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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

BJP doing a volte-face on Lanka’s ethnic issue

 Dr Kumar David —

It seems that the Modi government is preparing the ground and softening up Tamils at home and in Lanka to ditch the 13-th Amendment and the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987; not explicitly but to go halfway down this road.

any, including this writer thought after Prime Minister  Modi’s conversation with President Rajapakse at the former’s inauguration, that India intended to hold firm and retain continuity in respect of it’s stance on Lanka’s national question. Subsequent reports however point in the opposite direction. Ceylon Tamils who consider Indian support a bargaining lynchpin had better wake up. Is the Modi government preparing to sell them down river for thirty pieces of silver? Has Modi resolved to throw in his lot with Rajapakse? If so, his reasons I will speculate on at the end of this piece.

Compelling evidence for this volte-face comes from a high level five-man BJP team which held a seminar in Colombo during the last week of July. Two long interviews in the local press were even more significant. Before I summarise, let me assert that the incontrovertible coup de grace will be if Modi prohibits the UNHRC Investigation team from visiting India to collect evidence and surmount the travel ban placed by the Rajapakse government. The message then would be loud and clear; the Modi and the BJP do not want the Lankan state and military investigated for human rights violations and war-crimes. The decision has not been formally announced but is widely expected and Jayalalitha has raised the alarm. Secondly, if the Indian military participates in an exercise planned by its Lankan counterpart for later this month (August 2014) while the UNHRC investigation is still in progress, Delhi and its military will knowingly mire themselves in a diplomatic and political morass.

A prime motive in Rajapakse’s recent decision to backdate the review period of the Paranagma Disappearances Commission was to include the time the IPKF was operating in Lanka. Till recently Delhi was leaning on Colombo on human rights and devolution issues. The threat to inquire into violations by the IPKF was intended to hit back. In the wake of the Subramanium Swamy led seminar in Colombo and the statements of the participants, clearly the BJP is besotted with the Rajapakses. Therefore Colombo’s attempt to embarrass Delhi by opening the door to a recording of the dirty deeds of the IPKF is a little baffling; it may boomerang.

The position of the former Congress led government was that it assisted the Rajapakse State to destroy the LTTE in the civil, but on condition and in the expectation that the Tamils of the north and east would be permitted a reasonable degree of devolution and self-administration. The Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13-th Amendment to the Constitution encapsulated the expectations. While the BJP cheered the eradication of the LTTE it has never shown much loyalty to the Accord negotiated by its Congress rival Rajiv Gandhi and never had much empathy for Ceylon Tamils. It has negligible standing in Tamil Nadu hence it is immune to home grown Tamil sentiment and cannot be pressured into feigning empathy for Ceylon Tamils. (Ceylon Tamil is used in this essay to distinguish from the Upcountry Tamil community).

Till a few weeks ago the expectation was that the BJP would let the mandarins in Delhi run Sri Lanka policy; continuity. It was thought that Modi had no incentive for policy reversal. This expectation has turned out to be incorrect. According to the visiting BJP team, de facto if not de jure, 13A the Indo-Lanka Accord will be deposited in the waste paper basket; Ceylon Tamils will be told to go fly a kite; human rights and war-crimes concerns will be swept aside; and an axis between the BJP and the lame duck Rajapakse administration, now struggling on its last legs, will be crafted. Tamil diaspora busybodies will no longer be entertained in Delhi and shown the door. If you are a Ceylon Tamil or a human-rights activist you will not enjoy hearing this; but tough luck, these are the facts say the visitors.

The BJP visitors

This was no tour group visiting to enjoy the scenery and lie on the beach in swimwear; this was a delegation sent by the BJP with a political purpose, and possibly after liaison with Lanka’s Defence and External Affairs Ministries. Their talks at the plush BMICH Centre and in subsequent interviews could not have pleased these Ministries more if they had scripted it themselves. Team leader Subramanium Swamy’s views on Lanka’s ethnic imbroglio are well known. He has always been fiercely anti LTTE and celebrated its demise; he may be described as belonging to that fringe of the BJP that has no patience with the so-called ‘Tamil cause’. A fair description of his stance on the Lankan State and its handling of Tamils would be: Mr Swamy is a virtuoso violinist in the Rajapakse orchestra.

In and interview with Lanka Paranagama given much prominence in the Daily Mirror of 25 July and available on its Breaking News website (http://www.dailymirror.lk/), BJP Foreign Policy Cell national convener and member of the National Executive, Dr. Seshadri Chari, was most revealing. Here is a sample that illustrates changes that are on the way.

Question: Promises made by the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment are yet to be realized. How will India proceed to ensure the promise is not limited to mere promises?

Answer: 13A is the product of a particular situation that existed at the time when it was originally drawn up. Much water has flown since then, so in the changed circumstances, all the stakeholders need to look at 13A and implement its provisions in a phased manner. If Colombo is able to set a particular time frame on the implementation, it would help build bridges between various communities. It is up to Colombo to reap the peace dividends by implementing 13A.

Question: What are your comments on India’s abstention from voting at the US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka at the 25th UNHRC session this year?

Answer: The BJP has always held views contrary to the former government of India on the voting on the matter at the UNHRC in 2012. In 2014 however, good sense prevailed and India abstained. We have always believed that the issues between Colombo and the Tamil population is an internal matter of Sri Lanka. India has always opposed any internalization of domestic problems and we strongly believe this problem can best be solved through negotiations between India, Sri Lanka and other parties involved. As far as human rights violations are concerned, India strongly believes that Sri Lanka is seized of the matter; LLRC is active, it has submitted a report and now the question lies on the implementation aspect. I strongly believe that both India and Sri Lanka should resolve this issue and collaborate to get the resolution completely withdrawn. (This combines together the responses to a few questions on the same theme).

Question: Given that victims of these alleged HR violations have fled Sri Lanka, isn’t the internationalization of the issue inevitable?

Answer: The activities of the Tamil diaspora are a subject matter for the Government of Sri Lanka to tackle (sic!). India is against the kind of negative lobbying carried out by the diaspora and I hope they would better engage on the economic development and confidence building measure of post-war Sri Lanka.

The other significant interview, splashed full-page across the Ceylon Today newspaper of 29 July 2014, was with Dr Swapan Dasgupta, described as a close Modi confidante and tipped to be the next Indian High Commissioner to London. A few extracts are sufficient to confirm that the BJP is in the process of making a policy switch. (Questions and answers have been abridged; the full version is available in print and web).

Question: The position of the Congress was the implementation of 13A and 13A+. Would that be the same with the BJP?

Answer: It is too early to tell. I believe 13A is something for Sri Lanka to work out. They have their constraints; it is not a matter for India to decide. It is important for India to encourage Sri Lanka to resolve its own problem.

Question: the 13 th Amendment stems from a bilateral agreement, the Indo-Lanka Accord.

Answer: Let’s wait and see what importance the new government attaches to the Jayawardene-Rajiv Gandhi accord. (Notice the deft and deceptive switch from a country to country agreement to a deal between two individuals) . . . to what extent it moves on with fresh eyes.

Question: What is the position of the BJP on the UNHRC war crimes investigation?

Answer: It is work in progress . . . look at it with fresh eyes and see what elements need to be continued and what needs to be changed.

Question: Could the issue over war crimes investigation be sorted out amicably between Sri Lanka and India?

Answer: I believe Sri Lanka itself can resolve the issue.

This is carte blanche that the Rajapakse siblings and military could have hoped for in their wildest dreams.

Why the rapprochement with Rajapakse?

The BJP has no inherited allegiance to the Indo-Lanka (or as it now calls it the Jayawardena-Rajiv Gandhi) agreement; it has no Tamil clientele in India that it needs to be sensitive about; it has no interest in human rights in Lanka; and most important its ideology and value system are different. I need to spell out this last point in a paragraph or two.

The outgoing Congress government was corrupt, a failure and rotten. But it was also ideologically and historically a different from the BJP. It was a little bit more secular than skin-deep; the BJP will not challenge the secular basis of Indian polity only because it dare not. Congress did not subscribe to a Hindi-Only ideology (we Sri Lankans have an idiom called Sinhala-Only types) in the way that the Modi government has already got into dogfights with southern and western States pushing Hindi on the sly. The BJP represents the values of a new commercial bourgeois class whose norms are different from the old elite. If it moves, buy it, or sell it, such is the quintessential mentality of merchant capital.

To this backdrop must be added current imperatives which may motivate policy switching; I say may because the matter is not settled yet, last week’s obtuse BJP visiting delegation not notwithstanding. The BJP and Modi will, obviously, be asking themselves, what is there in it for us in switching policy; what is there in not switching? The case for continuity is stability in Tamil Nadu and indeed all the non-Hindi provinces, alignment with the moral high ground occupied by the elite, conformity with the well worked out strategies of the Delhi mandarins, and association with the US and the West which have pretty much decided on regime change in Colombo.

If the contrary view prevails, that is to say if Modi and the BJP judge that the Rajapakse regime is a going concern with many more years of virility to it, then a decision will be made to go against the current described above and engage in policy realignment. The China factor, the Pakistan factor and so on, are subsidiary footnotes that follow only if one determines that the Lankan regime is secure. Secure in this context is not just remaining in office, which it well may after the next election cycle next year, but strong and stable. If the BJP opined that this was so it would be making a different call of judgement from many Lankan commentators and the West who see a limping regime with diminished authority even if it scrapes back into office. My judgement is that this is a crippled regime which may hang on but my view is irrelevant. India’s choice will be known soon.



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