Colombo needs to internalize the investigation into the cause(s) for failures, and not externalise the excuses

By N. Sathiya Moorthy

It could not have come at a better time, or worse. President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga’s speaking/reading about ‘home truths’ in Sri Lanka’s relations with neighbouring India coincided to the week with the conclusion of ‘Eelam War IV’ and the end of the LTTE.

His references to India’s role in the Sri Lanka of the Eighties are not always supported by facts – as the sweeping charge of Indian security forces causing bomb-blasts in the national capital of Colombo would indicate. In this, Weeratunga has relied on a book and the author. It is often the other way around, of authors quoting men in authority.

There are ‘home-truths’ and home-truths. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has always been fond of referring to India relations as one between ‘relations’. In relationship with relations, people are given situations, and they give into situations.

Such situations can be either internal, or external, or both. Elements of bilateral history and geography, culture and cultural ties contribute to such situations. In relationship with relations, one does not dig into the past, particularly if it can hurt that relationship in the present – and into the future. It is how President Rajapaksa seemed to have looked at the ‘Indian vote’ at Geneva when it was still an unfolding situation.

That is how his Government reacted, too.

Much water has flowed across the Palk Bay either way since both nations became independent almost around the same time – again another aspect of the shared South Asian history. In a celebratory mood as at the launch of the book, ‘Gota’s War’, one would have expected celebratory situations in the nation’s war and victory against LTTE terrorism being recalled and celebrated.

Such a recall would have shed much positive light on Sri Lanka’s India relationship than either side may be ready to acknowledge three years down the line. Instead, it was the one ‘defeatist’ moment in contemporary Sri Lankan history that came in for media attention at the book-launch – and has become the talking-point, since.

Home-truths be told, it is not the first time that Sri Lanka came in for attention at Geneva. Only days, and not even weeks after the successful completion of the war, Colombo could put together an unlikely alliance of India, Pakistan and China to campaign its case, and ensure the defeat of an European Union resolution. It did not stop there. Instead, all three nations went as far as to promote a successful pro-Sri Lanka resolution, too.

The unlikely alliance – and even others such as the American sponsor of the UNHRC resolution in 2012 — was a part of the war victory, too, Sri Lanka managing those relationships with dexterity and sincerity.

Colombo needs to internalise the investigation into the cause(s) for failures, and not externalise the excuses. It would not help, now or later, when again the UNHRC would be returning to discuss Sri Lanka at Geneva.

It would not help either, if the Government is confused at best, reluctant otherwise, if it is seen as not wanting a political solution to the ethnic issue. All those charges on the HR front that came along, were not the cause of that reluctance, though.

It is reluctance of the kind on India’s part that meant that New Delhi would not interfere in the internal affairs of a friendly neighbour when the Upcountry Tamils were uprooted for no fault of theirs in Sri Lanka, and nowhere else.

The State of Ceylon made the umbilical cord connection that has become ubiquitous since for the Tamil-speaking people in the two countries. Yet, in 1971, India made a positive interference at the request of the Sri Lankan State, at the time of the ‘First JVP insurgency’.

‘Refuelling’ of Pakistani Air Force war-planes six months later, followed. That did not deter India from bequeathing Katchchativu to Sri Lanka, only years later in 1974. It is still a burning issue in southern Tamil Nadu, yet the Government of India has remained firm and unmoved.

Perspectives differ but the IPKF, unlike the rest of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, was the creation of the Sri Lankan Government of the day, when JRJ first and the slain Premadasa later possibly thought that they would pit India and the LTTE against each other the former, militarily and the latter, politically, too. It helped them, politically, too, nearer home.

If India wanted to play act a ‘Bangladesh’ on Sri Lanka’s soil that would have been the time. The IPKF pulled out when Sri Lanka wanted it. Indian forces rushed in when tsunami struck, and Sri Lanka wanted help.

It is not just a conspiracy of ambitious individuals wanting to be in greater favour than they otherwise could command. It is not about why Sri Lanka could win Geneva-2009 and not Geneva-2012, between which much could have also been done in repairing the ethnic equity and equality nearer home.

It could well be a conspiracy that takes Sri Lanka away from the reality of Indian presence in the immediate neighbourhood – and deposit it nowhere, in the end. The Eighties were a part of that story, it keeps changing colours and contexts since the conclusion of the Cold War, and now the ‘Eelam Wars’, too. And that is the home-truth, and nothing else!