Sri Lanka, India, America, Norway, Japan

Who Made Indian Prime Minister the Lord Emperor of Sri Lanka?

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2003 (ID. 2003-05-01)
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India is one of the very few countries, if not the only country, that has or had unfriendly relationship with every one of its neighbors. Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (or Indra Gandhi) declared that any South Asian country needing military assistance should first approach India and only if it refuses should that country seek help elsewhere. This was the infamous "Indira doctrine" (or Indra doctrine) asserting Indian supremacy over South Asian nations. 

It was under this Indira Gandhi doctrine that her son and successor Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent Indian troops to Sri Lanka in 1987 to put down minority Tamil freedom fighters, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whom his mother and he trained and armed in the prior years. Sri Lanka had no other option but to accept Indian assistance on India's terms. The price India extracted from the Sri Lankan government included: (1) Sri Lanka would not allow the expansion of Voice of America broadcasting facilities in Sri Lanka, and (2) Sri Lanka would not allow foreign naval vessels to dock in Tricomalee harbor in a manner prejudicial to India's interests (In other words Sri Lanka should not allow American naval vessels to dock in Tricomalee, the deep water harbor that is ideal for American ships).

Another "Indian doctrine" with respect to its weaker neighbors is in play today. Not only should countries in South Asia seek military assistance from India first when they have a need but they should also get India's approval for conducting peace talks to settle internal conflicts. Peace talks should be conducted in a manner that India approves and the final settlement should be acceptable to India.

This new doctrine is currently in play with respect to the Sri Lankan peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the minority Tamil freedom fighters, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), to end the decades long bloody war that has taken over 60,000 lives in this tiny island. Everyone involved in the peace talks (the two principal parties and the well-meaning nations that directly or indirectly help shepherd the peace talks) are walking on eggshells and bending over backward to placate the Indian government.

Ever since the peace talks started under the facilitation of Norway and the tacit encouragement of United States of America (USA), European nations and Japan, not a week passes without the Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister or a senior official visits the Indian capital New Delhi to get India's blessing. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who seems to be interested in a peaceful resolution to the conflict and his ministers visit New Delhi ever so often and then give one-sided press conferences that India totally supports the ongoing peace talks. Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga who seems to want to scuttle the peace talks one way or other and her advisors visit New Delhi with almost equal frequency and then give one-sided press conferences that India is not pleased with some aspects of the talks and that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister should mind Indian concerns and reconsider some of his policies with respect to the talks. Either both the Prime Minister and the President are giving distorted picture of Indian views or India is talking through both sides of its mouth separately to the Prime Minister and the President. India is tight lipped about all this and issues occasional terse two-line statements of its support for a peaceful resolution. www.tamiltribune.com

The LTTE also issues occasional statements that India supports the peace talks and that LTTE is happy about it. These statements seem to be rehashed second hand information of what the Sri Lankan Prime Minister says, because India would not meet with LTTE representatives.

Norwegian facilitators do their best to keep the peace talks on track. They have nursed these talks to a stage far beyond all previous talks. India was not happy with Norwegian involvement from the very beginning. Only international opinion prevented India from vetoing Norwegian facilitation. Sri Lankan government would not act against Indian dictates.

In January of 2003, when Japan showed an interest to "supplement the efforts of Norway to help accelerate the peace process", Indian government reacted negatively. It told Japanese Foreign Minister and envoy in no uncertain terms that India would like Japan to restrict its role in Sri Lanka to financial aid and nothing more.

Involvement of countries like Norway and Japan who have no vested interest in Sri Lanka is good for the peace process. India can never be a honest broker in Sri Lanka because of its short term and long term agenda in Sri Lanka. Remember how it extracted "concessions" from Sri Lanka in 1987 when it meddled in Sri Lankan affairs. Peace has a chance only if the two parties reach a fair agreement that addresses the genuine grievances of the Tamil minority. A settlement cannot be imposed (as India tried to do in 1987); neither can a Sri Lankan military victory that decimates LTTE will lead to peace. A disgruntled Tamil population will resist Sinhala oppression, even without the LTTE, although not with the success LTTE has achieved. All it would take is a few determined men and women to keep the island in turmoil. That, actually, is what India wants. A Sri Lanka that is in constant turmoil would have to listen to India in the near term, and India could eventually annex Sri Lanka to India on the pretext that the turmoil in the island is detrimental to its security. One Mr. Subramaniam Swamy, a former Indian Minister and one who has contacts with Indian bureaucracy at the highest levels, has in fact floated such an idea a few years ago.

Best hope for Sri Lanka is to reach a just peaceful resolution to the conflict. For this to happen, India should stop meddling in the peace process and countries like Norway and Japan should even more actively shepherd the peace process. International community should tell India privately, but firmly, that it would not tolerate India interfering in the peace process. Give peace a chance.

A Few Books on the Sri Lankan Conflict

Politics of Tamil Nationalism in Sri Lanka (by Ambalavanar Sivarajah)

Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka (edited by: Tessa J. Bartholomeusz and Chandra Richard De Silva)

Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka, and the Question of Nationhood (by Sankaran Krishna)

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