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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Will India vote for Sri Lanka in Geneva?

S Venkat Narayan
Policy-makers here are facing a serious dilemma: Should India vote for or against Sri Lanka if a resolution does come up against the island-nation in the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) during the session that begins on Monday, Feb 27?

India has so far stood like a rock behind Sri Lanka and opposed moves in Geneva and elsewhere to censure Colombo for its acts of commission and omission during the last stages of the Eelam War 4.

Official sources here explained to this correspondent that India has done so in the hope that the Sri Lankan government will respond swiftly to global criticism by ordering an impartial probe into allegations of excesses committed during the final phases of the civil war that ended in May 2009 with the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, and take action against the guilty, if any.

They also say that New Delhi has been hoping that, having won the war, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will take prompt steps to give the aggrieved minority Tamils their political rights.

However, nearly three years after the three-decade bloody civil war ended, there has been little visible action on the ground to make the Tamils feel they are getting a fair deal. Now, there is a strong feeling in influential sections of the Indian Government that New Delhi should no longer lend its crucial and valuable support to Sri Lanka in international fora.

This is so because such support is being interpreted at home and abroad as providing protection to the Mahinda Rajapaksa dispensation’s controversial conduct during the last stages of Eelam War 4. The view is widely shared by the intelligentsia, the media and the public opinion at large.

They are asking: Can Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh afford to ignore the public opinion at home? Can he ingore the strong views expressed in Parliament by concerned and anxious MPs? Can he ignore the increasing frustration of the people, particularly in Tamil Nadu, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s seeming reluctance or inability to grant the island’s Tamils political space to function as equal citizens even nearly three years after the civil war ended? Can he afford to pump in aid and assistance running into more than a billion dollars to help a regime that appears to be so insensitive to the aspirations of one-fourth of its own citizenry?

Already, the anger in Tamil Nadu against President Rajapaksa’s delaying tactics and inaction has led to a few unpleasant acts: The husband of one of the president’s close relatives and a few Sri Lankan tourists were roughed up in two separate incidents in the southern Indian state.

Said one source involved in the Indian decision-making process: “We have been telling the Sri Lankan leaders so very gently and ever so politely that they should use the great opportunity provided by the end of the ethnic war to give the Tamils their political due and involve them in nation-building. After all, every fourth Sri Lankan is a Tamil-speaking Hindu, Muslim or Christian. How long can you deny their political rights and expect them to keep quiet?”

“Gentle persuation has not been working. It is now time to get tough and let the Sri Lankan leadership know we mean business. We have not told them what we will do in Geneva . If they continue to ignore our sincere advice for their own good, why should we bail them out of trouble every time?”

An analyst here remarked: “We must give credit to President Rajapaksa for taking on the world’s deadliest terrorist group and successfully decimating it. Some excesses were obviously committed. He should have admitted them straightaway as collateral damage and take some prompt action against the culprits to convince the Tamils at home and the world at large that he is a fair-minded leader.”

The analyst went on: “Unfortunately, he did nothing of the kind. But he acted like a clever politician and promptly exploited the military victory to get himself re-elected for a second term, and changed the constitution to get rid of the bar on his contesting for more presidential terms. He got a parliamentary victory too. He also got hundreds of the Rajapaksa clan positions of power and well-paid jobs. And he is promoting his own political dynasty. He now needs to act as a statesman, give a fair deal to the Tamils and move on without any further loss of time.”

Most Indians do not buy the arguement put forth by the President and his colleagues that Indian-style federalism will not work in Sri Lanka . What works in a country of 1,234 million people ought to work in a country of just 20 million people as well, they feel.

An analyst asked: “If the chief minister of a province has to keep running to Colombo for every little thing because he has neither the political authority nor the financial power to develop his own province, what is the use of having such a system? In a true democracy, the provinces must enjoy certain autonomy. This is how things work in all decent democracies.”

Many Indians also endorse the recent statement issued by 50 prominent Sri Lankans, which said: “A lasting solution to the ethnic imbroglio can be reached only if power, including police powers, land use and allocation, and fiscal and budgetary authority is devolved to the provincial councils in accordance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka, but the government is stalling.”

Many well-wishers in India of Sri Lanka hope President Rajapaksa will get his act together at least now on the human rights issue, and provide political rights to the Tamils. His inaction on both fronts has already alienated influential sections of the international community. He now faces the possibility of alienating India , too.


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