Subterranean threats to India-Sri Lanka relations
According to a news item in the Colombo daily “The Island,” Sri Lanka intelligence services have received information that around 150 terrorists who returned to Sri Lanka from India were now hiding in the North and the East.
They are reported to have undergone “a special arms training at three secret camps in Tamil Nadu” to carry out a de-stablisation campaign. Three alleged LTTE cadres arrested after a member of the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) was hacked to death gave out the information when they were interrogated.
Quoting police sources the news item said the suspects claimed they had fled to India after the LTTE’s defeat and underwent “refresher military courses” in secret locations in Tamil Nadu before returning to Sri Lanka disguised as fishermen. As the LTTE links of the three suspects were established, they had been handed over to the Terrorist Investigation Department, police sources added, according to the report.
This news story makes a curious reading on three counts:
- The report says: “Their target was to sabotage and disrupt the on-going reconciliation process by creating trouble in those areas, police sources said.” How extraordinary for the fledgling LTTE in its second incarnation to decide there is an “on-going reconciliation process”. I thought the general complaint of Tamils everywhere was the reconciliation process on its death bed was being resuscitated. Of course, the procedure on how to resuscitate is still being debated between the TNA and the government. It is even more curious that the LTTE to had identified and eliminated the EPDP member apparently as the “key element” to the reconciliation process.
-A second aspect is the timing of the story. It comes when Sri Lanka caught in the web of UNHRC resolution and its aftermath is groping to evolve its own action plan (not the one asked for by the resolution) on how to handle the aftermath. In this state of flux, the anti-India lobby, which was sent to the cleaners, has found a fresh reason to flourish in India’s “betrayal” at Geneva. So stories like this suitably worded provide substance to resurrect India bogey and drive a wedge between India and Sri Lanka. It suits the China lobby of nationalists also.
-Then there is this bit about the clandestine entry of 150 of these LTTE men into North and East in the disguise of Indian fishermen. Ever since the Eelam war ended, the Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters have been an inconvenient problem for both Sri Lanka and India. The livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen from the North have been under threat from Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters after the war time ban on fishing was lifted. The issue provides the grist for the mills of anti-Sri Lanka lobby in Tamil Nadu as much as anti-India lobby in Sri Lanka. So if the LTTE cadres returned clandestinely from Tamil Nadu disguised as fishermen, it shows how villainous Indian fishermen are and as a corollary India.
-This kind of story suits the remnants of LTTE embedded among Sri Lanka. It lifts up their status to a new level because it confers extraordinary capability to them. Three years after the rout of LTTE, they have been able to recover their strength to motivate 150 youth to undergo arms training in India and clandestinely reappear in Sri Lanka to perform the ‘Phoenix from ashes’ act. So they must be having a formidable outfit in India and elsewhere with suitable connections in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
I do not know whether the news story is true or not. But it may well be an inspired story by one of the clandestine agencies of government for its own internal or external goals. It could also be inspired psy-war from the self styled Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). If it is true it is dangerous; if it is inspired it is mischievous aimed at undermining India-Sri Lanka relations.
Such reports have the potential to erode credibility and instil strong suspicions both in India and Sri Lanka particularly when their relations are at low ebb. As both countries have their share of “wreckers” public mood can be turned it into a precarious state of paranoia to cause immense damage to India -Sri Lanka relations.
It is not only Sri Lanka or TGTE, but Tamil Nadu has its own share for this downslide in India-Sri Lanka relations. After the Indian vote in Geneva the rival Dravidian parties – the DMK and the AIADMK – in Tamil Nadu would have realised the potential Sri Lanka Tamil issue holds in their power game.
Already the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa’s acerbic reaction to India’s vote indicates the shape of things to come in this combat – insistence on slapping trade sanctions on Sri Lanka and demand an international inquiry into war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka.
And the easiest option for the DMK, drifting under the geriatric leader M Karunanidhi, is to add more decibels to Ms Jayalalithaa’s demands and “poraattam” to prove its blue blood ‘Dravidian credentials.’ The Kalaignar in a futile move to counter the Iron Lady has lamented his life’s desire was to see an independent Eelam. Though this was probably thought of as a weak repartee, it points to the worst manifestation of the DMK-AIADMK rivalry.
Ms Jayalalitha’s demands bear remarkable similarity to those of some of the human rights bodies and Eelam lobbies of the Tamil Diaspora, and the TGTE. And these organisations would not miss any political opportunity in India to muster Tamil Nadu’s support to add to their ‘legitimacy’ and strengthen their credentials in the internecine fight for leadership among rival groups of the Tamil Diaspora.
These international elements supported by fringe parties in Tamil Nadu are likely to call for action against Sri Lanka and take up the call for India and international community to act on the eve of London Olympic Games starting on July 27. This could prod both the DMK-AIADMK to take their competing interest in Sri Lanka Tamil issue as part of a vituperative war of words.
Ms Jayalalithaa used to be considered arch enemy of the LTTE, when Prabhakaran was alive. She has emerged as the darling of Eelam lobbyists after her spectacular success in Tamil Nadu elections using Sri Lanka war crimes issue as a trump card. So the Sri Lanka Tamil issue will be pursued by her in full throttle for two years to reap maximum benefits in the parliamentary polls 2014.
She is showing more interest in national issues including foreign policy, as she aims for a national role. Her visibility is increasing in the national political arena. So India’s moves on Sri Lanka will continue to come under her critical scrutiny.
Of course, it is no consolation that these developments are a direct consequence of the UPA coalition leadership’s inability to assert its authority. Nor to lament that it was aided by Sri Lanka’s inept and unimaginative handling of the war crimes allegation and Tamil reconciliation issue in the aftermath of Eelam War. The events have overtaken that stage of political development.
So the options for Government of India on Sri Lanka are few because it may take quite some time for Sri Lanka to “forget or forgive” India for its “betrayal” at Geneva. But fortunately in both countries people who believe that both India and Sri Lanka should strive for win-win relations outnumber the “wreckers” of such relationship. Considering this, leaders of both countries have a clear cut tasks at hand.
India should immediately take serious notice of any reports of Eelam separatists taking refuge in Tamil Nadu to gather support or undergo training. It should tighten up actions to prevent such resurgence of separatism. It should take action to weed out suspicious elements immediately. Ms Jayalalithaa’s support is essential for New Delhi to succeed in this effort. So, the issue should be handled collectively and not merely as a foreign policy challenge or as a problem for the Home Minister (who hails from Tamil Nadu) as well.
Sri Lanka has perhaps a much easier task as its army is in full control of the potential nurseries of Tamil separatism. However, that will not suffice; unless it speedily addresses the national reconciliation issue and improve its state of human rights record, it will continue to allow space for Tamil separatism to germinate and flourish. If it does an honest job of it, it need not worry about campaigns of its detractors among Tamil Diaspora as they will not carry conviction.
In a nut shell, both India and Sri Lanka have to immediately attend to these subterranean threats to their relation, lest they aggravate the wounds of the Geneva encounter, and stall the process of its repair and revamp.
Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group