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Monday, July 22, 2024

Moving Forward; India – Sri Lanka relations

by B.Raman
The unhappiness in Sri Lanka over the Indian vote in favour of the resolution in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the question of the human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils —action in respect of past violations during the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations against the LTTE and to safeguard their human rights in future in the form of a political solution to the grievances and aspirations of the Tamils— is understandable.

2. This unhappiness is unlikely to turn into bitterness. Even in the past, the Sinhalese were unhappy over what they perceived as the Indian support to the LTTE in the years before its assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. This unhappiness never turned into bitterness and hatred for India.

3. Anyone who knows Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese well would be aware of their genuine goodwill for India. There were instances in the past when Sri Lankan Governments had taken steps which were detrimental to Indian interests. A typical example was before the 1971 India-Pakistan war when they allowed Pakistani Air Force planes carrying men and supplies to East Pakistan to refuel in Sri Lankan airports. When Indira Gandhi strongly objected to this, they discontinued it.

4. Their anger and unhappiness against India tend to remain ephemeral. Despite their best or worst efforts, neither China nor Pakistan has ever been able to create a permanent estrangement between India and Sri Lanka. There are historic, cultural and religious bonds between the Indians and the Sri Lankans. These are natural and evolved over hundreds of years. No synthetic bonds of Sri Lanka with China or Pakistan, created during moments of unhappiness and opportunism, can replace the natural bonds between India and Sri Lanka.

5. I do not rate highly the dangers of Sri Lanka throwing itself into the arms of China or Pakistan to spite India for its vote against it in Geneva. When the unhappiness subsides—as it is likely to— Sri Lanka will realise that the Indian role in Geneva was more nuanced with considerable empathy for it. India stood in the way of the undoubted Human Rights violations being equated with war crimes. We equally stood in the way of a Human Rights Diktat to Sri Lanka by the US and other Western powers.

6. The resolution was neither a reprimand nor a rebuke. It was an expression of concern over the evasive attitude of the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa on the question of action against those who committed serious Human Rights violations in the final stages of the anti-LTTE operations. India was as much concerned over this evasion as the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Western powers. India chose to give expression to these concerns bilaterally during political and diplomatic interactions with the Sri Lankan leaders and officials. Since the Rajapaksa Government chose to literally ignore the bilateral expression of these concerns, the Government of India found itself with no other option but to join in a multilateral expression of concern in Geneva.

7.Initially, I was not in favour of India joining the US-led exercise in Geneva to take a more assertive position against the evasive attitude of the Rajapaksa Government. But, after seeing the way the Government of India played a moderating role in Geneva in making the resolution a reasonable and not authoritarian expression of concerns, I do praise the delicate Indian diplomacy.

8. We do not have to be worried about the Chinese grand-standing at Geneva. The vigorous Chinese opposition was dictated not by a profusion of grief and tears for Sri Lanka, but by fears of what could happen if the international focus turns to the continued Chinese violations of the Human Rights of the Tibetans and the Uighurs. It goes to our credit that we did not allow fears of similar allegations against our counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations to restrain the expression of our concerns over the violations of the Human Rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils. There was less political hypocrisy in our stand as compared to that of China.

9. India too has reasons to be unhappy with the Rajapaksa Government for trying to wriggle out of its commitments to the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Government of India to find a political solution to the grievances and aspirations of the Tamils. After having prevailed against the LTTE with considerable Indian help, it has deplorably gone back on its commitments. If it continues to follow on the path of evasion and tries to impose a dictated solution on the Tamils, India has to act tough. I said so recently before the Geneva vote and I say so again.


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