

  • 4

    Good analysis and well presented.

    However it is practically impossible for Sri Lanka to maintain good equal relations with both China and India. SriLanka is part of SAARC and all the communities in SL are historically, culturally , religiously and linguistically related very closely to their counter parts in India.

    On the other hand China is a very ambitious power and wants to dominate Asia and Africa if not the world economically and politically. In a way it can be construed that former European empires or current position of US are being replaced by probable Chinese Empire in the making.

    Portuguese, Dutch and British East India companies all started with trade and ended up making many countries as their colonies..

    With these at the background MR regime has made blunders in its foreign affairs as well as internal affairs. So India has a genuine concern with China being the one of the main arm supplier to Bangladesh , Myanamar & Pakistan.

    It is in the interest of SriLanka that MR should gracefully leave the SLFP.

  • 6

    Mr. Hussain has made some valid points: however

    1. In India there are no provinces. In India, and also in US, Australia etc there are states. In China it is true that the ‘devolution unit’ (whether it truly has devolved power is another question) is called a Province. It seems that many authors in this island quite deliberately call the Indian states ‘provinces’, perhaps to belittle them, their leaders, and the powers that are granted to them, and to prevent the Tamils from asking for the same. Not sure whether Mr. Hussain did that deliberately or not, but such childish tricks do not work. In India there are states, not provinces.

    2. There is nothing wrong in Modi suggesting federalism. This old tired argument that Federalism is the ‘F’ word (the writer sounds very much like ‘Dr. DJ’ there) among the Sinhalese does not hold any water. The Tamil leaders could then argue that ‘United’ is a bad word among Tamils. The essence of compromise is doing what you do not like, with the understanding that the other party is doing the same. There are many among the Sinhalese who do not see federalism as a bad thing, and if a visionary, popular and courageous leader sells the idea the rest of the people will buy it. Whether that is the best solution for the island is another debate altogether, but Modi is saying essentially ‘I ask the Tamils to give up Eelam and ask the Sinhalese to give up unitary concept’. He thinks that would be a fair compromise.

    3. People argue that the Tamils now do not have LTTE therefore the Sinhalese do not need to compromise. That kind of mindset was there 30 years ago, and we all know what came out of it. If we do not compromise, eventually violence will be born again. we also need to accept that this island is the promised land of nobody. Clinging to myths which have no historical or scientific basis just because they make us feel good is recipe for disaster.

    4. End of the day, right now we have educated and intelligent leaders among Tamils and Sinhalese. Mr. Vigneswaran and Mr. Sampanthan are comparatively moderate and certainly not corrupt. It appears that Mr. RW and Mr. MS are better than the previous rulers at least. It is the extremists who attack all these leaders. Therefore this is a good opportunity to take the political discussion to a better level. Perhaps the writer should note that his own community still has third grade leaders, corrupt and selfish. I am not against Muslims but this is a fact that the Muslim people should think hard about.

  • 7

    The same Karma-Vipaka applies to the Sinhala nation too, for the brutalities inflicted on other human beings.

  • 6

    Just because the ‘F’ word ( for federalism) has become a dirty word in the Sinhala political dictionary, should we stop using that word? At this rate, even the ‘A’ word ( for autonomy) and the ‘D’ word for devolution and even the ‘S’ word ( for Sharing of Power) could all become dirty words in due course! What is needed is to CHANGE the state of mind associating these words wrongly with ‘Division” though none of these words imply same and not stopping the use of these words. Change of mind may take time, but it has to take place one day or other and the sooner the better for harmony and peace in the country, which attributes all the people in the country will be yearning for.

    Sengodan. M

  • 7

    Sengodan. M,

    If this Izeth Hussain were to ask Salman Rushdie, he will say yes,
    he hates the ‘F’ word too – for him it is the Fatwa by the Muslims!

    Izeth Hussain,

    In the mean time we all have a taboo on this ‘F’ word too, and you know what the freak it is!

  • 2

    Dear Hus,

    Good analysis. I have been thinking on same lines that Modi’s diplomacy was no different from that of Rajiv except that he delivered the same message with finesse and with diplomatic kid-gloves. The congruence of our thinking is natural as coming from two former diplomatic professional who shared similar background and rigoour of analysis and as two newspaper commentators on matter relating to Sri Lankan foreign policy, you, of course, displaying greater wisdom/maturity/expertise. I wish you had developed on the theme you started with.
    yes, you refer to it at the end where you draw attention to the spark that Modi left flying by referring to the end to go beyond the 13th Amendment, which he did not elaborate, but left everyone guessing when he referred to the virtues of “cooperate Federalism.” That it was soon picked up by Chief Minister Wigneswaram reminding one of the Sinhala adage “Pudapu gaman Kapi Yaka”. That is where Modi’s soft diplomacy carries the same sting as Rajiv’s post Vadamarachchi arms drop at Dharmapuram along with “Parippu” drop on Jaffna.(Acknowledgement :Patrice Claude of Le Monde who travelled in the Antanov over Jaffna)


    • 0

      Thanks, Bandu.The ethnic imbroglio badly needs rethinking – Hus

  • 1

    Why Don’t you think that Modi fooled Tamils. Because, just after the 2009, Every major political party in Sinhale said that now Federalism is dead. that is what they said.

  • 2

    Come! Come! Dear Mr. Hussain. For a man who has chosen to release, almost week after week, huge and regular doses of verbal diarrhea of your assumed wisdom on public affairs on the helpless reading public, how come you succumbed to the cheap lie of Mahinda Rajapakse as he claimed “an international conspiracy in which roles were played by the India’s RAW, British Intelligence and the CIA” to bring that familial and extravagant pingadiya and his over-indulging family down. He overestimates his importance. Have you forgotten the same man callously said it was the Tamils and the Muslims who brought him down. As a known paid servant of local and global Islam do you agree with this as well? The self-assumed local Socrates you are, have you forgotten ace racialist Minister PaCha Ranawake claims, in these very pages, Rajapakse brought over much of the Sinhala votes he secured spending Rs43,000 each of public money.

    After all, Tamil and Muslims islandwide, at best, are in the region of about 20pct (around 2 million) Rajapakse was given a bleeding nose by about 6.5 million, which suggests over 2 million Sinhalese did not want him.

    Naturally, India is convinced Rajapakse had not the slightest intention to solve the National Question and provide, at least, some relief to the Tamils even after 6 decades of tumultuous struggle – including a full blown out armed war. That is a recurring headache to India and Tamilnadu – both of which wanted this issue out of their way – in their own political agendas.

    “The elections were regarded as clean and fair” That, Sir, is your opinion. Many including Maitripala Sirisena have an entirely different view. Please don’t bring the overseas monitors into the argument. They are, with few exceptions, a bunch of lotus eaters who only serve a limited purpose.

    I notice, however, you contradict yourself later in your piece and fall in line. But then this is nothing new, is it?


  • 0

    Perhaps Modi will be welcomed in Tamil Nadu just as Rajive did; garlands and a ‘few crackers’, a traditional Sri Lankan Tamil welcome for helping Tamils.

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