The Sunday Leader

Promises Are Not To Be Kept Only as Promises, Post-Poll India Will Tell Sri Lanka

By N Sathiya Moorthy

With the outgoing Congress-led UPA Government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh having made a significant departure on the UNHRC front before demitting office, Sri Lanka can expect ‘continuity with change’ on post-poll India’s approach and policy towards the southern neighbour.

While the temptation in Colombo may be to believe that a new prime minister, particularly if it is BJP’s Narendra Modi or anyone else from the north of the Vindhyas, will be easy to do business with owing to identifiable religion-based ‘nationalist sentiments’, that would be limited to the personal-level.

Policy formulation, if at all, would rest – or, rather go back to where it had originally belonged – to professionals who are as sympathetic to the larger Sri Lankan national cause as they are to the larger ‘Tamil cause’ in the post-LTTE era.

Rather, the reverse may be truer, when the post-poll government and leadership in Delhi would want the larger Tamil cause addressed in full, for it to be able to appreciate the larger Sri Lankan national cause – putting away the ‘nationalist’ cause on both sides, for good, if it could help, and be of any help.

It will be tempting for sections within the Sri Lankan State structure – whichever party or alliance is in power in Colombo – and counterparts in the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist’ polity to continue believing that the purported, post-war Indian vacillation on the ethnic front owed mainly to the ‘Tamil Nadu factor’.

True as it may be up to a point, when influential ruling Congress leaders from the State like outgoing Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, may have swung the Centre’s decision in a particular way, more than the more vociferous sections of the competitive Dravidian polity, the Indian State structure’s conviction that the Tamils in Sri Lanka have to be given their due under all circumstances should not be wished away, either.

A new government in New Delhi thus could shrug itself off the laxity and lethargy that had visibly ruled the later-year decisions of the 10-year-long leadership of Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, as was visible in regard to various other decisions of the Government, it would also mean that they would begin with a new hope of Sri Lanka keeping its commitment, old and new.

It was not the case with the Singh dispensation, which after a point, had come to believe that Sri Lanka was making voluntary and unasked for promises that were not meant to be kept – or, only to be kept as promises.

This attitude had possibly led to a domestically-weakening Indian leadership not even bothering to remind the equally stronger Sri Lankan political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa about the ‘un-kept promises’ from the past.

When New Delhi began taking decisions without reference to Colombo – though delayed both in terms of processing and publicising – they were based on anticipation, not with any more expectations. The latter used to be the case during the mostly-coinciding first terms of President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Singh.

Continuity with Change

It’s inevitable that all neighbours of India, going beyond China and Pakistan, and not necessarily in that order are as keen to know more about the future leaders in New Delhi and their own policy disposition towards their respective countries.
It owes to the size of India, its economy, military, global political linkages and relevance – and the very fact that India is at the centre of South Asia, and all nations are linked to India and not to one another, barring a rare few.

Though distanced by sea, Sri Lanka – and, even Maldives – cannot escape this comparison. Yet, it is in the case of Sri Lanka that connectivity and concerns are also far more real in the Indian context than other nations in the region, barring, of course, Pakistan.
In the case of Pakistan, post-Partition historic adversity is as real and deep as cultural and people linkages that are as real as they are on the Bangladeshi side.

In the case of Bangladesh, cultural affinity across the border has not had any serious cause to be tested, or checked, since the formation of the new State with Indian help in 1971.

It is thus in the case of Sri Lanka, where the cultural affinity between the two nations are as ancient as they come in the region, owing to the fact that both have had a separate political existence from time immemorial.

Yet, the affinity of the people in the two countries have acquired a new relevance and meaning in the context of ethnicity.
Even that is limited in a way, as the cultural inheritance from north/east India that the Sinhala-Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka are proud of, and even possessive about, does not translate into any contemporary political activity, cooperation or adversity on that point.

The affinity between the Tamil-speaking minority in Sri Lanka and the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, alone has acquired a contemporary political idiom and relevance, owing exclusively to the post-Independence ethnic adversities inside the island-nation.

This in turn has sought to influence Indian governmental position in Sri Lanka, up to a point, and the general Sri Lankan disposition towards Tamil Nadu (whether involving the Sinhala majority or the Tamil minority). How it pans out in India’s post-poll era, the first one after the conclusion of the ethnic wars and violence in Sri Lanka.

The earlier parliamentary polls in India, as may be recalled, coincided with the closing days of the conclusive ‘Eelam War IV’ in Sri Lanka, but was not influenced by the same, as had been anticipated. Thus, India will have a government unconnected to Sri Lanka’s war and violence only now – with no past commitments of a non-institutional variety, if any, tying down the new dispensation in Delhi.
Sri Lanka can thus look for ‘continuity with change’ in the new Indian government’s policy towards the southern neighbour, both in terms of the ethnic issue and related national, regional and global controversies of the UNHRC variety, and more focussed concerns on the geo-strategic front, not to rule out trade and economy, which too are stuck in the contemporary past, that is not too far.

Expectation, Anticipation

Indian decisions on Sri Lanka through the war years, before and after, having been initiated/taken at the institutional level, it is safe to expect that a new government in New Delhi will continue to count on such inputs as much on political inputs, which would have less to do with Tamil Nadu and more to do with the rest.

It may be a genuine effort at repositioning India’s Sri Lanka policy to the middle-path, which Singh’s bold and belated decision to ‘abstain’ from the UNHRC vote has already facilitated for a new government to take forward.

Translated, a new Indian prime minister, his external affairs minister, and their government would readily commence their Sri Lanka policy act by reviving the old faith in Sri Lanka’s promises, be it on the ethnic and geostrategic (read: China/Pakistan) trade and investment fronts.

As was the case with the previous government(s), one would not be at the cost of the other, as a post-poll India would expect Sri Lanka to make progress on all fronts, and extending concessions outside of India’s core areas of concerns, shared and otherwise.

The ethnic issue will still be on the top of the Indian slate, and for reasons unconnected to the ‘Tamil Nadu factor’, but a post-poll India, like the Singh Government had begun doing already, would continue to expand and deepen bilateral relations in ways that mutual stakes are increased, mutually.  But one will not be at the cost of the other, or others. That would include the Tamil political leadership in Sri Lanka on the one hand, the Sri Lankan Government on the other, and the international community, which has been meddling in the ‘traditional sphere of influence’ of the post-Cold War Indian friend and ally of the West, otherwise.

Considering that the post-poll situation is unlikely to throw up a prime minister from among the leaders in the existing national pantheon, any ‘strong leader’ heading possibly a ‘stable government’ might not miss an opportunity to put Tamil Nadu’s overzealous, competitive Dravidian polity in its place.

At the same time, he or she will not wink twice to direct their dissatisfaction with the Sri Lankan leadership, or hesitate to proceed from there, either.

That would include the Tamil political leadership in the two countries, if it came to that, and beyond, if that alone would help the cause of finding a ‘political solution to the ethnic issue within a united Sri Lanka’.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi.

2 Comments for “Promises Are Not To Be Kept Only as Promises, Post-Poll India Will Tell Sri Lanka”

  1. srilanka is belong to srilankan not for president family. you are electated by people the same people wiil send home,president opposition in parliament not voted for you,you are trying to damage the opposition you are utter failer in democratic speek about democratic but you rule the country but you are a dictater, indian prime minister is world democratic prime minister,killing time no place,wesrtan emmbasy in srilanka not bothered about 18th may at mattra vehicle prades,srilanka belong to all citizen.youu fali to understand,

  2. Sangaralingham

    Minorities whoever they me religion linguistic or any other is part of community within a country.. It is the moral responsibility of the majority who ever they may be given full protection opportunities like any body else within the country. Then all of us living within the country can say we are united. Only uneducated will think otherwise who has no basic principles India United Nations USAUKonly like to interfere they all think the island is fine but it is misgoverned.l. LLRCis to advice what is there to do what the society thing what can be done to say we are one country.

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