By Kumar David –
Sri Lanka has become the centrepiece of action in Geneva this March at the 22-nd UN Human Rights Commission sessions now in progress. The betting at the moment is that the US resolution critical of the Lankan government will secure about 33 votes and the remaining 14 will split between pro-Rajapakse votes and abstentions. What is curious is how the Delhi government is playing ducks and drakes; at one moment leaking news that it intends to support the resolution and at another PM Manmohan Singh declaring that it all depends on the wording. Juliet declared that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but for Delhi it appears that commas, semi-columns and adjectives are the stuff of great political decisions. I never heard of a great power whose policies on matters of global and regional import depended on grammar! In all seriousness, what’s wrong with this Indian government, why so vacant of mind, why no stand on the grave turn of events in Lanka?
This is not me, an irate Lankan alone; here are two quotes form an Indian web site: “The most disturbing aspect of the entire development at the UNHRC is India’s continuing dubious role”. “A US-sponsored resolution will come up for voting at the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council later this month. And it’s so embarrassing that India, which claims to be the world’s biggest democracy, is still sitting on the fence and doesn’t say a thing on the resolution till the 59-th minute”. Indian oddity is becoming “curioser and curioser” as Alice would have said, and what kind of a mad-hatter’s tea party is going on in Delhi is difficult to decipher; parliament and press are in turmoil, Tamil Nadu on the boil and Delhi dumb! Let me ask, in all sobriety, can anyone suggest a rational explanation for the sloppiness of the Manmohan Singh government; surely it is not reducible to the congenital indecisiveness of an individual, what other miasmic causation may be at work?
The breaking news in Colombo last week was that Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe had travelled to Delhi and come back hot with an offer. He was thereafter asked by the President to lead the delegation to Geneva. The deal, it was said, was that given the size of the votes stacked against the Rajapakse Government (please don’t say Sri Lanka), Delhi had connived to make the following offer: “Accept the resolution; then no vote need be taken. Afterwards you can game things as you wish and claim to be implementing its terms”. Smart move eh; if you can’t beat ‘em, then join ‘em! The Indian public, familiar with Colombo’s shenanigans, will recall that such hoaxes lie scattered all along on both sides of Rajapakse Street. This time however the game fell apart for two reasons.
Extremists have rallied all over the island condemning the US resolution, burning effigies and calling upon the government to “defy imperialism”. These demonstrators are from Rajapakse’s core constituency, he dare not “betray” them; if he does his support base will fall apart. Hence accepting the resolution’s conditions, especially the presence of UN rapporteurs in Lanka, has become a no-go nightmare. Secondly, having got wind of the plot, the sponsors upped the ante; they toughened the terms of the draft to make it unacceptable to Rajapakse and also embarrassing to Delhi. So the choice before Delhi is stark; support a tougher resolution and abandon illusions that it can influence the draft or the vote, or fall flat on its face. The resolution will be carried with or without Delhi’s vote and at that point its bluff will be called. I do not know for sure whether Delhi still has space for manoeuvre to pull a rabbit out of its hat; we will have to wait and see.
Why the US decided to short-circuit Delhi’s game plan I do not know; perhaps it is just fed up with hypocrisy and prevarication on the Lankan issue; perhaps the wheeling and dealing along the Colombo-Delhi axis is just too much for anyone to swallow. On February 4 (Independence Day) Rajapakse buried devolution and the Thirteenth Amendment and recanted on eight years of assurances and negotiations with the highest Indian leaders and its most stuffed mandarins. Delhi has remained mute and tongue tied; it has not puked or even mewed.
Since the Indian Government remains dumb and inscrutable it is open season for speculators. What are its motives? I speculated in my last piece (Paper 5393, 14 Feb 2013: “Colombo spits in Delhi’s face”) that perhaps India had (unrelated) concerns about its new security relationship with the US and was using this issue to get leverage elsewhere. This hypothesis seems invalid since it is India, not the US, that is tying itself in knots and the Geneva Resolution will be carried with or without India’s vote. A second possibility, whose truth will not be known until there is a change of administration in Delhi, is that Colombo has plenty of dirt on Delhi, exposing informed restraint, if not assistance, in Colombo’s human rights violations and war-crimes in the civil-war. If Colombo is going down, it can take the erstwhile Indian Government down with it.
A third line of speculation is wooing Colombo away from a dangerous suitor in the shape of the Chinese bear; the so-called Indian Ocean strategic contest and the String of Pearls theses. I think these threats are much overblown, if not downright miscalculations as I have often written before.
A fourth line of speculation that has been aired more recently relates to the anti-Muslim hate campaign, fanning across the country, with the not all that concealed encouragement of the UPFA government and the visible participation of certain extremist Cabinet Ministers. Speculators suggest that India, with its own concerns about extremism, would not mind the Muslims of Lanka being taught a small lesson and put in their places before anything smacking of jihadism takes root. Hence Lanka’s political leaders are not to be antagonised too much. Such speculation aside, the instigation of anti-Muslims sentiments has taken serious proportions in Lanka and it merits the attention of readers in its own right. I will close with a few paragraphs on this topic.
The anti-Muslim hate campaign in Sri Lanka
The chauvinist campaign directed at Muslim business establishments and mosques is alarming and though clashes have not erupted, nor lives lost as yet, matters are approaching a flash point. Writing on behalf of the National Peace council Jehan Perera had this to say:
“Over the past several years, the government used the war against the LTTE as its primary mode of unifying the Sinhalese majority behind it and obtained its vote at successive elections. Now with the fourth year of the end of the war approaching there may be a need for new issues to keep Sinhalese solidarity (as) perceived by sections within the government. . . Those who view the government’s actions as being directed towards its political advantage would notice that the Halal issue can be used to unify the Sinhalese majority in a common cause. However, keeping religious sentiments on the boil without creating a conflagration is likely to be impossible”.
A strongly worded statement issued by the Friday Forum, a liberal think tank of several highly connected or respected signatories, can be found here.
I reproduce below the opening paragraph of the statement to give overseas readers a feel for the dangerous situation that is developing.
“The Friday Forum urges you to act immediately and decisively to counter the increasingly venomous and strident anti-Muslim hate campaign launched by a few extremist groups claiming to represent the majority Sinhala community. As you are aware, this campaign has intensified over the past several months. The country has witnessed attacks against mosques, and the circulation, on social media, public posters and web-sites, of obscene and vituperative messages that are offensive to religious beliefs. It has witnessed anti-Muslim public rallies and processions, including a call to boycott Muslim business establishments”.
The Friday Forum finds the governments inaction inexplicable (Jehan Perera does not) and says later in the same statement.
“Yet, the government headed by you has not up to now taken decisive and concrete measures to stem the current hate campaign or to reassure the Muslim community of its rightful place in our society. This is difficult to understand in light of your own assurances and that of the government on the urgent need to forge a lasting peace after ending the destruction and suffering of thirty years of fratricidal war. The silence of the government and a mute response in the face of the hate campaign against the Muslim community, particularly though the misuse of media is a violation of both national and international law.”
More things than just the Sinhala-Tamil ethnic imbroglio, pervasive corruption and rising authoritarianism are rotten in the state of Sri Lanka.
*This article is first published in southasiaanalysis.org