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HAMMER SRI LANKA… BUT NOT AT GENEVA

As usual there is a hue and cry in Tamil Nadu and it seems to bebusiness as usual with the UPA government in New Delhi—trying to come to terms with ruffled feathers of allies, potential allies and all other fringe elements sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to happen some thousands of miles away! And for all its two sided track record on human rights violations and upholding the dignity of peoples across the world, the West led by the United States is pushing democracies like India to vote for a Resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.That the President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakse is no saint in this world of political sinners is for all to see. Rightfully he crushed a brutal terrorist outfit in 2009 but since then he has little to show for by way of reconciliation to the various Tamil outfits who themselves were at the receiving hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Worse, drunk with victory over the LTTE the Rajapakse government allowed the airheads in the military to step out of line and in the process get accused of brutally suppressing innocent Tamils whose only mistake may have been forced to follow a terror outfit with a gun pointed to their heads.

Rajapakse and Company may not be in the same League of losers and bounders as Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Ta Mok of Cambodia fame with blood in their hands, but the Colombo leaders have rightly or wrongly been tagged with the famous movie “Killing Fields”.To argue that all or some of these may have taken place in a war like environment is only to reinforce the notion that the civilian leadership in Sri Lanka in and around May 2009 was a hapless spectator whistling from the sidelines to bloodletting against innocents in the name of fighting terror or finishing up the final round in the war against terror.

What has happened on the political landscape in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis the Tamils in the last three years? Perhaps little to nothing. It is said that nearly 20 “rounds” of talks have taken place between the government in Colombo and the Tamil National Alliance but little has come out in terms of concessions to the minority Tamils. And in the last three years the government in Colombo has managed to hoodwink New Delhi into its political drama; and when the goings were getting tough there was an occasional threat by dropping names like “China” or “Pakistan”. And New Delhi has let all this slide by and perhaps in the name of looking at the larger emerging political scenario in Sri Lanka, however illusory this may be.

The basic question to be asked by a responsible India is this: just because it has failed miserably in its bilateral diplomacy, is this reason to vote against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva? To say that India does not vote against country specific resolutions is a poor cop out—a vibrant democracy like India should speak out against violations of human rights even if it is going to make some of our so-called friends and neighbours squirm with unease. But is a vote against Sri Lanka in the best interests of the Tamil minority of the island nation and India? May be the whole story that is evolving in Geneva has not found inside the newspages in India and elsewhere. It is said that the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora has been going the extra mile in its lobbying efforts by roping in legislators from the West and pressuring diplomats and officials in the hallways of the UNHCR. In fact the agenda of this diaspora itself has come to be questioned given that many questions have been raised in the past of the dubious political linkages. The Sri Lankan government need not make any noise on this front; it is a well known in India and elsewhere of the political leanings of some of these groups. And it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why legislators in the West are openly associating with this “cause”.

The concern of political parties in Tamil Nadu are for the most part well intentioned. But beyond the political posturing the leadership of these parties know full well the implications of India voting with the U.S.-sponsored Reolution. It will not only harden the negotiating stance of the TNA but also of the Rajapakse government resulting in a hopeless stalemate that may well last for another few decades. Further India’s vote against Sri Lanka risks giving rise to an impression in that Island nation and elsewhere that New Delhi is looking beyond relationship with a “country” to being only interested in a section of its people. The bottom line is that a vote against Sri Lanka by India may be a fillip to the diaspora but a major blow to the reconciliation process.

There is better way out of this. India should vote against the U.S. sponsored Resolution. It should not even abstain. And in the process telling the Rajapakse government that New Delhi’s soft gloves are being taken off. The powers that be in Sri Lanka are fully aware of the fact that India has not used coercive force—diplomatic and economic—against Sri Lanka. But now is the time to tell the Rajapakse regime and the other political thugs out there that New Delhi will not hesitate to use the sledge hammer if it comes to that.

And there is no use waving the China or the Pakistan card. Both Beijing and Islamabad know that while it is lovable to fish in the troubled backwaters of India, meddling in the same could end up with different results. For quite sometime now New Delhi has been playing soft with Sri Lanka, but it is high time that Colombo comes to term with the implications of fooling around with a major power with considerable reach. After all India is out to protect its interests that includes the welfare of people of its origin overseas and it hardly matters if it did not win in any popularity contest in the region and beyond.

(The writer, Dr Sridhar Krishnaswami, is a former senior journalist with The Hindu in Chennai, Singapore and Washington. He is currently Head, School of Media Studies, Faculty of Science and Humanities, SRM University, Chennai)

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