26 May, 2022


Learn To Keep Your Friends Close

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stay away from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) summit in Colombo next month, it would not only be perceived as a snub by Sri Lanka but would damage Delhi’s soft-power projection in its own environs and prove deleterious to India’s interests.

India has just scored a singular achievement in reactivating the Northern Provincial Council. That should have been sufficient for New Delhi to face down pressure from Tamil Nadu vis-à-vis attendance by its leader at CHOGM.

If it is unable to do so, it will also reduce India’s capacity to nudge Colombo forward on the delivery of devolution — the preponderant view in Sri Lanka would then be that even the riskiest move such as the holding of Northern elections and the installation of an administration critical of the State in the strategically sensitive North does not earn even so much as the attendance of the Indian Prime Minister at CHOGM. The conclusion would be that there is little to be gained by moving forward on the issue of devolution that is of significance to India. This in turn may prompt the Sri Lankan government to believe the re-establishment of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is as far as Colombo should go and good as it is going to get.

Image perception

Then again, there is the optics of absenting oneself from an event in one’s neighbourhood which will be attended by other neighbours including one’s critics. This would reinforce a negative vision of India as a power that is deficient in good neighbourly custom and sentiment, insensitive to the hurt pride of small neighbours, but at the same time is weak enough to have its external relations shaped if not determined by sub-regional pressure.

It is unrealistic to assume that New Delhi would ignore the feelings in a State of 70 million people especially in an election season. Nevertheless, it is perfectly possible to balance those sentiments with those of a neighbouring state and the overwhelming majority of its people, by pointing to the holding of the elections in the North and the reconstitution after a quarter of a century, of that important sub-state unit in which the Tamil minority constitutes a majority.

If the Prime Minister of India is blackmailed by Tamil Nadu into absenting himself from the summit despite the election of the NPC, it is highly probable that the same factor would prevent Delhi from being perceived as favouring Colombo or even sit on the fence at the March 2014 session of the U.N. Human Rights Council if a resolution to initiate an international inquiry into the conduct of the war by the Sri Lankan state were to come up for a vote. Tamil sentiment in Tamil Nadu is no more legitimate or politically significant than Sinhala sentiment in Sri Lanka. Therefore, an Indian semi-snub cannot but reinforce the negative aspect of the ambivalent sentiment towards India prevalent among the vast majority of the neighbouring island’s inhabitants.

Beijing-Islamabad tilt

While it may not prove a strategically prudent reaction, this public opinion backlash can only renew an abiding sense in the Sri Lankan establishment, dating back to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s tilt during the Bangladesh war, that the island state is better served by location on a Beijing-Islamabad axis.

The Bandaranaike tilt of the early 1970s was itself a variant on the policy of the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, D.S. Senanayake, who perceived a threat from Nehruvian India and a nexus between the powerful neighbour and inhabitants of Indian origin in the central highlands of the island nation. His strategy was to retain a relationship with the West and to politically marginalise the domestic Tamil component of perceived Indian influence.

Given the India-U.S. axis, Sri Lanka manifestly has no western card to play, but it could regard itself as the third corner of a Beijing-Islamabad-Colombo triangle, however unsustainable such a strategic posture could turn out to be. The domestic aspect of such a strategic decision could be to regard the vital border areas of the Northern Province as a potential sphere of influence if not a beachhead of an unfriendly India. This cannot but impact upon the progress of the process of the full devolution of powers in accordance with the Thirteenth Amendment.

It is of course true that India is of sufficient size, strength and significance to ignore the sentiments of its neighbours. However, the relationship with Vietnam cannot be entirely irrelevant to China nor can that with Mexico be irrelevant to the U.S. Both relationships have a history of suspicion on the part of the smaller power. As a small island, Sri Lanka lacks the weight of a Vietnam or Mexico, but it can be a prickly porcupine which will then be regarded by India more as the U.S. did Cuba. This would entail a complete abdication of soft power in Delhi’s equation with Colombo, its retrenchment to and residual retention only in the island’s Northern periphery and the replacement of equidistance or a balancing act between Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority and Tamil minority in favour of an irrevocable Indian tilt to the latter.

Vital cards

After the friction of a few years ago with its neighbours, China is more aware of the importance of how it is perceived to behave in its own immediate environs. The loss to India’s soft power in South Asia by the alienation of Sri Lanka will neither be negligible nor ephemeral. This is an outcome and scenario that need to be rethought in a neighbourhood that is not devoid of competition.

The presence or absence of the Indian Prime Minister at CHOGM and India’s vote on an international inquiry mechanism at the UNHRC in March 2014 are cards that must not be thrown away. As Ronald Reagan cautioned, once you’ve played your last card, you no longer have it. India must not gain the Tamil minority of the island only to lose Sri Lanka. India’s Sri Lanka policy must not seem as if it has been formulated at the Madras Cafe.

*This article appeared in the Hindu

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Mr. Dayan is desperate to please Percy Rajapaksa – his Sinhala-Malay-hybrid buddhist master, to get another diplomuttic posting in a leading western capital. He & wife are longing for the life they lead as Singala diplomutts in France. Mr. Dayan has also got the bright idea, that if he were in Europe, it would be so much easier to jump ship, when Percy’s pathetic ship inevitably sinks. He would be more than happy to get a temp job as an adjunct lecturer in a 3rd rate Europian University – which would not be possible if he were living in the undemocratic Sinhala Buddhist republic of Shri Lanka.

    Mr. Dayan warns mighty India – this antic will only delight & impress the swabasha educated and uneducated, common sense lacking Singala masses. He, Percy, Goat-ah, Base-ill & supposedly precocious Na-mule, are convinced that they are successfully manipulating India & holding India to ransom!

    I heard from an associate in Colombo that Mr.Dayan may have had an old relationship with Malathi de Alwis – who also, like many of her kind in SL, uses her mediocre academic skills to whitewash their Singala Buddhist state. Heard that some experts are compiling very useful n-dimensional matrixed lists of such Singala individuals [who have very enthusiastically & dilligently whitewashed their Singala Buddhist state], and their handiwork.

    This October 2009 handiwork glibly concludes: “There’s no evidence of rape as a weapon of war in Sri Lanka” !!


    Mr. Dayan, I learn, has fond hopes for “reconciliation” between the Tamil nation and the Singala nation. He, Percy, the Sinhala-Malay hybrid family and the swabasha educated yakkos are entitled to their favourite delusions.

    The term “reconciliation” has different meanings to the people of the Tamil nation. The western and Indian policy makers are belatedly learning this ground reality.

    • 0

      Devinda Subasinghe is not very confident, when he blatently lies & whitewashes the Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lankan state & military. Yet, he manages to be glib during most of this video interview, taken a few days after May 18, 2009. To those who have interest: please research his current work and clients in the USA and elsewhere. He is no longer doing his patriotic duty to the Sihala Buddhist state – and is making US $$$s for his retirement account. Good career move!!

      Yet, in my opinion, Devinda Subasinghe, would not have been so crude in speaking to Navi Pillay at the UNHRC in Geneva, during May 2009, as how Mr. Dayan was!

      Janani Jananayagam does a good job in presenting the case of the Tamil nation.

      Please also focus on what the neutral Dr. Anna Neistat, at that time a senior researcher from Human Rights Watch, stated during this May 2009 video.

      The slimy Mr.Dayan may even want to personally “reconcile” with Navi Pillay, at this moment!!

      But, then, the slimy Mr.Dayan is, especially now, prepared to swallow whatever pride he has, and perform actions which he would have been too damn proud to do in 2009!!


    • 0

      Why cant Dayan Jayathilaka do a better job than bringing articles consecutively.

      The areas are – Police and administration.

      Lack of law and order as Dr. Asokas clearly pointed out – is distinquishable in current day srilanka. law to be in action, police should be trained well. Developed nations can definitely help srilanka in this regard. Senior Diplomats like Jayathilaka can work on approaching respective parties in France, Germany and other European countries. This is a step Govt must work wihtout being further late – instead of trying to write bunkem, why Mr Jayathilaka has not even made any efforts to help HIS BELOVED regime run by MR thugs in this regard ????’

  • 0

    India was noticed and respected when it had powerful leaders. Nehru’s leadership made India a respected nation and India during his time became the leader of the third world countries in the form of the Non-
    Aligned bloc of nations which stood up against American hegemony. After Nehru,his daughter Indira Gandhi made India as the most powerful nation among the emerging developing counries. Her audacious decision to send the Indian Army into East Pakistan, despite Pakistan’s defence alliance with the United States, helped create Bangladesh . After Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi led India into the rank of advanced nations with nuclear capability. He forced the Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement on JR Jayawardene and sent IPKF to Sri Lanka. IPKF failed in its mission is another matter.

    Indian military adventures in neigbouring countries is a thing of the past. Such militry interventions happened when India had powerful leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Even if Rahul Gandhi ascends to the Indian throne, I do not think he would dare to do what his father and grand mother did.

    India, under the leadership of less powerful personalities like Moraji Desai, Lal Bahudur Sastri, Vajpayee, Charan Singh, Narasimha Rao, VP Singh etc never projected its power or importance in the world arena. The present Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh belongs to this category of less powerful personalities. His position is compounded by the fact that he is a puppet Prime Minister directed and controlled by Sonia Gandhi who would not dare to take up the mantle of India’s leadership because of her Italian ancestry.

    Brahmins and Keralities in the South Block traditionally decide on India’s foreign policy and their power becomes more pronounced at times when weak personalities occupy the PM’s chair. But, for the first time in India’s foreign policy history, these Indian mandarins failed to prevail on an Indian Prime Minister when state political considerations in Tamil Nadu compelled Manmohan Singh to reject their advice and voted against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council. Again the same state political considerations, particularly at a time when Lok Sabha elections are due, may make Manmohan Singh to decide not to attend the CHOGM meeting in Colombo next month.

    Non attendance of Manmohan Singh at the Colombo CHOGM meeting cannot be considered a snub to President Rajapakse or Sri Lanka. But, of course, it will lead to further strains in relations between the two countries. India would further lose its influence over Sri Lanka and the Sinhala nationalists will get more strident in their attacks on India for its pro-Tamil policies. If Manmohan Singh fails to attend the Colombo CHOGM, it will be the Sri Lankan Tamils and TNA that would stand to lose. Sinhala extremists will prevent President Rajapakse from giving any more concessions to the Tamils.

    If India wants to prevail on Sri Lanka to make it grant concessions to the Tamils, Manmohan Singh should attend the Colombo CHOGM.

    Australia decided not to boycott the Colombo CHOGM because it knows well that this gesture will ensure full cooperation of Sri Lanka in stopping the Sri Lankan boat people arriving on the shores of Australia. That is diplomacy.

    • 0

      “Brahmins and Keralities in the South Block traditionally decide on India’s foreign policy” says the well-informed commentator Naga. But will this widely held belief stand the test of scrutiny? By the way
      there are Kerala Brahmins too.

      In Dixit’s book on the Sri Lanka conflict he pays tribute to his guru
      M.K. Rasgotra. In my many chats with IHC’s I have noted they remember with much respect former diplomats and Foreign Secy’s like R.K. Nehru,
      Subimall Dutt, M.N. Desai, C.S. Jha (Snr) R. Dayal, T.N. Kaul, Kewal Singh, J.S. Metha, Salman Haidar et all – jus to mention a few names and all outside the Kerala-Tamilnadu loop.

      I have noticed New Delhi, like the American system, draws heavily from its think-tanks outside the State in the formation of foreign policy – which is not, incidentally, the total preserve of the Indian Foreign Service. They draw from many different sources. Emphasis is usually laid to ensure policy makers are not influenced by parochial and emotional considerations.


      • 0


        I think you have omitted two important advisors to Indra, D P Dhar and G Parthasarathy.

      • 0

        You are only partially correct. I agree with Naga comments that it is menon and nambudhiris of Kerala and Iyers and Iyengars of TN along with their counterparts in mukerjee and gupta’s of Benagl and Bihar decides the Foreign policies. But this is likely to change in future due to large number of IFS officers having been selected from TN in last 10 years. Until 2001, it was hardly three IAS officers been selected to Civil service , but after 2001 in every UPSC exam minimum 30-40 out of 300 posts are selected from TN due to educational success of TN.Now it si time for new delhi to realise paradigm shift in foreign policy. Modi is right is his claims, foreign policy should have state represenatation.

  • 0

    Dear Native

    Looks like the wily N. Ram has prevailed. There was a drastic change
    in the editorial policy matters late last week. Ravi is now Chief editor and Ram has more influence. Its a family show again with Malini Parthasarathy the other in the trio.


  • 0

    Man Moron Singh will not come. You wait and see.

    If he comes Tamils will commit mass suicide.

  • 0

    Manmohan Singh’s silence masks serious weaknesses and corruption, possibly even depression, as per a New York Times article about 5 months back. Well-known Indians, like the historian Ramachandra Guha, questioned his competence and said he was very weak.

    The article was headlined “Indians Grow Impatient With Taciturn Premier Amid Troubles.” People can google for that and find the link.

  • 0

    Why doesn’t the ‘political analyst,’ write about important issues like CHOGM participation, Weliveriya, Defacto’s refusal to let in Commonwealth jurists appear in support of expelled CJ Shirani Bandaranayake’s appeal, the Casino venture etc? Or the multiplication like cancer-cells of Rajapakse Ministers? So much material for Dayan but he prefers to dwell on the UNP’s troubles and divert the national debate. Once kicked out by MR, DJ wants to get back into some billet.

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