Originally Published 2012-03-30 00:00:00 Published on Mar 30, 2012
After the UNHRC meeting and the Indian vote against Sri Lanka, now it needs to go beyond Geneva, in the preservation of 'supreme national self-interest' in the case of both the countries. The ghost of Geneva would be hovering over them, yet Colombo should acknowledge the un-kept promises.
Sri Lanka, post-Geneva: It's politics now, not diplomacy
The nuanced Indian position and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s follow-up letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the UNHRC vote against Sri Lanka have received a lot of appreciation in diplomatic circles. Post-Geneva, it is not diplomacy, but politics that would count more as the respective leaderships in the two countries need to acknowledge ground realities and move forward. It needs to go beyond Geneva, in the preservation of ’supreme national self-interest’ in the case of both the countries. The ghost of Geneva would be hovering over them, yet Colombo should acknowledge the un-kept promises. It may be good politics, yes. It may not be good diplomacy. Yet, on both fronts, the chickens do come home to roost, some day.

In an obvious reference to the Geneva vote, President Rajapaksa claimed that the Government was committed to walk an extra mile to establish permanent peace through reconciliation, but added that no one had to tell Sri Lanka what to do.

"Sri Lanka is in the midst of peace won at great sacrifice. Inaugurating the Sri Lanka Expo-2012 in Colombo, he said the presence of investors proved the failure of the efforts of those who still supported the agenda of separatist terror that prevented development in the country for more than three decades. "What is showcased here is the rapid development process that Sri Lanka is engaged in today. It is a process that develops five hubs of key activity that will soon transform Sri Lanka to the Wonder of Asia as envisaged in the ’Mahinda Chinthana’, Future Vision, the wonder of a newly-won peace and the wonder of strengthened peace and national unity. It is a wonder of reconciliation being achieved through our own means in keeping with our own traditions," he said.

The continuing governmental dependence on a development-based model for reconciliation still cannot be a substitute for devolution of power in the Tamil areas. Devolution, like development, is for the whole nation. Yet, reading ’majoritarian’ meanings into the Government position may have become a part of the ’nationalist’ pastime for some Tamil leaders, their Sinhala-born brethren and academics who have not forgiven the self for not stopping ’Pogrom-83’. The ’Sri Lankan model’ of development-centric reconciliation based on successful experiment after the ’Second JVP insurgency’ (1987-89).

Despite the anti-LTTE, anti-India nature of the ’Sinhala nationalist’ insurgency in the aftermath of the IPKF induction, the JVP still retained vestiges of its leftist past at the time. The insurgent cadres were steeped in the global communist philosophy and methodology, inherited from the failed ’First JVP insurgency’ in 1971. The demands of the moderate Tamils whose agenda was hijacked by LTTE militancy, was political in nature. Post-war, the Tamil leadership has retained the flavour while disavowing the ’separate nation’ demand of the LTTE and their moderate predecessors.

Concern for Tamils, faith in Sri Lanka

Introspection would tell Sri Lankans what had gone wrong with their India relations. The Indian sympathy for the Sri Lankan efforts at eliminating LTTE terrorism was accompanied by a Colombo commitment to restoring political equality for the minority Tamils on the island. New Delhi acquiesced when ground realities commanded that it had to be equity at best, not equality. Through the war years and beyond, the Indian position on ethnic consultations in Sri Lanka thus metamorphosed into down-sizing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) from being the non-State stake-holder to a stake-holder.

Post-Geneva, this position remains. India also accepted the Colombo construct on a Parliament Select Committee (PSC), but there again nothing seemed to have moved forward. Chastened by Geneva on the limitations that their friends in the international community faced, the TNA should take the initiative for revving the negotiations process, which the Government had stalled in the run-up to the UNHRC meet. The Alliance too should remember that the world, and not just the pro-LTTE Diaspora Tamil community, is watching.

Colombo should acknowledge that the pressure on the Indian Government, particularly from Tamil Nadu, need not have been based exclusively on emotions, this time. It could have also been based on the promises that the Centre had made to successive Governments and the people of Tamil Nadu, particularly during the years of ’Eelam War IV’. It’s not about keeping those promises but enforcing those commitments. New Delhi’s position made it look weakened by the experience, both nearer home and abroad. Circumstances dictated that India voted the way it did. The nuanced vote at Geneva was an expression not only of the continuing concern for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It was also a display of Indian faith in, and hopes for Sri Lanka.

Misplaced perceptions in TN

That the Indians’ perception too may have been misplaced became clear when visiting TNA leader M A Sumanthiran cautioned political leaders in Tamil Nadu not to go over-board. He was referring to former Chief Minister, Dravidian ideologue and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi declaring that a ’separate Tamil Eelam’ had always been his dream. Karunanidhi possibly aimed at catching up with political bête noire and successor AIADMK Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who claimed that the Indian vote at Geneva owed to her pressure.

Sumanthiran indicated statements such as that from Karunanidhi did not relate to ground realities, and said that they did not help the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka. What he said about the senior-most pan-Tamil leader, who has continued as the elected supremo of a political party in a functioning democracy without break for the longest innings, applied to lesser parties and groups, and their leaders, even more. If Sumanthiran’s intervention was indicative of the TNA’s current choice of a patron in Tamil Nadu politics is a remote question. TNA leaders had been known to call on Karunanidhi when he was the Chief Minister to the exclusion of Jayallaithaa.

In his time in India, LTTE supremo Prabhakaran had preferred the AIADMK under party founder and matinee idol M G Ramachandran to the DMK and Karunanidhi, for a patron. MGR was the Chief Minister at the time. Having been born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, he also displayed an affinity for the Tamil-speaking people in and from that country was not lost on the other side, as well. Yet, under successor-leader Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK was seen as the more anti-LTTE of all Tamil Nadu parties owed also to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister and leader of the then Congress ally of the AIADMK in the 1991 General Elections. The DMK faced its worst electoral debacle since founding in 1949 and ever since began contesting popular polls in 1957. Conversely, Elections-91 marked the arrival statement of Jayalalithaa, she having meandered her way through after coming to lead the more successful of the two AIADMK factions after MGR’s death. Jayalalithaa has not looked back since -- whether in power or out of it.

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

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