October 18, 2020
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Shenanigans In Sri Lanka?

Given Tamil sensitivities and Lanka’s strategic location, a loose cannon could have dangerous consequences for India’s security and national integration.

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Shenanigans In Sri Lanka?
Photo - Udesh Gunaratna / ColomboPage.com, via Subramanian Swamy's Facebook page
Shenanigans In Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan Tamil issue has been on boiling point with Tamils of India in suppressed anger. To assuage this, members of the Chennai based Civil Society Coalition for Justice and Peace including former union health minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, met Sushma Swaraj, union minister of external affairs in mid-July and presented a Memorandum requesting re-setting of India’s foreign policy on Sri Lanka. 

Inter alia, we submitted that UPA government had not been following a nuanced foreign policy in Lanka that would render justice to the war-torn Tamils while safeguarding India’s security interests. Instead, driven more by parochial prejudices and commercial interests, India’s policy has succeeded only in alienating the Tamils, who occupy two-third of the island’s coastal area, without endearing the Sinhalese in any manner. Lanka has thus been handed on a platter to the China-Pakistan axis thereby jeopardizing India’s maritime security. 

We impressed upon the need for the new government to have a paradigm-shift in India’s policy towards Lanka. To facilitate this the Memorandum sought the nomination of an independent person as Special Representative for Lanka to go into all aspects of the Indo-Lanka relations, outstanding and vexing issues and come out with a comprehensive solution-oriented blueprint. This could lead to an early healing of the festering wound among the Tamils that could otherwise turn into gangrene. The foreign minister’s response was cool with the subtle message: “We know what to do!”

Obviously they knew, because within days, the chairman of ‘BJP’s Committee for Strategic Action’ and rabidly anti-Tamil Subramanian Swamy landed in Colombo with high-level delegation comprising Seshadri Chari of the RSS, Suresh Prabhu of the Shiv Sena, Madhav Nalapat of Manipal Academy and senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta to pay obeisance to President Mahinde Rajapaksa and assure him that NDA government will work as per his agenda. The Lankan President was informed that concerns of 70 million Tamils are of no relevance to Modi government since foreign policy is the exclusive preserve of the centre and that they could swing it as they wished. So elated were the Sinhalese that President’s adviser Sunimal Fernando, proclaimed in a seminar that if Swamy was to contest an election in Lanka, he would have a resounding victory! 

Ever since the end of civil war in 2009, Rajapaksa has been promoting Lanka as a unitary state of Sinhala-Buddhists. He had said that the country no longer had any minority communities, but only patriots and traitors. Swamy and his team played second fiddle while stating that the war crimes issues in Lanka ‘raked-up’ by the United Nations Human Rights Commission were “contrived to belittle the importance of Rajapaksa’s victory over the traitors.” Referring to non-implementation of the 13th Amendment, the key grievance of Lankan Tamils, delegate Seshadri Chari said that it was the product of a particular situation that existed in 1987 and in the changed circumstances should be abandoned! 

The fact is that in Lanka, linguistic and religious minorities are being crushed by the tyranny of the Sinhala-Buddhists who constitute 80 per cent of the population. The Northern and the Eastern Provinces, traditional homeland of the Tamils, were once strewn with thousands of temples, churches, mosques, schools, libraries and statues of eminent persons and historical monuments. Many of them have been razed to the ground. All the five renowned Hindu shrines that existed long before the advent of Buddhism in Lanka—Thirukketheeswaram, Thirukkoneswaram, Naguleswaram, Munneswaram and Thondeswaram—are now under the control of the occupying armed forces or Sinhala-Buddhists. Having subjugated the Hindu Tamils, the Sangha, as the Theravada Buddhist monks are referred to, has turned its attention to Muslims, who are also Tamil speaking. 

Whatever Swami’s delegation did in Lanka was the opposite of what Tamil Nadu stands for and what Prime Minister and foreign minister told Rajapaksa when he came to Delhi to attend Modi government’s swearing-in ceremony: Abandoning the 13th Amendment could reactivate the bloody Tami Eelam struggle.

Withdrawing the March 2014 UNHRC resolution that talks of ‘significant surge in attacks against members of religious minority groups in Lanka, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians’ would be endorsing the ongoing communal agenda in the island. Both combined will have serious reverberations in Tamil Nadu.

Notwithstanding, BJP’s ‘strategy chief’ is running amuck with his self-appointed role as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Sri Lanka very seriously. He lost no time in following-up the ‘success’ of his please-Rajapaksa mission and was back in Colombo in the third week of August to attend a Defence Seminar. Claiming Prime Minister Modi’s mandate to deal with Lankan affairs, Swamy has been touting himself as “Member of Parliament and President of the Janatha Party of India”. He also made many false and absurd statements on India’s policy vis-à-vis Lanka:

  • Sri Lankan Army’s victory over Tamils helped ensure the security of India too;
  • International investigation on war crimes against Lanka is not acceptable to India and that the UN Resolution should be withdrawn;
  • Foreign policy is being decided by the government of India, and states do not matter; 
  • India’s National Security Advisor will visit Lanka in November and Prime Minister Modi early next year;
  • he BJP has a majority in parliament and protests in Tamil Nadu does not matter; 
  • Lanka’s military personnel will be trained in Indian military establishments in TN; 
  • TN government’s demand for the retrieval of Kachchativu from Lanka is meaningless since that matter has been already settled. Ironically it is this very strategist who ‘swam’ across Palk Straits two decades ago to recapture this islet!
  • Lanka has addressed India's security concerns over its soil being used by extremists to infiltrate into Tamil Nadu 
  • Modi government is not concerned over the strong ties between China and Lanka. New Delhi will back Beijing working with Lanka on the economic front. 

Swamy went on to state that India respects Lanka's right to choose with whom it wants to have friendly relations. Stating that India is not part of any strategic partnership which works against the Chinese government he added: "We are no one to tell Sri Lanka: Don't have the Chinese here or don't have the Pakistanis here. We can't. Sri Lanka won't listen even.”  It would seem as if the crux of Swamy’s mission in Lanka was to facilitate smooth functioning of China-Pakistan interests in the island! 

It appears that Swamy & Co are playing Rajapaksa government’s game of using the BJP to consolidate two agendas. Nationally, it is the Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-nationalism to usher in Buddhistva in Lanka, even as the RSS and the Sangh parivar are pushing the Modi government to step up the Hindutva agenda. Internationally, though, it would firm-up the China-Pakistan-Lanka nexus that could pose direct threat to India’s Southern Seaboard. 

Both are high explosive. Given Tamil sensitivities and Lanka’s strategic location the shenanigans indulged by a loose cannon can have dangerous portends for India’s security and national integration. One hopes the infant government is aware of the enormity of what is at stake. Within weeks of SAARC bonhomie, Delhi is losing the plot in Islamabad. In Sri Lanka it could be much worse.

In this background, Prime Minister Modi met the six-member delegation of the Tamil National Alliance, Sri Lanka's main Tamil political party, who called on him on Friday 22 August. As per reports, Modi categorically assured them to settle the vexing Lankan issue in a manner ensuring "equality, dignity, justice and self-respect" for its Tamil minority. Prime Minister had urged "all stakeholders in Sri Lanka to engage constructively, in a spirit of partnership and mutual accommodation, towards finding a political solution that is built upon the 13th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution." This is what the external affairs minister is not willing to say and what BJP’s ‘strategy chief’ has been trashing during his sojourn in the island nation. 

Pray, who is running India’s foreign policy?

M.G. Devasahayam, a former army and IAS officer, now sees himself as an activist.

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