OneIndia: What can India ideally do to force the Sri Lankan government in the process of reconciliation of the Tamils?
Irrespective of the Tamil politicians’ fury, the fact is that Sri Lanka is an independent country and we have already paid a price of intervening in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
India can only try to create pressure on Rajapaksa by means of canvassing international support. But then again, given the age-old relation that exists between the two countries, any unbalanced act can complicate the issue further.
Col Hariharan: Your own explanation of the question contains part of the answer. No nation – not even India or the U.S. – can really force Sri Lanka government to carry out the reconciliation process with Tamil minority. They are Sri Lanka nationals. As the strategic context now is different from 1987, India cannot exert the same type of pressure as it did in the past to speed up the reconciliation process.
India’s efforts in the past on this issue resulted in the signing of India-Sri Lanka Agreement 1987. It provides for the creation of provincial councils with certain amount of autonomy. This was formalised by the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. Despite this, the powers enshrined there have not been fully extended to provincial councils due to various political reasons.
After winning the Eelam war, President Rajapaksa has emerged unchallenged leader and Tamils have limited political clout. With the LTTE no more there, Rajapaksa is going through the reconciliation process at his own speed. This has alienated not only the Tamil support but also some of the goodwill Sri Lana enjoyed in India, USA and EU countries.
However, Rajapaksa feels as a national leader it would be demeaning to be seen as bowing to external pressure on this issue. So he is taking his own time. India can only use the tools of diplomatic and economic pressure to push him into action.
OneIndia: With no LTTE around and an authoritarian president in power, is it possible to renew the movement to assert rights of the deprived Tamils? The vacuum created after decimation of the LTTE is being filled up forces like the ‘wily’ West and fragmented Tamil politicians in India but unless there is a strong reactionary voice emerging in Sri Lanka, it is difficult for the Tamils in distress to lead a life of dignity. The Palestinian problem has not been settled still and this also looks to go the same way
Col Hariharan: Again you have partly answered your own question. Prabhakaran had an autocratic leadership style and the leadership vacuum left by the exit cannot be filled up by democratic leaders. It cannot be filled up by any Tamil politician from India or elsewhere because they are not accountable to Sri Lankan people.
Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka are experienced and quite capable; they are raising their voices in parliament strongly on key issues. Unfortunately, Indian media rarely considers them or their views as newsworthy and flashes only some ill informed or inflammatory statement from Tamil Nadu as important news.
Sri Lanka Tamil leaders have not gained the confidence of Tamil people as they are traumatised by war and are yet to resume normal life and live with confidence and dignity. Sri Lankan government has failed to give them the feeling of security and trust to improve their mindset.
OneIndia: We have found that many a times, India has followed a ‘policy of toleration’ towards neighbours who have not been democratic at all. Whether be it the monarchies in Nepal and Bhutan, a military dictatorship in Pakistan (Musharraf), an authoritarian president in Maldives or a military junta rule in Myanmar, India wanted these forces not to crumble so that instability did not affect them. Do you think India should follow the same policy vis-a-vis the authoritarian presidential rule of Rajapaksa so that no anti-India sentiments gain strong ground?
Col Hariharan: Sri Lanka, unlike the examples you quoted, has an elected democratic government in which Tamil minority also voted. So it is not in the same class as military dictatorships or monarchies. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been elected twice as President by popular vote. He is an executive president unlike the President of India, who is only the head of state and prime minister wields the executive powers.
Rajapaksa as President wields enormous powers which he does not hesitate to use, frequently in authoritarian style. This has naturally caused its own reaction. In spite of this, there is no question of India adopting “a policy of toleration” because he enjoys the confidence of the majority of Sri Lankans.
He considers relations with India as “brotherly” and crucial to further Sri Lanka’s interests. He has consulted India in all major issues and has worked hard to build close relations with India. We should understand that he would act only on what he considers as Sri Lanka’s national interest. We should respect that as he is accountable to his people; however, we should start using our influence a little more boldly to give his regime a more humane face.
OneIndia: The Sri Lankan case shows the typical majority-minority problem in a post-colonial state. Do you think military power is at all any solution to such sensitive issues? India is one of those rare non-western states which succeeded in addressing such issue politically, to a large extent. Sri Lanka can also back its military success with reconstruction and devolution of power. That will be a big success for the Rajapaksa regime.
Col Hariharan: Not only in post colonial states but even in Western states there are there majority-minority problems. A good example is Belgium, a tiny state by Asian standards, where the French and Flemish speaking people get into log jam.
Though India has been trying to address it politically, it has not succeeded fully; the Bodos, Nagas and Meiteis took to arms because of the minority syndrome. Not only India and other Western nations but even other political parties of Sri Lanka have been suggesting the need to carry out devolution of power to minorities side by side with reconstruction.
However, Sri Lanka leadership believes in the war torn zones, reconstruction of habitats and infrastructure would improve the life style of the people and devolution being a political process can be progressed at its own pace. So we have a lopsided picture in post-war Sri Lanka where massive development projects and restoration of infrastructure have not won over people who had been struggling for equitable rights on par with Sinhala majority.