Is The Prime Minister Shedding Crocodile Tears? ~ mg devasahayam
INTERACTING with a delegation of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) of Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is reported to have said that reports of the Rajapaksa regime reneging on its commitment to New Delhi on a political package for resolution of the concerns of the Tamil community in the island nation are disturbing. He is also supposedly dismayed by reports suggesting that the Government of Sri Lanka planned to dilute certain key provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution ahead of elections to the Northern Provincial Council.
This Amendment is one of the key aspects of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka pact between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene under which Sri Lanka is committed to devolving powers to the provinces, including the Tamil-dominated North and East, to give a sense to the people of participation in governance. The pact had also enabled the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces (Tamil homeland) into one, subject to a referendum by the people of the East.
Since the end of the military conflict in early 2009 and even earlier, Colombo has reiterated many a time that it was committed to implementing the 13th Amendment in letter and spirit and also looks at the possibility of some additional features. However, goaded by extreme elements, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been hedging on it, triggering misapprehensions among Tamils in Sri Lanka and India. The Prime Minister&’s ‘concern and dismay’ is a typical case of shedding crocodile tears. This is so if we look at India&’s past dealings on the Sri Lankan Tamil&’s issue and the dismal failure of its foreign policy. What India has achieved in Sri Lanka is mass pogrom and virtual genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils, near-total alienation between Tamil Nadu and Delhi, handing the island to Chinese hegemony and the daily ignominy of hundreds of Tamil Nadu fishermen either shot at, arrested or beaten up by the Sri Lankan Navy!
As for the pogrom, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared soon after the bloody carnage of Sri Lankan Tamils ended in May 2009: “We fought India&’s war”.
Recently the President&’s brother and Man Friday, Gothabhaya Rajapaksa, explained as to how this was done ~ “The President went out of his way to keep New Delhi briefed on developments at all times. In addition a special bilateral committee was set up at the highest level, including then Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and myself as Defence Secretary from the Sri Lankan side, and former National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, then Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and then Defence Secretary Vijay Singh on the Indian side. This troika had continuous discussions and ensured that any sensitive issues were dealt with as soon as they arose.” (Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka, 25 March).
This has not been denied. Since then India has been rock-like in defending and protecting the Sri Lankan genocidal regime in all international fora through deceit and skullduggery. The 21 March 2013 UN Human Rights Council vote is one such example. This year&’s resolution calls for implementation of the recommendations of the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which is nothing but a mockery of justice. Besides, the LLRC report categorically denies the existence of a historical Tamil homeland comprising the Northern and the Eastern Provinces which ironically is the genesis of the whole conflict.
Diplomatic developments in the last two years and a strong resolution indicating a possible international inquiry into Sri Lankan war crimes originally sponsored by the USA, gave an opportunity to the foreign-policy mandarins to promote sustainable peace and political settlement of the festering Sri Lankan Tamil conflict. But instead, India engaged in behind-the-scenes scheming to tone down the resolution and removing the call for “an independent and credible international investigation” as mandated by the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This was obviously done to save the ‘troika-team’ and their collaborators, who have ‘blood on their hands’, as rued by former Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar.
According to the UN mandate, every sovereign State has the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) its citizens from mass atrocities like genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the international community has the duty to assist States in doing so. The R2P doctrine had grown from the troubled conscience of the international community after the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica massacre in the 1990s. World leaders agreed to this doctrine and incorporated it in Articles 138 and 139 of the UN World Summit Outcome Document in 2005. This has been reaffirmed in the UN Security Council Resolution 1674 and it overrides ‘state sovereignty’ if governments fail miserably to protect its citizens, or are party to the atrocities.
Under Article 24 of the UN Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security. It has the power to impose sanctions, establish peacekeeping missions, and authorise military action. As a signatory to the UN Charter, 1948 Genocide Convention, and the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, India had the right to invoke the UN Security Council to halt the atrocities in 2008-09 and establish peace in Sri Lanka. More so as parens patriae (parent of his country) for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, being the original homeland for the Tamils. If the Security Council had failed to act under R2P, India had the moral right, the legal obligation, and the standing under UN mandate to intervene directly and bring about a peaceful settlement in Sri Lanka. This option is still available.
Instead of protecting the pogrom-affected Tamils, India conspired and connived with the perpetrators as revealed by the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary. The 2012 Geneva resolution gave the government of Sri Lanka time to pursue its agenda of Sinhalisation of the North-East. This year&’s resolution manipulated by India, again insisting on a local process, will give further time to complete the agenda. In none of these international deliberations India sought a definite political solution on the lines of the 13th Amendment plus giving some sense of autonomy to Sri Lankan Tamils.
This pandering of Rajapaksa regime is explained by the Report of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi titled “India&’s Sri Lanka Policy ~ Towards Economic Engagement” (Brian Orland, April 2008) which states that after the IPKF fiasco (1987-89), “instead of a relationship focused on conflict intervention, India&’s foreign policy has pushed economic engagement into the lead role in bilateral relations.” Ambassador G Parthasarathy endorsed this when he wrote in 2012 suggesting that ‘India&’s ties with Sri Lanka will inevitably be strengthened on the basis of growing and mutually beneficial trade and economic relations.’
India&’s foreign policy architecture is coterie-driven, mired in secrecy and lacks the depth and breadth of stakeholder participation and parliamentary oversight, an essential element in any democracy. In the case of Sri Lanka, the foreign policy had a definite pro-trade-cum-pro-Sinhalese and anti-Tamil slant. A committed cabal that included sections of the media pursued this with vigour, giving courage and comfort to Rajapaksa and Co. to treat the Government of India with contemptuous disdain. The PMO is fully responsible for this.
It is understood that the Prime Minister has given an assurance to the TNA delegation that India will not ‘let down’ Sri Lankan Tamils. If this is genuine, instead of shedding crocodile tears, it is time for him to do a full review of India&’s foreign policy in Sri Lanka and if needed go for the R2P option which may turn out to be the only solution.
The writer is a retired IAS officer