Originally Published 2013-03-30 00:00:00 Published on Mar 30, 2013
'Competitive politics' in Tamil Nadu was only one element in India's vote for the US Resolution. But there has been a general sense of dissatisfaction across the State with the Sri Lankan Government's perceived unwillingness to stand by its war-time promises.
Sri Lanka: Did the Indian vote help - and how?
It was argued the last time round and it is being argued this time too in Sri Lanka. That an Indian vote against the US resolution at the UNHRC would have helped tilt fence-sitters to Sri Lanka's side, and the vote would have been lost for the co-sponsors. On paper, yes, some fence-sitters would have been influenced if India, as the closest neighbour of Sri Lanka and an existing regional and emerging global power in its right, had opposed the resolution, to consider/reconsider their positions. Yet, it is questionable if they would have voted against the resolution and in Sri Lanka's favour - or even abstained.

The Indian vote for the US resolution was not over the 'Tamil Nadu factor'. If anything, influenced as they have also been by the pro-LTTE elements in the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, political parties and the mushrooming groups of pan-Tamil activists in India have been unhappy with New Delhi, even more, after the vote. Like Vote-2012 at the UNHRC, they have begun charging New Delhi with working behind the scenes to dilute the US resolution. Washington has promptly denied it, as the America's 'national pride' would and would have been hurt if such charges were left uncontested.

'Competitive politics' in Tamil Nadu too was only one element, but there has been a general sense of dissatisfaction across the South Indian State, with the Sri Lankan Government's perceived unwillingness to stand by its war-time promises. Time has not healed their suspicions. It has only strengthened the same. The truth has to be independently proved still, but Channel IV 'Balachandran campaign' is not just about the death of a young and innocent-looking boy in Tamil Nadu.

The Channel IV campaign - along with those by 'independent' INGOs, that often get quoted -- has become a crude reminder of un-kept promises, but only of the Sri Lankan State, whatever the reason. It has served a larger 'Tamil cause' of the Sri Lankan variety in Tamil Nadu - and even the rest of India. To the younger generation in these parts, it has become a starting-point for their hunt for (cultivated and calibrated) knowledge about the ethnic issue, war and violence, much of which had ended in their early teens. What thus remained was 'Eelam War IV', and claims and charges based on it, has an immediate resonance in them, and just for the same reason.

Three options

Some of these parties and groups in Tamil Nadu would stop at nothing short of a 'separate Tamil State' in Sri Lanka, and see every international initiative - however inadequate in their perception - as a further step towards the ultimate goal set for them by the LTTE, when around. There are others who may be as ignorant about what they are walking into - just as they are ignorant about the ground-level societal and political realities of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The options for India, this time as in March 2012 at Geneva, was three-fold, if one were to rule out 'absence' as a fourth course. It could have voted against the US resolution, despite strong protests in the Indian Parliament on both occasions, apart from the concurrent developments in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi, like Colombo, could have then hoped for the so-called 'fence-sitters' to jump on to the Indian camp.

Yet, it would have remained to be seen if at least some of those 'aye-sayers' for the US resolution at Geneva have not used the Indian vote to justify their line. Flowing from this would be the supplementary if they would still have stuck to the Indian side, if New Delhi had either voted against the resolution, or even abstained. As sovereign nations, they would have done what was 'good' for their nations, not what India or someone else thought was good for the world, or for Sri Lanka.

'UNHRC case' since 2009

If still India, along with China, Russia and Pakistan could pull off a diplomatic coup of sorts at UNHRC-2009 May, it owed to the freshness of the Sri Lankan State annihilating one of the worst-feared terror groups in the world, with its own 'parallel State structure' to boot. Even more, it owed to their combined commitment to what Sri Lanka had promised then to deliver on the peace front, too. Sri Lanka thus became a 'UNHRC case' not with the lost vote in 2012 but with the vote that the 'friends' of Sri Lanka won for it just 10 days after the successful 'Eelam War IV' in 2009. In the run-up to the same, they also combined their forces and strategies to defeat a pending European Union (EU) resolution of the US kind, at the time.

After the failed EU ally's 2009 resolution, the US leader of the 'democratic West' could not have afforded another lost-vote at UNHRC three years hence, and on the very same issue. With no veto-vote of China and Russia, as in the UN Security Council, to blame, the world's 'super-power' could not have explained to itself and to its allies, a lost-vote in 2012. For Sri Lanka, more abstentions to frustrate the US move would have been enough. For the US, a positive UNHRC vote in 2012, and a higher head-count (24 and 25, respectively) alone would justify its continuance as 'super-power'. Washington would have left no stone unturned to have the vote its way, India or no-India.

What then could India achieve for Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, in 2012 and 2013, if at all? An Indian vote against the US resolution became out of the question as even during the heated run-up to the 2012 vote, the Sri Lankan Government campaign at the global-level targeted the resolution and its prime-movers, but did not make any substantive progress on a 'political resolution' nearer home. The Government of India had carried the Indian Parliament and the Tamil Nadu population with it on such commitments.

More importantly, New Delhi carried the international community, particularly for the 2009 UNHRC vote, also on those commitments. Much of those commitments by Colombo have remained mere commitments. And much of the current problems for Sri Lanka - not just on the Indian front - would not have occurred if only there was perceptible forward movement on those fronts. Colombo had the option of initiating a political solution unilaterally, or through bilateral negotiations with the Tamil polity (read: TNA). It opted out of the first voluntarily, and was seen as a reluctant partner to the second.

Abstention, no option

An Indian abstention would not have benefitted Sri Lanka as much as an Indian vote in support of the US resolution. With Sri Lanka boycotting the resolution process, other than campaigning heavily to have it voted out in 2012, it was left to India to argue the Sri Lankan case with the US and the rest of the West, as media reports have since claimed. It would not have been possible without an Indian vote for the resolution in 2012. It would not have been possible without an Indian vote for the resolution in 2013.

After a point, 'consensus-building' at the UNHRC on Sri Lanka has meant that the resolution draft should be to New Delhi's acceptance-level. It has helped Sri Lanka, though there is still hesitation in Colombo to acknowledge the same - and understandably so. It is as much understandable as Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans understand, or misunderstand the 'Tamil Nadu factor' in India's Sri Lanka policy, now or later.

The question thus remains if the US resolution would have been as 'soft' as the present one, as the 'adversaries' of Sri Lanka claim? Could it have been made 'softer' to Sri Lanka's liking, even if the resolution might have become unavoidable? Maybe so, it would have been possible, but for that to have happened, maybe, New Delhi should have had the conviction that Colombo would stand by the current commitments, after all the past commitments went unmet. Obviously, that conviction was missing, too.

If it was all about a 'compromise resolution' as was thought to be up to a point on road to the March 2013 resolution, it would have naturally involved negotiations on either side, for any facilitator to take forward - and move forward. Whatever the reason, the US and its co-sponsors have been seen as yielding ground overall, if one compared their first draft with the final draft. Colombo's protests and protestations were more professional and less political in 2013. The core arguments remained - leaving, India or any other facilitator/mediator with less room for manoeuvre.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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