by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Geneva is the name of the game as Sri Lanka prepares to face and possibly overcome the threat posed in the form of a resolution initated by the USA at the 19th sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled to commence on Monday February 27th 2012.
The important question on the minds of those concerned is whether Sri Lanka would be able to muster enough votes to defeat such a resolution if put to the vote in the 47 member UN Human Rights Council.
Tamara Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva and loyal members of her staff have been engaged in a systematic and strenuous campaign to canvass support for several weeks now.
The crucial factor in this exercise will be India and what our giant neighbour would do or not do in Geneva . In recent times the USA and India have been playing a “Bad cop –Good Cop”game with Sri Lanka on many issues.
There is also an understanding between Washington and New Delhi on Sri Lanka. The western nations led by the US have more or less accepted the Indian line on Sri Lanka
Against this backdrop the role of India vis a vis Sri Lanka assumes tremendous importance.
In May 2009 when Sri Lanka faced a similar crisis India was of immense assistance to Sri Lanka.Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka, our representative in Geneva then, was able to turn the situation around by presenting a counter resolution favourable to Sri Lanka and garner 29 votes in support. The active behind the scenes role played by India was widely acknowledged in this episode.
Currently there is doubt as to whether India would extend the same level of support as in May 2009. Indeed there are many who suspect that the USA would not have embarked upon such an attempt if New Delhi had not given a “green signal”.
The recent success of the US in pushing through a resolution on Syria was mainly due to the Arab League countries cooperating with Washington. Likewise some feel that the US would not be attempting to push a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC without the tacit support of the pivotal player in the South Asian neighbourhood.It is surmised that India may have got the contents of the resoloution watered down.
While India would not vote against Sri Lanka it may abstain from voting and also will remain neutral and not help Sri Lanka lobby support against the proposed resolution.
If this assumption is correct it would mean that India has given the “nod” because it wants Colombo to get rapped in the knuckles this time in a bid to “shock and awe” Sri Lanka into compliance on other important issues.
It is said that India is miffed over President Rajapaksa’s recent vacillation on his earlier pledge to strengthen and enhance powers of devolution beyond what is provided now through the India sponsored 13th amendment to the Constitution.
The proponents of this theory feel that after Sri Lanka is shocked and awed in Geneva through this resolution India will be able to persuade Colombo to be more cooperative by promising to prevent further harsh,punitive measures by the Western nation bloc in the future.
Another school of thought feels that India will step in now itself and in a show of support help Sri Lanka to defeat the resolution and use such assistance as leverage in handling the Island nation in the future.
These sections feel that if New Delhi remains neutral and abstains at the UNHRC then Beijing would step in and act as Colombo ’s one great reliable friend and guardian.Thus Sri Lanka would be left with no option but to throw in its lot totally with China. This would be unacceptable to India . Hence India would align with Sri Lanka at crunch time it is said.
However others dispute this line of thought saying if India plays a “double game” like that the USA would feel betrayed and that India would not risk displeasing Washington by such double games.
Therefore if India does plan to throw a lifeline to Sri Lanka in this manner then such a course of action would have been planned carefully with the USA and both countries together are playing a duplicitous game of coercive diplomacy in tandem to pressurise Sri Lanka is this line of thinking
The Brahmins of South Block have been rather silent so far and not given any visible sign of how the land of Kautilya will act this time. This leaves a multi-crore question unanswered.
Will India support, oppose or abstain if and when the resolution against Sri Lanka is put to the vote in Geneva?
This is a question that puzzles not only Sri Lakans but also many thinking sections among the Indians.
Veteran Indian Journalist S. Venkatnarayan has written a thoughtful speculative piece on this matter which focuses on the dilemma faced by Indian policy makers
Venkatnarayan is no stranger to Sri Lanka having visited the Island on more than one occasion. He had a trial by fire in 1981 when he came to Sri Lanka as the “India Today” correspondent to cover the anti-Tamil violence in Sabragamuwa province. He was arrested and detained at Ratnapura and was later released after representations made to President JR Jayewardena by the Indian High Commissioner Thomas Abraham
Venkatnarayan now a freelancer has been the New Delhi special correspondent for “The Island” for several decades. This article too is excerpted from “ Sunday Island ”.
Will India vote for Sri Lanka in Geneva?
by S Venkat Narayan
Policy-makers here are facing a serious dilemma: Should India vote for or against Sri Lanka if a resolution does come up against the island-nation in the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) during the session that begins on Monday, Feb 27?
India has so far stood like a rock behind Sri Lanka and opposed moves in Geneva and elsewhere to censure Colombo for its acts of commission and omission during the last stages of the Eelam War 4.
Official sources here explained to this correspondent that India has done so in the hope that the Sri Lankan government will respond swiftly to global criticism by ordering an impartial probe into allegations of excesses committed during the final phases of the civil war that ended in May 2009 with the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, and take action against the guilty, if any.
They also say that New Delhi has been hoping that, having won the war, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will take prompt steps to give the aggrieved minority Tamils their political rights.
However, nearly three years after the three-decade bloody civil war ended, there has been little visible action on the ground to make the Tamils feel they are getting a fair deal. Now, there is a strong feeling in influential sections of the Indian Government that New Delhi should no longer lend its crucial and valuable support to Sri Lanka in international fora.
This is so because such support is being interpreted at home and abroad as providing protection to the Mahinda Rajapaksa dispensation’s controversial conduct during the last stages of Eelam War 4. The view is widely shared by the intelligentsia, the media and the public opinion at large.
They are asking: Can Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh afford to ignore the public opinion at home? Can he ingore the strong views expressed in Parliament by concerned and anxious MPs? Can he ignore the increasing frustration of the people, particularly in Tamil Nadu, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s seeming reluctance or inability to grant the island’s Tamils political space to function as equal citizens even nearly three years after the civil war ended? Can he afford to pump in aid and assistance running into more than a billion dollars to help a regime that appears to be so insensitive to the aspirations of one-fourth of its own citizenry?
Already, the anger in Tamil Nadu against President Rajapaksa’s delaying tactics and inaction has led to a few unpleasant acts: The husband of one of the president’s close relatives and a few Sri Lankan tourists were roughed up in two separate incidents in the southern Indian state.
Said one source involved in the Indian decision-making process: “We have been telling the Sri Lankan leaders so very gently and ever so politely that they should use the great opportunity provided by the end of the ethnic war to give the Tamils their political due and involve them in nation-building. After all, every fourth Sri Lankan is a Tamil-speaking Hindu, Muslim or Christian. How long can you deny their political rights and expect them to keep quiet?”
“Gentle persuation has not been working. It is now time to get tough and let the Sri Lankan leadership know we mean business. We have not told them what we will do in Geneva . If they continue to ignore our sincere advice for their own good, why should we bail them out of trouble every time?”
An analyst here remarked: “We must give credit to President Rajapaksa for taking on the world’s deadliest terrorist group and successfully decimating it. Some excesses were obviously committed. He should have admitted them straightaway as collateral damage and take some prompt action against the culprits to convince the Tamils at home and the world at large that he is a fair-minded leader.”
The analyst went on: “Unfortunately, he did nothing of the kind. But he acted like a clever politician and promptly exploited the military victory to get himself re-elected for a second term, and changed the constitution to get rid of the bar on his contesting for more presidential terms. He got a parliamentary victory too. He also got hundreds of the Rajapaksa clan positions of power and well-paid jobs. And he is promoting his own political dynasty. He now needs to act as a statesman, give a fair deal to the Tamils and move on without any further loss of time.”
Most Indians do not buy the arguement put forth by the President and his colleagues that Indian-style federalism will not work in Sri Lanka . What works in a country of 1,234 million people ought to work in a country of just 20 million people as well, they feel.
An analyst asked: “If the chief minister of a province has to keep running to Colombo for every little thing because he has neither the political authority nor the financial power to develop his own province, what is the use of having such a system? In a true democracy, the provinces must enjoy certain autonomy. This is how things work in all decent democracies.”
Many Indians also endorse the recent statement issued by 50 prominent Sri Lankans, which said: “A lasting solution to the ethnic imbroglio can be reached only if power, including police powers, land use and allocation, and fiscal and budgetary authority is devolved to the provincial councils in accordance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka, but the government is stalling.”
Many well-wishers in India of Sri Lanka hope President Rajapaksa will get his act together at least now on the human rights issue, and provide political rights to the Tamils. His inaction on both fronts has already alienated influential sections of the international community. He now faces the possibility of alienating India , too.