Cool down simmering Tamil Nadu
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to India last week drew the most virulent opposition in India to a visiting head of state of Sri Lanka in recent times.
Whether it was an official visit or a private visit is not clear. He was invited by the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chauhan, a BJP leader, to lay a foundation stone for the Centre of Buddhist Studies at Sanchi, a place of veneration by Buddhists the world over. He was also scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the newly elected President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday. Details of his visit were not available at the time of writing this editorial comment.
The opposition of Tamil Nadu leaders to Sri Lankans and particularly those of the Rajapaksa government was fierce and unrelenting since the defeat of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan government forces three years ago. Vaiko, the leader of (MDMK) Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who has been at the forefront of anti-Sri Lankan protests was scheduled to lead a demonstration of 1,000 black flag protestors at Sanchi. At Puducherry in Tamil Nadu private buses kept off the roads, private schools, shops and hotels were closed while at Salem a 26-year-old taxi driver self-immolated in protest against the invitation extended to the Sri Lankan President by the Indian government. Tamil Nadu’s three time Chief Minister and leader of the DMK M. Karunanidhi issued a ringing condemnation: No person who is a Tamil by birth will appreciate Rajapaksa’s visit to India and the decision to welcome him. While the decision of the Indian Prime Minister to hold talks with him indicates that the Central Indian government is not willing to let the anti-Sri Lanka feelings spill over from Tamil Nadu and change India’s foreign policy, Sri Lanka cannot be complacent over the outrage in Tamil Nadu against it. The 65 million populous state of Tamil Nadu has often made the Central Indian government adapt new policies to Sri Lanka which New Delhi diplomats have called: South Indian Compulsions. It would be extremely futile for Colombo to be ostrich-like and bury its head in the sand saying that New Delhi does not take Tamil Nadu seriously. It was such a South Indian Compulsion that resulted in the landing of troops of the Indian Peace Keeping Force here and remaining on Sri Lankan soil for over two years.
Sri Lankan leaders should attempt to cool the hot heads of Tamil Nadu – by no means an easy task. The hard reality is that the racial animosity between Tamils of South India and the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka have been on the boil for over two millennia and occasionally erupt leading to disastrous consequences.
To bring the Jeyalalithas, Karunanidhis and Vaikos to their senses will take much more than the current Sri Lankan leadership. That can be done only through northern Indian leaders who are not emotionally involved and moved by atavistic prejudices. But that too would be quite a formidable task given the low key state of Indo-Lanka relations.
Indo-Lanka relations are at the lowest level since 1987 when Indian troops landed here. India voted against Sri Lanka for the American sponsored resolution at the UNHRC calling for investigations into alleged human rights violations by Sri Lankan armed forces.
Sri Lankan foreign policy pundits apparently believed that the cock-a-snook attitude towards powerful Western nations could bring no harm in international fora because the majority of Third World Nations would back little Lanka. That did not happen. The pundits failed to realize that India despite its posture of Independence and Non Alignment was being directed on some international issues by the sole superpower. Stunned Sri Lankan delegates realized that India had gone against its neighbour despite all the sugary rhetoric and most other Third World countries followed India.
The crux of the problem is that Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot afford to place himself on par with anti-Western leaders like the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi or the present Iranian leader Ahmadinejad and take on the West. That precisely was what happened during the greater part of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term of presidency.
Sri Lanka has to abide by the UNHRC resolution and honestly investigate the allegations made against Sri Lanka. That may not completely satisfy those snapping at the heels of Lanka but it would take off the pressure.
The other is to meet the objectives of India in Sri Lanka, however distasteful it may be to us. Many are the instances where even great and powerful nations have had to eat humble pie in the greater interests of the nation. New Delhi’s constant refrain has been devolution of powers in the North and East. They want to be the patron saints of Tamils in those areas. The 13th Amendment which Rajiv Gandhi forced President Jayewardene to include in the Constitution remains dormant and the government while not rejecting the Indian request is prevaricating.
They are awaiting the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee, which has yet to see the light of day and is having a longer period of gestation than 20 months – the time for elephants who hold the world record on this issue.
Mahinda Rajapaksa and his siblings have to resolve this issue soon. To keep Tamil Nadu with 65 million people boiling with rage is inviting disaster.