By Sumanasiri Liyanage –
As The Hindu Newspaper has reported, the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has informed the Lok Sabha that India is “inclined to” vote in favour of a resolution on Sri Lanka [submitted by the United States of America] if it meets ‘our objectives’ with regard to the future of ethnic Tamils. This is definitely a victory for the US and the political parties in Tamil Nadu, but a severe blow for Sri Lanka’s hope to defeat the US Resolution in Geneva. As things develop, now it seems the resolution would be passed by the UNHRC. India’s decision to vote for the US resolution gives room for a suspicion that the US consulted India prior to its decision to submit a resolution on Sri Lanka to the UNHRC. Both the domestic politics as well India’s recent inclination towards the US appears to have led Indian government to come to such an unexpected decision. Although the proximate cause of this decision was the protest by the politicians of Tamil Nadu, the decision cannot be explained only by the protest campaign of the Tamil Nadu representatives. This article intends to examine the factors behind India’s decision. It is interesting to note that the Indian Prime Minister makes some qualification in his speech that gives the impression that its decision is not final. He told the Lok Sabha that India was yet to receive the final text of the draft resolution moved at the UN Human Rights Council. This suggests that India may make an attempt to dilute the resolution when it comes for voting.
In both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the representative of Tami Nadu irrespective of their party affiliation pressured the central government to support the US resolution. It was somewhat hilarious that the Tamil Nadu Communist Party also asked India to vote for the US resolution. The discussion on Sri Lanka took place at a critical conjuncture. The Union budget was presented to the Indian Parliament a couple of days ago. It has proposed to increase indirect tax significantly. Railway budget proposed to increase rail fare that led Tinamural Congress to force Railway Minister to hand over his resignation. A withdrawal of DMK from the ruling coalition at this stage would be disastrous to the government. This signifies that Indian federalism has now begun to operate at a different level so that the Union government has to change its course of action because of the pressure of the states ruled by local political formations. Although it is not possible to establish a link, it is interesting to note that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa gave go ahead to Kudankulam nuclear plant on the same day when the Prime Minister informed the Lok Sabha that India would vote for the US resolution.
Secondly, India has every reason not to vote in favour of Sri Lanka because the behaviour of the Sri Lankan government in the post-war period. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government has given so many promises to Indian authorities that it would implement fully the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the measures will be taken to make necessary changes to the Constitution to make 13th Amendment fully operative. In some instances, the representatives of the Sri Lankan government talked about 13 +. However, since May 2009, the Rajapaksa government has been trying hard to avoid making power-sharing operational. The Governor of the Eastern Province is continuously disrupting the activities of the elected Provincial Council. The election for the Northern Provincial Council was not held. Democratic political activities in the country in general and in the Northern Province in particular are suppressed. There is no news about Lalith and Kugan, who were arrested a couple of months ago. The government has broken promises given to the Sri Lankan people and to India. Hence, Indian decision can be interpreted as India’s revenge for the Sri Lankan government leaders’ broken promises.
Thirdly and sadly, India’s decision signifies that India cannot emerge in the near future as an independent actor in world politics as this decision has proved that India remains a subaltern in the Indian Ocean Region to the US. Instead of taking lead role on regional matters, India has voluntarily decided to play second fiddle in regional affairs. How do we explain this? Sometime back when President Barack Obama visited India, many middle class Indians made god out of him. Manmohan Singh government’s priority has been to make India an economic power. Hence, a nuclear deal with the US and the West is portrayed as critical. Similarly, India seems to think that the US support is crucial in order to obtain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. India became a prominent and respectable Third World power when it adopted an independent non-aligned foreign policy. It appears that India’s foreign policy has changed significantly during the last decade or so. India’s hands-off policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka was not just a response to the failure of the IPKF mission and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, but a continuation of its changing priorities. India’s acceptance to play a second fiddle in the Indian Ocean Region may be response to the emergence of China as world super power and China’s growing role in the India Ocean.
We all know that the US is not concerned with human rights or democracy. As Tariq Ali has correctly pointed out the US is violating basic rights of many peoples in the world. The Obama syndrome is, according to him, characterised by surrender at home and war abroad. As Cho S. Ramaswamy, the editor of the Tamil weekly Thuglak and a former Rajya Sabha member, puts it, US Resolution on Sri Lanka is to divert attention from Israel. The US used veto power at the UN Security Council a couple of months ago over the resolution on illegal settlement by the Israel government. Recent killings of civilians in Afghanistan are the latest example for its new imperialist strategy. The US has decided to submit a resolution not because it is concerned with human rights or the rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, but primarily because of its displeasure over Sri Lankan foreign policy.
India’s decision to vote for the US resolution can be portrayed as its failure to play pro-active role vis-à-vis Sri Lanka since May 2009. It has refused or failed to exert adequate pressure on Mahinda Rajapaksa government. India could have justifiably forewarned Sri Lanka that it would submit a resolution at the UNHRC in 2012 had Sri Lanka failed to take definite action for the resolution of the Tamil national question. The absence of such forewarning represents a lacuna in Indian foreign policy. The result: to become a subaltern to the US in world politics. Its repercussions on SAARC and its future are yet to be seen.
The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya