By Kumar David –
There is a tussle in the BJP over 13A and the Indo-Lanka Accord and speculation about what the political line vis-à-vis the “Sri Lanka Issue” may be when the dust settles. It will take time to come into full view, but the writing is on the wall. There are two tendencies pulling in opposite directions; one is continuity with no big changes (tactics aside), the other is that the new government should make a drastic policy shift. Protagonists of the second option call it “looking with new eyes and cutting loose from the past.”
This essay is an arms length look at trends; arms length in that it will not be overweight with moral dimensions and instead focussed on which way the BJP, in its own interests, may swing and impact Lanka (Rajapakse, Tamils, State) and India (not only Tamil Nadu). After Modi gave Rajapakse a dressing down at his inauguration it seemed he intended to hold firm and retain continuity on India’s stance on our national question. This is the line crafted by the mandarins of Delhi who have been running foreign policy for decades. But there is a visible struggle with another BJP section attempting to ditch the 13th Amendment and the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.
Modi, an outsider in the BJP power centre, was catapulted into prominence by the RSS. Critical decisions will be collegiate, not the PM’s. He will be trapped between a pro-change faction and its cabinet opponents supported by foreign ministry and intelligence service bureaucrats. This was clear when a five-man BJP team led by Subramanium Swamy arrived here in July. Their seminar broke new ground and their press interviews were more significant. The coup de grace will be if India prohibits the UNHRC Investigation team from visiting India and collecting evidence to surmount the travel ban imposed by Rajapakse. In that case the message would be loud and clear; India does not want the Lankan state and military probed on human rights and war-crimes Charges. A decision to deny visas has not been announced but Jayalalithaa has raised the alarm. Secondly, if the Indian military participates in exercises planned by its Lankan counterpart for later this month while the UNHRC investigation is still in progress, India and will be mired in a diplomatic morass. The quagmire has been further muddied by the Defence Ministry’s foot-in-the-mouth website.
The last Congress government assisted Rajapakse to destroy the LTTE on condition devolution was ceded to the Tamils. The Indo-Lanka Accord and 13A encapsulated these expectations. While the BJP cheered eradication of the LTTE it has never shown loyalty to the Accord negotiated by its Congress rival Rajiv Gandhi and never had much empathy for Ceylon Tamils. It has negligible standing in Tamil Nadu hence it is immune to home grown Tamil sentiment and cannot be pressured into feigning empathy. Nevertheless till a few weeks ago the expectation was that it would let the mandarins run India’s Lanka policy. It was thought Modi had no incentive for policy reversal, but the visiting BJP team implied that, de facto if not de jure, 13A the Indo-Lanka Accord could end in the waste paper basket; Tamils will be told to go fly a kite; human rights and war-crimes concerns will be swept aside; and an axis between the BJP and lame duck Rajapakse will be crafted. Diaspora busybodies will no longer be welcome in Delhi.
The prime motive in Rajapakse’s recent decision to backdate the review period of the Paranagma Disappearances Commission was to include the time the IPKF was here. Till recently Delhi was leaning on Colombo on human rights and devolution issues. The threat to inquire into IPKF atrocities was to hit back. The Subramanium Swamy team declared that it was besotted with the Rajapakses; hence Colombo’s attempt to embarrass Delhi by opening the door to a recording of IPKF misdeeds is another in the repertoire of Rajapakse brotherhood bloomers.
The BJP visitors
The BJP visitors came for a political purpose in liaison with our Defence and External Affairs Ministries. The seminar and the press interviews could not have pleased these Ministries more if they had scripted it themselves. Subramanium Swamy, a fierce anti LTTE critic, celebrated its demise; he belongs to a fringe of the BJP that has no patience with the ‘Tamil cause’. An apt portrayal would be: Mr Swamy is a virtuoso violinist in the Rajapakse orchestra.
An interview (abbreviated extracts below) in the Daily Mirror of 25 July with BJP Foreign Policy Cell national convener and National Executive member, Dr. Seshadri Chari, is revealing.
Question: Promises made by the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment are yet to be realized. How will India proceed to ensure talk is not limited to mere promises?
Answer: 13A is the product of a particular situation that existed at the time when it was originally drawn up. Much water has flown since then, so in the changed circumstances, all stakeholders need to look at 13A and implement its provisions in a phased manner. If Colombo is able to set a time frame for implementation, it would help build bridges between various communities. It is up to Colombo to reap the peace dividends by implementing 13A.
Question: What are your comments on India’s abstention from voting at the US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka at the 25th UNHRC session this year?
Answer: The BJP has always held views contrary to the former government of India on the voting on the matter at the UNHRC in 2012. We have always believed that the issues between Colombo and the Tamil population is an internal matter of Lanka, opposed internationalisation of domestic problems and strongly believe this problem can be solved through negotiations between India, Lanka and other parties involved. As for human rights violations, (we) strongly believe Sri Lanka has seized up the matter; LLRC is active, it has submitted a report and now the question is implementation. I strongly believe India and Lanka should resolve this issue and collaborate to get the (UNHRC) resolution completely withdrawn. (This combines together the responses to a few questions on the same theme).
Question: Given that victims of these alleged HR violations have fled Sri Lanka, isn’t the internationalisation of the issue inevitable?
Answer: The activities of the Tamil diaspora are a subject matter for the Government of Sri Lanka to tackle (sic!). India is against the kind of negative lobbying carried out by the diaspora; they should better engage in the economic development and post-war confidence building measures.
Dr Swapan Dasgupta, described as a close Modi confidante and tipped to be the next Indian High Commissioner to London, spoke to Ceylon Today (29 July). A few abridged extracts convey the flavour.
Question: The position of the Congress was the implementation of 13A and 13A+. Would that be the same with the BJP?
Answer: It is too early to tell. I believe 13A is something for Sri Lanka to work out. They have their constraints; it is not a matter for India to decide. It is important for India to encourage Sri Lanka to resolve its own problem.
Question: the 13th Amendment stems from a bilateral agreement, the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Answer: Let’s wait and see what importance the new government attaches to the Jayewardene-Rajiv Gandhi accord (sic! Note the deft and deceptive switch from country-to-country Pact to a deal between two individuals) . . . to what extent it moves on with fresh eyes.
Question: What is the position of the BJP on the UNHRC war crimes investigation?
Answer: It is work in progress . . . look at it with fresh eyes and see what elements need to be continued and what needs to be changed.
Question: Could the issue over war crimes investigation be sorted out amicably between Sri Lanka and India?
Answer: I believe Sri Lanka itself can resolve the issue.
Such carte blanche neither the Rajapakses nor the military hoped for in their wildest dreams.
Why rapprochement with Rajapakse?
The BJP has no inherited allegiance to the Indo-Lanka (or as it now calls it the Jayewardene-Rajiv Gandhi) deal; it has no Tamil clientele in India that it needs to be sensitive about; it has no interest in human rights in Lanka; and most important its ideology and value system are different. I need to spell out this last point.
The outgoing Congress government was corrupt, a failure and rotten. But it was ideologically and historically different from the BJP. Congress is secular to a degree more than skin-deep; the BJP will not challenge the secular basis of Indian polity only because it dare not. Congress did not subscribe to a Hindi-Only ideology paralleling our god forsaken Sinhala-Only policy, but Modi has already got into dogfights with non-Hindi states by pushing Hindi on the sly. The BJP represents the ethos of a muscular commercial bourgeois allied to merchant capital whose norms are different from the Westernised elite (Nehru style), spiritualists (Ghandiji style) and the old industrial bourgeoisie (Tata-Birla class).
Modi, obviously, will be asking ‘What is there in it for us in switching policy; what is there in not switching?’ The case for continuity is stability in Tamil Nadu, indeed all non-Hindi states, alignment with the moral high ground occupied by these old elites, conformity with the worked out strategies of the Delhi mandarins, and association with the US and the West which have pretty much decided on regime change in Colombo.
The contrarian is the BJP faction that thinks the Rajapakse regime is a going concern with many more years of virility. The China factor, the Pakistan factor and so on, are subsidiary footnotes that follow only if the Lankan regime is secure. Secure in this context is not just remaining in office, but strong and stable. If the BJP power centre opined that this was so, it would be making a different call of judgement from the West which sees a limping regime with diminished authority. My view that this is a crippled regime, even if it scrapes through the next election cycle, is irrelevant. What matters is the new Indian government’s judgement, which will unfold in time.