Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Sri Lanka Needs to Do a Lot More

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Sri Lanka Needs to Do a Lot More

Article excerpt

It would be tempting to say that the present turmoil in India-Sri Lanka relations has arisen mainly due to the compulsions of India's coalition politics as the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leans on the DMK Party for survival. But this would be a naïve reading of a complex situation.

The Congress-led central government was under far greater pressures, and not just from political actors in Tamil Nadu, to influence Sri Lanka to go slow in the last years of its punishing war against the LTTE. The government did not succumb. It did not bend even when the pro-LTTE hysteria rose sharply after it became increasingly evident towards the end of 2008 that the Tamil Tigers could soon become history.

Ironically, the Indian parliamentary elections of 2009, held amid speculation that the Congress Party might be voted out, ended up intensifying an already brutal war. The Rajapaksa brothers and their advisors had concluded that it would be better to crush the LTTE before a possible regime change took place in New Delhi and a less sympathetic government replaced the Congress.

The Congress, however, went on to win the election in a most dramatic manner, but the LTTE met a terrible end - in an equally sensational way. But what was noteworthy was that even as one of the world's bloodiest conflicts neared its end, with terrible consequences for the mainly Tamil civilian population, the Congress leadership managed to keep the occasionally sulking DMK on board, ignored shrill protests by smaller political outfits in Tamil Nadu, and simultaneously took its covert cooperation with Colombo to new levels in an effort to see the last of the LTTE.

Such was the Congress-DMK bonhomie that when the LTTE eventually went down in May 2009, and its leadership was wiped out, the DMK's leading stars were in Delhi not expressing horror over the fate of Velupillai Prabhakaran and his family but demanding a fair share of the cabinet spoils!

The UPA government of Manmohan Singh has no such intense internal pressures to deal with now - even if the scenario has the potential to slowly change. Although the All India Anna DMK (AIADMK) government in Tamil Nadu has taken a far more strident stand vis-à-vis the Rajapaksa regime, demanding an economic embargo against it, and the DMK continues to indulge in competitive politics on the Tamil issue, New Delhi's relations with Colombo have hit an unprecedented low for reasons that have more to do with the Sri Lankan regime than the omnipresent Tamil Nadu shadow.

India's cooperation with the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime had a shaky beginning, soon after he took power in November 2005. Although New Delhi had quietly rooted for him earlier when he became prime minister (at the cost of party colleague Lakshman Kadirgamar), Rajapaksa was upset that a senior Indian diplomat in Colombo had told him to make New Delhi his first port of call after assuming presidency. As he complained to his aides, he very much wanted to do that but he did not like a suggestion that amounted to diplomatic bullying to all practical purposes and intents.

In the event, Rajapaksa's December 2005 journey to India turned out to be a huge disappointment for him personally. India, he felt, did not come out openly in support of him (at a time when the LTTE had begun to militarily provoke him) and did not provide him the kind of economic package he was looking for. Worse, he had to face a humiliating snub from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who refused to receive him in Chennai; taken aback, the Indian government hurriedly flew him to Kerala on his way home. Not having read accurately the mind of the Rajapaksa brothers vis-à-vis the LTTE, an organization outlawed in India, New Delhi lost a golden opportunity to play the generous host and build an abiding friendship with the new presidency.

This despite the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa had opened up to close Indian friends even before becoming president that he was determined to achieve three things: (a) break the opposition, so as to shore up his support in parliament; (b) crush the intransigent LTTE (which foolishly played a role in his narrow electoral victory); and (c) meet the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamil community. …

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