Strained Sri Lanka ties not in Tamil Nadu's interest - The New Indian Express

Strained Sri Lanka ties not in Tamil Nadu's interest

Published: 17th November 2013 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 21st January 2014 04:00 PM

It is regrettable that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has succumbed to pressure from the Dravidian parties-the DMK and AIADMK-and a section of his own Congress party and stayed out of the Commonwealth summit in Colombo. For reasons of political expediency, India has apparently forfeited the diplomatic and strategic advantage in the region to China and to a lesser extent Pakistan. This will stand this country in poor stead in times to come.

The atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan army over Tamil civilians in the wake of the war against the LTTE are a matter of record and deserve to be condemned strongly. But in recent times, India has been using all its powers of persuasion to cajole Lanka into ensuring self-rule for the northern parts of the country for improving the lot of the Tamil masses. If there is an elected government in the saddle in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province today, it is largely due to intense pressure from India and the US.

India needed to take that process forward so that the Tamils were accepted in the mainstream in that country and were guaranteed their political, social and cultural rights. It should be no surprise if India loses much of its leverage with Colombo after Dr Manmohan Singh’s cold shoulder to Lanka months after India voted with the US against Sri Lanka on a resolution joining issue on the human rights record of Lanka.

That Prime Minister Rajapakse has not shown his fangs against India after Manmohan Singh dropped out of the summit at the last minute is only because he did not want to vitiate the atmosphere at a time when everything was set for the summit.

It is difficult to imagine that he would not show a perceptible tilt towards China in the aftermath of the summit so as to teach India a lesson. India’s geo-political objectives would be poorly served if the Chinese establish a foothold over the Indian Ocean through Sri Lankan waterways.

There was a time in Tamil Nadu after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination when the LTTE was frowned upon by the people, but the brutal manner in which cadres of the extremist outfit fighting for Tamil Eelam were dealt with by the Sri Lankan government has created a wave of sympathy for them. At any rate, that is the assessment of the Tamil parties.

Sri Lanka is at the centre of New Delhi’s Indian Ocean Region strategy. When China built Hambantota port, it had hoped to enhance its strategic relations with Sri Lanka. That hope could now be realised.

Clearly, though the Sri Lankan government has been wary of China for long, it sees Beijing as a perfect counterpoise to India. What pleases the Lankans no end is the fact that there are no strings attached to Chinese largesse-there is no human rights record to worry about and no pressure like India exerts to reach a political settlement with the Tamils. Indeed, Beijing’s interests in Sri Lanka are purely strategic and, to a limited extent, commercial.

By staying away from the Commonwealth summit, Prime Minister Singh may have saved the day for the Congress alliance with the DMK in the upcoming general elections and may have not given a handle to Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK to beat him with, but he has shown that he is not averse to surrendering strategic interest at the altar of political opportunism.

The irony is that a strained relationship with Sri Lanka would doubtlessly not be in Tamil Nadu’s interest too, especially in regard to the fishermen issue on which the Indian government has had some leverage in the past.

Kanwar is a senior journalist

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