By Malinda Seneviratne –
It was not the first time that Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans have been treated shabbily in India and by Indians. Friday’s vandalization of an office of the Bank of Ceylon in Tamil Nadu by pro-LTTE elements of that state who are wont to shed copious tears over ‘the plight of Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka’ ironically left two Tamils, one Sri Lankan and one Indian, injured. It is a well-known fact that for all the love professed for Sri Lankan Tamils by Tamil Nadu politicians, they (Sri Lankan Tamils) are subject to ridicule and harassment in that State and treated with derision and suspicion. If there are CCTV cameras at the Chennai Airport, the footage would reveal a lot about ‘love’.
It is now customary for uncouth Tamil Nadu politicians to whip up hysteria among ill-educated supporters and organize demonstrations and attacks on Sri Lankans. It is customary for Delhi to issue statements of concern and trot out assurance-homilies regarding safety. And yet, officials have been harassed, pilgrims attacked and properties damaged. That’s ‘India Shining’, one supposes. But India is a ‘friend’.
A quick recap is called for. India funded, armed and trained the LTTE terrorists to destabilize Sri Lanka to the point of annexure (ref Rajiv Gandhi’s statement on turning Sri Lanka into a second Bhutan). The LTTE blunted development, terrorized a nation, killed thousands of innocent civilians and more than any other entity caused untold suffering to the Tamil community (courtesy forced recruitment of children, hostage-taking and turning regions the Tamils lived in into combat zones for decades). India helped them. But India, ladies and gentlemen, is a ‘friend’.
India took up an anti-Sri Lanka position at the UNHRC in March 2012 and is said to be readying to do a repeat this year. India tried to and is still trying to secure a strategic foothold via the Sampur Power Plant with exclusivity clauses as well as cost-upping inferior technology specifications. India has always arm-twisted Sri Lanka to sign trade and other agreements with unequal benefits. Indian companies are trying to secure drilling rights in the Mannar basin. All for the love of Sri Lanka. India is wary of Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, perhaps because India feels that China is not Sri Lanka’s friend and that as Sri Lanka’s ‘friend’, India needs to protect ‘Lil’ Bro Sri Lanka’. The condescension should be ignored because, after all, India is Sri Lanka’s ‘friend’.
India dumped a mammoth white elephant called the 13th Amendment preying on J.R. Jayewardene’s inability to do simple arithmetic. The ‘13th’ was used and is being used by those who want a Sri Lanka break-up to concretize the myth of ‘Traditional Tamil Homelands’, never mind the fact that the majority of Tamils live outside the Northern and Eastern provinces. India is a ‘friend’, though.
Indians visit Sri Lanka, some as tourists, some on business. Indian companies operate freely in Sri Lanka. India exports a lot to Sri Lanka, including cheap and sub-standard drugs. That’s ‘friendship’ and we have to conclude that there are nice, decent, Sri Lankan ‘friends’ who facilitate such ‘friendship’, for it takes two hands to clap.
The point is that Sri Lankans who take issue with India would at worst just demonstrate outside the Indian High Commission. Indians are not button-holed and screamed at. Indian properties are not vandalized. Is that out of ‘fear of reprisal’? Hardly. India has shown its worst face and ended with egg on it, ironically courtesy of the bad-eggs they warmed in Tamil Nadu (that’s the IPKF, dubbed at the time as the Illan Parippu Kana Force, or ‘Force that asked for it and duly got it’).
In short India and Sri Lanka are friends but ones who have different ideas about what constitutes friendship. Different ideas about civilization too, one might add. People learn from one another, though, and over time ‘friends’ pick up each other’s traits. It is hard to think that India would become less uncouth and thug-like though. It would be a pity, however, if Sri Lanka became like India and did the works-both-ways-brother number on Indians and Indian establishments here.