by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The term “Intermestic” was first used by Henry Kissinger to explain international issues having domestic economic implications like for instance the middle-eastern situation abroad impacting on the price of gas in the US. The term coined by Kissinger took the “inter” from International and “mestic” from Domestic.
It was however veteran Journalist Mervyn de Silva who popularised the term in Sri Lanka.Mervyn who was then editing the “Lanka Guardian” fortnightly and writing a weekly column for “Sunday Island”. Mervyn applied the term to all issues crossing the boundaries between the International and the domestic and belonged to both spheres thereby necessitating this sub-category.
According to Mervyn, Sri Lanka’s Tamil issue was for Sri Lanka a domestic issue with an international spillover and for India it was an international issue with a domestic spillover. Hence for both Colombo and New Delhi it should be regarded as INTERMESTIC, i.e. “at the interface of the international and the domestic”.
President Mahinda Rajapakse and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh-in 2009
The term intermestic comes to mind against the backdrop of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s forthcoming visit to New Delhi on June 8th to meet Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh. High on the Manmohan-Mahinda agenda would be the intermestic Tamil issue.
While Indo-Lanka relations will continue to remain cordial, observers of South Asian regional politics are able to detect some contradictions emerging between New Delhi and Colombo on certain matters. Chief among them is the prickly Sri Lankan Tamil issue.
One year ago there was a convergence of interests between India and Sri Lanka about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).Both sides were aligned in forcefully and successfully combating and destroying the tigers or LTTE.
Sarath Fonseka, Gotabhaya Rajapakse & Mahinda Rajajapakse
It was the Sri Lankan armed forces under the military leadership of Sarath Fonseka, administrative leadership of Gotabhaya Rajapakse and political leadership of Mahinda Rajajapakse who fought the war and achieved victory.
However it is widely known that the covert input and overt support extended by India was largely responsible for the fruits of success. Colombo was in constant communication with New Delhi as the war progressed and there was collaboration between both countries on some aspects of the conflict.
The intermestic issue had a domestic spillover in India particularly the state of Tamil Nadu home to 60 million Tamils. Colombo and New Delhi co-operated in quelling and containing the resentment and hostility in Tamil Nadu towards the war in Sri Lanka where a large number of civilians were reportedly killed,injured and displaced.
In a recent interview Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse revealed how the Indian and Sri Lankan governments had “acted” in more ways than one to “manage” the potential political fall-out of Tamil Nadu chief minister Muttuvel Karunanidhi’s sudden decision to fast unto death at Marina beach in Chennai demanding an immediate end to the war.
As a result of this Indo-Lanka “co-operation” an announcement was made about ending offensive operations by Colombo. This in turn was utilised by New Delhi to persuade Karunanidhi to call off the fast in five hours. Thus Karunanidhi now holds the record for the world’s shortest “fast unto death”.
The conduct of the war against the LTTE and its result was a golden phase in New Delhi-Colombo relations. After the war ended , an international outcry arose about war crimes and crimes against humanity against Sri Lanka. India provided immense assistance to Sri Lanka in countering these demands.
India played a pivotal role in helping to blunt the “attack” on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in Geneva last year. Though Cuba got much of the credit India was of immense help in mobilising support against the original resolution and enlisting support for the counter-resolution.
Perhaps the full extent of India’s role in Geneva would be known if and when our former ambassador to the UN in Geneva-Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka-writes his memoirs candidly.
A very important reason for India’s support to Sri Lanka was because the Indian establishment had concluded that the LTTE had to be eliminated at any cost. India itself was constrained from playing an open role in physically demolishing the LTTE because of the possible risk of revolt in Tamil Nadu ranks. (Intermestic impact again).
Thus India remained in the background and encouraged Sri Lanka to do the “dirty work of fighting” just as Junius Richard Jayewardena tried to get India to do the same dirty work of fighting the LTTE decades ago. In a remarkable reversal of roles the Sri Lankan forces became the cutting edge of India’s regional policy.
In that context there was and is a responsibility on the part of India to protect the Sri Lankan government from the slings and arrows “international opinion” seemingly outraged by the mass –scale human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the war.
IDPs in Chettikulam camp – painting by Shan Sundaram
This is why India has been quietly engaged in helping Sri Lanka withstand and possibly ward off the international clamour demanding “justice” for the victims of the war.
Human rights activists lobbying against Sri Lanka in Western capitals have been ruefully told that nothing “drastic” could be done against Colombo as long as India was protective of Sri Lanka.There is a Western consensus of sorts in abiding by Delhi’s concerns as far as the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is concerned.
Apart from being a “speed checker” on possible courses of action by individual western nations, the restraining hand of India can be felt strongly in the collective international sphere too.
A major reason for the perceived impotence of the UN in taking meaningful action against Sri Lanka is attributed to India, Pakistan, China and Russia. Here again the knitty-gritty stuff is handled by India.
While Russia and China could and would veto any adverse action contemplated by the UN security council, it is India that helps pre-empt such action evolving.
Flags of US and India in the vicinity of White House in Washington, DC to mark visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the White House-Nov 2009
The powerful western nations do not want to irk India unnecessarily over the Sri Lankan issue. As such the human rights activists find themselves unable to breach the protective invisible glass barrier set around Sri Lanka at the UN by India.
Moreover despite frequent statements and trips to Sri Lanka by high-ranking UN officials the glass house too has been largely ineffective in getting results.. UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon proposes several initiatives with gusto towards Sri Lanka. The latest being a UN panel of advisers.
Ban Ki Moon
Placard held at rally near UN on Sep 22, 2009, organized by US based US-TPAC
Ban ki moon also sends his officials and special emissaries at regular intervals. But nothing tangible is yet to be achieved. Furthermore his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar’s name has been compromised in the alleged incident where tiger leaders surrendering with white flags were shot dead in cold blood.
While Ban ki Moon puts up a brave face and maintains the facade that he is acting without constraints,any seasoned analyst of UN affairs is able to discern that a hidden hand is constricting the UN secretary-general in this regard.
Ms. Navanetham Pillay-AP pic
After helping Sri Lanka to meet the challenge posed at Geneva last year India was at the forefront in preventing further movement on that count. When UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanetham Pillay tried to initiate moves against Sri Lanka despite the Human rights council vote, she was vehemently criticised by India in Geneva . Pillay was reprimanded for trying to engage in further action despite what happened in the Human rights council.
Interestingly both the past and present Indian representatives to the UN at New York are old Sri Lanka hands with intricate knowledge of the Island’s politics.
Amb. Hardeep Singh Puri
The ebullient Hardeep Singh Puri who was political secretary in Colombo when the Indo-lanka accord was signed on July 29th 1987 is currently in New York. His predecessor was Nirupam Sen who had been both Deputy-high commissioner and High Commissioner in Colombo.
In addition to the specific reason for India extending its protective umbrella to Sri Lanka amidst the torrential rains of international pressure, there is also another compelling reason. India considers the South Asian region to be its exclusive backyard and does not welcome unnecessary international intrusion.
Let us also not forget that India’s hands are not very clean in the sphere of human rights be it in Kashmir, Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland or even against guerrilla groups in several states in Northern and Central India. If it allows a greater international role in probing alleged human rights violations and war crimes in Sri Lanka, the floodgates may be opened for similar probes against India too.
Under these circumstances there prevails a congruence of interests between India and Sri Lanka on this matter. Besides an extensive international probe into Sri Lanka’s alleged infringements and conduct of war could also throw open a can of worms resulting in greater exposure of India’s role in Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE.
The Indo-Lankan joint venture of defeating and destroying the LTTE was a success. But in the aftermath of victory some cracks and fissures are emerging.
Campaign posters for Gen Sarath Fonseka in Jaffna-Jan 2010-pic: www.indi.ca
At a local level the war victory euphoria brought about a cleavage in sharing the spoils of victory. The Army commander fought his erstwhile commander in chief at the presidential hustings. Today the General who claims that he alone deserves full credit for the war victory languishes in custody arraigned on three counts of courts martial against him.
In the case of India and Sri Lanka there is no question of quibbling about who gets the credit for victory over the tigers. India for reasons of its own is more than happy to let Sri Lanka hog all the limelight.
Actually New Delhi may even be grateful that Colombo is monopolising the fame and glory of victory. This helps New Delhi to withstand Tamil Nadu charges of culpability on the one hand and on the other absolves India of blame in the war against LTTE.
There are however other emerging contradictions amounting to irritants. One such irritant is the seeming reluctance on the part of President Rajapakse to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India. The decision to do so was revoked at the last minute in 2008.
It was expected that the CEPA would be signed in New Delhi during the President’s scheduled visit. But again there were protest demonstrations and the President met with representatives of those protesting. The whole exercise seemed to be orchestrated.
Now Media minister Keheliya Rambukwella says that the CEPA would very likely be signed only by the end of this year. Apparently the President is concerned about certain proposed clauses and would seek further clarification and amendment.
Another “unspoken” irritant is the growing power and expanding influence of China in Sri Lanka.China is going ahead at full speed with the full co-operation of the Colombo government in implementing several projects while some in the South block in India suspect there are subtle moves to stymie Indian efforts to implement plans and projects entrusted to it.
While these and some other minor issues are proving to be irritants the evolving major contradiction relates to the intermestic Tamil issue. This intermestic issue would be the primary focus of this column.
The convergence of interests between New Delhi and Colombo in defeating and destroying the LTTE is now giving way to a divergence of interests in resolving the larger issue that is the Tamil national question.
There does not seem to be an identity of interests between Colombo and New Delhi in formulating a common approach towards the Tamil issue as was done in the case of the LTTE.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that certain assurances were given by the Rajapakse regime at various levels that a mutually satisfactory settlement would be on the cards after the war against the LTTE was concluded.
The hitch now is the hiatus in perspective between Colombo and New Delhi in bringing about a political solution. There is dissatisfaction in New Delhi that Colombo is procrastinating to subvert and resentment in Colombo that New Delhi is trying to impose its diktat.
Indian involvement in the affairs of its neighbours is described as benign intervention by Indian academics and analysts.
The undermining of the Rana family and empowerment of the Shah dynasty in Nepal,the dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangla Desh, the Indo-Lanka accord and induction of the Indian Army as a peace-keeping force in Sri Lanka and the quick action in Maldives to crush a coup d’etat aided by Sri Lankan Tamil militants of the PLOTE (Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam ) are some instances of Indian benign intervention.
Needless to say all these cases of benign intervention also served India’s interests in the region. But such is the nature of international relations. All countries have their own interests at heart and smaller entities identifying common interests with larger interests and harmonising accordingly have greater chances of bettering the prospects for themselves.
In the case of Sri Lanka the twin tenets of basic Indian policy was preserving the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka on the one hand and ensuring the rights of the minorities particularly the Sri Lankan Tamils on the other. This framework in essence was conditioned by the intermestic factor.
The 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom saw more than 100,000 Tamils fleeing to Tamil Nadu as refugees. The presence of Tamil refugees on Indian soil was the “locus standi” for India to seek a greater role in Sri Lanka.
Instead of reaching out to the affected victims of the July 1983 pogrom and alleviating their hardship the JR Jayewardena regime was hell bent on appeasing the majority. Blaming the victim syndrome was at its best.
The Govt introduced the sixth amendment to the Constitution disavowing separatism. All MP’s were required to take an oath to that effect to retain Parliamentary membership. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) with sixteen MP’s in Parliament refused to take the oath on a matter of principle. As a result they forfeited their seats. The Sri Lankan Tamil voice was effectively driven away from Parliament.
Several ex-TULF MP’s including Opposition leader Appapillai Amirthalingam took up residence in Tamil Nadu. With more than a hundred thousand refugees on its soil providing a locus standi , New Delhi offered its good offices to mediate and bring about a negotiated political settlement.
There was an imperative need for India to intervene at that stage. The Sri Lankan Tamil issue was a crucial emotional issue for Tamil Nadu at that time. There was a fear that the mood may turn volatile and result in a law and order crisis.
Also there had been a flourishing secessionist movement in Tamil Nadu at one time. It had been checked and transformed democratically. The former Tamil separatists were well integrated into the Indian fabric.Now there was apprehension that the fabric may be torn and separatist tendencies revived because of the Sri Lankan Tamil crisis impacting on Tamil Nadu.
If secession was encouraged in Sri Lanka that could have a demonstration effect on other states including Tamil Nadu in India. If the Tamils were allowed to be continuously victimised in Sri Lanka that too could radicalise Tamil Nadu in the long term These parameters necessitated in India fashioning policy ensuring both the unity of Sri Lanka and Tamil rights.
The fundamental difference in New Delhi policy towards Pakistan in 1971 and Sri Lanka in 1987 was that in the case of the former it suited Indian interests to create Bangla Desh while in the case of the latter, Indian interests were better served by preventing dismemberment of Sri Lanka.
The intermestic nature of the issue had two additional aspects too. One was that New Delhi at that time feared an arc of encirclement by “hostile” forces. India feared a Washington-Tel Aviv-Islamabad axis. The Jayewardena govt was seen as a Western puppet and lackey.
It was necessary therefore to win over Colombo and bring Sri Lanka within Indian orbit. The Tamil issue provided an opportunity to de-stabilise Sri Lanka and pressure Jayawardena into submitting to Delhi diktat.
The other was the personality factor. It is a fact that basic policy is formulated by the bureaucracy in India and that the political executive is guided by it. Individual leaders by force of their personalty may effect a change in the style of implementation but cannot effectively change the substance of policy.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, A. Amirthalingam
What happened here was that Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was not very fond of President Jayewardena or Prime Minister Premadasa. She enjoyed close rapport with TULF leaders particularly Amirthalingam. This personality factor also played a small part in the politics of that time.
In such a situation the Indian state trained and armed Tamil militants into guerrilla organizations. The idea was to fight and de-stabilise the North-Eastern provinces to a great extent. Thereafter the Colombo govt would be compelled to turn to Delhi for assistance.That moment would be seized. Tamil Eelam was never on the cards.
Meanwhile Indira Gandhi was assassinated and her son Rajiv Gandhi succeeded her. Rajiv’s ascendancy saw the veteran Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy being ousted as India’s special envoy to Sri Lanka on the Tamil issue. Foreign secretary Romesh Bhandari functioned as emissary. Despite these changes the basic continuity in policy remained.
There were many twists and turns but India’s strategy worked to a great extent. But after the military operation in Vadamaratchy in May 1987 it appeared that Colombo was on the verge of wiping out the LTTE. At that point India demonstrated very clearly to Colombo that it would not be allowed to crush Tamil militancy . India violated Sri Lankan air space and dropped food parcels over the Jaffna peninsula on June 4th 1987.
To his credit Jayawardena saw the writing on the wall. He caved into Indian pressure and the Indo-lanka accord was signed on July 29th 1987. That treaty gave India a right to be involved in the affairs of Sri Lanka.
More importantly it bestowed India with the responsibility of ensuring and protecting Tamil interests in Sri Lanka. The Indo-Lanka treaty may be “forgotten” now but it remains valid still and can be resurrected if and when necessary.
The Accord provides India with a permanent “say” in the affairs of Sri Lanka. Until and unless both countries jointly repudiate it the Indo – Lanka agreement will be there. It cannot be unilaterally abrogated by one country.
The Indo-Lanka accord recognized Sri Lanka as a multi-ethnic,multi – religious nation. Thus both the mono-ethnic claims of Sinhala supremacists and the two nation theory of Tamil separatists were negated.
It recognized the Northern and Eastern provinces as historic areas of habitation of the Tamil and Muslim people where they lived with other ethnicities. Thus the Tamils and Muslim right of historic habitation was recognized but there was no exclusive rights. The North-Eastern region belonged to all ethnicities.
Moreover the opportunity to create a single Tamil linguistic province was available. Both provinces were temporarily merged with the proviso that a referendum should be held in the Eastern province to either approve or reject the merger.
A scheme providing devolution of powers on a provincial basis was brought in. Provincial councils with powers allocated on provincial, concurrent and reserved basis were set up. Tamil was elevated to Official language status.
All those convicted of “terrorist” offences were given official pardon. All militants who took to arms were given a general amnesty.
It appeared that the basic grievances and legitimate aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils could be redressed and accommodated if and when the Indo-Lanka accord was gradually implemented. Besides India was there to underwrite the accord and guarantee its implementation.
The TULF, PLOTE, TELO, EPRLF and EROS accepted the accord with reservations. There were certain shortcomings requiring attention. These were categorised as residual matters needing to be resolved in due course.
All five Tamil organizations drafted together a document outlining their reservations and submitted it to New Delhi before endorsing the accord. India promised to rectify those issues.
Later on October 28th 1987 the TULF sent a letter to Rajiv Gandhi pinpointing several problems in the implementation of the accord. By this time the war between the Indian army and the LTTE had commenced.
The Indian officials discussed the issue with Jayewardena and obtained from him a written assurance on November 7th 1987 that he would rectify all shortcomings in the implementation of the accord.
But the war with the tigers was now on. The LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had been taken to New Delhi and placed under virtual house arrest at Hotel Ashok.
Despite the pressure Prabhakaran refused to accept the accord but agreed to co-operate and not oppose it. In return the LTTE was promised pride of place on the proposed Interim administrative council. The LTTE was also promised 50 million Indian rupees per month.
Indian intentions at that time were to adopt the methodology applied to Mizoram rebels led by Lal Denga. The Mizoram rebels were given power first without having to face an election and were required to face polls after a period of time.
This was applied to the LTTE too.The LTTE was given power through control of the North – Eastern interim administration. Initially the LTTE seemed to be complying and Tamil eyes started smiling again.
LTTE leader Prabhakaran announced a farewell to arms at a public meeting in Suthumalai.The LTTE made an exhibition of surrendering arms. When I interviewed t Jyotindra Nath Dixit for the Indian magazine “Frontline” the Indian envoy said 65% of light weapons and 85% of heavy weapons had been surrendered by the LTTE.
But a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.
Prabhakaran had “agreed” due to compulsion in Delhi. But it was only a matter of time for him to resume fighting again. The arrest of senior LTTE leaders including Kumarappa and Pulendiran at mid –sea by the Navy and their subsequent suicide by consuming cyanide gave Prabhakaran the pretext to start fighting again.
The war between the LTTE and India began on October 10th 1987. I was in Jaffna when it commenced. From that day onwards the “chasm” between India and the LTTE continued to widen and deepen. The Indian army left Sri Lankan shores in 1990 but the Indo-tiger estrangement grew.
The assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE in Sriperumpudhoor on May 21st 1991 altered the situation dramatically. There was a crackdown on LTTE elements in India. The LTTE was formally proscribed in India as a terrorist organization.
26 persons of Indian and Sri Lankan origin were tried in the Indian courts for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and condemned to death. These sentences were reduced after appeal. The LTTE leader Prabhakaran, Intelligence chief Pottu Amman and then womens brigade commander Akila were proclaimed as wanted offenders by India.
As the years progressed the situation in Sri Lanka underwent slow but steady change. The gulf between India and the LTTE increased. India however did not take the lead openly in taking action against the LTTE.
After burning its fingers once India was wary of sending troops to Sri Lanka again. At the same time New Delhi was unable to provide full military support to Colombo openly and back the Sri Lankan armed forces against the LTTE because it feared a major backlash in Tamil Nadu.
After nearly thirty years of strife and turmoil Indian policy makers reached a difficult decision that the LTTE must be wiped out lock,stock and barrel. The manner in which the LTTE messed up the Oslo facilitated peace process proved that there was no hope whatsoever of the tiger changing its stripes or the leopard its spots. The LTTE was becoming an “inspiration” for anti-State militant groups in India.The ill-advised move to form the “Tamil Eelam Air Force” was perhaps the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Once again the Intermestic nature of the issue was problematic.That problem however was tackled successfully by co-opting the DMK government and AIADMK chief opposition in Tamil Nadu.
The LTTE had by now become an International “pariah”. The tigers failed to realise that the world had changed after September 11th 2001. As a result the global climate was conducive for delivering the coup de grace to the tigers. Thus the conditions were created for the LTTE to be defeated and destroyed.
The convergence of interests between New Delhi and Colombo that led to the decimation of the LTTE is now undergoing strains. Contradictions are emerging in the Indo-lanka relationship.
With the LTTE gone and a wave of triumphalism engulfing substantial sections of the Sinhala polity the Rajapakse regime has little incentive in resolving the problem politically. Rajapakse himself is no ardent advocate of devolution. There is an absence of meaningful action to recognize Tamil rights.
India on the other hand wants a quantum of devolution granted to the Provincial councils. New Delhi is committed to the Provincial councils set up under the 13th amendment to the Constitution. It must be remembered that the 13th amendment is India’s child.
By enhancing China’s role in Sri Lanka, Rajapakse is adroitly counter -balancing India. With the war being over , India finds itself lacking the necessary leverage in Sri Lanka to pressure Mahinda. The 1987 scenario is not applicable in 2010.
India’s attempts to build up a strong Tamil political formation to fill the vacuum caused by the LTTE’s eclipse is also not having the desired results. On the one hand there is no overall Tamil unity in the Island. The Tamil National Alliance that is the most credible Tamil voice in Sri Lanka is not ready to be an Indian puppet. At least not yet.
Despite these strains and contradictions the Rajapakse regime is careful in not rocking the boat with India . Despite their dissastisfaction and resentment with India no Sinhala ruler is prepared to adopt a confrontational approach with India. This is the crucial difference between Sinhala sagacity and Tamil (LTTE and pro –LTTE) stupidity.
So Mahinda Rajapakse drags his feet with regard to Indian requests but does not show defiance openly. All the motions of close friendship with India are dutifully adhered to. Mahinda makes it a point of emphasising tat India is a relative of Sri Lanka and both countries belong to one family.
The reality is that there is a family squabble in the making and tensions are prevailing between the relatives. The plus point of Mahinda Rajapakse is the clever way in which he defies Delhi without creating a crisis.
It is against this backdrop that the President will embark on his passage to India.
Former Indian Prime Minister VP Singh was famous for saying that the art of political governance is skill in managing contradictions. When Mahinda meets Manmohan next week both leaders would seek to manage the emerging contradictions in Colombo-New Delhi relations.
How did the major contradiction relating to the intermestic Tamil issue arise? What are the underlying reasons for this contradiction becoming acute? How will India handle this situation? These are questions worthy of detailed analysis in a future article after Mahinda’s meeting with Manmohan.
D.B.S .Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org