28 May, 2022


Sri Lanka: 13A, CHOGM, China And India

By R Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

[This is an extract of answers to questions raised by a webmedia in E-mail interview.]

Q1. India has blown hot and cold over the Sri Lankan national question over the past several decades.  Now there is 13A and the elections for a Northern Provincial government looming. Do you see the Manmohan government acting positive and decisively in this context?

There are two narratives on India’s stand on the Sri Lankan national question. One is India as a regional power which would like to maintain a strategically useful and friendly relationship with Sri Lanka and the other, a national narrative based upon the traditional linkages between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka Tamils. The “hot and cold” relationship as you call it is due to the priorities of which narrative overtakes policy making at a specific time of criticality.

India had been trying to strike a balance between the two narratives. The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord 1987 was a product of this recipe. And it had all the makings of satisfying neither the regional strategic needs nor the local Tamil aspirations. It was in a way built into fail because it had so many loopholes for politicians on both sides to wriggle out of their commitment. The 13A as a product of this Accord is there with a lot of short comings. But it is at least recognition of the need for equitable justice to minorities. (I am not a great votary of the 13A; it needs to be reworked in the present climate when LTTE guns have been silenced. See my latest SAAG update on 13A uploaded yesterday.)

When Rajapaksa came to power and promised devolution and then waged Eelam war and sought Indian acquiescence, it was the regional narrative that dictated the policy. But when he failed to save the face of New Delhi by going back on his promises, New Delhi’s inability to meet the political demands in Tamil Nadu on the issue brought on the national narrative to the fore. With the elections looming for Indian parliament end 2013-14, the ruling Congress coalition facing multiple hazards to win the next election, national narrative is likely to get shriller unless Rajapaksa (in the most unlikely event ) of doing a sleight of hand and gets Tamils back in political mainstream.

In international relations acting positively and decisively as you term it comes perhaps on the last stage before slapping sanctions or going to war. Indian foreign policy moves like the proverbial Indian elephant – at its own phase – and its large political body takes a long time to get decisive action going. Keeping this as well as the existing antagonistic relationship between the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and New Delhi in view, I do not expect a dramatic breakthrough in the near future. Ms Jayalalithaa’s partisan approach to Sri Lanka national question limits her capability to rally India to act positively and equitably to bring about a useful solution.

After all, the days of Operation Poomalai that sent IAF aircraft to drop food supplies to beleaguered Jaffna are over. No country – not even the so called super power the U.S. – can get away with it unless it has a level of acceptance internationally. Indian usually does not make such multilateral moves in its neighbourhood unless it is under the UN aegis.

Q2. How do you see CHOGM playing a role in the present predicament at its September meeting in Sri Lanka?  Canada has dropped out while David Cameron has said he will attend and yet give a terse message. South Africa is also likely to follow in the same vein. Others including Australia may toe a different line. How do you see a man accused as a war criminal functioning as the Head of the Commonwealth in the next two years?

The CHOGM undoubtedly puts India in a dilemma of Shakespearean proportions. Here also we see the national and regional narratives making their play to pull Indian decision making in opposite directions.

Tamil Nadu political parties, including the Congress, have asked for boycotting the CHOGM in protest against Sri Lanka’s conduct and lack of accountability. India does not take such drastic decisions. I don’t think present leadership in New Delhi would take such a step which could damage the strained India-Sri Lanka relationship irreparably (already soured by Indian vote at UNHCR) as Mahinda Rajapaksa who would be ascending to CHOGM chair could take it as a personal affront.

But New Delhi is definitely not happy with his broken promises and prevarication which have politically embarrassed Indian national leadership. And it will be paying a price for it in coalition politics. New Delhi will be factoring these aspects while considering Tamil Nadu’s political pressures.

If political compulsions and pressures from Chennai are insurmountable then New Delhi might downgrade the level of participation to Minister of External Affairs.

On the other hand, India at the strategic level would like to leverage its attendance to get what it wants from Sri Lanka. In the present context it might be limited only to ensure the Northern Province elections go through without amending 13A. Already Sri Lanka has indicated that it would be the game plan. It would be logical to deduce this did not come from a change of heart in Sri Lanka but as a sop to India. While it might satisfy North Block in New Delhi it is unlikely to be accepted in Tamil Nadu. So presumably India could apply more pressure on Mahinda – form and content of this remains in the realms of speculation – in the coming weeks.

Personally, I feel India should participate in CHOGM – at whatever level it wants – so that Rajapaksa’s double speak is laid bared to all the leaders on the sidelines of the conference or interspersed amidst generalities that pass for CHOGM declaration. Perhaps David Cameron is already working on such a thing and India can ginger it up a bit to send a strong medicine to Rajapaksa.

Boycott is a one shot affair suited to Canadian vote banks but not India as it has umbilical relations with Sri Lanka. India has to take the narrative further, not chop it.

Q3. Rajapakse has cultivated China assiduously and there is even a defence agreement for the supply of arms and training.   How do you view China’s role in this context?

Yes Chinese are in a big way, digging their heels in Sri Lanka in many sectors. This is what they are doing in Nepal, where they are funding Chinese language teaching. And Bangladesh is in line for it. Pakistan is a strong strategic ally just as Myanmar is. The entire Indian neighbourhood is coming under high profile Chinese presence in infrastructure, telecom, tourism, power generation, and consumer goods sectors.

But it should not be forgotten that in India also Chinese influence in the same business sectors, barring Chinese tourism, is going up. Already Indian companies are availing RMB loans. India-China trade is poised to hit $ 100 billion in 2015. Would Chinese want to endanger this by stepping on India’s corns with a confrontational profile in Sri Lanka? I don’t think so. They will be more nuanced and subtle.

This does not minimise the strategic risk India will be facing with incremental Chinese influence. It does not matter whether it is defence training or arms supply. India surpasses all countries put together in training Sri Lankan troops. India does not supply arms to Sri Lanka in any case. China cannot match India except in select areas. And there is a military culture that has to have compatibility which India and Sri Lanka enjoy much more than China could aspire. But they could use Sri Lanka as a springboard for snooping on Indian communication, manage intelligence network, embed agents and practise all the arts and crafts of intelligence because India and Sri Lanka are so close.  India has no option but to counter them using their own assets in Sri Lanka.

But the real danger is in China influencing Sri Lankan policy decisions that could adversely affect India in trade, transit, furthering India-Sri Lanka economic links. Already there are some indications that some attempts are being made. With Sri Lanka so close by land and sea in times of war which I do not visualise, China’s ever-growing profile would be a real threat. The merchant marine assets could be used for R and R and supply; telecom satellites could eavesdrop on India. India should factor it in its big picture of regional strategy and in shaping its China policy and Sri Lanka policy because this is what Big Game is all about. This will be more so when Chinese naval profile increases its potential as a threat in Indian Ocean in next ten years. I am sure someone is already doing it or planning to do it [in their reckoning] in North and South Blocks, political leaders willing.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: colhari@yahoo.com   Blog: www.colhariharan.org

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Graft India and the Tyrant Sri Lanka is no news.

  • 0

    Indo-Lanka relations have come to a more delicate stage than that time
    when Panikkar expressed his fears and, audaciously, hinted India should
    virtually take over many of the States in the region. China and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan – no particular buddies of India – are already here in the island. While much of China’s entry is more trade-based for the present Pakistan appears intent on making capital on the religious factor stirring up fundamentalist groups more in the EP – all directed to play a futuristic role in he event of conflict be it Indo-Pakistan or Indo-Chinese.

    All of these go to suggest the Rajapakse Family has to come out with greater savvy in trying to analyse issues facing the land and play their cards at a time where regional powers are already flexing their muscles. Any wrong or false move will endanger the present and future of over 20 million innocent civilians. Premadasa learnt the hard way
    playing Kehelwatte type of politics with regional giants entails a heavy price – sooner or later. A misguided and misleading clerical majority makes the situation all the more muddy for the regime under siege in more than one direction.


  • 0

    Indians are borrowing even RMBs to make fat cats fatter including the ones in Tamil Nadu.

    78 Million Indians live on the streets, under bypasses and bridges even in Bombay, according to a BBC Doc which I saw the other day.

    Over 500 Million are living below the poverty line.

    Fifty Five percent have no toilets, Only ten percent have access to running water.according to a close friend from Calcutta.

    Why would India want to take on China, to please the crooked CMs in TN, when the North Indians consider them as a pain in the butt.

    • 0

      Sumane: “Why would India want to take on China,” because even in large Chinese cities they have excreta all over their streets and even in the landings of hospitals though the Chinese gave the potty to the world. In southern SL you have your bollocks eaten by the pigs so the castrated Sinhala Buddhist terrorist.Another peculiar habit about the Chinese is that they never wash their hands after ablution but carry on making the take-away.Authors of the bird flue love the pig like the Sinhala Buddhist monks.

      The no of Europeans sleeping on the streets of London have increased year on year – so you have not seen that on BBC because they will not show like rajapassa.

    • 0

      K.A Sumanasekera

      “78 Million Indians live on the streets, under bypasses and bridges even in Bombay, according to a BBC Doc which I saw the other day.”

      So you trust BBC.

    • 0

      Care first 1 million of your sisters, daughters, mothers cleaning toilets in Arab before caring about India. I read every month at least one women is killed there. First have shame for your plight before pointing others, between have you visited china interior?

  • 0

    “When Rajapaksa came to power and promised devolution and then waged Eelam war and sought Indian acquiescence,”

    Don’t talk crap buddy.After prabha killed Indian soldiers and rajiv ghandhi there was no need for srilanka to get any acquiescence from India to wipe the tigers out.Tigers dug their own grave by lashing out at their one time benefactor.The only acquiescence that rajapakshe would have sought was to be allowed to have substantial collateral damage in the process of wiping out the tigers and obviously from what happened to upto 40000 civilians India had given acquiescence for that.So if china becomes a big problem for you in the future as surely it will as nights sets after day,then damn good for you and the tamils will see you getting mauled by the chinks the same way you watched and did nothing when the tamil civilians were getting mauled.Not only did you do nothing but subsequently you blocked every international effort to probe and hold those accountable for the atrocities.

    Bye bye India,tamils are going to the west,and ditching you completely in future.Once bitten twice shy they say,in this case thrice bitten,once by the atrocities of the IPKF,then by encouraging the srilankan government to slaughter the tamils and third time by blocking every international effort to bring the culprits to task.

    If the tamils trust india again they are fools.They must firmly be with the west and west only.Let India wallow in its own filth.

    The srilankan government is also doing the correct thing by veering away from India towards china,thailand and other bhuddhist countries.I hope tamilnadu also has the sense to do that one day and get out of the clutches of the aryans for good and become a proud and independent chola/pandya nation again and stand on its own feet and develop strong relationships with china,indonesia,thailand,malaysia,singapore etc.

  • 0

    India has handful of things to do;

    “2.5 million children die in India annually, before they reach 05th Birth Day”
    this is Unicef Ad on Indian Local TV Channels. Because of Malnutrition,lack of health care, sanitation, safe drinking water etc, by product of poverty as some 600 million live below poverty line.

    Why the hell they peep in to other countries ?

    • 0

      Please read other day an article in CT that 20% srilankan malnourished and likely to grow more, Care that first.

    • 0


      “Why the hell they peep in to other countries ?”

      Good question, many have been raising these issues for many years.

      Since Indians have no toilets, its only appropriate that Sri Lanka repay the $3 billion loan it borrowed from India since 2005 to finance the war.

      You seem very considerate, please persuade your state to settle the loan before India write it off as bad debt.

  • 0

    India as a regional power, Sri Lanka’s national question – hilarious terms.

    India can not provide toilets to it’s citizens, Gaag rapes and rapes are out of control in India. A country behaving unbelievably primitive, want to control the whole world.

    • 0


      “Gaag rapes and rapes are out of control in India.”

      Jimmy why don’t you visit Sri Lanka as well?

    • 0

      All you can think of when speaking about India is toilets. As if the Sinhala Modayas dont use toilets… They only clean toilets of the Arabs in Gulf, especially their women and then get beheaded.

      At least in India despite the uneveness of development there is no sinhala modaya virus that makes living in this paradise more like living in a toilet…

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