By Prof. V. Suryanarayan
India is committed to achieving a bright future for the Sri Lankan Tamil community in a united Sri Lanka, in which all citizens can live in dignity, equality, and self-respect. In furtherance of this objective, India would work for a durable political solution through meaningful devolution of powers and the implementation of the 13th Amendment.
New Delhi’s commitment to the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, in which the Tamil identity can be protected and fostered, has not been appreciated both by the Sinhalese and the Tamil extremists. The Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and the subsequent 13th Amendment were viewed by important Sinhalese leaders as illustrations of India’s hegemonic designs.
The induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), on the specific invitation of President Jayewardene, transformed the political contours of Sri Lanka. At a heavy cost of men and materials, the IPKF was able to bottle up the LTTE guerrillas; the Sri Lankan Government even withdrew its armed forces from the North and the East, and concentrated on tackling the JVP revolt.
Instead of earning the eternal gratitude of the Sinhalese, India was accused of imposing its hegemony over Sri Lanka. Sadly, the blind hatred of New Delhi brought the two hitherto antagonistic forces – Prabhakaran and Premadasa – together. Money and arms were supplied to the Tigers to confront the Indian Army. But Premadasa had to pay for the wages of sin; he became a victim to the LTTE.
The Tamil extremists were also sharply critical of New Delhi. Prabhakaran viewed the Accord as a clever device to snatch away the fruits of his hard won struggle. The TULF also did not play ball with New Delhi. New Delhi was very keen that the Tamil moderates should contest the election to the North-Eastern Provincial Council and assume power. However, the TULF did not want to displease the Tigers and decided to abstain. As a result, the EPRLF filled the void, contested the election, and came to power.
In retrospect, the Indo-Lanka Accord should have been signed between Colombo and the Tamil groups. India could have been its guarantor. But President J.R. Jayewardene was shrewd enough to realize that the Indian armed forces would inevitably come into conflict with the recalcitrant Tigers, and that Prabhakaran would not flinch from his single-minded determination to achieve a separate state of Tamil Eelam through armed struggle. The IPKF experience highlighted India’s limitations in bringing about a political solution to a domestic problem of a neighbour.
The fact remains, however, that India cannot insulate itself from the developments in Sri Lanka. India-Sri Lanka relations are like the behaviour of Siamese twins, what afflicts one will affect the other. Following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and the ban imposed on the LTTE as a terrorist organization, New Delhi began to insulate itself from the ethnic conflict. At the same time, there was intelligence cooperation between the two countries, as a result of which the ‘floating warehouses’ of the Sea Tigers were destroyed by the Sri Lankan Air Force. The Tigers became fish out of water, which paved the way for their eventual defeat. The sad fact remains that when the war against the Tigers became a war against Tamil civilians, and gross human rights violations took place in Sri Lanka, New Delhi did not adopt an activist policy to rescue the Tamil civilians. What is more, New Delhi was lulled into inertia by the assurances of the Sri Lankan President and his advisers that after the war was won, they would expeditiously implement the 13th Amendment.
The unfolding events in Sri Lanka clearly illustrate that Colombo has no intention to devolve powers to the provinces. What is more, they would like New Delhi not to champion the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils. The Sri Lanka watchers of India should analyze the implications of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s recent statement that the national question should have a ‘home grown solution.’ To quote: “We should not listen to India on this; this does not mean that we should lose the relationship that we have with India. But if there is a problem, it should only be solved by Sri Lankans and not India.”
India cannot afford to be a silent spectator to the ominous developments next door. The Indo-Lanka Accord was not only an agreement between the two Governments, as far as the resolution of the ethnic conflict was concerned; India signed the agreement on behalf of the Tamils. The continuing whittling down of the provisions of the 13th Amendment is a major setback to India’s policy on Sri Lanka.
At last, New Delhi is waking up to realities. At the end of the TNA delegation’s recent visit to New Delhi on 19 June 2013, a press statement was issued cautioning Sri Lanka not to dilute the 13th Amendment. The National Security Adviser is visiting Sri Lanka soon. He should avail of the opportunity to impress upon the President, that New Delhi cannot remain silent when the terms of the Accord are being unilaterally changed. Sri Lanka is not just another country; India should take note of the fast changing events and react in a more forthright and meaningful way.
(The author is a Senior Professor and Director (Retd), Centre for South and South-east Asian Studies, University of Madras)