May 18, 2011,
India has asked Sri Lanka to devolve power, probe human rights violations and withdraw emergency regulations, among other things. This kind of diplomatic pressure amounts to interference in this country’s internal affairs, but in diplomacy and war, might is right whether one likes it or not.
However, unlike in the 1980s, when India harassed Sri Lanka, one may argue, during the past few years India has acted in such a manner that it has some moral right to resort to persuasive diplomacy to make her southern neighbour improve its human rights record and honour its devolution pledges.
India may have blown hot and cold about eliminating the scourge of LTTE terror owing to domestic and international pressure but the fact remains that it did not go the whole hog to stop military operations in the Vanni much to the consternation of LTTE backers in Tamil Nadu including Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. Had it sided with the western bloc which went all out to save the LTTE leadership, albeit in vain, Sri Lanka’s war effort would certainly have collapsed. India was also one of the countries instrumental in thwarting an attempt by the West to block an IMF standby facility for Sri Lanka. In the aftermath of the war, India also joined forces with Sri Lanka in Geneva to defeat a move to launch a human rights witch hunt.
Ignoring India’s concerns is something Sri Lanka can ill-afford to do. India does not want to be seen to be doing nothing vis-à-vis pressure from Tamil Nadu and the western bloc enamoured of the Moon Panel report. Jayalalithaa’s victory is also a difficult proposition for New Delhi. However, it cannot be argued that devolution will be a panacea for Sri Lanka’s ethnic ills, as it were. Devolving power to the periphery may benefit politicians dependent on geographically concentrated ethnic block votes but it may not solve the problems of the members of minorities living outside the North and the East. Foreign devolution models cannot be replicated here as much as Sri Lanka’s model of counterterrorism may not work elsewhere.
One reason why devolution has failed here is lack of funds. The existing provincial councils are heavily dependent on the government for financial assistance. This is not surprising in a poor country where even the government’s tax revenue is woefully low. Demand for devolving land and police powers has given rise to seemingly intractable political problems. Among those opposed to the devolution of police powers is the leader of a minority community! CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman, as President Mahinda Rajapaksa told a group of newspaper editors the other day, is against the demand for devolving police powers. He has said he would rather have the police under the government as it is very much easier for him to deal with the centre than the Central Provincial Council! The conduct of the likes of Eastern Province Chief Minister Pillayan may also compel one to question the wisdom of police powers being granted to the provincial councils.
We peddle no argument against devolution. The point we make is that it needs to be discussed properly before a model that suits this country is adopted. It is not prudent for Sri Lanka to take another blind plunge into devolving power at the behest of anyone, whatever the advocates of devolution-at-any-cost may say.
The Sri Lankan government should be ashamed of being told by others to improve its human rights record. That is something it should have done on its own. The Moon Panel report is riddled with holes and its authors’ prejudices have robbed it of its credibility. It is full of allegations based on mere hearsay. Only those with a history of backing the LTTE either directly or indirectly have accepted it. But, there are other incidents of human rights violations that the government has refused to probe and it deserves a rap on the knuckles.
One may frown on India for taking the liberty of telling Sri Lanka what to do with its emergency regulations but the Rajapaksa government has made a mockery of the reasons it gives for extending the state of emergency every month in Parliament. It pulls down walls around police stations, claiming there are no terrorist threats but in the same breath it argues for extending emergency. It keeps contradicting itself!
It is high time the government got its act together.