25 January, 2021

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Required: A Sri Lanka Policy

By Ana Pararajasingham

Ana Pararajasingham

In December 2004, I wrote a paper titled “India’s Sri Lanka Policy: Need for A Review”   (first published in the website of the South Asian Analysis Group)   arguing that that there was a need for New Delhi to review its Sri Lanka Policy. My argument was based on the premise that a country’s national interests are served only when policies are based on ground realities. I pointed out that India’s Sri Lanka policy did not reflect ground realities, which, at that time meant    acknowledging the existence of two distinct power centres in Sri Lanka-Colombo in the South and Killinocchchi in the North.  The implication was clear-New Delhi should seek to improve its leverage by adopting a more nuanced approach to ensure that its own interests were not compromised.

Instead, New Delhi, dictated by the belief  that by helping Colombo reassert its dominance over the entire island it could keep Sri Lanka within its orbit, provided Colombo with logistical support to cut off Tigers’ weapons supply.   It did not foresee Colombo counterbalancing Indian influence by bringing in China. Even after China’s direct involvement, New Delhi continued to extend its support to Colombo driven by the logic that it could not sit back and surrenders Sri Lanka into China’s embrace.[1]   In the meantime, by making New Delhi complicit in the brutal manner in which it brought the war to an end, Colombo has more than counterbalanced Indian influence. New Delhi’s apparent complicity in the horrendous war crimes committed during the final stages of the war has compromised New Delhi’s capacity to influence Colombo.  New Delhi’s impotence is not only due to its suspected complicity but also because of the demise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As the International Crisis Group  pointed out With the LTTE gone, the Indian government may have lost its best opportunity to influence Sri Lankan policy… That powerful leverage has now been lost”.[2]

What New Delhi had not quite thought through in implementing its policy which was primarily focused on getting rid of the LTTE[3] can be broadly summarised as follows:

(a) A complete failure to grasp the agenda of the Sri Lankan State in respect of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan State given its unitary constitution is a state where all political power resides with the majority Sinhala nation. This is because within the confines of unitary state the Sinhalese who make up well over seventy-five per cent of the population are a permanent majority. Since its independence in 1948, this Sinhala dominated state has relentlessly pursued an agenda of completely Sinhalising the state. This agenda is informed by the ideology that the entire island belongs only to the Sinhalese and the Tamils are interlopers. This is a well understood ideology explored in depth by several academics, Sinhalese, Tamils and those from the international community. It is this notion which has driven   successive Sri Lankan governments to pursue Sinhalisation through various means and thereby deny the Tamils a distinct identity as a people occupying a contiguous well defined area-the Tamil Homeland. Consequently any arrangement that provides autonomy to the Tamils is anathema to the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan state.   Hence, Mohan Ram’s conclusion in “Sri Lanka Fractured Island” that the “ Sinhala majority  has all along thought that any Tamil demand can only be met  the cost of its own interest, a zero sum game… and is not reconciled to even providing  limited concessions  the Tamils were given under the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement”[4]

New Delhi appears to have not grasped this basic tenet underpinning the actions of the Sri Lankan state. Its hope that with the demise of the LTTE, Sri Lanka could be persuaded to at least ‘devolve’ some political power to the Tamils was entirely misplaced. New Delhi’s role in cooperating with Colombo appears to have been predicated by the flawed perception that once the LTTE is liquidated the Sinhalese could be persuaded to provide concessions to the Tamils.

Instead, the Sri Lankan state has taken advantage of the military solution which it had imposed with New Delhi’s help to further its own agenda of Sinhalising the state through changing the demography of the Tamil Homeland. This is being pursued through a strategy of ‘Ethnic flooding’[5] whereby the Tamil Homeland is flooded with Sinhalese population, initially, with families of the armed forces and thereafter with civilian settlers. New Delhi has been completely outsmarted by this strategy which has the potential to render any ‘devolution’ meaningless.

(b) A failure to evaluate the impact of China’s direct involvement in Sri Lanka

It has been argued that India’s involvement in Sri Lanka has been underpinned by the doctrine that Colombo should remain exclusively within New Delhi’s sphere of influence. This is based on the premise of India being the regional power and Sri Lanka a state within this region.[6] By permitting China’s entry, New Delhi has in effect not only abandoned this policy but appears to have endangered its own geopolitical interests.

(c) A failure to realise the impact  in Tamil Nadu

New Delhi has failed to factor into its strategy of assisting Sri Lanka, the fall out in Tamil Nadu. The manner in which the victory was achieved through the deployment of genocidal   violence and the role played by New Delhi in extending its support to the Sri Lankan regime has alienated Tamil Nadu. Sam Rajappa, writing for the New Statesman noted that Tamil Nadu is on the boil due to India’s contribution to the genocide (of Tamils) in Sri Lanka and should Rajapaksa and company are hauled up before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, New Delhi cannot escape responsibility for this horrendous brutality.[7]  In 2011, Tamil Nadu Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution seeking the imposition of economic sanctions against Sri Lanka by India. The resolution moved by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa also wanted India to press the United Nations to declare as “war criminals” those who committed crimes during the conflict in Sri Lanka. [8] New Delhi’s  impotence or unwillingness to press for a strongly wondered resolution at the March 2013 UNHCR sessions has made it untenable for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) the ruling party’s ally in the Central government to continue its support for a government that is widely viewed by Tamil Nadu as having betrayed the  Tamil  people. In March 2013 the DMK withdrew its support greatly undermining the Congress led UPA’s capacity to stay in power.

It is imperative on the part of New Delhi’s policy makers to review the failed Sri Lanka policy and forge a bold approach to regain some influence in the region.

This bold approach must primarily address the ongoing plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka taking into account the agenda of the Sri Lankan state and its inclination to continue with the zero sum game. As part of its Sri Lanka policy New Delhi can and indeed should seek to protect the Tamil people by transforming the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka into a protectorate. There is precedence for such an act in the protection that the US was able to provide for Iraq’s Kurdish population   in northern Iraq.

If New Delhi is able to successfully implement such a policy it can serve its interest in many ways. Apart from addressing the Tamil Nadu factor, it can also provide New Delhi the strategic space to counter the increasing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. Such a policy will also be in keeping with the advice proffered by Professor Sumantra  Bose[9] in 2007 in  the course  of his key note address at a  seminar[10] exploring the international dimensions of the conflict in Sri Lanka. According to Bose, despite the unhappy history of the last twenty years, it is with the Tamil people of Sri Lanka that India needs to build its alliance. New Delhi ought to build on the natural affinity between India and the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. There is no other community that has such powerful affinity of a historical and cultural nature with India. He made this point in the context of the perception by the Indian establishment “with good cause” that it is surrounded by hostility in the region[11].


*Ana Pararajasingham was Director- Programmes with the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) between 2008 and 2009.    He is the author of “Sri Lanka’s Endangered Peace Process and the Way Forward” (2007) and the editor of “The Conflict in Sri Lanka::Ground Realities (2005) and “Sri Lanka:60 Years of Independence and Beyond” (2009).



[1] A Pratap in  “Lessons to be learnt from the rout of the LTTE” –The Week 31 May 2009

[2]   The International Crisis Group “India and Sri Lanka after the LTTE”, June 2011, p6

[3] Ibid p4-5

[4] Mohan Ram, Sri Lanka: The Fractured Island, New Delhi: Penguin Books (India), 1989,p138

[5] Ethnic flooding – the continuing and deliberate settling of Sinhalese populations on land in the Tamil homeland – to alter the demographic balance and thereby systemically erase the Tamil nation’s territorial identity- S Sathanathan in “After Pirapakaran: Deepening Internal Colonialism”, http://www.sangam.org/2010/08/Internal_Colonialism.php, viewed on 19th March 2013.

[6] D T Hagerty,”India’s Regional Security Doctrine”, Asian Survey, Vol: XXXXI, No 4, April 1991

[7]“ S Rajappa,  “India and ‘the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, The Statesman, 12 July 2011, http://thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=376293&catid=38 viewed on 18th July 2011

[9] Sumantra Bose is Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). His books include “Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus, and Sri Lanka” (Harvard University Press, 2007), “Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace” (Harvard University Press, 2003), “Bosnia after Dayton: Nationalist Partition and International Intervention” (Oxford University Press, 2002) and  “Nations, Sovereignty: Sri Lanka, India and the Tamil Eelam Movement” (Sage Publications, 1994). He graduated from Amherst College, Massachusetts and received a doctorate in political science from Columbia University in 1998.

[10] Jointly hosted by TRANCEND International and the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) in Switzerland in June 2007.

[11] S Bose, “India”  in “ International Dimensions of the Conflict in Sri Lanka” Centre  for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) , Emmenbrucke, Switzerland, 2008.

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Latest comments

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    Championing the Tamil cause is blinding the capacity of analysis: India has no interest in an independent Tamil state. New Delhi maintained equilibrium only for its own convenience. India started oil exploration in its side of the strait and when they had the opportunity, they grabbed the other one. With the LTTE was clearly impossible to strike a deal (Norway tried hard: in fact it was a Norwegian company, TGS Nopec, to begin with seismic survey in the Mannar Basin). So the annihilation of the Tigers was convenient for New Delhi. That’s it. Tamil and Sinhala are equally distant from the ruling class in India. And Tamil Nadu is another player to be subjugated. The message is clear: Tamil cause is not an Indian priority. On the contrary: the more you can contain it, the better.

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      you are absolutely wrong. If that was the case, GOI would have favored SL in UNHRC like in 2009, but chose other way in 2012, and 2013. Now TN filing in SC to get back Katchaheevu donated to SL. The things will be strengthened because GOSL acted like a rouge state than being responsible state. Much to blame GOSL than anyone else in globe. They had golden opportunity when LTTE was defeated, they should have taken Tamils of North and NE of SL and made every efforts to provide an healthy atmosphere peacefully, but GOSL played different sinhalisation of north and NE, that made all of us to unite.

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    This guy Ana Pararajasingham was an LTTE apologist. He is now preaching that India should protect the Tamils by transforming the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka into a protectorate. In essence Ana is in fact calling for the creation of a Tamil Eelam.

    Ana like all those pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora is living in a dream land. Tamils could have had their protectorate under India had Prabaharan went along with Rajiv Gandhi.

    United States and its allies created a protectorate for the Kurdish people in Iraq in the aftermath of Gulf War. That was done to prevent the death of hundreds of thousands of Kurds in the hands of a repressive Saddam regime. Kurdish protectorate in Iraq cannot be cited as a precedent for the creation of a similar protectorate for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Kurdish type of situation does not exist in Sri Lanka now.

    Prabaharan had a defined geographical area under his control. He had an Army, Navy, Air Force and a Police Force. He had definite territory and a population under his control. With all these attributes of a state he could not declare or establish a Tamil Eelam. That was because he knew very well that no country in the world would come forward to recognise a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is through recognition that a state becomes a legal person under the international law.

    Tamil Eelam dream had died with Prabaharan. There is no point in flocking a dead horse. It may however continue to live in the dreams of pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora.

    India has lost even the little leverage it had over Sri Lanka by adopting an anti- Sri Lanka stance before UNHRC in order to please Tamil Nadu politicians.

    India is no more an influential country in the South Asian region. It lost its pre-eminence in South Asia a long time ago. The days of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are over. India has now become an American satellite under Manmohan Singh. India is presently surrounded by unfriendly countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even Maldives. Bangladesh is no means a friend of India.

    The stupid antics of Tamil Nadu politicians had made Sri Lanka to firmly embrace China. Not just the Sri Lankan government but almost all the Sinhalese have become anti-Tamil Nadu and anti-Indian.

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      I tell you, even if you hug with chinese and pakistanis when it comes to direct conflict with India, neither of them will side with you.So for India, it does not matter whether you love to hug with chinese or pakistanis. Your government overplays china friendly card against India while the chinese change in regiment has changed looking more friendly relation towards India. So it is you who live false dream of invincibility.

      Your GOSL lost a golden opportunity in 2009 by taking everyone into confidence for a peaceful path, in turn they went more hostile at the back drop of victory over LTTE. Still I feel it is not too late, follow amendment 13-A as suggested by GOI,and devolution of power.Else, you have a bleak future

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      Naga,

      You are a typical racist Sinhalese and you are allergic to anything positive any one writes about Tamils. It is clear from your analysis how ignorant you are about world politics.It is you who is in a dream world and let me clarify some your analysis

      1) Rajiv Gandhi didnt come to Sri Lanka as an honest broker but as a big brother to impose his will and the Indian army simply replaced the Sri Lankan army and carried on the killing.
      2)The Kurdish protectorate you are talking about is only in Iraq but for your information there are Kurdish minority in Turkey and Iran and they are still persecuted. I dont know if you have heard of PKK.
      3)Tamil Eelam is not a dream but a necessity and people like you strenghthen that view.
      4)India is not an American Satelite but a regional power with whom Anerica shares a lot of vital military secrets to keep China & Pakistan on check.
      5) But this will definitely disappoint you. Sri Lanka is an Indian satelite and whether you like or not or admit it India has total jurisdiction over Sri Lanka as Sri Lankas Sovereignty is limited to Indias Security.
      6) Just ask youself this question. Sri Lanka has one of the natural harbours in the world which is Trincomalee. It is 63 years since Sri Lanka gained independance. Sri Lanka could have earned billions of pounds not rupees by allowing Chinese and Americans to use the facilty but Why do you think it has idled up to now and it is because India would not allow any to have a Naval presence there. That is the limit of your freedom and there is a limit to how far India would allow China to have any military presence in Sri Lanka and frankly nil .

      So grow up man and talk sense not rubbish.

  • 0
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    Ana Pararajasingham , Im not sure , you are an Indian or a Sri lankan Tamil…
    If you are an Indian, you are a True Patriot. If not you are a TRAITOR,,, Read back this article what you published,,,

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    Here is India’s position today.
    What was said in 2004 while sitting in Vanni and getting paid in dollars and other stories has no meaning.

    http://ibnlive.in.com/news/centre-talks-tough-khurshid-rejects-tn-resolution-against-sri-lanka/381878-37-64.html

  • 0
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    Please read “the. Wretch of the earth ” by Franz Fannon and “India ” by Naipaul. Then you will understand, what’s truth and reality.

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