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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ensure Sri Lanka Delivers

The visit by an Indian External Affairs Minister to Sri Lanka is always an important affair. Sri Lankans of all communities and political leanings watch it carefully. They listen to the statements and read between the lines. To many, especially for the Sri Lankan Tamils and the committed democratic sections of the Sri Lankan and
Indian polity, these are moments of hope. S.M. Krishna has had a busy week in Sri Lanka. Can peoples’ hopes in a post-conflict situation be fulfilled by this visit?

Krishna’s  visit has been more than symbolic. He handed over the first lot of 1000 houses of the total 50,000 that is India’s contribution in post conflict reconstruction in the North that remains easily one of the most devastated regions. This project is the largest amongst development assistance that India has undertaken in the world. In
addition India has promised to pour in money to develop a platform for  industry and telecom where Indian business is likely to get a decent share.

However what Tamils and democratic groups’ world over are really looking at are the key words that Krishna uttered and how will India  uphold these ideals he committed to on behalf of the Indian people? Krishna  hoped that the positive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) would be implemented and said that India was hoping for a ‘genuine political settlement based on a devolution of power’ that would be ‘building upon the 13th  amendment’ which would lead to lasting political settlement. And that ‘India will
do anything possible to assist in this process’ (Jafna, 18 January). But what is the Government of Sri Lanka really doing to bring back peace, build confidence and reconciliation between alienated communities? Deliver justice to the victims, the displaced and the missing of this civil war? International  bodies that have legitimacy and credibility in recording conflict and post-conflict reconciliation like the International Crises Group, the Human Rights Watch, United Nations bodies, and Sri Lankan democratic and human rights groups aswell of many Western Governments all say that the peace process in Sri Lanka is completely inadequate. That human rights have not been addressed. What is worse is that anyone who takes up these issues is targeted and an atmosphere of fear continues.

True, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission brought out its report after 18 months. This Report equally blames both Sri Lankan Government policy for not addressing grievances of Tamil people and the Tamil leadership for taking up arms and conducting a fratricidal war. But it makes no effort to hold the culprits of the Tamil genocide responsible for its actions. In affect it takes no accountability and maintains denial. In these circumstances can the victims the dead, the missing, the raped, the displaced and their grieved families ever
claim justice or compensation?

As far as the 13th amendment on provincial councils and devolution is concerned, history has repeatedly shown that since its controversial and divisive promulgation in 1988, the Sri Lankan ruling class actually only want  a unitary system based on the intrinsically anti-democratic principle of majority rule with minimum minority rights. Various political parties have resisted actualizing this amendment.  The Sri Lankan Supreme Court is of the view that the
unitary structure of the Constitution remains intact. The Sri Lankan Government’s repeated invocations that it will implement this have little conviction and sound like empty rhetoric.  Moreover, if the thirteenth amendment was not put in place during the long years of civil war, will a triumphalist government that believes it has the support of the majority and clubs most opposition as anti-national now implement this?

The bigger question for India is do we want to be associated with these false promises and give assistance on the grounds that the Sri Lankan Government is actually likely to deliver? Or should we lean a bit more on Sri Lanka, given that the Indian tax payer’s money is going in for these big packages while India claims great power status
in South Asia? Should we not trap them with their own rhetoric?

India clearly plays a big role in the local politics of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Tamils have ethnic links with India’s South despite the fact that are very distinct with their own different traditions and culture. India would like a stable, democratic and territorially integrated Sri Lanka and any conflict there in the past or future flows over and impacts India. The tragic and futile episodes of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces and the assassination of Late Rajiv Gandhi
seem to be written into the foreign policy psyche and are often cited as reasons for non- intervention.
But current reality should also be taken into account. The LTTE and insurgency is clearly over. There is no secessionist movement at all. The Tamil parties and leadership are committed like India is to an integrated, democratic and secular Sri Lanka, but one which also guarantees political and economic power to its North and Eas  where Tamils live. So India needs to play a more pro-active role and put pressure for devolution through the 13th amendment with clear self-governance . This pressure is not hegemonic or interventionist but moral and normative. It will not go against India but ensure stability in favour of India and South Asia.

India is a great power in the region and aspires for this status worldwide. But what is it doing with this power? India should not deal with Sri Lanka through the prism of a geostrategic competitor like China but use its power for the common good of the region. India will have to show to Sri Lanka that its own success and  integration is
because of the democratic, federal, secular institutions that have enabled  it to resolve many existential crises. A unitary structure would have broken it long ago. The idea of minority rights is deeply ingrained in India’s Constitution. Why should it not ask Sri Lanka to implement this in a fixed time frame, especially since its minority
community has suffered so much?

The world is looking to India to use its power judiciously in the region. If India can give millions of dollars in development assistance, it should be matched with accountability in terms of democratic rights by the Sri Lankan Government. Nothing less should be acceptable.

Anuradha M. Chenoy is Professor, School of International Studies, JNU.

Indian Express


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