By the time these lines are read by the readers, one hopes that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have taken a clear and firm decision to attend the Commonwealth summit at Sri Lankan capital Colombo on November 15. He must resist the suicidal pressures from the politicians in Tamil Nadu, including his senior cabinet colleague P Chidambaram, urging him to boycott the summit. Their contention is that the Indian Prime Minister must not go to a country whose President Mahinda Rajapaksa is “a war criminal” for his “brutal role” in suppressing the separatist LTTE, arguably the then deadliest terrorist outfit in the world, in 2009.
The Tamil Nadu politicians, and one understands that Defence Minister AK Antony supports them, are literally playing with fire. They want to dictate the Prime Minister what the country’s policy should be towards Sri Lanka, which, traditionally speaking, has always been a friendly country in an otherwise unstable neighbourhood. Unlike Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh (until recently), Sri Lanka has never posed a serious challenge to India’s vital national interests, despite China and Pakistan wooing Colombo relentlessly over the years. Besides, Sri Lanka, like India, has always been a secular and democratic country, another huge “plus” in a region where democracy has not yet taken firm roots. Just see what is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives.
This is not to suggest that the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka have got justice and exercise their full rights in the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lanka, though the civil war ended four years ago. But the heartening feature is that the importance of tough negotiations on the issue between them has not lost relevance. Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka are no longer fighting. The Tamil National Alliance, formerly a separatist group, won decisively the recently held elections in the Northern Province by defeating Rajapaksa’s candidates. The newly sworn-in provincial Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran, a proud Tamil, has also urged the Indian Prime Minister to attend the Commonwealth summit and invited him to visit Jaffna, the provincial capital, to see, among others, how the Indian economic assistance for the rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils during the Sri Lankan civil war, is being spent. We have, thus, a great irony here. Sri Lankan Tamils want the Indian Prime Minister to visit their country. But here in India we have leaders who do not want him to go to Sri Lanka, ostensibly to express solidarity with the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils!
Here I will like to quote what the Indian Prime Minister told the gathering of the Indian Ambassadors to various world capitals on November 4. Singh highlighted what he said five principles of Indian foreign policy during his regime over the last nine years. Two of these principles, in his words, are as follows: “Fourth, we recognize that the Indian sub-continent’s shared destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity. Towards this end, we must strengthen regional institutional capability and capacity and invest in connectivity. Fifth, our foreign policy is not defined merely by our interests, but also by the values which are very dear to our people. India’s experiment of pursuing economic development within the framework of a plural, secular and liberal democracy has inspired people around the world and should continue to do so.”
Sri Lanka, in my considered view, is a fit case where these two principles need to be applied the most. Because, of all our immediate neighbours, Sri Lanka shares our values the most. Secondly, along with Bhutan, Sri Lanka is the country which deserves India’s connectivity the most. After all, Sri Lanka is India’s closest and largest trade partner in South Asia. India in turn is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally. Trade between the two countries grew particularly rapidly taking into force the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement in March 2000. According to Sri Lankan statistics, bilateral trade in 2011 amounted to US $ 4.86 billion, which is about 66 per cent higher than that in 2010. In 2011, India’s exports to Sri Lanka amounted to US $ 4.3 billion, which is an increase of about 75 per cent compared to 2010.
That the Tamil Nadu politicians are playing with fire can be evident from the way they are compromising on the danger of terrorism. The LTTE, whose terrorism cost the life of one of our former Prime Ministers, that too belonging to Manmohan Singh’s party, might have been decimated in Sri Lanka, but many of its sympathisers abroad (Tamil Diaspora), and that includes our Tamil Nadu, remain resourceful enough to keep the cause of an Eelam—independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka, alive. In fact I distinctly remember one such Sri Lankan Tamil who was about to assault me in a street of Paris in 2011 the moment he came to know that I was from Delhi; his grouse was that we in Delhi were anti-Tamils. But let us note that most of these overseas Tamils have no real love for their brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka; hardly any of them will like to go back to Jaffna and settle there amidst them. As revealed by a recent research, the Tamil Diaspora in the West is doing really well in business and not at all prepared to sacrifice Western money, comforts and freedom. But what it does is that through its monetary power it buys support from Tamil Nadu politicians, the so-called human rights activists all over the world, including many of the jholawallahs in India.
As I have written frequently in this column, I have serious reservations with the so-called human rights activists. Have you ever heard of their concerns over human rights in countries such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, countries where you do not have semblance of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and political rights? Most of our jholawallahs are only concerned about the rights of terrorists and criminals (secessionists in Kashmir and the Northeast, Maoists, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Prajapati, Kasab, Afzal Guru and so on). Have you ever heard of them voicing concerns over the innocent civilians that these terrorists go on killing? Have they ever protested against the relentless atrocities of the LTTE and Prabhakaran in using civilians as human shields against the security forces? Have you ever seen them raising their voices against the terrorists killing innocent Kashmiris inside the mosques and threatening girls to limit themselves to producing and rearing children only?
The two Tamil Nadu parties (DMK and AIADMK), notwithstanding their hysteria, are also least concerned about the genuine human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils. They do not realise that their actions embolden the extremist Sinhalese elements all the more to deny genuine rights to the Tamils in Sri Lanka and make a comprehensive solution to the long-pending ethnic issue in that country all the more complicated. Even otherwise, are the parties in Tamil Nadu genuinely concerned about the plights of the Sri Lankan Tamils? I think that they shed crocodile tears, the same way our “secularists” beat their chests over “the poverty of and injustice to” Indian Muslims. As for the ‘feelings’ of the political parties in Tamil Nadu, it should be clear that the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is an opportunity for cynical one-upmanship, and nothing more. There was no clearer evidence of this than at the time of the UPA victory in 2009, which coincided with the last stand of the LTTE against the Sri Lankan forces. After creating a furore over the war in Sri Lanka during the elections, the DMK’s only concern after the results was how many and which cabinet positions the party would get in the new government. Besides, the DMK, or for that matter the AIADMK, has never protested against the periodic renewal of the terrorist list by the Union Home Ministry and that list proscribes the LTTE!
Secondly, I have serious problems with the disproportionate influence of the Tamil Nadu politics on India’s policy towards Sri Lanka. After all, many Sri Lankans consider themselves to be the descendants of King Vijay, who had gone from Odisha to found the kingdom of modern Sri Lanka. In fact, most of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka (and the Sinhalese), who constitute the country’s majority, have their origins in Odisha, Bengal and Bihar. The point is that majority Sinhalese are as proud of their Indian ancestry as the Sri Lankan Tamils are. What they resent is that when the question of Sri Lanka is discussed in India, only the Tamil factor is taken into account. Both the DMK and the AIADMK often compete with each other in pressuring the central government in Delhi to take a policy that promotes the interests of the Sri Lankan Tamils, without realising that by so doing they are interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.
Unfortunately, such are the compulsions of the survival of his government that Manmohan Singh has no courage to ask his Congress colleagues from Tamil Nadu that they, instead of supporting blindly the politics of the DMK and AIADMK, should correct the massive political disinformation, funded by the Tamil Diaspora, that is going on in the state. This disinformation has serious security implications for India. The people in Tamil Nadu need to know that their politicians are seriously compromising the national interests.
By Prakash Nanda