By Udaya Gammanpila
India is very lucky. When India dreams of influencing Sri Lanka, it gets opportunities without much effort. The latest is its appointment to a panel by the United Nation’s Human Rights Commissioner, Ms Navaneethan Pillai. She appointed a panel consisting of three nations to assess the progress made by Sri Lanka in the implementation of the recommendations contained in the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. These three countries were selected by drawing lots. Nevertheless, India was fortunate enough to be one of the three nations.
The task of the panel is to collect information from different sources including proceedings of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to be held by the UNHRC in October 2012 and to prepare a report to be considered by the Council in March 2013. The Council will rely on this report to determine its future actions with regard to human rights protection in Sri Lanka. Hence, Sri Lanka’s fate is now in the hand of this panel. Spain and Benin have been selected as members of the panel, in addition to India.
Ironically, all these countries voted for the resolution brought by the USA against Sri Lanka. It means Sri Lanka should not expect to receive a favourable report from this panel.
Both Spain and Benin have not established diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka. They have no trade, cultural or historical links with Sri Lanka as well. Hence, frankly, they cannot form an opinion about Sri Lanka. On the other hand, India is Sri Lanka’s solitary border-sharing neighbour.
India has been directly involved in Sri Lanka’s war against separatist terrorists. India’s top politicians and bureaucrats have frequently visited Sri Lanka to assess the progress in the post-war rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation process. It is, therefore, natural for Spain and Benin to rely on India to prepare the report on behalf of the panel. Finally, Ms Pillai, who has her roots in India, has given a golden opportunity for India to influence Sri Lanka. Ms Pillai has chained Sri Lanka and given the other end of the chain to India. India’s desire to dominate Sri Lanka should be analyzed in an historical perspective.
It should be gratefully recalled India’s support for the war against the LTTE was crucial for its victory. Unfortunately, India attempted, thereafter, to exploit Sri Lanka’s vulnerable position to its advantage in both the political and economic spheres. Politically, India forced Sri Lanka to devolve power beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which is popularly known as ‘Project 13+’. However, India has so far failed to convince Sri Lanka to accept its project. India has made three mistakes in this attempt.
Firstly, India should have attempted to review its failed attempt to implement the 13th Amendment before forcing the Sri Lankan Government to offer a 13+ devolution package. The 13th Amendment is a result of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed in 1987. India signed the accord with President Jayewardene, the most powerful President of Sri Lankan history.
He himself once said his Executive Presidency was such he could not perform only one deed, that is turning a woman to a man and vice versa. He had 5/6th majority in the Parliament. He proudly boasted about his constitutional capacity to implement the accord at the media conference held soon after the signing ceremony.
India sacrificed 1,217 lives and thousands of limbs of Indian soldiers in its attempt to implement the accord. On the other hand, the Sri Lankan Government hunted down more than 70,000 Sri Lankans from the South and the North who resisted the accord. Despite the aforesaid positives and sacrifices, India failed to get the 13th Amendment implemented.
Thereafter, for the last 25 years, India attempted its best to get the 13th Amendment implemented by successive governments, without success. Having continuously failed to implement the 13th Amendment, it is unfair for India to force the present government to devolve beyond the 13th Amendment.
Secondly, Indian arrogance is such that it expects the Sri Lankan Government to blindly accept its every request as a directive. India simply forgets the fact that Sri Lanka has an elected government, which is answerable to its voting public. If the government goes beyond its mandate, people will come to the street to topple the government as it happened in 1987.
President Jayewardene over-estimated his power and capacity when he signed the Indo-Lanka Accord going beyond his mandate. People violently reacted to his decision, turning the entire country to a blood bath. President Rajapaksa, as a leading opposition activist, carefully observed the decomposition of the almighty Jayewardene regime as a result of violating the mandate. Hence, he will not go beyond his mandate at any cost.
According to the ‘Mahindana Chinthanaya – Future Vision’, President Rajapaksa’s election manifesto, he is mandated to implement the consensus reached at the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). Acting according to the mandate, he caused to appoint a PSC. However, it became dysfunctional because of the TNA’s boycott. The UNP also decided not to participate in the PSC quoting the TNA’s absence as the excuse. Hence, the TNA is responsible for the inaction of the PSC and India should pressurize the TNA instead of the government, if it wants the PSC to progress.
Thirdly, India has failed to understand President Rajapaksa’s character shaped by his cultural background. His recent predecessors, namely Chandrika and Ranil, belonged to the group of brown sahibs. Their families accepted the superiority of the Anglo-Saxons and played a supportive role for their colonial rule. Hence, these leaders always obeyed to foreign powers and never attempted to defy them.
President Rajapaksa belongs to a different group whose ancestors fought against Western dominance and their colonial rule. Hence, culturally he is not scared of defying foreign powers. He is ready to fight any super power, ignoring drastic consequences. On the other hand, respecting Sinhala tradition, he always reciprocates friendship and mutual respect.
Unfortunately, India is yet to realize the difference between President Rajapaksa and his predecessors. India has attempted to tame him by scaring him and twisting his arm repeating its old tactics without success.
Indian forcefulness was extended to the economic sphere as well. India attempted to establish several mega projects including the coal power plant at Sampur, oil exploration, the Investment Zone in Trincomalee, forcing Sri Lanka to accept its terms.
India attempted to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) without adequate discussion in Sri Lanka. All these attempts were futile, since the present government was never ready to kneel down before the Indian might.
It is noteworthy that although Sri Lanka is a tiny island situated just 32kms away from India, it was never able to surrender the entire island of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s history is the tale of Indian invasions. Nevertheless, Indian invaders never succeeded in capturing Ruhuna or the southern part of Sri Lanka (Interestingly, President Rajapaksa is also from unconquered Ruhuna).
Further, they were never able to maintain their rule in Sri Lanka more than 100 years. In the light of the above, India should adopt a novel approach towards Sri Lanka, instead of repeating tested and failed strategies. Frankly, the timing is perfect for India to re-evaluate its Sri Lankan policy, since India-Sri Lanka relations have hit a new low after India’s support for the resolution brought by USA against Sri Lanka. It is a common belief that the USA brought the resolution on the request of India.
Securing Sri Lanka’s loyalty is, of course, an easy task for India. India should follow Emperor Asoka, instead of King Rajendra Raja or Kalinga Magha. Emperor Asoka treated Sri Lanka as a respected friend and Sri Lanka reciprocated the treatment. Kapilavastu relics of Buddha were able to keep the majority of Sri Lankans standing in queues for days. India’s strength is not its military might or booming economy but its spiritual superiority. The spiritual leader of the majority of Sri Lankans is Gautama Buddha, who was an Indian. Spirituality is India’s edge over China in Sri Lankan relations.
For Buddhists, China is an anti-Buddhist country who destroyed Tibet, which was the only genuine Buddhist State in the world (Bhutan was of course photo finish second). Unfortunately, India rarely exploits its spiritual profile for its advantage.
India has been assigned by the UNHRC to decide Sri Lanka’s future when India is struggling to win Sri Lanka’s friendship back. India can use this opportunity to damage and hurt Sri Lanka, and thereby take bilateral relations further down as in the eras of the Gandhis and Kalinga Magha.
On the other hand, India can use the same opportunity to elevate the relations to unprecedented heights as in the eras of Nehru and Emperor Asoka. The direction and action should be decided by India
(Udaya Gammanpila is the Minister of Agriculture, Agrarian Development, Minor Irrigation, Industries and Environment in the Western Provincial Council)