Colombo Telegraph

India And Tamil Nationalist Project: An Existential Conflict

By Krishna Kalaichelvan –

Krishna Kalaichelvan

“Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict” – Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political

As the incoming Modi led BJP government is settling in New Delhi, the media is awash with speculations on its foreign policy trajectory, both in the immediate strategic neighbourhood i.e. South Asia, and in the wider world. But none of them has delved into a major foreign policy challenge that is waiting for the new administration in Delhi – impending UN inquiry into the alleged breach of international law by the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE, during the Eelam War IV. In this essay I intend to gauge the BJP government’s approach to this major foreign policy challenge, by looking at the intellectual and philosophical orientation of the Indian elite, especially how the Indian elite view India’s place in international society.

The question of why this UN investigation is a major foreign policy challenge for the Indian strategic community can be addressed and explored in three broader thematic headings. Firstly, the highly intrusive UN inquiry itself is unprecedented in South Asian context, secondly, the Indian political establishment’s – both the right and the left – ‘postmodern’ worldview, and thirdly, BJP’s project for a “strong, self-reliant and self-confident India; regaining its rightful place in the comity of nations”, will be directly at odds with the UN investigation in Sri Lanka.

The unprecedented nature of the UN inquiry in South Asia

The adoption of the resolution, ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ (A/HRC/25/L.4), by the 25th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, is a watershed moment in post-independent Sri Lankan history, despite many extremist Tamil groups denouncing the resolution as not “robust” enough to investigate the alleged violations.

The following excerpts from the preamble will highlight the wider focus of the resolution and the Mahinda regime cannot brush aside the issues highlighted in the resolution.

“Calling upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments, including on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population”

“Emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive approach to transitional justice incorporating the full range of judicial and non-judicial measures, including, inter alia, individual prosecutions, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, vetting of public employees and officials, or an appropriately conceived combination thereof, in order to, inter alia, ensure accountability, serve justice, provide remedies to victims, promote healing and reconciliation, establish independent oversight of the security system, restore confidence in the institutions of the State and promote the rule of law in accordance with international human rights law, with a view to preventing the recurrence of violations and abuses”

“Underlining that truth-seeking processes, such as truth and reconciliation commissions, that investigate patterns of past human rights violations and their causes and consequences are important tools that can complement judicial processes, and that, when established, such mechanisms have to be designed within a specific societal context and be founded on broad national consultations with the inclusion of victims and civil society, including non-governmental organizations”

“Recalling the responsibility of States to comply with their relevant obligations to prosecute those responsible for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law constituting crimes under international law, with a view to end impunity”

And the clause 10 of the resolution “requests” the Office of the High Commissioner:

“(a) To monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and to continue to assess progress on relevant national processes”
“(b) To undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders”

“(c) To present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-eighth session”

Five years ago during a special session on Sri Lanka, the same council adopted a resolution with a preamble saying that the council was, “Welcoming the conclusion of hostilities and the liberation by the Government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam against their will as hostages, as well as the efforts by the Government to ensure the safety and security of all Sri Lankans and to bring permanent peace to the country”.

Since then the international opinion has changed drastically, and that was primarily due to the regime’s post-war authoritarian conduct and its embrace of illiberalism in every sphere of public life, rather than the activism of Tamils and international human rights organizations. In many ways, 2014 resolution is robust enough to scrutinize the regime’s conduct and open the way for further measures in relation to accountability, reconciliation and power sharing arrangements.

Therefore, contrary to the Tamil extremists’ claim, the 2014 UN Human Rights Council resolution represents the thin end of a significant international interventional wedge.

In order to understand the tectonic-shift nature of this inquiry in South Asian political context, we need to look for any precedent of similar inquiries in the region, and not surprisingly, no such inquiry was constituted internationally to look into the conduct of warring parties in a conflict situation in South Asia. Even numerically larger massacre of civilians during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, had failed to generate an international inquiry. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMI), which was established following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Treaty in 2006 by the Nepalese government and the Maoists, was mainly mandated to deal with ceasefire and election monitoring related duties only, and the transitional justice process has largely been locally generated with external technical assistance [1]. The nearest we can think about is the UN Commission of Inquiry appointed to look into the assassination of the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in this case, the commission was appointed by the UN Secretary General, “after a request from the Government of Pakistan and extensive consultations with Pakistani officials as well as with members of the United Nations Security Council” [2].

The reality is that the UN has never played a major role in South Asian conflicts, since its first and probably last intervention (the UN intervention in the 1965 Indo-Pak war was a continuation of its earlier intervention), during the 1947- 48 Indo-Pak conflict over Jammu and Kashmir region. In fact last year, India’s then Permanent Representative to the UN, Hardeep Puri had even sought to end the mission of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which still operates along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir [3]. Ever since the inking of Simla Agreement in 1972, India has been maintaining a strictly bilateral approach to Kashmir issue, and this policy applies to disputes with other South Asian neighbours as well.

Former external affairs minister, late Lakshman Kadirgamar once said that the UN should be concerned with malaria and mosquitos and should not try to expand its mandate [4]. Kadirgamar’s blatantly inaccurate comment epitomizes the South Asian political establishment’s attitude towards the UN’s role in the region. In other words, the UN has never been allowed to intervene in South Asia, in a politically sensitive manner, since the days of decolonization. In fact the South Asian political class seems to be fully alive to the fact that the origins of the UN was a compromised outcome of great power politics rather than an egalitarian world order. Quoting the words of late Herbert Briggs, eminent scholar and former member of the UN International Law Commission, written in 1945, may be appropriate here.

“The lessons [failures of the League of Nations] were not lost on the drafters of the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals and the San Francisco Charter; in their approach to the problem of building a security organization which might work with, rather than in opposition to, the realities of power, they gave legal and practical recognition to the preponderance of the Great Powers and largely denied to small states” [5]

Today in 2014, these words may sound anachronistic to many with the hindsight knowledge of the post-Cold War Security Council activism and the transformation of international humanitarian law and human rights law with the grand finale of the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998. But the fact is that the ‘Never Again’ fairy castles raised in The Hague during the post-Cold War years were product of a combination of the US unipolar hegemony and its willingness to send fighter jets to teach a lesson on accountability to those difficult pupils like Serbia or Libya. Hence a feigned Kelsenian faith in international law is an outright intellectual dishonesty, given the realities of the contemporary practices of transitional justice.

Therefore I view the impending UN inquiry into the Sri Lankan civil war, through the prism of the post-colonial political reality of South Asia, a highly anglicized and robustly anti-colonial region headed by a giant, which has its own worldview. The region’s integration to the English-speaking world is an advantage over Latin American and for certain extent African nations on articulating its point of view internationally.

Very wooly and deliberately bland nature of the titles – The Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, Secretary General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka, and the recently established investigatory group doesn’t even have a fixed title – given to the investigatory panels show that how hard it was to push through the Sri Lanka investigatory agenda through the UN system.

Hence I conclude that the Modi government and the Indian strategic community in general, would view this ‘precedent setting’ UN inquiry as a major foreign policy challenge and potentially a destabilizing intervention.

Indian political establishment’s ‘post-modern’ vision of India and its desire for India’s “rightful place” in the world

As early as 1908, Gandhi wrote: “True civilization is that mode of conduct which points out the path of duty. Performance of duty and observance of morality are convertible terms. To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and passions. So doing, we know ourselves. If that definition be correct, then India, as so many writers have shown, has nothing to learn from anybody else.” [6]

One can succinctly describe that the entire post-independence history of India is all about how the Indian political establishment, both the right and the left, struggled to realize Gandhi’s vision of India, which has “nothing to learn from any body else”. The most peculiar aspect of this struggle was that the opposing camps of the political establishment showed a remarkable confluence in following Gandhi’s vision for a non-western way of governance.

Jawaharlal Nehru was espousing of “third way” during the 1940s and 50s, well before Anthony Giddens, and the ‘New Corruption’ of Clinton-Blair era third way progressivism. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, the BJP’s 2014 manifesto doesn’t mince words, it blames the “the weak and spineless leadership” of the UPA Government, for the “present crisis”. And the manifesto boldly claims: “Instead of creating a socio-economic and political paradigm of governance drawn from the civilizational consciousness of India, the [UPA] leaders tried to follow whatever was being practiced in this or that western country.”

Meera Nanda, a philosopher of science, has dedicated much of her intellectual energy in highlighting the negative impact of what she calls the “indigenist tendencies” on science education in India. She traces the origin of the contemporary anti-universalist movement in India to Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for “total revolution” during the troubled 1970s.

“Jayaprakash Narain’s “total revolution” visualized rehabilitation of village-based cottage industries, utilizing local knowledge and skills, and managing their affairs through village assemblies or panchayats (ibid., 262– 266). Decentralization of power, patterned after traditional social arrangements, was to be the answer to modernization which had been promoted by Nehru and then by his daughter. Anti- statism, coupled with a bias for the “genuinely indigenous,” was the minimal basic agenda of all those who united under Jayaprakash Narain’s leadership.” [7, p.216]

She further writes on how both the right and the left had a common origin and describes them as “twins”.

“Interestingly enough, the fault lines in Indian politics that gave birth to the indigenist tendencies in the new social movements of the left, also gave a new lease of life to the Hindu nationalists on the right. The alternative science movements and the Hindu nationalists are twins, born of the same events and carrying forth the same traditionalist social agenda, with the crucial difference that the former lack the latter’s penchant for strong-arm tactics and its venomous hatred of religious minorities. The birth of these twin movements dates back to the call for “total revolution” by “JP” in 1974, which in part, precipitated the Emergency that Indira Gandhi imposed in 1975. Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he was called by one and all, was a veteran Gandhian leader who had come out of retirement to lead a student movement in Bihar, later Gujarat, and eventually in all of India against the regime of Indira Gandhi. The rise and fall of Indira Gandhi is well documented. What is relevant for our purpose is the combination of populism and authoritarianism of her regime that provoked a backlash from a right-left coalition. This coalition, led by Jayaprakash Narain, turned opposition to Indira Gandhi’s policies into a referendum against the kind of modernization the Congress party had pursued since India’s independence in 1947. Jayaprakash Narain’s call for “total revolution” was a calculated call to discredit the “imported” ideals of industrial development, liberal democracy, and secularism. “Total revolution” was a call for returning the country to its own traditions, its own native genius, which supposedly was best represented by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s essentially upper-caste Hindu traditionalism was to be the guidepost of India’s future. There was enough in this vision to attract both the Hindu nationalists from the right, and the cultural nationalist, anti-imperialist intellectuals, and activists from the left.” [8, p.214-15]

It is worthy to dwell further on Meera Nanda’s polemic towards the post-modernist tradition, in order to understand the Indian elites’ obsession of stressing the uniqueness of Indian traditions and apparently those traditions “cannot be understood by outsiders”.

“Authentic national liberation, on this account, can only come with the rediscovery of authentic traditions of India which, apparently, were only understood by Mahatma Gandhi. For all their nods to the anti-essentialism of postmodernism, Indian critics of modernity practise a sly form of “strategic essentialism” (Gayatri Spivak’s term) that treats Indian traditions as unique to India which cannot be understood by outsiders. True national liberation will mean a rediscovery of India’s unique gestalt, which, in the postcolonial narrative, lies in its holism, monism or non-dualism, as compared to the tendency of the Western science towards separation of objects from their context. Indian thought is not to be seen either as a copy of modern science, or somehow lacking in empirical sciences, but as encoding a wholly different kind of science altogether, which is the duty of post-secular, postmodern intellectuals to discover and cultivate. Coming from the traditions of the Gandhian and populist left, the postmodernists tend to find these alternative traditions among the non-modern habits of the heart of the humble, folk traditions of women, peasants, village folk and assorted subaltern groups. Gandhi became their patron saint of this uniquely Indian, non-modern way of life. “Real India” equals Gandhi equals “innocent traditions” of non-modern “communities”. Anyone challenging any of the factors in the equation was declared to have a “colonised mind”.” [9]

Also Meera Nanda notes the upper-caste-Hindu domination within the Indian postmodernist tradition, and its ignoring of the works of B.R. Ambedkar, E.V. Ramaswamy Periyar, Jyotiba Phule and Iyothee Thass.

“The valiant attempts of Dalit and non-Brahmin intellectuals such as B.R. Ambedkar, E.V. Ramaswamy Periyar, Jyotiba Phule and Iyothee Thass to use the new knowledge to liberate themselves from the shackles of tradition are simply invisible in the postmodernist literature which is keen on showing modern science as an agent of oppression and mental colonialism. As long as Indian thought was being measured in modern scientific terms, whether to praise it, or to demystify it, the Indian mind was being “colonised” and it was denied the “agency” to define its own agenda and its own solutions. Both the Hindu right and the Nehruvian left, as long as they remained prisoners of modern scientific ways of thinking, were equally “derivatives” of their colonial masters.” [9]

I hope that the above discussion is suffice to understand, how entrenched is Gandhi’s vision of an anti-western and anti-colonial, anti-imperialist India, within the establishment in India. A noted exemption to this anti-universalist proclivity is the Chennai based media house, The Hindu Group, the only establishment-institution that continues to follow the Nehruvian humanist-socialist tradition.

Hence I conclude that not entertaining such an intrusive international inquiry has been the conventional Indian foreign policy comfort zone, even though there isn’t any official policy of opposing such a country-specific-resolution at the Human Rights Council. Though we saw certain significant changes in India’s foreign policy during the post-Cold War years – closer ties with Israel and Myanmar on economic grounds transcending the legacy of foreign policy activism, and an ever-closer strategic partnership with the US – still the Indian foreign policy is stubbornly wedged to the Nehruvian ideals of non-alliance and Panchsheel. Nevertheless this cannot be dismissed as an outdated dogmatism, since India plays a major role in championing the causes of Global South, in the forums like WTO and climate change summits.

The BJP’s foreign policy priorities

Here I argue that the new BJP government led by Modi will find the impending UN inquiry in Sri Lanka as a serious challenge to Indian national interests on two factors, (a) ideological, and (b) economic and geopolitical.

(a) The BJP’s manifesto merely reiterates the postmodernists’ case for ‘Indian uniqueness’ in a saffronized format: a united, strong, and modern India – “Ek Bharat – Shreshtha Bharat”.

The following excerpts from the BJP manifesto will highlight the ideological underpinning of its vision for India.

“BJP recognizes that no nation could chart out its domestic or foreign policies unless it has a clear understanding about itself, its history, its roots, its strengths and failings. In a highly mobile and globalized world, it is imperative for a nation to know its roots that provide sustenance to its people.”

“Indian freedom struggle, which was inspired by Tilak, Gandhi, Aurobindo, Patel, Bose and others, had a clear vision of the civilizational consciousness of India. These leaders had directed the freedom movement, keeping the Indian ways and thoughts in the centre of their action. They had a vision to reconstruct the political and economic institutions of India as a continuum of civilizational consciousness, which made India one country, one people, and one Nation.”

“After achieving independence, the leaders at the helm of affairs lost the spirit and the vision, which the freedom movement had evoked. They discarded the vision and adopted the institutional framework of administration created by the Britishers which was quite alien to India’s world-view. It is unfortunate that these leaders could not comprehend India’s inner vitality, which was the main force responsible for India’s survival despite several attacks and prolonged foreign rule and thus, failed to rekindle the spirit of India.”

There is a perception that the BJP is sympathetic towards Tamils and especially ‘soft’ on the LTTE, the advocates of this thesis often highlight the Vajpayee government’s offer of sending ships to evacuate the beleaguered Sri Lankan troops from the Jaffna peninsula, during the LTTE offensive Unceasing Waves III, in May 2000 [10].  But they failed to recognize that during the last few months of the NDA rule, then Indian envoy Nirupam Sen was given a free hand to engineer the toppling of the UNF government and to formalize an alliance between the SLFP and the JVP. Also during the 2004 general election campaign, recorded telephonic conversations, between Pulithevan of the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat and UNF government ministers, bureaucrats and the Norwegian envoy in Colombo, were released anonymously via a UK based website, it was widely believed to be the work of the India’s external intelligence organization, RAW. The toppling of Ranil Wickramasinghe’s government was due to the fact that it was allowing too much of western influence in Sri Lankan affairs, in addition to the Norwegian facilitated peace process. Rajesh Venugopal brilliantly dissects through the popular myths and demonstrates that the blatantly neoliberalist post-conflict economic package of 2001–2004 was a “critical element” in the “overall failure of the peace process” [11a]. Those were the days, when Milinda Moragoda had the audacity talk about Thomas Jefferson, and George W Bush’s Sunday church visits, on Sirasa TV. It was this blatant US orientation of the UNF government that irritated the South Block.

Thus it is highly improbable that the new BJP government, like its centre-left predecessor UPA, will be ideologically comfortable with the impending UN inquiry in Sri Lanka.

(b) The BJP government’s foremost priority of economic development and boosting of growth warrants a stable South Asia. The government is hoping to initiate a string of major infrastructural developments in order to turbo charge the economy.

“We need to transform ourselves into a globally competitive manufacturing hub powered by Skill, Scale and Speed. To this end, the government will set up world class investment and industrial regions, particularly along the Dedicated Freight Corridors and Industrial Corridors spanning the country. My Government will encourage the domestic industry to innovate and collaborate internationally.” [BJP Manifesto]

India is the only country in South Asia that is concerned about security and regional stability impacting its economic growth. The remaining members of South Asian region – except Bhutan, which is fully under the Indian embrace – are largely foreign-aid-dependent chaotic states, perpetual instability and institutional decay is the norm; hence the stability of the region is not at the top of their agenda. Indian economy is the only economy in the region that is matured and significantly integrated to the international system. Therefore the BJP government is determined “to work towards building a peaceful, stable and economically inter-linked neighbourhood which is essential for the collective development and prosperity of the South Asian Region” [11b, para44].

Hence the government claims that “by inviting for the first time in independent India, leaders of all South Asian neighbours to the swearing-in ceremony”, it has “sent a unique and bold signal to the South Asian region and the world” [11b, para44]. This “unique and bold signal” indicates the emergence of India’s own Monroe Doctrine, or Modi Doctrine. India’s Monroe Doctrine has been talked about time to time, but there has been no formal serious policy making effort put into shape such a doctrine. It seems that the BJP government is seriously contemplating on formulating such a doctrine, by declaring India’s exclusive sphere of influence in the region.

Even hawks wouldn’t dare crossing the Nehruvian redline

Brahma Chellaney, once described by The Economist as “hawkish” and “a foreign-affairs type in Delhi”, has been critical of the UPA government’s handling of foreign policy, and he writes, after Modi’s victory:

“Like Abe [Japanese Prime Minister], Modi is expected to focus on reviving India’s economic fortunes while simultaneously bolstering its defenses and strengthening its strategic partnerships with like-minded states, thereby promoting regional stability and blocking the rise of a Sino-centric Asia. The charismatic Modi — a darling of business leaders at home and abroad — has promised to restore rapid economic growth, saying there should be “no red tape, only red carpet” for investors.” [12]

Also Chellaney approaches the controversial aspect of Modi’s political career, 2002 Gujarat violence, with a relaxed attitude. He writes: “In 2005, the U.S. government revoked his visa over unproven allegations that he connived in Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002, when he was chief minister of Gujarat. Even after India’s Supreme Court found no evidence to link Modi to the violence, the U.S. continued to ostracize him, reaching out to him only on the eve of the recent election. With the U.S. having expressed no regret for its revocation of his visa, Modi is unlikely to go out of his way to befriend the U.S. by seeking a White House visit. Instead, he is expected to wait for U.S. officials to come calling”. And that is what happened, Obama took the initiative and invited Modi to visit the White House.

Incidentally, Brahma Chellaney was a member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice’s advisory council, an advocacy outfit operated by few smart Tamils at arm length distance, since its inception in late 2009.  He has been very critical and bold in his public comments about Sri Lankan government and its treatment of Tamils during the post-war years. He has tweeted favourably about successive US sponsored UN Human Rights Council resolutions on Sri Lanka during 2012 and 2013 sessions, but he has gone quiet on 2014 resolution, which authorizes a highly intrusive UN investigation. And Chellaney has quietly stepped down from the advisory council, some time early this year. One can conclude, even Chellaney, “a foreign-affairs type in Delhi”, strongly liberal and pro-West, views the UN inquiry in Sri Lanka as problematic and undermines the Indian sphere of influence in South Asia.

Chellaney’s ‘case discussion’ reveals the age-old dilemma of human rights vs national interest, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of India policing the region on behalf of international community. Again this approach has a relevance to Monroe Doctrine.

When President James Monroe issued the Doctrine in 1823, the US navy was a joke, much of the Latin America was under the European rule, and hence the Doctrine was unenforceable, up until the end of the 19th century. Only with the Spanish-American war, the US has begun to project its military power in the region. The Monroe Doctrine became operational albeit with a responsibility – policing the region. During the late 19th century, European financiers and bond traders were heavily investing in Latin American countries, when it comes to defaulting governments on repayment, the bond traders had the European Imperial naval fleets at their disposal to recover their investment. Usually European navies blockaded the main ports and took over the administration of customs in order to recover the European bond traders’ investment, this has been the standard practice during the 19 the century, until it was prohibited at the 1907 Hague IV Peace Conference.

Since the US had begun to project its naval power, propelled by Mahan-Roosevelt-Lodge naval lobby, in the Western Hemispheric region and in the wider world, recovering the European investment from defaulting Latin American governments had become a thorny issue in the US-European relations. The London Chronicle wrote in December 1895:

“If an enlarged application of a neglected doctrine is to be enforced with all the might of the United States, at least let us be assured that the United States will make itself responsible for the foreign policy of all the petty, impetuous little states on the two continents. There is no international right without corresponding duty…” [13]

As a response to the growing European concerns, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the US intention to “police” the region, he declared in his annual speech in 1904:

“Chronic wrong doing, or an impotence which results in general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrong doing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.” [14]

Historians would call this declaration as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Corollory paved the way for the State Department to intervene in the affairs of many Latin American countries, especially insisting on balancing the budgets, and improving tax collection methods. Perhaps this could be the earliest attempt to interpret sovereignty as responsibility, and failure to do so would “ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation”. However, this is not our focus in this essay.

I would say that the India is in similar predicament as the US was at the turn of the 20th century. On the one hand, the defence of the country demands an exclusive sphere of influence, and on the other hand, hesitancy to take a policing role in its exclusive sphere of influence. This is the frustration that the US is facing ever since cementing a closer strategic partnership with India. The US is perfectly comfortable and actively encourageing India to take a dominant role in South Asian region. But the hesitancy shown by the successive governments – both the Congress and the BJP – can be attributed to two factors, ideological and logistical prudence.

As I have discussed above extensively, the Indian strategic community is unable to overcome the dilemma of power projection in its exclusive sphere of influence whilst claiming to follow the Nehruvian ideals, principally the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence or Panchsheel. The Modi government may have realised the incompatibility of Panchsheel principles with its foreign policy objective of “regaining its rightful place in the comity of nations”. Perhaps this could be the reason for sending a low profile delegation headed by the Vice President Ansari to Beijing for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Panchsheel, at a trilateral summit, where the Chinese state was represented by none other than the President Xi Jinping himself [15]. In fact the BJP government would be unamused by President Xi Jinping’s flattering homage to Panchsheel; with the hindsight knowledge of 1962 Sino-India war, the BJP government may view that as a ploy to tame India’s ambition. Even though Modi government hasn’t made any explicit overtures of distancing from the Panchsheel principles, one can be forgiven to interpret the BJP government’s “bold signal to the South Asian region” as a significant departure from the entrenched Nehruvian ideals.

The BJPs’ manifesto states the party’s intention to “modernize armed forces, and increase the R&D in defence, with a goal of developing indigenous defence technologies and fast tracking of defence purchases”. Despite upgrading the defence infrastructure and a continued spending spree for a decade under the UPA government, still the Indian defence preparedness is far below the international standards. However that doesn’t mean that the Indian defence forces’ capacity for mobilizing and become operational in the strategic neighbourhood area, is mitigated. Indian defence forces, especially the navy and the air force, are perfectly capable of short-term overseas operations. Hence it is clear that it is the ideological impasse that hinders India’s power projection, rather than the logistics and capability.

In final analysis, diplomacy will be effective only when ‘all options are on the table’.  Given the fact that the South Block has over stretched its diplomatic ‘emotional labour’ in dealing with Mahinda regime during the last five years, and in the context of Sri Lanka’s descent into despotism, Modi government may willing to exercise a muscular approach to Sri Lanka.  The impending UN inquiry may force the Modi government to commit for regional policing in order to prevent the inquiry causing a politically destabilizing impact in Sri Lanka, which is highly plausible, as Dayan Jayatilleka predicts.

If there is a coup to take place in Colombo as a result of Mahinda regime’s diminishing standing nationally and the international isolation due to the UN investigation; India is likely to establish a Northern enclave, border running along the northern edge of Wilpaththu National Park in the West coast, and running north of Anuradhapura in central region, then covering the Trincomalee port in entirety, the east coast border might extend up to Trincomalee-Batticaloa border, like the Russian protected enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia or Turkish Cyprus. India can perfectly defend its action internationally, based on the prevailing practices of humanitarian intervention. Logistically Indian defence forces are perfectly capable of executing such an operation.

But this can happen only with a VERY BIG caveat: a warm embracing of Indian protection by the Tamil population, similar to the cooperation shown by the populations of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and Turkish Cyprus. Thanks to Tamils, Sinhalese citizens don’t need to fear about such a scenario, because it is the Tamils who will be at the forefront of ‘resisting Indian imperialism’, like they did it in 1987.

When it comes to Tamil nationalist project, the big elephant in the room is the project’s direct and mortal threat to India as a functioning state. Unlike the West Bengal’s moderate behaviour during and after the formation of Bangladesh, the Tamilnadu politics can be tempted to return to the days of 1940s and 50s, if and when an independent Tamil state is created in northern Sri Lanka. Paradoxically, both the Eelam Tamils and the Indian establishment won’t acknowledge this very existential fact that both of them are at ‘political’ enmity.

The crux of the matter is that an unhinged Tamil nationalist project is the most destabilizing force in South Asia. Like the diaspora driven project of Israel’s destabilizing impact in Middle-Eastern region, the Tamil diaspora driven nationalist project is directly at odds with the very idea of India itself, hence threatening the South Asian regional stability. I wonder whether the time has come for India and Tamil nationalists to “judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict” in a non-decisionist way.






[5] Briggs, H. W. (1945). ‘Power politics and international organization.’ The American Journal of International Law, 39 (4), pp.664-679.

[6] Frankel, Francine R. (2005). India’s Political Economy 1947-2004, (reprint 2008), Oxford University Press, pp.10.








[13] Rippy, J. Fred (1940). ‘Antecedents of the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine’. Pacific Historical Review, Vol 9(3), pp.267-279.

[14] Ricard, Serge (2006). ‘The Roosevelt Corollary’. Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol 36(1) pp.17-26


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