By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
“Nallathor Veenai Seithe – athai
Nalangkedap Puluthiyil Erivathundo?”
[ Is a good Veena (musical instrument) made and thrown into the dust to decay? ]-Subramaniya Bharathiyar
Twenty years have passed since the signing of the Indo – Lanka accord by Rajiv Gandhi and Junius Richard Jayewardena on July 29th 1987. It was hailed as a great breakthrough when it was signed. Much was expected of it then. Today it remains “valid” only on paper and seems destined for the dustbin of history unless New Delhi makes a determined effort to re-activate and enforce it vigorously.
When the accord was signed and Indian soldiers arrived in the Island as “peacekeepers” the predominantly Sinhala “South” protested vehemently. But the Tamils of the North – East welcomed the “jawans” whole- heartedly. Within months the situation reversed when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) took on the Indian army.
In the words of Jayewardena “the referee was now fighting in the ring”. The image of the IPKF underwent a change from that of “Indian Peace Keeping Force” to “Innocent People Killing Force”. When the Indian army left Lankan shores in 1990 there were few to mourn its departure.
Much water has flown between both shores of the palk straits during the past two decades. New Delhi’s policy towards Colombo has changed. While its commitment to Sri Lanka’s unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty remains steadfast there is discernible change towards the Tamils. No longer is the envisaged solution to be “acceptable to the Tamils”. Nowadays it has to be “acceptable to all sections of the people”.
A striking contrast between an event that happened twenty years ago and recent developments nearly two decades later, provide penetrating insight into this changed state of affairs.
On June 4th 1987 the Indian Air Force conducted “operation Poomalai” by which food parcels were dropped over Jaffna in what was described as a humanitarian exercise. This was in the aftermath of “Operation Liberation” in Vadamaratchy and India was concerned then about starvation in Jaffna.
Actually no one was starving in Jaffna then. The whole exercise, beneath the humanitarian facade, was a power projection, intended to drive home a lesson to Colombo.
To his credit Jayewardena realised what was in store if he failed to toe the line. So he ‘bowed” to the big neighbour. The immediate consequence was the accord. Yet, later events proved that JR had only “stooped to conquer”.
Last year in August the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) shut down the entry – exit point along the A – 9 Highway in Muhamaalai. This resulted in a de – facto “economic embargo” on Jaffna. A massive shortage occurred in Jaffna of food, medicine and essential items. Non – Governmental organizations described the situation as being “famine – like “.
Against this backdrop the head of the “Thamizh Thesiya Iyakkam ” (Tamil National Movement) in Tamil Nadu – Palaniyappan Nedumaran – got his act together. He collected at short notice dry rations and medicine valued at one crore Indian rupees.
When attempts were made to send the stuff through the Red Cross to Northern Sri Lanka the Indian authorities clamped down. Permission was refused. Nedumaran has engaged in many protests and representations have been made by several politicians to the Indian Government but New Delhi remains unrelenting.
These twin phenomena to my mind illustrate vividly the altered perceptions of New Delhi towards Jaffna in particular and Sri Lanka in general.
In 1987, reality in Jaffna was distorted to convey an impression that there was starvation warranting the drastic action of violating Lankan air space. So food parcels were dropped in what was essentially a “demonstration”.
In 2006 , when an acute food shortage prevailed in Jaffna, attempts to send food by concerned Indian Tamils is prevented and restricted. Food is dropped when there was no real need then. Now, when there was a real need, the shipping of food is prohibited.
Call it what you will – hypocrisy, double standards, political expediency, enlightened self – interest , political maturity , transformed inter – state relations or changed perceptions about the Sri Lankan Tamil issue , this “contra – distinction” between then and now , is harshly clear proof of prevailing reality.
What is sad about this state of affairs is the fact that the primary motivating factor in New Delhi’s benign intervention in Sri Lanka during the eighties in Sri Lanka, was to ensure a just and fair deal for Tamils in a united Sri Lanka.
Generally Countries act in their own self – interest but often attribute lofty motives for such actions. In the case of India vis a vis Sri Lanka there were three factors.
Confluence of Factors
Firstly the Jayewardena Govt was spurning “non – alignment” and taking Sri Lanka into a pro – Western orbit. Under prevailing conditions of the day New Delhi feared a Washington – Tel Aviv – Islamabad axis. India needed to bring Sri Lanka to “heel” and keep out undesirable elements out of the region.
Secondly there was the domestic imperative. There was much concern in Tamil Nadu for the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu was once home to a flourishing separatist movement. India was concerned about the fall – out from Sri Lanka on Tamil Nadu if the conflict escalated here.
Thirdly there was the unacknowledged personality factor. Indira Gandhi was personally hostile to Jayewardena and Premadasa. At the same time she had a soft corner for the TULF politicians who remained loyal to her when in the opposition. The UNP on the other hand made fun of her defeat and cosied up to bete noir Morarji Desai.
This confluence of factors deemed it necessary that India make a “benign” intervention in Sri Lanka
1)to help resolve the ethnic conflict within a united Sri Lanka but in a manner acceptable to Tamils,
2) make Colombo accept New Delhi’s hegemony over the region and appreciate Indian security concerns and teach the Jayewardena regime a lesson while rewarding the TULF.
It was at this point that the July 1983 pogrom occurred. Thousands of Tamils fled as refugees to India. Indian interests in Sri Lanka were harmed. This provided a “locus standi” for India to intervene in Sri Lanka.
Jayewardena then played into India’s hands by bringing in the 6th amendment disavowing separatism. This effectively disenfranchised the Tamil representatives in Parliament. JR also refused to talk directly to the TULF. This created an opportunity for India to step in and offer its “good offices” to bring about ethnic reconciliation.
So Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy became India’s official emissary tasked with evolving political rapprochement. But India followed a two – track policy. Tamil militant groups were trained and armed and housed on Indian soil. They were allowed to run political cum propaganda offices in Tamil Nadu publicly.
India’s objectives were clear. New Delhi wanted to use the Tamil militants as a cutting edge to de – stabilise the Jayewardena regime and also exert pressure on Colombo to deliver a political settlement. Once a viable solution was arrived the Tamil armed struggle was expected to end.
But the Tamils were not to be abandoned. India would underwrite a political solution and maintain a physical armed presence in North – East Sri Lanka to protect the Tamils and help implement the political solution.
Primarily, India was acting in its own interest. There was no “identity” of interests between India and the Tamils but there was certainly a “convergence” of interests between both. But this congruence had its limits.
Using the armed struggle for separatism as a pressuring device or bargaining tool was acceptable. But prolonging the struggle for a separate state in defiance of New Delhi was unacceptable. India was all for autonomy within a united SRi Lanka but opposed to a separate state.
Pragmatically, the best option was for the Sri Lankan Tamils to hitch their “vandil” to the Indian star and accept the settlement provided through Indian efforts. The Tamils had a large support base in Tamil Nadu.
If the Tamils were politically astute they could have accepted the accord as a starting point and then gradually enhanced devolution to the point of quasi – federalism. In this exercise, India would have been on the side of the Tamils.
In practice , North – East Sri Lanka would have enjoyed a “special” status. The N – E would be part of a “de – Jure” Sri Lanka but virtually a “de – facto” extension of India. Let us remember that Indian “media” and “officials” were simply clambering aboard Indian air force planes and travelling to and from Palaly and Trincomalee then.
A delicate tight – rope walking act was required of Sri Lankan Tamil leaders. If they maintained correct relations with New Delhi and Colombo they could have elicited the best of both worlds for their people. If Sinhala hard- liners ruled the roost in Colombo and adopted a confrontation course with India, a Turkish – Cyprus type of de – facto partition may have ensued.
But these things did not happen. One reason was the shrewdness of Jayewardena who gave no cause for India to turn against him. Given the opposition in the South New Delhi was constrained to bail him out.
On the other hand there was the colossal political stupidity and self – centered arrogance of the LTTE. Not only did it target the Sri Lankan armed forces but also took on the Indian soldiers. New Delhi had no choice other than to fight the tigers. The IPKF – LTTE war altered the flow of events. War has a cruel logic and powerful momentum that changes things utterly.
Subsequent events may have transformed the situation drastically and alienated a large segment of the Tamils from India.Nevertheless the original intention of India to help evolve a political settlement within a united Sri Lanka is not to be faulted.
Even if New Delhi and Colombo dispute it there is no denying that the Sri Lankan Tamils are a distinct nation. But it is a tiny nation within another state that is also small. Also the Tamils have never had the North – East recognized as a distinct entity with an administrative apparatus. The accord provided it.
A tiny nation like the Sri Lankan Tamils cannot afford to fight the Sri Lankan state or the Indian state. The saner and prudent course would have been to align with India and accept what was given. Thereafter a process of political evolution could have extended Tamil political horizons.
Moreover Tamils cannot forget the depths of despair they had descended into after the July 1983 pogrom. A thoroughly de – moralised and dejected people revived themselves only after India stepped in. The Tamils felt they were not “orphans” only because of India. The hospitality shown by Tamil Nadu must always be remembered with gratitude.
It cannot be forgotten that till war erupted between the LTTE and IPKF, the Tamils on the whole appreciated Indian efforts in peacemaking and peacekeeping.
[Smiling Tamil Tot – Pic: HumanityAshore]
I recall writing an article in the “Sunday Island ” twenty years ago headlined “Why Tamil Eyes Are Smiling” when the accord was signed.
That article went down well with the Tamil public because it basically reflected the prevailing Tamil mood. The Tamil sentiment was overwhelmingly for Indian intervention to ensure their rights in a united Lanka.
Weeks later in October war broke out. I was in Jaffna at that time and saw firsthand what was happening. It was my articles and news stories in the “Sunday Island” of Oct 25th 1987 that exposed the truth about “Indian military exploits” in Jaffna.
I was arrested on Oct 26th and held at the fourth floor for days. Later I was produced in courts and released on bail with a travel ban imposed. I had to report frequently to courts till I was cleared of all charges.
[Palmyrah tree lined A9 Road, in Navatkuli – Photo: HumanityAshore]
Months later I wrote an article in “Sunday Island” with the headline “Can the Pawan break the Palmyrah?”. The inference was to the IPKF operation codenamed “Pawan” or strong wind. I compared the Tamils to the Palmyrah tree which sways dangerously and may break in a storm but will never, ever bend like the reed to survive a storm.
Once again that article struck a responsive chord in the hurt Tamil psyche and I received innumerable letters. There were however some who disagreed. I remember , Rajini Thiranagama nee Rajasingham, my old schoolmate at Jaffna College arguing with me saying the “Palmyrah tree is broken”.
[IPKF Troops during the final withdrawal from the Island-Pic:bharat-rakshak]
These thoughts are recollected here only to portray how Sri Lankan Tamil perceptions changed about Indian intervention due to the IPKF – LTTE conflict. It cannot be denied that the tigers provoked the Indian army into responding the way it did.
While tiger supporters boast about “defeating the wiorld’s fourth largest army” Indian commentators try to set the record straight by emphasising “we foughr with one hand tied behind our back”.
The end result however is that the Sri Lankan Tamils lost out and lost out badly in the end. Their plight has worsened after the LTTE’s colossal blunder of assassinating Rajiv Gandhi on Tamil Nadu soil.
People affected directly or indirectly by the Indian army find it difficult to forgive and forget. This is understandable to some extent.
But this rancour and ill – will should not cloud the fact that Indian intervention in Sri Lanka did succeed in providing what was perhaps the best ever tangible political settlement.
Emotional responses to the IPKF episode must not affect judgement about the political paradise gained (and now lost ) by the Tamils through India.
The greatest quantum achieved politically by the Sri Lankan Tamils in redressing valid grievances, accommodating legitimate aspirations and restoring negated rights was through the Indo – Lanka accord.
Aborted agreements like the Banda – Chelva or Dudley – Chelva pacts did not succeed. Constitution of 1972 and 1978 failed to deliver.
The District Development Councils of 1981 failed to get off the ground. Besides they were exercises in de – centralisation confined to districts.
The Indo – Lanka accord provided feasible devolution within constraints of the prevailing situation. It was a pragmatic effort to extend the federal idea as was practically possible.
The Indo – Lanka accord acknowledged for the first time that “Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic and multi – lingual plural society consisting inter – alia of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers”.
It recognised that “each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured”.
The accord also recognized that “the Northern and Eastern provinces have been areas of historical habitation of the Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived in this territory with other ethnic groups”.
It also emphasised “the necessity of strengthening the forces contributing to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, and preserving its character as a multi – ethnic, multi – lingual and multi – religious plural society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety and harmony, and prosper and fulfil their aspirations”.
Among other things the accord provided for the establishment of Provincial Councils. The Province was to be unit of devolution. The North and East were temporarily merged as a single Tamil majority province with a single Provincial Council, chief minister,Governor and board of ministers.
A referendum was to be held in the Eastern province to determine whether the provinces should remain merged or be de- merged.
Sinhala, Tamil and English were to be official languages of Sri Lanka. The sixteenth amendment to the Constitution enshrined Tamil as an official language on par with Sinhala. The injustice of 1956 was remedied. Likewise the 13th amendment paved the way for Provincial Councils to be established.
Thus the accord accomplished and laid the groundwork for many praise worthy feats. It achieved a compromise between the concepts of Sinhala – dominated mono state and the Tamil separate state.
Sri Lanka was not the exclusive preserve of any ethnic, linguistic or religious group. . It was a multi – ethnic, multi – lingual, multi – religious country with a plural society.
The North – East was not recognized as the “traditional Tamil homeland” but as an area of historic habitation of the Tamil speaking people (Tamils and Muslims). This however was not an exclusive right.
It was acknowledged that the “Tamil – speakers” had lived in this territory at all times with other ethnic groups.
The temporary merger was a great boon as far as the Tamils were concerned. The referendum provided an opportunity to make or break the merger .
It was entirely possible that the merger could become permanent if an overwhelming number of Eastern Tamils and a sizable number of Muslims voted in favour.
Tamil as an official language was excellent in principle. Practically it involved a set of procedures to be evolved and the necessary facilities being set up.
India was keen on helping out in language implementation just as it was enthusiastic about constructing a coastal highway linking North and East.
Given the irrational opposition mounted by the SLFP and JVP it was feared that any Constitutional amendment requiring an Island – wide referendum would not be ratified.
Thus the powers and composition of the envisaged Provincial Councils through the 13th amendment were somewhat restricted. The Supreme Court allowed it without a referendum because of this.
Even then the nine Judge bench was divided five to four. Interestingly three of the Judges voting in favour were from the Tamil, Muslim and Burgher ethnicities. All four opposing were Sinhala.
New Delhi however extracted a promise in writing from JR that he would devolve more powers to the PC’s within a specific time frame.But events took a different turn.
The Indo – Lanka accord was not perfect. It did not rectify all problems concerning Tamils. But it provided a good and great beginning.
The power equation of that time saw the Sri Lankan Tamils enjoying “favourite” status in New Delhi. This was of great advantage. With Indian support the Tamils could have resolved much of the problems within a united Sri Lanka where the North – East would have been an autonomous region.
A tiny nation like the Sri Lankan Tamils could gain politically by modifying their aspirations within parameters set by India. These parameters themselves could have been extended to the advantage of Tamils over the years.
A pragmatic approach by the Tamils required greater co-operation with both New Delhi and Colombo. Extra -ordinary statemanship consisting of intricate balancing acts was necessary.
But the LTTE chose to confront India instead of compromising and co-operating. The armed confrontation saw the Tamils being perceived as enemies of India and vice – versa.
[Thileepan began a fast-unto-death on 15 August 1987]
Tragically, for the Tamils, their so – called leaders “blew it” to use an expression by Hardeep Singh Puri, former Indian political secretary in Colombo.
Once the LTTE went back on its pledge to Rajiv Gandhi , the first cracks began to appear. The LTTE began mobilising Tamil opinion against the accord and India.
This exercise was duplicated to some extent among the Sinhala people by the SLFP and JVP. Then came the Kumarappa – Pulenthiran episode.
Lalith Athulathmudali knew the LTTE mindset and manipulated it accordingly. The tigers took on the Indians.
The accord made it conditional that the Tamil militants would be disarmed.Earlier Indian High Commissioner had announced that the LTTE had surrendered 85% of its heavy weapons and 65% of small arms.
But now the LTTE was fighting the Indian army itself. Against this backdrop Colombo began backtracking on its commitments. India found itself caught in the middle.
N-E Provincial Council
If meaningful devolution was to be made a reality to the North – East and the temporary merger validated the Provincial Council had to be set up. New Delhi was further let down by the unwillingness of the TULF to contest PC elections.
Thus India was compelled to make a painful decision comprising two blunders. One was to under- estimate the LTTE. The other was to over – estimate the EPRLF.
The N – E provincial council was a farce. There was no contest in the north and a combined EPRLF – ENDLF list was returned.
In the East there was an appearance of elections. Ethnic rivalry was stimulated and exploited.
The EPRLF – ENDLF list catered to Tamils while the Muslim Congress and UNP catered to Muslim and Sinhala voters respectively. Apart from electoral malpractices voter mobilisation was on ethnic lines.
The EPRLF complicated matters further when its immensely popular secretary – General Padmanabha refused to assume office. He wanted his deputy Suresh Premachandran to take over.
But Annamalai Varatharajapperumal curried favour with Dixit and got himself appointed as chief minister. Varathan was a Jaffna resident but his father was an Indian Tamil. He exploited this “card” with India.
Initially, Dayan Jayatilleke was also a N- E provincial minister representing the Sinhalese. But he resigned soon afterwards.
His replacement was Joe Seneivaratne who was in reality George of Malayalee origin.
The Muslim minister Abu Yusoof was also of Indian Muslim extraction.
Thus three of the four Provincial ministers including the CM were of Indian lineage.
This was a colossal blunder as both Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils became suspicious and hostile.
Then came the march of folly by the EPRLF and LTTE.
The EPRLF administration of Varatharajapperumal began to confront and estrange itself from the Central Government in Colombo.
Like the mythical serpent around Lord Shiva’s neck taunting the “Karudan” (kite) Perumal irritated Premadasa. Instead of establishing rapport with Premadasa he alienated Colombo.
Meanwhile the LTTE began targeting the provincial administration and council. Through a violent campaign the tigers made sure that the PC would not work.
Thus the North – Eastern council found itself unable to deliver with Colombo stifling it on the one hand and the LTTE undermining it on the other.
The violence unleashed by EPRLF elements against civilians suspected of supporting the LTTE and its conscription estranged Perumal’s administration from the Tamil people.
Perumal’s puppet regime was fast becoming a dud. Now the unexpected happened.
Defunct N-E Council
In what was perhaps the first major instance of the LTTE betraying the Tamil cause for its parochial interests, the tigers struck a deal with Premadasa. The Colombo Govt called for the IPKF’s withdrawal.
The LTTE then encouraged Premadasa to dissolve the N – E council while massacring the civilian volunteer force raised as the “Tamil National Army” by the N- E administration.
Varatharajapperumal played into Premadasa’s hands by his foolish proclamation of declaring intent to establish Tamil Eelam. As the council was dissolved Perumal fled the Country. He remains now in India as a highly protected person.
Within three months of the Indian army leaving Sri Lanka war broke out between the GOSL forces and LTTE.
The LTTE demonstrated that it was capable of destroying the North – Eastern provincial council for its own selfish interest and power.
Its latest betrayal was the enforced boycott of the Presidential elections after striking a sordid bargain with Rajapakse.
Thus the “Sinhala dominated” Government of Ranasinghe Premadasa negated the single – biggest gain of the Indo – Lanka accord. That the LTTE contributed wittingly and the EPRLF unwittingly to the dismantling of the North – Eastern provincial council is a severe indictment of Sri Lankan Tamil political integrity and sagacity.
The N- E provincial council became defunct and remained so for many years. Ironically the PC’s functioned in the other seven provinces.
The SLFP and JVP who opposed and boycotted these councils changed their minds and contested them. There are SLFP chief ministers, ministers and councillors. There are JVP councillors too.
But there is no PC in the N – E. where provincial councils were deemed necessary to share power with Tamils.
Despite the council being defunct , the unified North – East administration remained functional for years.
The Eastern referendum was postponed from time to time by Presidential decree.
There were some Tamils who thought that revival of the N- E , PC would be an effective fall – back position if and when other efforts to reach a political a settlement failed.
But such hopes are turning into dupes now. The Supreme Court ruled that the merger itself was not done legally. It did not rule out such a merger being validated through appropriate procedures.
But the Rajapakse regime seized on that ruling and is hell bent on altering the prevailing status quo.
Both provinces are now de – linked administratively. The North and East function separately. The GOSL is also aiming to transform the demographic pattern of the Eastern province.
It is likely that elections to an Eastern provincial council would be held soon. The de – merger could be made legally permanent through an engineered referendum.
If that happens the single biggest gain to the Tamils through the Indo – Lanka accord could be lost forever.
But realistically the merger at best was tenuous. Yet a determined effort may have brought it about democratically at a referendum if Tamil – Muslim co-operation was there
The LTTE lost the East politically when it alienated the Muslims.
It lost the East militarily when it failed to contain the eastern revolt led by “Col” Karuna.
What the Rajapakse regime is doing now is merely delivering the “coup de grace” to existential reality.
Apart from the unified North – Eastern province, other benefits derived from the Indo – Lanka accord are also under threat.
The Rajapakse regime is for a unitary state and for districts. villages as units of devolution. This is a reversal of the basic pluralistic elements of the accord.
Also in practice , the notion of Sri Lanka being “multi” ethnic, religious and lingual is under severe challenge. Inspired by the supremacist ideology of the Hela Urumaya the Rajapakse regime wishes to ensure “Sinhala”, “Buddhism” and the “Sinhalese” as the dominant entities of Sri Lanka.
The concept of the North – East being areas of historical habitation by the Tamil speaking people is also under threat. Recent official activity concerning the East was in Sinhala alone despite 75% of the province being Tamil speaking. Schemes are underway to alter the demographic structure through colonisation.
Tamil as an official language remains simply as a paper guarantee. Successive regimes have not shown any interest in implementing Tamil as an official language. The Rajapakse regime has pruned drastically the funds allocated in this respect.
Thus we see that all gains of the Indo – Lanka accord are being reduced , removed and reversed even irredeemably.
India was the guarantor of the accord. Once India was edged out physically and politically the accord was doomed.
The desire of Sinhala dominated governments to sabotage an accord thrust upon Colombo is understandable. What cannot be forgiven is the LTTE’s conduct in helping Sinhala regimes to do so.
The Indo – Lanka accord is becoming increasingly irrelevant both in letter and spirit. The constructive gains are becoming irredeemably lost.
New Delhi Policy
There seems no chance of salvaging any of these uless New Delhi re – activates its interest again. Given current realities such a change seems highly unlikely.
The LTTE conflict and resultant estrangement with the Sri Lankan Tamils has shown India that the Tamils cannot be taken for granted as a perpetual ally. The genuine sympathy and natural empathy for Sri Lankan Tamils that existed within the Indian power structures earlier has eroded greatly.
The Tamil Nadu factor is no more a compulsion. LTTE’s acts of violence and the Rajiv Gandhi assassination has changed Tamil Nadu perceptions. The chief Political party’s like the DMK, ADMK or Congress are not vying with each other to help the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. The Lankan Tamil issue is now an embarassment.
There is a new dispensation in New Delhi. Sonia Gandhi is the power behind the throne of Manmohan Singh. Even if there is some concern about Sri Lankan Tamils nothing concrete is likely to be done because of the LTTE.
As long as the LTTE under Prabakharan’s leadership remains in a position of self – imposed leadership there is very little that India would or can do. This is true of the International community too. The LTTE depicted as the Tamil nation’s military asset by tiger supporters is being perceived as a political liability of the community by India and other countries.
More importantly relations between Colombo and New Delhi are much improved. After developments like the Free trade agreement the Sri Lankan economy is becoming more integrated with India. Indian investment is on the rise in Sri Lanka. India would not want to jeopardise this situation by leaning too much towards the Tamils represented by the LTTE.
There is also greater awareness of Sinhala and Muslim sensibilities and sensitivity. It is understood that matters cannot be resolved through a Tamil perspective alone. While India would like a political settlement recognizing Tamil rights it realises that such a settlement requires widespread multi – ethnic acceptance.
Hence the current emphasis on settlements acceptable to all sections of the people.
There is also concern about Countries like China and Pakistan gaining more clout with Sri Lanka. India would not like a situation like that of Myanmar where China got closer to the military junta while New Delhi irritated Burmese rulers by stressing on restoration of democracy.
Thus we see people like national security adviser K. Narayanan “warning” Colombo about modes of purchasing arms. India promises to supply all needs. Overtly New Delhi says it will not supply “offensive” arms but only will provide “defensive” equipment.
But there is a very, thin line dividing offensive and defensive. What seems likely is covert help and assistance to Sri Lanka. Already there is transfer of intelligence and naval co-operation. These are in accordance with the Indo – Lanka accord. New Delhi is also concerned about the LTTE’s air capability.
Presently,India will not touch the LTTE with a barge – pole. It is wary of helping the Tamils because it fears that would indirectly strengthen the tigers. As long as the tigers remain the dominant entity among Tamils, New Delhi will tread carefully and slowly.
This attitude towards the LTTE also deprives India of an indirect “cutting edge” vis a vis Sri Lanka. In the eighties New Delhi utilised Tamil militancy to pressure Colombo. Now it does not have such an option. Besides New Delhi is not likely to pursue such a “schizoid” policy again.
Against this backdrop India’s policy options are limited. In a nutshell Indian policy towards Sri Lanka seems to be this.
Eonomic, cultural and social cooperation is encouraged. Indian investment and sales are enhanced. Tourism increases. Cultural links are enlarged. Indian economic clout increases and Sri Lanka becomes economically inteegrated with the giant neighbour.
Militarilt India shares concerns about the LTTE. So intelligence is shared and naval co-operation is co-ordinated. Defensive equipment is supplied overtly. Training is given openly.Covert military assistance is likely to be provided.
India is not “requesting” Colombo to call the war against the LTTE. All that it stresses is that civilians should not be victimised. But New Delhi has remained quiet throughout the recent Eastern upheavals where Tamil civilians were penalised.India was also silent when Tamils were expelled from Colombo recently.
Politically India wants Colombo to continue a parallel political process. It wants the All Party Representative Committee to come up with an acceptable solution. India has been engaged in “gentle persuasion” on that count.
In this situation a pro – Tamil swing like what happened in 1987 seems improbable unless a few things happen. One is rising xenophobic tendencies in the “Sinhala” south and violent hostility towards Indian “expansionism”. Two a genocidal pogrom being unleashed against the Tamils. Three a total demolition of the LTTE and unrestricted ascendancy of Sinhala hegemonic chauvinism. Four the prospect of Colombo aligning itself completely with powers deemed hostile to India and possible intrusion into Sri Lanka.
If these things happen there could be a shift in Indian policy. There is also the unlikely chance of the LTTE defeating the Sri Lankan security forces and declaring Tamil Eelam unilaterally. Then India would intervene decisively but on the side of Colombo.
So India would for the moment remain a concerned and well – informed spectator of events in Sri Lanka. The de- construction of accord related achievements will certainly cause concern but not too much worry. Besides I think New Delhi had revised its stance on the North – East merger much earlier.
. India will be pro – merger only if the Muslims also want it. Now after the Karuna revolt even Eastern Tamils are divided on the issue. The military re- conquest of the East adds a further dimension.Therefore I see no reason for India to “intervene” on behalf of Northern Tamils and re- impose the merger. But chauvinist attempts to colonise the east and alter demography will cause concern.
Tamil voices mainly from the North and abroad are loudly urging India to intervene and prevent the undoing of gains accrued to Tamils through the accord. Now it is grudgingly accepted that the accord did benefit the Tamils. Earlier there was no overt recognition of this fact or gratitude expressed to India. The Tamils apart from a few notable exceptions did not deviate openly from the LTTE line vis a vis India.
The Tamils clamouring for India to salvage the accord have forgotten a salient fact. Once the LTTE dishonoured its commitment , refused to disarm and fought the Indian army, New Delhi’s obligation to Colombo also failed.
The Sri Lankan government is well within its rights to insist that the LTTE be disarmed as a pre – requisite to implementing Tamil friendly provisions of the accord. There are two sides to the accord “coin”.
Those who demand that India should prevent the dismemberment of gains made through the accord must also demand that the LTTE abide by provisions of the accord first. If the latter demand is impossible then the former too is not possible.
The accord despite its positive attributes seems destined for oblivion. Paradise gained is now becoming paradise lost.
[Statue of Mahakavi Bharathiyar, in Nallur, Jaffna: Photo by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]
As the Thamizh bard Subramaniya Bharathi sang “a well – fashioned musical instrument thrown in the dust is decaying!”