Himalayan Blunder

In voting against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC for a second time, New Delhi made a pusillanimous display of Pax Indiana’s opacity in a region crucial to its geopolitical stability and security. And New Delhi has missed out on or deliberately ignored crucial home truths. 

First of these is that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a diehard nationalist who so far resisted the terrific pressure he has been under from the JVP and JHU for “being an Indian stooge.” His base of support is now rock solid within his own country and he enjoys great relations with Malaysia, Indionesia, Vietnam, Russia, China, Argentina, Uruguay, Bhutan, Pakistan, (!!), Nepal etc.

Whatever the human rights abuses, he may be accused of, he is no Pol Pot or Idi Amin, and SL is NOT a Banana Republic no matter how autocratic the Rajapaksa brothers may be made out to be by their detractors. try to be.

Any R2P (right to protect) ideas that the US/NATO may have in SL are not going to wash after the miserable experiments in Libya, Syria and Mali thatvhave wreaked mayhem and threaten to spread anarchy.

I think Rajapaksa would be far more sympathetic to Indian concerns in his country and respond dramatically and positively if India behaves like a regional superpower and display some independence rather than appearing to be a new satellite of the US/NATO interest. India has an overriding interest in ensuring that Sri Lanka is not converted into a region for big power rivalries and there is no better person to ensure that than Rajapaksa. Had the US not backed Batista and sided with the Cuban revolution instead of alienating Castro– he could have been the best friend America had in that region and Castro’s Communism would have been more benign.

We dont want another Cuba in our backyard. Rajapaksa is hardboiled, earthy like Kamaraj, with the fiercely independent streak of Hugo Chavez and Castro and Allende. Do not misjudge him. He is still a true friend of India but getting angrier by the day.

Our bilateral trade has now crossed US$5 billion– the bulk of the business coming from Tamil Nadu. Amma Jayalalitha is only hurting her local economy by calling for boycotts and the lijke. Already Gujarati and Odisha businessmen are reaching out to Sri Lanka in an effort to hog the emerging markets and exploit the improving economic climate. I’ve talked to several up country Tamils and others and they seem to express the unanimous view that the renewed Eelam agitations in Tamil Nadu and India’s domestic, competitive political one-upmanship is not helping but hurting the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka because it is vitiating the peace process and the goodwill generated by the resettlement and jobs programs in the erstwhile war torn North and causing Sinhala resentment against the local Tamils to rise again. This possible backlash is neither good for the peace process, the LLRC movement, for the Tamils of Sri Lanka, or for New Delhi, particularly when the demilitarization of the North is TRULY proceeding at a healthy gallop and auxiliary forces could be replacing the police, and elections are due in September.

Please remember, however critical you may of Rajapaksa, he NOT and will never be a Sinhala Chauvinist. But India’s insensitivity towards his problems and predicaments and India’s sympathies towards what he considers “propaganda” by LTTE sleeper cells could well push him into the hands of Sinhala chauvinists.

We are already surrounded by neighbors who do not exactly love us — we’ve lost Nepal, alienated Bangladesh, fought wars with Pakistan and China who are breathing down our necks, alienated tiny Maldives with its Muslim population vulnerable to fundamentalist groups from Pakistan and the Middle East, and now New Delhi seems to be doing everything in its power to alienate our remaining true friend in the Indian Ocean– our neighbour Sri Lanka whose leaders call India, “Elder Brother.”

It is true that Rajapaksa hasn’t moved forward of the 13th Amendment. It is even truer that, secretly, he has believed with Premadasa and most Sri Lankans that the 13th Amendment was forced down the throats of a Democratic Country by an “imperialist-dictated” Rajiv-Jayawardane treaty. (Isnt it ironical that even Prabhakaran felt the same way about it, and after initially announcing support, violently rejected it and even cooperated with Premadasa to meet that goal).

A year ago, before the first anti-SriLakan vote in the UHHCR in 2012, the 13th Amendment was at least “negotiable” from a Sri Lankan point of view. Today, because Sri Lanka feels India is part of an international move to isolate Sri Lanka, opposition to the 13th Amendment has become a national rallying point for Sri Lankans.

Any Sri Lankan President can ignore this reality only at his own political peril. The more we try and impose Constitutional “solutions” on Si Lanka from outside, the harder will be their opposition. Rajapaksa is committed to devolution, but not any formula dictated by India or outsiders. A softer, more sympathetic line, a shift away from repeating slogans raised by the human rights industry, a more open appreciation for Rajapaksa’s unique feat in becoming the first nation to annihilate an entire internationally listed and banned terror outfit, may produce better results on the devolution from him than simply preaching the 13th Amendment to him and that too by a country like India which advocates bilateralism in settling controversial issues with its neighbors — a principle solidly enunciated in The Indira-Bhutto Shimla Pact.

Rajapaksa says that forcing devolution formulas from outside is akin to foreign powers asking India to accept solutions such as splitting Kashmir into three — Ladakh, Jammu and the Valley, with the Valley to be “independent” or jointly administered etc.; or NATO or the UN suggesting greater autonomy for Bodoland, Manipur, or creating a separate autonomous tribal central state to solve the Naxal problem. Would India stand for it? No, because no elected government in a democracy would brook such interference.

That’s how Rajapaksa feels. Unlike his predecessors he is nobody’s stooge. And nor does he want to behave like one. Gone are the days when Indian High Commissioners to Colombo a la J.N. Dixit could act like Viceroys and even threaten to “dismember” the nation with military intervention when the Sri Lankans at one point balked at accepting the 13th Amendment.

Today, in Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka has a leader who, in 2007 openly abrogated the Norwegian-brokered Cease Fire Agreement of 2000 when he became convinced that he LTTE was using the hiatus to step up terror bombings and increase its weapons caches. Similarly, if countries use the bludgeon of the 13th Amendment to badger Sri Lanka to accept outside interference that hinders the peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process, he may well publicly disown the 13th Amendment as blight on Sri Lanka’s newly found sovereignty following the defeat of the world’s most ruthless terror army.

Inderjit Badhwar is an Author, Adventurer and former Chief Editor –‘ India Today’

– Asian Tribune –

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