By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
“Today, terrorism has become the major impediment to development and threatens us all. No cause justifies the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians. Yet there are countries that still use it as an instrument of state policy. We must show zero tolerance for State-sponsored terrorism. The perpetrators, organizers, financiers, and sponsors of terrorism must be isolated and face action of all societies that cherish freedom.”
So said Indian Law and Justice, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, ironically, when he delivered the annual Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture titled ‘The Evolution of India’s Constitution and Democratic Polity,’ at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIRSS), in Colombo on January 15.
Veteran Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar fell victim to the bullet of an LTTE assassin on August 12, 2005. The killer belonged to one of the several terrorist groups nurtured, housed, trained, equipped and sent to Sri Lanka by India to promote separatism.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an accomplished and skilled international civil servant, former Minister of State for External Affairs later Minister of State for HRD and current Member of Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, delivered the keynote address at Dinesh Weerakkody’s book launch ‘Ranil Wickramasinghe: A Political Biography’ in April 2017.
Tharoor waxed eloquent on the need for the “geographical proximity of the two nations to become a reason for closeness rather than controversy”, the need for “the past to remind us not of recent pain but of ancient commonalities” and “religion and culture bringing us together in a celebration of our common heritage.”
Speaking of India’s “legitimate concerns”, Tharoor’s next few lines were perhaps the most crucial in his delivery. He stated, “This is not a case of New Delhi interfering gratuitously in the internal affairs of its southern neighbor. India cannot help but be involved, both because it is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor geographically and because its own Tamil population—some 70 million people in the politically important southern state of Tamil Nadu—remains greatly concerned about the well-being of their ethnic cousins across the Palk Straits.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India accepted an invitation to attend the 14th International Vesak Day celebrations as the chief guest. Despite the religious significance of the occasion, in his address at the BMICH on May 12, 2017, he did not miss the opportunity to remind Sri Lanka, “whether it is on land or in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible.”
Modi, in his address in 2017, and the present Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka during his function to celebrate the anniversary of India’s Republic Day on January 26 went to great lengths to remind Sri Lankans of the various Indian projects and development assistance of US$ 2.76 billion, with over US$545 million as outright grants.
Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Lakshman Kiriella, during the debate on the second reading of the 2018 budget stated, the country may have incurred a loss of more than USD 400 billion because of the 30-year war. What his researchers failed to calculate was the quantum of funding provided by the Indian Union government through its counterintelligence service RAW and the state government of Tamil Nadu to the LTTE besides the amount Sri Lanka could have saved if not for Indian intervention.
Indian statesmen, ministers, politicians and even intellectuals from the various think tanks all justify the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Sections of the Indian media have been an exception.
Air Vice Marshal (Retd) AB Sosa, then an Air Commodore and Director Ground Operations (Palaly airbase too had been under his purview) vividly recalls the Indian intervention which halted ‘Operation Vadamarachchi’ followed by the food drop in Jaffna. During a visit to the Katunayake airport, he had found it transformed to a virtual Indian Air Force base. At the same time, Indian naval assets could be seen from the Galle Face green, anchored outside the Colombo harbor with troops for deployment, in case President Jayawardena retracted from signing the Indo-SL Accord.
Shashi Tharoor’s “legitimate Indian concerns” and “ India cannot help but be involved, both because it is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor geographically and because of its own Tamil population” as well Modi’s “whether it is on land or in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible” need be understood in the context, Indian culpability will never be admitted, besides the fact it will not hesitate to repeat its past performance in the future, if it is deemed necessary.
It is paradoxical for Minister Prasad to speak of “zero tolerance to state-sponsored terrorism”. The 386 pages of ‘Assignment Colombo’ authored by the then Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka JN Dixit (1985-89) and the two accompanying visuals are but samples of Indian “state-sponsored terrorism” (by both Union and state governments). In such a backdrop, his memorial lecture sounded hollow.
Some might say, “That was the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi.” Some others might say, “What can Prasad, Tharoor, Modi or any other do for Rajiv Gandhi’s misdeeds?” This writer begs to differ. Germany apologized for decades for Nazi atrocities. South Korea and China, despite several apologies by Japan, till this date demand a more suitable apology and reparations for crimes committed by the Japanese during WWII. Congress, BJP or any other government must accept culpability for past Indian misdeeds.
India did provide valuable intelligence assistance during the last few years of the conflict.
However, today is not about India but of Sri Lankan society.
Lakshman Kadirgamar was an illustrious son of Sri Lanka. He undoubtedly was the one and only able Foreign Minister to occupy that office since independence and win the respect of other foreign ministers and world leaders across the globe. He never resorted to servility. His sterling contribution in placing Sri Lanka’s case against Tamil terrorism in the international arena should rightfully earn him a place on the nation’s list of national heroes.
Prominent personalities in the audience included the Chief Justice, Leader of Opposition (also leader of the Tamil National Alliance who recognized the LTTE terror group as the sole representatives of Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka till May 18, 2009), Attorney General, at least two former Foreign Secretaries and the current Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. Several former Sri Lankan Ambassadors too had been present.
The absence of virtually the entire political leadership from both sides of the divide at the event was heart-rending, the most notable being the former lady President. Kadirgamar served as her Foreign Minister twice over a period of eight years. The President was his cabinet colleague from 1997. Other than the current Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana who was present possibly in his capacity as Chairman of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, no other cabinet minister deemed it fit to attend the event. Past Foreign Ministers, including one who turned up at the airport to welcome a lowly US Asst. Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, too failed to turn up.
An acquaintance, while discussing the subject mentioned the possibility of politicians being heavily involved in electioneering. Facts indicate otherwise.
The recent event “Bollywood and Beyond” musical evening, organized by the Indian High Commission to celebrate India and Sri Lanka @ 70 on January 17, 2018, was graced by the President, Prime Minister, the Speaker, former President CBK, many Ministers, MPs and members of civil society.
The Reception hosted by the Indian High Commissioner at ‘India House’ on January 26 to mark the 69th Republic Day of India was attended by the high and mighty. According to media reports, attendees included the President, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition, Ministers Sarath Amunugama (official representative of Sri Lanka), Rauf Hakeem, Malik Samarawickrama, State Minister Vasantha Senanayake, one-time Foreign Minister and current Governor of Eastern Province Rohitha Bogallagama, former minister Wijedasa Rajapakse and Ven. Athuraliya Rathana Thero among others.
Remarks by Minister Prasad on state-sponsored terrorism during the annual memorial lecture to honor one of Sri Lanka‘s most celebrated sons in recent times, assassinated by a terrorist group aided and abetted by India for decades exceed the boundaries of diplomacy and statesmanship.
The obsequious acceptance by those in the audience and their inability to indicate their disapproval in an appropriate manner indicates a lack of moral integrity to stand up for one’s convictions.
The nation owes Lakshman Kadirgamar a debt of gratitude. Inability to find time to honor such a person while making time for musical events organized by foreign missions and national day receptions is a case of mixed-up priorities.
To continue to invite dignitaries from across the Palk Strait to grace occasions, politely listen and applaud their lectures with distorted facts besides thinly-veiled threats concealed in meaningless platitudes is behavior entirely without pride and dignity.
These are distinct signs of an abject society.