Sri Lanka: Playing with fire
The DMK has left the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre over the plights of Tamils in Sri Lanka and what it says the betrayal of their cause by the Manmohan Singh government. The AIADMK, which is in power in Tamil Nadu, considers DMK supremo Karunanidhi’s action a farce. It, too, wants the central government to take a bold decision towards passing a strong resolution against Sri Lanka in the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Meeting at Geneva, forcing the island nation allowing a UN or international group to investigate the “genocide” in 2009 when the separatist LTTE, arguably the deadliest terrorist outfit in the history of the world, was decimated by the Sri Lankan security forces, which, then, were indirectly supported by India and directly aided by China and Pakistan. Both the Tamil parties will like the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajpaksha to be treated as “a war criminal”. In fact, Jayalalithaa will go one step further; she wants India to impose an economic blockade against Sri Lanka, possibly India’s largest trading partner in South Asia (5 billion US dollars in 2011) and the neighbour with which New Delhi has had a bilateral free trade agreement.
By the time this column appears, India would have taken a stand at Geneva. Though it is unlikely that India will use the word “genocide”, in every probability it will stress an “independent” investigation into the abuse of human rights excesses by the Sri Lankan forces in 2009. I may be wrong but my sixth sense says that the words will be vague enough so that “independent investigators” may not be foreigners but credible and respectable Sri Lankans not connected with the government in Colombo. But whatever the wordings may be, by voting for a resolution against Sri Lanka, something it did last year also, the Manmohan Singh government is playing with fire and is compromising on India’s vital national interests. Let me explain this through the following points.
First, the LTTE, whose terrorism cost the life of one of our former Prime Ministers, 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 me also tell you 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 the so-called human rights activists all over the world, including many of the jholawallahs in India.
It may be noted in this context that last year too just on the eve of UNHRC meet, there was a plethora of newspaper reports and TV footages, particularly the killing of Prabhakaran’s youngest son Balachandran. These footages were borrowed from the British Channel 4 documentary and resulted in hysterical reactions in Tamil Nadu, forcing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to overrule the then external affairs minister S M Krishna’s assurance to the Parliament that India’s would be a nuanced response. India voted for the anti-Sri Lanka resolution that was sponsored by the United States. The same Balachandran story and the same Tamil Nadu political hysteria have once more worked as catalysts on the eve of the UNHRC meet this year, too.
As I have written frequently in this column, I have serious reservations with the so-called human rights activists. The Western countries are so particular about human rights; but are they prepared to pass a resolution against 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? This selective approach is also true in case of our myriad jholawallahs, most of whom are only concerned about the rights of terrorists and criminals (secessionists in Kashmir and North East, 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 parties, 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” bit 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 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! All these years, it has been one of the most important components of the UPA!
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.
The above point, and that is my third point, is vital in the sense that as a sovereign country India should not forget the fact that in the same venue some years ago Pakistan was trying to embarrass us over Kashmir. In fact, only last fortnight our Parliament unanimously condemned Pakistan for passing a resolution in its National Assembly over the hanging of Guru. We reminded Pakistan that whether it is Muslims in India or Kashmir, that is our internal matter and that no nation in the world has got any right to intervene. It is India which is responsible to the Indian people. How can we deny the same sovereign right to a neighbour with which we have shared friendly and cultural ties over centuries? If we vote for a country-specific resolution on international forums, something we never did until last year, and that too over Sri Lanka, what if Pakistan revives again the Kashmir issue in the UN and the UNHRC talks of atrocities in Manipur? Besides, India’s vote against Sri Lanka also strengthens the China factor in India-Sri Lanka relations.
This is not to suggest that we should close our eyes to the Sri Lankan authorities’ refusal to grant the Tamils their due rights. Within our principled stand of supporting Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity and a rational, just and equitable solution of that country’s ethnic problem, we do have, as that country’s biggest and most powerful neighbour, enough leverage to pressurise President Rajapaksa to be just and magnanimous towards his Tamil citizens. That is something I will focus on a future column.
By Prakash Nanda