The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka: What’s There For India After UNHRC-3

In the past two years, the Indian vote against Sri Lanka may have done the trick for the passage of the US-led western resolution at the UNHRC – more than in numerical terms, that is. This time round, the Indian ‘abstention’ may have done even more. In a way, it has tilted the scales in real terms. With India abstaining, those not in favour of the Anglo-American resolution totalled 24 against 23 for the motion.

In super-power terms, the Anglo-American ‘victory’ is no victory and the Sri Lankan ‘defeat’ is no defeat. In real terms, too, the support for the US resolution in the 47-member UNHRC has come down to 24 from last year’s 25, which again was a significant improvement from the 23 votes in 2012. Sri Lanka too needs to note that the opposition to the US move has also been sinking, from 15 in 2012 to 13 last year, to 12 at present. The aggregate is to the number of abstentions. The figure has gone up by half, from eight in the previous two years, to 12 now. In 2012, Gabon ‘absented’ itself from the voting process, but this time, it ‘abstained’.

It’s not about victory and defeat, however. It is about post-Geneva retrieval of the lost ground in Sri Lanka, where ‘accountability’ issues have to give place to ‘political reconciliation’, which the former had left hanging two-plus years ago. The logic of the Indian neighbour, that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) should be talking to the Sri Lankan Government for New Delhi to exert the required pressure on the latter, was outlined by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid at London during the run-up to the Geneva vote. The abstention now means that India has re-positioned itself to re-engage the Sri Lankan stake-holders in a constructive way.

Officials, both in Geneva and New Delhi, have explained the logic behind the Indian decision. As they have pointed out, by proposing an ‘international investigation’ of the UNHRC kind into ‘accountability issues’, the ‘intrusive’ resolution sought to infringe upon the ‘sovereignty’ of the Sri Lankan State.

Worse still, it sought to set at naught the work already done by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and the Sri Lankan Government’s promised follow-up of the same through the ‘National Action Plan’. Inadequacies, if any, cannot justify ‘international investigation’ of any kind. Inputs, specifics and clear, bilaterally or multilaterally without resorting to coercive measures of the UNHRC kind, could instead have done the trick.

Taking India for granted

India’s problems with this year’s resolution may not have stopped with ‘sovereignty’ issues per se. It was about ‘sovereignty’, yes, as it’s the scale that India had applied, elsewhere, too. Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India’s HR concerns viz the international community may have been incidental, if at all. In specific terms, India had voted for the two earlier US resolutions only after they had cited the LLRC report as the bench-mark and purpose. The original US draft in 2012, as may be recalled, did not refer to the report of the LLRC, a creature of the Sri Lankan State – and hence did not impede/impinge on ‘sovereignty’ issues.

Only after the LLRC became the sole reference-point, did India reportedly vote for the US resolution in 2012. It remained so in 2013, and India had no cause – or, justification – for a re-think of this year’s kind. In a way, it was the Anglo-American resolution going back on the past commitments to the world — though made possibly with India in mind — on the LLRC-linked ‘sovereignty’ front that New Delhi may have thought it fit and justified to go back on its own commitments from the past. Clearly, the change in the tone and tenor of the US draft also meant that the western movers behind the resolution had begun taking India for granted – and possibly did not deserve the kind of political consideration that New Delhi may have found fit to extend in the past.

This ‘taking India for granted’ may have begun with the 2012 resolution, when the ‘US friend’ was seen as unilaterally intervening, though only in political and diplomatic terms, in India’ s ‘traditional sphere of influence’.

Simultaneously egged on by an surprising and unprecedented political pressure from Tamil Nadu in 2012, New Delhi could do little about it. An otherwise acceptable US draft did the rest.

Going beyond bowing to pressures from Tamil Nadu per se in 2012, New Delhi may not have also wanted to precipitate an internal chasm in the name of an external issue for the time. Relations between nations, particularly neighbours bound by geography, culture and history, and in that order, go beyond the realms of domestic politics, moods and methods. Yet, at times they are dictated by domestic compulsions.

The Sri Lankan side was both aware and appreciative of India’s circumstances. To this pan-Tamil political pressure, both from inside the Government at the Centre and otherwise, was added the unexpected ‘student power’ this time last year, nearly 50 long years after the anti-Hindi agitation of the Sixties

American unilateralism

On the side, the US was similarly taking unilateral political positions in and on Maldives, and elsewhere in the immediate neighbourhood of India.

In the case of Maldives, for instance, it was also negotiating what New Delhi possibly perceived as a military-related deal in SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). The US dismissed it as a routine affair unrelated to security issues and concerns of the ‘Indian friend’ cum ally. The fact that the US was reportedly negotiating SOFA with Maldives, almost behind the back of India, too might not have gone well with New Delhi.

This would have been more so, considering that the incumbent Maldivian Government of then President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik was at best a ‘lame-duck’ affair, after his controversial, if not wholly questionable ascendancy to power following the momentous resignation of President Mohammed Nasheed.

With a weakling in office thus requiring heavy doses of external help of the non-Indian variety, thanks to the ‘GMR row’ that the whole world knew, New Delhi could not have been expected to take kindly to the American overtures to and from Maldives at the time.
So much so, the perceptions of altruist American intentions on the Sri Lankan ‘accountability’ issue would always have been peppered with possible Indian apprehensions about the ‘real’ intentions and motives of the US in the immediate southern neighbourhood.

The Indian

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