New Delhi’s Dilemma Since Geneva Resolution On Sri Lanka

What exactly is New Delhi working on after voting for the second time with the US sponsored resolution at the UNHRC Sessions in Geneva, to diffuse separatist Thamilean agitations and tensions in Tamil Nadu ? TN politics funded and backed by different Tamil Diaspora groups, will not lie low though subdued for now, on their demand for a separate Tamil Eelam in N-E SL. Congress as a political party can not afford to get totally submerged in such extremist and separatist politics in TN or elsewhere.

New Delhi certainly can not say, it’s relations with Colombo will be redefined to suit the fancies of these TN agitators. It has to go on saying, relations with the Rajapaksas are as good as they were and India has always been a close ally of Sri Lanka. So says Colombo too. They both use historical and cultural statements as proof. Neither is wrong, though neither speaks the truth. After Jayawardne became Executive President of Sri Lanka in 1978, relations between the two countries were never as before. Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister resented Jayawardne’s pro Western diplomacy. Since then, Indian duplicity in influencing the Colombo regime, though never openly spelt out after High Commissioner Dixit’s obtrusively intrusive diplomacy, never ended.

For now, New Delhi is not very comfortable with Rajapaksa despite Rajapaksa claiming he fought India’s war in eliminating the LTTE. He perhaps told that to Sonia Gandhi and not to India. He is not joking too. He is factually right on that. It was India’s war as well and New Delhi played its role without qualms. But, it is post war Sri Lanka, the two are rubbing knuckles against each other.

New Delhi politics regarding SL, carries with it a core national interest compromised where necessary with the political necessities of the ruling party and that of Tamil Nadu. This has often been a dichotomy with TN politics, except when M.G. Ramachandran was in tow with the Indira Gandhi line of intervention on Sri Lanka. In early 1980’s, they both nurtured and fostered all the SL armed Tamil groups, for two different reasons. Madam Gandhi to balance off Jayawardne in Colombo on his Western stance and MGR for his popularity, cultivating a Tamil voter bloc in TN.

Most unfortunately, for everyone on either side of the Palk Straits, ever since PM Gandhi’s decision in 1980 to arm, train and fund SL Tamil groups, all political decisions taken in New Delhi, have backfired. They have neither helped New Delhi, nor Colombo, nor even the SL Tamil people. All such arrogance in blundering diplomacy has given competing TN political leaders, good enough reasons to galvanise more Thamilean sentiments for their own electoral advantage. For those in the fringe, good enough reasons to keep them afloat as TN radicals.

On a very nostalgic note, one may question PM Indira Gandhi’s intrusive diplomacy in reining in Jayawardne on his pro American foreign policy, though Dixit has excuses and explanations in his biographical sketch “Assignment Colombo”. The Indo – SL Accord under PM Rajiv Gandhi that coerced Jayawardne to amend the SL Constitution to accommodate Provincial Councils (PC) remains a very unpopular intervention. Power sharing as a concept, nevertheless is still an accepted answer to Tamil political aspirations. The hastily pushed Accord in 1987 July, with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in North-East Sri Lanka to back it, was a one way trip with many tragedies that denied a political discourse in SL in achieving social consensus, before it was made into law. The returns were pathetic and chaotic.

Thereafter, New Delhi worked on a single, undeclared assumption. No political solution would be allowed for the SL Tamils, with LTTE playing a pivotal role. India’s decision to keep out of all negotiations and facilitations worked out by the Norwegian government after the 2002 February “Cease Fire Agreement” (CFA) between the Wickramasinghe government and the LTTE, is open proof. New Delhi refused to participate at the SL Aid Forum in Brussels in 2002. A message, India does not accept the LTTE as the sole negotiator. Instead New Delhi cultivated a bizarre friendship with the pro war JVP, an avowed anti Indian Sinhala nationalist party. For the first time, JVP leaders were seen walking the corridors of “India House” at the Indian National Day celebrations in Colombo in 2002 and then in 2003. The Indian HC in Colombo not so covertly, cultivating an alliance that was hostile to the CFA and for a negotiated settlement.

It was later rumoured and quite strongly too in Colombo political circles, President Chandrika Kumaranatunge was given the nod in 2003 by New Delhi to bring down Wickramasinghe’s government and it was then she moved in to take over 03 ministries back in December 2003. In return, Kumaranatunge had to adopt a power sharing mechanism New Delhi was comfortable with. Her Post-Tsunami Operations Management Structure, better known as P-TOMS, was based on that Indian consent, but was pre judged a failure with the JVP dissenting.

All were manoeuvrings by New Delhi with the sole intention of keeping the LTTE away in working out a solution. Decisions in New Delhi that strengthened extremist politics on both sides of the ethnic divide in SL and on either side of the Palk Straits too. The only occasion in post independence SL Tamil history, when New Delhi and Prabhakaran saw eye to eye was when they both thought it was good for different reasons to have Wickramasinghe defeated at the 2005 presidential elections. India, New Delhi to be precise, is thus on a collision course now with the Rajapaksa regime that can not honour any promise on power sharing, having brought together a very strong Sinhala sentiment as its buffer, to be in power and to continue in power. In a post LTTE Sri Lanka, that New Delhi thought could make this Rajapaksa regime honour its own promise of implementing a “home grown” solution acceptable to “all” and is failing on its calculations once again.

The two UNHRC Resolutions clearly show, New Delhi and Colombo have diplomatically drifted quite far apart in their political calculations. Though TN keeps pressing New Delhi to adopt a still harder line, this UPA regime with its liberalised economic policy for the corporates, is duty bound to accommodate SL. In addition to long time investors like TATA, CEAT, Ashok Leyland, others like Airtel, Dabur, Britania and Piramals have also come to top up Indian banks that already have their branches operating. It has to continue with investments, the Rajapaksa regime is eager to have, to grease its own failing economy. Indian imports to SL in 2012 had bounced to a massive USD 3,483.7 million and India emerged the largest investor the same year in SL with USD 210 million in the first 09 months after investing USD 147 million, the previous year.

Early this year, a 13 member business delegation from New Delhi visited Colombo representing the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). Apart from Chinese labour, SL have even imported South Indian labour for numerous projects funded by Indian credit. Cheap South Indian labour in the Colombo Dockyard, in steel companies, working in the Northern railway constructions and in many similar projects, is now said to exceed 5,000 brought in without any legal status for employment. There were even seasonal agricultural labour from South India working on SL rice cultivations, a few months ago. It is now known, the Rajapaksa regime has asked the Labour, Immigration and the SL BOI authorities to amend law to regularise labour imports to SL. For more cheap labour to be brought by Indian contractors.

Obviously, the UPA government in New Delhi has to openly live with the Geneva Resolution it voted for and can not afford to give into TN demands in cutting out SL completely, for three other good reasons. One, it can not help promote a political demand that works round a separate Tamil State. Two, it can not oppose the needs of big Indian businesses and is very much influenced by the corporate world. Three, it can not allow the Chinese dragon to roam free in SL.

This leaves New Delhi with two diplomatic options. One, an overt option that would not contradict the Geneva UNHRC Resolution and the other, a covert manipulation to see if it could diffuse tensions in TN. The first, it could pressure the Rajapaksa regime to engage the TNA in particular and all other Tamil political parties, in working out a permanent power sharing solution, if New Delhi is prepared to talk about the “All Party Representative Committee” (APRC) Final Report. The second is to provoke a regime change that could facilitate a reasonable solution to the Tamil national question that could help diffuse TN protests and demands.

The best would be to have the APRC Final Report thrust upon the Rajapaksas that would not make India look the old “Air dropping” invader over SL skies. The advantage is, the APRC Final Report carries with it a Sinhala consensus on power sharing, with all the Sinhala political parties with the Rajapaksa regime having consented to this final report. This incidentally is why Rajapaksa fights shy in making this report public. Once officially out, not only President Rajapaksa, but his Sinhala allies too would feel trapped within a power sharing mechanism, recommended by them and on their own, on a broad consensus.

New Delhi instead seems to be out hunting on the other option to find an alternate leadership. Recent two day hurried visit to New Delhi by the SL Opposition Leader Wickramasinghe, also points to such dialogue, with former President Chandrika Kumaratunge peddled in Colombo as a probable candidate from the joint opposition. Urban middle class sentiments, perhaps what the Colombo Indian High Commission gets its feedback from, is now discussing Chandrika Kumaratunge as one who could deliver on the never delivered promise of abolishing the Executive Presidency. A rejuvenated slogan presented by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha thera, a popular “middle of the road Buddhist monk” and his group of urban middle class Sinhala professionals. New Delhi no doubt could feel better supporting the better known Chandrika Kumaratunge for such common candidacy, than a common candidate backed by a Buddhist monk.

The unanswered question yet is, with Rajapaksa having the Constitutional right to decide when he would call for elections, that would have to be after 2014 November, would he ? What if he opts for another Constitutional Amendment to give him another term, with this same 2/3rd majority parliament that Wickramasinghe argued is supreme, when the 43rd Chief Justice was being impeached ? Even if Rajapaksa does call for elections after 2014 November for the Indian choice in Chandrika to contest yet again, has the Tamil people to wait that long for a solution favoured by India ?

Worst is, the Rajapaksa regime is officially in no mood to go with the UNHRC Resolution, perhaps expecting the US to compromise too, on Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. The paper by the Sri Lankan Ambassador for US seeing the US differently with much favour, was definitely no personal note. Now, is India in the know ?

(Originally written for “The Hindu” news paper and slightly edited for SAS, writer Kusal Perera is a Sri Lankan journalist and a political commentator based in Colombo.)

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