By Kumar David –
The consensus here, as in India, is that Congress will be defeated in the general elections due in about April next year, that the BJP will win, and that Nardendra Modi will be prime minister. The last named is a dreaded prospect because of his reputation as a Hindu extremist and the Chief Minister who preferred not to stop the slaughter of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat. There are several in Lanka who are apprehensive of the possibility of a BJP-Modi Administration; Sinhalese and the Rajapakse Government, Tamils and the TNA, and of course Muslims. Interestingly it seems to me it is the local Muslims, unlike their Indian counterparts perhaps, who are least upset.
State elections, especially the outcome in Delhi and Rajasthan, feature the writing on the wall in big bold letters. For India, the consequences will be more far reaching than just the defeat of Congress and the end of Manhohan Singh’s career; it may terminate the Sonia monarchy and see Rahul’s futile foray into politics drowned in misery. I will say no more of the view from across the Palk Strait; Indian readers will have better judgements.
The Rajapakse Government is hopeful, wrongly in my judgement, that replacement of Congress by the BJP and Singh by Modi will ease pressure on Colombo. This is imprudent Sinhalese mass perception; those on the inside of government, especially Foreign Minister and President, know that Delhi under Congress was a reliable friend during the war without whose discreet but vital assistance the LTTE would have been more difficult to sink. Sink! No, I am referring to more than armament shipments, but also to logistics and diplomatic support. Colombo’s hope may be that in the period ahead, Delhi under Modi will not join in tightening the international noose around Colombo’s neck in the human rights scene. The opposite may be the case if Jayalalitha sits in a BJP-lead cabinet; even otherwise it is unlikely that investment hungry, market besotted Modi will defy the West for the sake of . . . for the sake of what? Hence the Lankan regime’s uncertainty and apprehension is understandable and for sure it is shifting its bets around with much agitation.
The Tamils and the TNA are no doubt also shifting their bets in confusion. If the BJP wins, their hopes are pinned on Jayalalitha and her AIADMK. She may have a cabinet seat, perhaps one that can influence policy orientation to Lanka. Even otherwise, if the BJP fails to secure an absolute majority, the AIADMK may be an indispensable partner in a coalition. Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran should kick himself for his stupidity shooting his mouth off in September criticising Jayalalitha and Tamil Nadu for “sticking their fingers into Lankan Tamil concerns”. The TNA should give him a dressing down and arrange classes to explain that politics, unlike a judicial posting, is multifaceted and complex. Don’t get me wrong, I wish Vigneswaran and his Administration the best, but early blunders must be firmly nipped in the bud.
Still the question remains, Jayalalitha, AIADMK and Tamil Nadu notwithstanding; will a BJP-Mody Administration play a different tune at future UNHRC meetings, and in respect of human rights issues involving the Rajapakse regime? I have expressed my view that this will not be the case, but let us look at the other side of the coin. Two factors will be important; the China card and how long lived and stable the Rajapakse regime is judged to be. The BJP is likely to judge that Congress has screwed up India’s strategic interests in the Indian Ocean and this is a golden opportunity wipe the slate clean and bum the Rajapakses for strategic gains. This is possible though the New Delhi mandarins and Indian intelligence agencies are likely to advice caution. There is also the new strategic relationship with the US which is the actual guarantor of Indian national security in the Indian Ocean.
Any Delhi government, Congress or BJP, will judge the Rajapakse regime as stable and unlikely to suffer a major challenge within two or three years. It is also likely to reckon that Rajapakse will secure a third presidential term. Therefore, sustaining good relations with Colombo will be considered desirable. If one grants the assessment, then who can fault the motive? (This piece is not the place to interject my opinion of regime stability).
Understandably, the instinctive Muslim view of the BJP and Moody are that they are incarnations of the first and second cousins of Satan. It cannot be much different after the 2002 Gujarat massacre and the 2005 demolition of Babri Masjid. For the record it is fair to add that a judicial commission headed by G.T. Nanavati, a former chief justice of the Indian Supreme Court, concluded that there was no evidence to implicate Modi or his administration in the riots. The record in respect of the demolition of the mosque is different. A 2009 report, authored by Justice M S Liberhan, blamed 68 people, mostly leaders of the BJP, for the demolition of the mosque. This apart, the links between the BJP and the RHS and the Shiv Sena, and the blood curdling utterances of the latter are known to Lankan Muslims.
Muslims like everyone else in Lanka, know that the impending, or expected, fall of Congress is for two reasons; monumental corruption including allegations against members of the Gandhi family, and a troubled economy in the last two years. The corruption scandals are so reminiscent of corruption all the way to the top in Lanka that even Lankan Muslims, who may be fearful of a return of a BJP government in India, are unsympathetic to the Indian Congress Party. Regarding economic policy, leaders of Lankan Muslims are businessmen; the top and middle of the community is well to do – jealousy is the main reason for Sinhala Buddhist hostility to the community. Hence, Muslim opinion makers are at home with Modi’s pro-capitalist, pro-investor and market friendly stance. Nor do they anticipate a hindutva anti-Muslim backlash in the short-term. I do not know to what extent this mirrors Muslim ambivalence in India, but I think Muslims in Lanka are not unduly perturbed by the possibility of a BJP-Modi victory, but my impression could well be incomplete.