By Shamindra Ferdinando
Indian Premier Narendra Modi declared in Colombo on Friday (May 12) that the biggest challenge to sustainable world peace today might not be necessarily from conflict between the nation states.
Addressing international Vesak Day celebrations, at the BMICH, Modi asserted: “It is from the mindsets, thought streams, entities and instruments rooted in the idea of hate and violence. The menace of terrorism in our region is a concrete manifestation of this destructive emotion (emphasis mine) Sadly, these ideologies of hate and their proponents, in our region, are not open to dialogue and hence only open to causing death and destruction.”
Modi’s visit took place close on the heels of India and Sri Lanka signing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on a range of projects, including one on Trincomalee oil tank farm.
Obviously, Hindu nationalist Modi has conveniently forgotten how India caused regional crisis by destabilizing Sri Lanka to such an extent to compel the then JRJ government to accept deployment of the Indian Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. India caused massive destruction in the predominately Tamil Northern and Eastern districts. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) responded by assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991. The LTTE struck in Tamil Nadu over a year after the Indian Army pulled out of Sri Lanka at the request of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
India caused further mayhem when New Delhi established the Tamil National Army months before its withdrawal. The LTTE decimated the Tamil National Army with the tacit understanding with President Premadasa whose 14-month long honeymoon, with the LTTE, ended in June 1990.
Unfortunately, our leaders lacked courage at least to remind India that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in crisis today if not for despicable Indian strategy. As a result of Indian intervention, Sri Lanka finally ended up being ordered to probe war crimes and crimes against humanity with foreign judges, investigators and prosecutors by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In spite of being responsible for the situation here, India voted with those wanting to punish Sri Lanka on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.
Having succeeded Manmohan Singh, in May 2014, PM Modi visited Colombo, in mid March 2015, in the wake of the change of government, to sign four bilateral pacts on visa, customs, youth development and building the Rabindranath Tagore memorial. It was PM Modi’s first visit to Sri Lanka, the first stand alone bilateral tour by an Indian Prime Minister, since 1987.
Rajiv Gandhi was here in July 1987 to sign the Indo-Lanka Accord, a month after forcing Sri Lanka to halt ‘Operation Liberation’ meant to eradicate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). India humiliated Sri Lanka by violating her airspace in the run-up to Gandhi’s visit.
PM Modi also flew to Ilavalai, Jaffna, where he handed over several houses to beneficiaries of the Indian-funded housing units to former IDPs under the 50,000 houses programme. On the invitation of Sri Lanka, Modi addressed parliament before visiting the Indian Army memorial at Pelawatte, Battaramulla. The memmorial is a constant reminder of Indian intervention finally leading to a war between its Army and the Indian-trained LTTE, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 of its officers and men. In addition more than 3,000 of its officers and men received injuries during the deployment here (July 1987-March 1990).
No less a person than former Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha’, in no uncertain terms blamed the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka.
India certainly owed an apology to the people of Sri Lanka for causing war. It would be a mistake on India’s part to expect the people of Sri Lanka to forget the Indian destabilization project. In fact, India’s creation influenced suicide bombings against Israel. The LTTE brazenly operated in the developed world leading to it being placed among organizations proscribed by the US and UK. Premier Modi’s interpretation of terrorism surely didn’t apply to Sri Lanka.
Premier Modi used the UN Vesak Day message to underscore India’s doctrine that security of India and Sri Lanka is indivisible. Let me quote the Indian leader verbatim:… whether it is on land or in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible. My conversations with President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have only reinforced our will to join hands in achieving our common goals. As you make important choices for the harmony and progress of your society, you will find in India a friend and partner that will support your nation-building endeavours.”
It would be pertinent to briefly examine Indian foreign policy at the time Indira Gandhi ordered the destabilization of Sri Lanka in the 80s and current policy against the backdrop of growing Chinese challenge.
In the 80s, India had been in the Soviet camp hence feared the prospect of US turning Trincomalee harbour to a strategic naval base. Today, India is firmly in US led grouping, that includes Japan, and determined to check Chinese influence. Sri Lanka is under pressure from both camps, with them seeking to influence the decision making process.
Both Yahapalana government and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been compelled to play ball with India and China. India, of course, represents overall US interests in the region. Although, the US and EU differ on some policy matters, their overall strategy remains the same. Sri Lanka is an example for such understanding. Obviously US allies, Japan and India are following US strategy. But it would be important to keep in mind that unlike Japan, India would have its own strategic interests in Sri Lanka, in addition to policies adopted in line with overall US objectives here.
Sri Lankan leaders are struggling to cope with the situation. Former President Rajapaksa’s unannounced meet with Premier Modi, at India House, last Thursday night, highlighted Sri Lanka’s dilemma. Having accused Modi and India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of facilitating Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, at the January 2015 presidential poll, the former President sought a meeting with Modi. Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accompanied the former President. Presence of Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval at the India House meeting proved that Modi’s visit meant much more than participating at the UN Vesak Day celebrations and visiting Dickoya.
Former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa is on record as having explained the circumstances under which Doval demanded Sri Lanka discontinue major Chinese funded infrastructure projects and also take back the Chinese managed Colombo port terminal in the run up to the last presidential poll. Inclusion of veteran intelligence officer Doval underscored the importance of Modi’s recently concluded Colombo visit where he emphasized New Delhi’s perspective of Sri Lanka’s security. Modi’s assertion reminded Doval’s predecessor Shiv Shankar Menon explaining the threat posed by Sri Lanka to India in case hostile power having influence over Colombo. In the 80s, the prospect of US setting up base propelled India to cause terrorism in Sri Lanka to bring JRJ to his knees. Today, India is working overtime to thwart the Chinese project here.
One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his recently (Oct, 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.
Menon accused former President Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path which, New Delhi believed, threatened its security interests. Menon declaration that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast underscored New Delhi’s severe concerns in respect of the country being too close to China.
However, Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisory, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014.
Sri Lanka’s close relationship with China should be examined against the backdrop of India’s destabilization project here. If not for the Indian-sponsored terrorist project, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have contemplated transforming her ceremonial army to a professional fighting force capable of meeting the enemy’s conventional challenge. Sri Lanka continuously struggled to obtain required weapons as well as training due to India strongly objecting to arms-producing countries meeting little Lanka’s needs. Having opposed Sri Lanka securing armaments from the Jewish State, in the beginning of 80s, New Delhi today heavily depends on Israeli weapons and technology. India and Sri Lanka work closely in the defence field, a situation unthinkable a few decades ago. Perhaps, India wants Sri Lanka to place responsibility for her security in the hands of India. Modi certainly didn’t mince his words when he claimed that security interests of India and Sri Lanka were the same.
PM Modi’s declaration in respect of shared security of India and Sri Lanka should be examined in the context of Indo-US partnership in all sectors, including nuclear power. Modi underscored the pivotal importance of Sri Lanka being part of their overall military strategy in the Indian Ocean. Let me put it this way, India’s security is indivisible from that of the US.
India’s importance in overall US strategy forced the world’s solitary super power to quickly forget the then Gujarat Chief Minister Modi’s alleged failure to halt Hindu led riots in the Indian state in 2002. Violence claimed the lives of about 1,000 Muslims. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) fronliner Modi held the CM post from 2001 to 2014 before leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory at parliamentary polls. Although, the US denied Modi a visa, in 2005, he was feted at the White House by former US President Barack Obama in June 2016. Modi was also invited to address a joint session of the Congress and also met business leaders. Importance of US-India relationship compelled them to settle the December 2013 arrest of an Indian consular official in New York under controversial circumstances. Although a vast section of the media called the incident the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries in nearly 15 years, they settled it swiftly.
Sri Lanka needs to examine global as well as regional development vis a vis bilateral relations with India, Japan el al. Obviously, Sri Lanka’s security needs/threats faced cannot be under any circumstances comparable with those of India. In fact, Modi’s assertion that security of India and Sri Lanka indivisible is certainly not acceptable to a vast majority of people. But, it would be of pivotal importance that Sri Lanka should always keep India’s security concerns in mind and does nothing to endanger their interests.