12 August, 2020

Blog

T-Junction In The Road – HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

By Sutirtho Patranobis and Pramit Pal Chaudhuri –

THEN At one point in May, four years ago, it seemed a golden age in India-Sri Lanka relations was imminent. Tamil Tiger supremo V Prabhakaran had been killed and the 26-year-old Lankan civil war had come to an end. India was pleased. Both sides were one the need to defeat the LTTE. The omens were good: the final battle took place as Tamil Nadu went to the polls — and the pro-Tiger parties lost heavily.

The Tamil insurrection was over. Lanka, it seemed, had been purged from Indian domestic politics. New Delhi’s relief at ending the region’s bloodiest conflict, one that had led India’s largest overseas military intervention and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, led it to brush aside allegations of large-scale Tamil civilian deaths.

There was also a remarkable degree of contact between New Delhi and almost all the players in the Lankan polity. The Tamil parties, especially the umbrella Tamil National Alliance (TNA), looked to India. Military to military ties were excellent. Even ultra-nationalist Sinhalese parties had toned down their anti-India rhetoric. The January 2010 Lankan presidential elections were unprecedented as both the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa and his opponent, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, wooed India.

NOW Two years later the T-word is back.

Colombo was shaken and shocked by India’s decision to vote against them this month at the UN Human Rights Commission. Referring to Rajapaksa’s failure to seek a Tamil political settlement, the resolution prodded Colombo to “reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces.”

The Sinhalese were apoplectic. “India has not only dealt a killer blow to India-Sri Lanka relations, but also to reconciliation efforts between Sinhalese and Tamils,” one Rajapaksa hatchet man, Minister Champika Ranawaka, wrote in the rightwing Nation.

But the vote sent two messages.

One, say Western diplomats, India was increasingly frustrated at Rajapaksa’s unwillingness to take even baby steps for the Tamils. Colombo didn’t even want to recognize it had to win the peace after winning the war.

“There’s been a lot frustration with Rajapaksa’s refusal to implement even what his own promises,” say Indian officials privately. At senior levels in New Delhi there’s a belief the vote had its uses when it came to pressuring Colombo, at least once India got the resolution’s wording diluted.

Two, Lanka’s stubbornness was forcing its Tamil policy back into Indian electoral calculations. The UN vote was part of a larger political deal by New Delhi with Tamil Nadu chief minister,

J Jayalalitha. While she has never been an LTTE supporter, she seems to fear Tamil minority rights could become a voting issue in future and sought to cover her own flanks.

WHY is Rajapaksa stonewalling?

One theory is a sense of invincibility. Winning the civil war made him believe he really has nothing to fear. Rajapaksa’s trademark response to problems has been long speeches and lengthy promises that are then forgetten.

Tamil academics and activists believe the regime is just not interested in any settlement with the minority community.  “I think the Rajapaksas sincerely believe that some mega infrastructure projects, a pinch of cultural pluralism and some economic giveaways are reconciliation. They really believe most Tamils can be won over that way,” says Tamil commentator Tisaranee Gunasekara.

Rajapaksa’s sense of power stems from his complete control over the army. With an estimated 300,000 men under arms, Sri Lanka is among the world’s most militarised societies.

The military has been given a free-run in the Tamil-dominated North and East. New cantonments are being built, army personnel run shops and Tamils are being shouldered out of their traditional fishing areas. In these areas, as a British diplomat who visited there says, “Civilian authority is completely subservient to the military.”

Next: More altercations with India may be in the offing as New Delhi presses home that it cannot keep waiting forever.

Ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga recently wondered at her successor’s talk of “China, Iran and Myanmar” as Lanka’s new global friends. But New Delhi is insouciant about the so-called “China card” being flaunted by many small neighbours. “Bluff,” say Indian officials.

There are some signs of change. Colombo quietly walked away from a threat to try and block the Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu. Lanka and India are still closer than they have been in decades. But getting Rajapaksa to grasp the nettle of a Tamil political settlement will be a long drawn-out diplomatic and political process.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    The two Schemers who backstabbed these two Nations at the behest of the American Zionists after the plan has gone awry, to end the LTTE conflict to gain milage for both, now wondering how to salvage the situation.

  • 0
    0

    To Sutirtho Patranobis and Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

    I read your article with interest. It is appreciated.

    Apologies for writing another article as a comment to your article!!!!

    I may kindly request you to read President’s speech made in the Parliament on 19th May 2009 to observe what a humanitarian attitude he had shown to the crisis of Sri Lanka immediately after the end of the war. I may add that you read my interview and article appeared in CT- (1) Minds Devastated By Conflict Cannot Be Healed By Infrastructural Development March 10th 2012 , and , (2) Saying “Et tu Singh”- Is it fair?- 6th April 2012, which may throw some more light on what you have been discussing.

    Nevertheless, one has to appreciate the internal political compulsions that are faced by President Rajapaksa. He has to balance between democracy, alliance politics, internal political suspicions within his realm that are never discussed in open other than on anti-government websites, containing the attitudes of the security establishment, futuristic fears that could arise from the Diaspora led groups, international demands made from the government etc.

    Of course, the argument against all these had been that leaders have to take bold decisions to convince their followers to face the realities of politics and issues raised by the people. In a nutshell it is up to him to continue as a Chandashoka or convert to be a Dharmashoka.

    I believe there are four major difficulties among many others he is faced with.

    One is, as you have said the ‘sense of invincibility’ which protrudes against external demands, making invincibility a buffer against adverse political fallout.

    Another is the overt and covert disunity i.e. among Sinhala led political groups like UNP and JVP (inter and intra), Sinhala and Tamil led political groups (TNA, TULF, EPDP etc), within Muslim political groups and the weakness of the civil society. These make the President to feel that the invincibility factor is reinforced and concretized and he need not be perturbed by any domestic political or civil society pressures. This even offers him opportunities to create further disunity among these groups and even split them as we observe in the fate of the UNP, JVP, SLMC, Tamil political groups etc.

    Thirdly, the above two reasons affects responsible speaking out within the government and by Opposition or hearing or considering the other valid points of view, which withdraws any efforts to reconcile, as academics feel appropriate.

    Consequently, there are persons, institutions, groups that are nurtured in support of the invincibility theory. So much so they do not mind publicly expressing their feelings against any practical operationalities as expected by humanitarians, academics or balanced thinkers. Two of you would learn this soon as you see the comments in CT to your points of view.

    All these are negatives but Sri Lanka has come to stay with them. I believe it will take a little time for the government to change their attitudes and political pressurizing may be one way to motivate it. The government’s response had been to create fear of a regime change (which I do not know true or not) to bounce back on critics and to stabilize its thinking.

    Another approach may be to make soft reminders of state responsibilities at a level that the government would not hit back hard as inappropriate or soft peddle for decades to meet the needs of the affected people. Rushing and undue delaying both should be considered inimical to normalization and reconciliation.

    Finding the required compromising level is the most difficult. To expect immediate rushing responses will be only a dream as it is, though we may appreciate much quicker positive responses.

  • 0
    0

    To Sutirtho Patranobis and Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

    I read your article with interest. It is appreciated.

    I may kindly request you to read President’s speech made in the Parliament on 19th May 2009 to observe what a humanitarian attitude he had shown to the crisis of Sri Lanka at the end of the war. I may add that you read my interview and article appeared in CT- (1) Minds Devastated By Conflict Cannot Be Healed By Infrastructural Development March 10th 2012 , and , (2) Saying “Et tu Singh”- Is it fair?- 6th April 2012, which may throw some more light on what you have been discussing.

    Nevertheless, one has to appreciate the internal political compulsions that are faced by President Rajapaksa. He has to balance between democracy, alliance politics, internal political suspicions within his realm that are not discussed at all, containing the attitudes of the security establishment, futuristic fears that could arise from the Diaspora led groups, international demands from the government etc.

    Of course, the argument against all these had been that leaders have to take bold decisions to convince their followers to face the realities of politics and issues raised by the people. In a nutshell it is up to him to continue as a Chandashoka or convert to be a Dharmashoka.

    I believe there are three major difficulties among many others he is faced with.

    One is, as you have said the ‘sense of invincibility’ which protrudes against external demands, making invincibility a buffer against adverse political fallout.

    Another is the overt and covert disunity i.e. among Sinhala led political groups like UNP and JVP (inter and intra), Sinhala and Tamil led political groups (TNA, TULF, EPDP etc), within Muslim political groups and the weakness of the civil society. These make the President to feel that the invincibility factor is reinforced and concretized and he need not be perturbed by any domestic political or civil society pressures. This even offers him opportunities to create further disunity among these groups and even split them as we observe in the fate of the UNP, JVP, SLMC, Tamil political groups etc.

    Thirdly, the above two reasons affects responsible speaking out within the government and by Opposition or hearing or considering the other valid points of view, which withdraws any efforts to reconcile, as academics feel appropriate.

    As a result, there are persons, institutions, groups that are heavily nurtured in support of the invincibility theory. So much so they do not mind publicly expressing their crude feelings against any practical operationalities as expected by humanitarians, academics or balanced thinkers. Two of you would learn this soon as you see the comments in CT to your points of view.

    All these are negatives but Sri Lanka has come to stay with them. I believe it will take a little time for the government to change their attitudes and political pressurizing may be one way to motivate it. The response had been to create a regime change theory (which I do not know true or not) to bounce back on critics.

    Another may be to make soft reminders of state responsibilities at a level that the government would not hit back hard as inappropriate or soft peddle for decades to meet the needs of the affected people. Rushing and undue delaying both should be considered inimical to normalization and reconciliation.

    Finding the required compromising level is the most difficult. To expect immediate rushing responses will be only a dream as it is, though we may appreciate much quicker positive responses.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.