16 July, 2024


India’s Vote:What Went Wrong?

Prof. Sumanasiri Liyanage

One may justifiably argue that India’s vote in favor of the US Resolution against Sri Lanka happened to be the main reason behind its adoption in Geneva. India has been regarded as the undeclared moral leader of the Global South so that the countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America usually take into note what position India holds on important global and regional issues. I am sure that India’s vote surprised Sri Lankan delegates in Geneva and India’s explanation why It had decided to vote in favor of the US Resolution has not been clear and Indian Prime Minister’s letter to the President Mahinda Rajapaksa was apologetic, and not explanatory. If one reminds what the Indian External Affairs Minister said at a press conference after ending his recent visit to Sri Lanka, it was hardly to see any indication that India had an intention to take such a decision in March 2012. He was not critical at all over the lack of a time frame on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka for the implementation of power-sharing mechanism, that was depicted as 13 +. On the contrary, he shared the view that it was not possible to develop a time frame on issues of this nature. Even prior to the Indian PM’s statement at the Lok Sabha, the indication that was given was that India had not voted and would not vote for country specific resolutions. Intelligent foreign policy analysts also argued that India should not vote with and in favor of the US initiated resolution. This is what B Raman wrote on March 16, 2012: “Despite India’s justified dissatisfaction against the Rajapaksa government, it would be counter-productivefor it to join the US and other countries in having Sri Lanka condemned before the UN HRC. It is totally incorrect and unwise on the part of the Tamil Nadu political parties to exercise undue pressure on an increasingly weakening Manmohan Singh government to join the US and others in having Sri Lanka condemned”. This is somewhat similar to what I wrote in my article just before the vote was taken in Geneva.

Many have been in agreement that the Indian vote at the UNHRC was Union Government’s response to the pressure of the politicians of Tamil Nadu.  In my opinion, the pressure exercised by the Tamil Nadu politicians were on their part was quite justified even we keep aside in the analysis the intense competition between the political parties in Tamil Nadu, especially between the DMK and the ruling AIDMK. I have been continuously arguing that it is totally wrong to portray the Sri Lankan Tamil issue as a sole Sri Lankan internal issue. Hence, India has every right to influence, pressurize Sri Lanka to find an amicable solution to the Tamil national question and the Tamil national question should represent a significant element in India-Sri Lanka bi-lateral relations. Former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadiragamar once said:  “… ideally the Tamil question within our polity should be so managed as to preclude the need for Indian concern, far less involvement. However, it would be wholly unrealistic for anyone to claim that under no circumstances could India have a legitimate concern with the management of certain aspects of our internal affairs” Hence, the argument that I am trying to develop here is thus totally different from the extreme Sinhala nationalist argument of India-bashing. I take into consideration, as B Raman does, the world power configuration and power structure in the world bodies. Thus in my view, the Indian decision to vote in favor of the US Resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC signify a basic flaw Indian foreign policy. What do I mean by that? India appears to have looked at the international processes, relations and events from the prism of its bi-lateral relations with Sri Lanka.
After IPKF experiment and Rajiv Gandhi assassination, India has adopted up to now a soft policy towards Sri Lanka in spite of the pressure and demands by the Tamil Nadu political parties. In February 2011, I read a paper at a conference in Delhi on post-war scenario in Sri Lanka in which I argued that one of the reasons why the Government of Sri Lanka delayed in implementing a reasonable power-sharing mechanism and adopted Colombo-centered effort to address local issues in the Northern and Eastern Provinces was the soft engagement of India on the issue. This component has been missing in Indian bi-lateral policy with Sri Lanka. I think what would have been the Indian policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka was eloquently illustrated by B Raman in his above-mentioned article as follows: “India should not hesitate to use the big stick against the Rajapaksa government due to fears that it might drive it into the arms of China and Pakistan. Indian unhappiness can hurt Sri Lanka and it should be made clear that we would not hesitate to hurt it if it continues to follow its present policy of duplicity. Our present dilemma in Sri Lanka is due to our inability and unwillingness to talk and act tough when the time for it has come. The time to use the big stick has come.”
International politics is not a mere extension of sum total of bilateral policies. Moreover, bilateral policy needs not to be reflected in a linear and direct way in the international political perspective even the pressure emanates from different segment of society. In brief, it is quite justifiable for Indian Union government to respond to the pressure of Tamil Nadu in determining the principles determining India-Sri Lanka bi-lateral relations. Nonetheless, its international decisions and perspective should not be allowed to be determined by the Tamil Nadu pressure. The federal principle is not invalidated by these limits. I am aware that in practice there is no such a Chinese Wall between bilateral perspective and global perspective. However, understanding this subtle distinction is critical in designing foreign policy perspective in a country.
Let me highlight one final point. It appears that Mahinda Rajapaksa government tends to think sound foreign policy can be replaced by day-to-day manipulations. Of course, in the short-term some manipulations may work, but in the long-term it doom to failure. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy towards India in the last three years was based not on sound analysis but on cheap manipulations. (Envisioning emerging problems I wrote two brief memos to the Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs in 2010 and 2011 that Sri Lanka should be seriously concerned about Indian concerns in dealing with Tamil national question) Although the way in which India finally responded was incorrect and counter-productive, the Indian vote may be justified on moral grounds. Ironically, it was not moral values that guide international politics which is controlled and conditioned by the logic of finance capital.What would have been the India policy? I do not have anything more to say that reproducing what Raman had said in the above article. He wrote: “While standing against the condemnation of Sri Lanka by the UNHRC, India should use all means of political and economic pressure at its disposal to make the Rajapaksa government hold credible enquiries into the human rights violations with follow-up action against those responsible and to meet its commitments to the Tamil people.” Definitely, Indian vote has made it difficult to adopt such a pro-active policy in post-Geneva context although it remains to be the principal perspective of Indian policy towards Sri Lanka.
*The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.
E-mail: sumane_l@yahoo.com
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Latest comments

  • 0

    I wish my friends who are “supposed to be on the other side” will contribute for this topic in a useful way.Thissa came out with a quality article.But unfortunately Thissa never replied.Instead it was all mudslinging.I AM NO EXPECTATION.What do we have here?Rajapakse hora!In return i blast the tigers.One might find me as a Rajapakse lackey.The reason being that i blast the Tamil Tigers.Tamils or Sinhalese terrorism is out of this world.All Srilankans will have to believe in themselves.Forget Obama,forget the Indians,the Chinese,UNO,NGOs,just consider what you want.

    • 0

      dear great max nothing went wrong every thing so far so good people get dollar media articles to read the government is not the media ,media is not the government,someone who wish to make money, lose money or gain money let them to be their way.why tamils are losers all the time?

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