By R. K. Radhakrishnan –
Indian National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon arrived here late on Thursday night to discuss issues arising out of Sri Lanka’s reluctance to fulfill its promises, more than three years after the crushing defeat of the Tamil Tigers.
He will meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and others on Friday, ahead of heading back in one of the shortest visits by a visiting Indian official in recent times. Mr Menon, who arrived in a special aircraft, is accompanied by the Joint Secretary (BSM) Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
In the previous visits during and after the Eelam War IV, the first of which he undertook as Foreign Secretary, Mr Menon had outlined the Indian expectations, and had encouraged Sri Lanka to travel the path of genuine reconciliation post-war. Nothing of that sort happened in the manner India hoped it would. Rather, Sri Lanka has taken a completely different path, and has firmly focused on policing the State better, apart from embarking on a series of infrastructure development measures in the North.
The Northern Province continues to be the only one without an elected council. The reason the government spelt out on Thursday, was that demining was yet to be completed in the North. Even without completing demining, the government did find it comfortable to hold the local body elections – which the Tamil National Alliance, the only credible representative of the people of the North, swept.
In his two previous visits, Mr Menon, a former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, had clearly stated the Indian position on various issues. In his last visit, asked if India was adamant on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, Mr Menon has said, “Our goal is an arrangement; the 13th Amendment is their amendment, not our amendment…we did the India-Sri Lanka agreement and gave them an enabling environment in which to implement their own amendment. Now if they think they want to do better than the 13th Amendment let them do it…They want to do it different, that’s for them. They all [all parties] must feel comfortable with it,”.
Between Mr Menon’s last visit and the current visit, the Indian External Affairs Minister, S M Krishna, and an Indian joint Parliamentary delegation led by Sushma Swaraj, had met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After discussions with Mr Rajapaksa, both Mr Krishna and Ms Swaraj said that Mr Rajapaksa had promised a political solution going beyond the 13th Amendment. A few days after the conclusion of the visits, the local press insisted that the 13th Amendment was not discussed with Ms Swaraj; and no promises were made to Mr Krishna.
But the most important issue that has affected Indo-Sri Lankan relations is the Indian vote for the United States–backed resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, asking Sri Lanka, among other things, to implement recommendations of a post-war commission that it had set up. Sri Lanka has been smarting under what it sees as the “Indian betrayal” and has been trying to win new friends across the world. The vote has hardened the anti-India feeling in the establishment. Local newspapers reports said that Indian overtures to help Sri Lanka in refurbishing its only oil refinery, and rebuild an airport have been turned down.
Mr Menon’s visit comes at a juncture when the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has found time to meet bilaterally all allies in the region, barring Mr Rajapaksa. He has had three “on-the-sidelines” meeting so far in the past year with Mr Rajapaksa. Also, Mr Rajapaksa’s invitation to Dr Singh to visit Sri Lanka has been in the deep freezer for over a year.
Mr Menon, who will unequivocally convey to the Sri Lankan leadership the path that India will traverse towards achieving a genuine political solution in Sri Lanka, has the most unenviable task of getting a message across to the Sri Lankan leadership — ‘Time’s up. Act now’
Dissolving three provincial councils just a day ahead of Mr Menon’s arrival in Colombo, Mr Rajapaksa has already given India the answer, It is election time, and hence no concessions can be made.