28 October, 2021


The Perils Of Trying To Play Both Sides


The euphoria was short-lived. The hopes generated after India’s vote at Geneva for holding Colombo accountable for war crimes, have now evaporated.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh bending over backwards to placate our tiny southern neighbour, there is nothing much to cheer about.

But the Lankan Tamil issue has returned to the centrestage with all parties in the state speaking in one voice. Even the normally reticent Tamil Nadu Congress Committee hasn’t gone against the tide.

Clearly, the issue of Lankan war crimes has not lost its resonance. The Congress is accused of being a silent collaborator in the war. Worse, DMK was seen as a betrayer of the Tamil cause. As a recent opinion poll shows, the plight of the Lankan Tamils continues to exercise the masses so much that many even favour the creation of an independent Eelam. It is hardly surprising that the Congress has been reduced to a fringe player in the state.

The vote has only hardened the position of the Rajapaksa government and the Sinhala chauvinists.

The vote and its aftermath have exposed the lack of clarity on the part of New Delhi as well as the political class in the state. It is sad that the politicians in Tamil Nadu and those in the forefront of the Lankan Tamil cause appear to remain content at raising their decibel levels. They are far removed from the mainstream discourse of the Sri Lankan Tamil question.

No one has attempted a critique of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the Sri Lankan Government. Even the panel didn’t give a clean chit to the island nation’s army. Independent sources put the scale and magnitude of the human rights violations at a far higher level. The Geneva resolution is only a logical extension of the international reaction to the human sufferings in Lanka.

While the geopolitical interests of the Western nations are a reality, justice demands that large scale killings should not go unaccounted for.

In the absence of an informed public discourse, the Centre prefered to take an ostrich-like attitude. Some media critics went to the extent of questioning the rationale of the country’s support for the resolution and lamented that foreign policy is becoming a prisoner of regional sentiments.

But, Dr Singh’s letter to Sri Lankan premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, apart from being apologetic in its tone and tenor, doesn’t suggest a change of stance-which is very necessary for a meaningful resolution of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka.

“The PM should not have written the letter to placate Rajapaksa,” opines Lanka expert Prof Suryanarayanan. In his view, it was unwarranted as New Delhi, though appearing to be hesitant in voting against Colombo, had enough reasons to justify it, despite getting the resolution diluted. In his view, the placatory letter has undermined the vote. For, India has enough levers to influence Colombo and the Chinese threat vis-à-vis Sri Lanka is vastly exaggerated.

New Delhi’s hands-off policy after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi had only helped Sri Lanka to subvert the 13th Amendment, a grand vision of the former Prime Minister. Though Rajapaksa talks of going ‘beyond the 13th Amendment’ he is yet to spell out what he has in mind.

India needs to make its engagement more meaningful and result-oriented. On the contrary, thus far, there is reluctance on its part to goad Rajapaksa to be accountable and move towards genuine reconciliation. Given this scenario, it is disappointing that Sri Lanka is adopting a hawkish position instead of seeing reason. While India seems to have beaten a hasty retreat after the UNHRC vote, Colombo apparently seems emboldened.

But, the yearning for justice by the Sri Lankan Tamils cannot be held hostage to imagined geopolitical calculations. Needless to say, justice should not only be done but be seen to be done.


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