Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Post-war politics: Will BJP landslide be advantageous to Sri Lanka ?



Can Narendra Modi fashion his own policy without being influenced by those hell bent on avenging the LTTE’s battlefield defeat?

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Now that the (Bharathiya Janatha Party) BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has secured a simple majority in the 543 member Lok Sabha, the LTTE rump, the Tamil Diaspora as well as western powers pushing for a regime change in Sri Lanka will have to re-examine their strategies. The success of their efforts will largely depend on the Indian position.

The NDA’s victory will surely weaken their ongoing campaign, though they succeeded in having a resolution adopted at the 25th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNCHRC) to pave the way for a war crimes probe targeting Sri Lanka.

The change of government in New Delhi will give Sri Lanka time and space to rethink its strategies and explore ways and means of overcoming the threat.

A change of government in neighbouring India could not have come at a better time for Sri Lanka, struggling on the diplomatic front. However, everything will depend on 63-year old Narendra Modi, a former Chief Minister of Gujarat, who led the DNA to a landslide. Modi has obtained the strongest mandate of any Indian leader in three decades.

Unlike previous governments’, Modi will not have to depend on a political ally in Tamil Nadu for the survival of his administration. In the absence of political pacts between Modi and Karunanidhi’s DMK or Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, the LTTE rump and Tamil Diaspora will find it difficult to influence the central government through their South Indian partners. The bottom line is that Modi’s India will not have to bend backwards to appease Jayalalithaa or back western efforts to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes probe. Unlike his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, Modi will be able to decide on policy towards Sri Lanka without being influenced by those propagating lies against Sri Lanka.

Throughout the post-war period, the Indian central government humiliated Sri Lanka, on several occasions at the behest of its south Indian allies. The Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had no option but to undermine Sri Lanka as it was dependent on Jayalalithaa for its survival. Jayalalithaa brazenly acted on behalf of the UK-based Global Time Forum (GTF), widely believed to be the most influential Diaspora grouping.

Suren Surendiran issued a statement on behalf of the GTF expressing the belief that Jayalalithaa would be able to influence the new administration. Surendiran appears to have ignored Jayalalithaa’s hostility towards the BJP.

"The GTF is delighted that the determined voice of support that has echoed consistently from across the Palk Strait has been strengthened by a historic democratic vote. Madam Jayalalithaa and her party have stood firm against the injustices levelled upon the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. Madam Jayalalithaa is the first elected international leader who has formally referred to what is happening to the Tamil Nation in the island as genocide, called for an international investigation in Sri Lanka to establish whether war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed, demanded for economic sanctions against the Colombo government and referred to President Rajapaksa as a war criminal.

The GTF sincerely hopes that Madam Jayalalithaa will be able to influence the new BJP led government under Prime Minister elect, Hon. Narendra Modi to stand firm and be decisive when dealing with the historic and continued injustices served upon our people in the island of Sri Lanka. The Global Tamil Forum sends its humble congratulations in celebrating Madam Jayalalithaa and her party being re-elected with an overwhelming historic majority to lead the people of Tamil Nadu and be the leader of Tamils all over the world, including the Tamil Nation in the island of Sri Lanka."

"Just as Chief Minister Madam Jayalalithaa and her party have won in a clean sweep in the State of Tamil Nadu, Prime Minster elect, Hon. Narendra Modi and his party the BJP and its allies have swept the largest democracy in the world! The Global Tamil Forum sends its heartiest congratulations and best wishes for a successful future!

Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka wait in great anticipation and hope that the new Indian government will stand firmly against past and present injustices faced by the "Tamils and deal decisively with the Rajapaksa government in bringing just peace in the island of Sri Lanka."

The LTTE rump, the Tamil Diaspora, MDK and AIDMK will soon realize that New Delhi’s policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be manipulated to their benefit. They repeatedly harassed the ousted government in accordance with their overall strategy to undermine Indo-Lanka relations. A case in point is former Indian Premier Manmohan Singh skipping the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo last November. Singh would have been here if not for AIDMK threats.

Pro-eelamists also campaigned against India building two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Sri Lanka Navy. They held the former government hostage until Manmohan Singh retrained from voting for the US-led anti Sri Lanka resolution in Geneva late last March. Perhaps that decision was taken in India’s national interests after having realized that the UPA could not win the recently concluded parliamentary elections.

India voted twice against Sri Lanka in Geneva since the conclusion of the conflict. It would have voted again last March if not for the realization that a Modi-wave was sweeping through India, though Tamil Nadu voted differently. In spite of securing 338 seats, Modi’s DNA could manage only two seats in Tamil Nadu. That would be advantageous to Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu could no longer influence New Delhi at the behest of the eelam bobby. Former Indian leader Manmohan Singh went to the extent of shunning meetings with President Rajapaksa to appease those who called the Sri Lanka leader a war criminal.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) too, is in a dilemma. Modi’s India is unlikely to throw its weight behind the TNA’s project backed by a section of the international community. The TNA consisted of five parties, namely the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), TULF, EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE of them, the last three engaged in terrorism in Sri Lanka under the direction of Indian intelligence services during the congress rule in the early 80s. The TNA now represented in parliament and running the Northern Provincial Council will have to weight its options. The TNA leadership cannot ignore that both major parties in Tamil Nadu, DMK and AIDMK had no influence over policy makers in New Delhi. Although New Delhi will definitely take into consideration Tamil Nadu concerns, the centre is unlikely to give into unreasonable demands.

The eelam lobby managed to prevent India accommodating security forces officers at Staff College in Wellingon, Tamil Nadu. Eelamits also prevented Sri Lankans from playing in the IPL. The situation deteriorated further when eelmists targeted Sri Lankans visiting India on several occasions. They also prohibited the showing of ‘Madras Cafe’ in Tamil Nadu, alleging the movie showed the LTTE and its leader Prabhakaran in bad light.

The eelam lobby warned UK cinemas of dire consequences if they showed ‘Madras Cafe’. Same tactics were used successfully in Canada. The former Indian government turned a blind eye to what was going on. The like of Vaiko, who supported a heavy defeat at the recently concluded parliamentary elections, sought to attract voters at the expenses of Indo-Lanka relations. The centre could have provided further help to defeat the LTTE if not for the powerful eelam lobby in Tamil Nadu.

But nothing could be as humiliating as India’s failure to execute those who had been found guilty for the May 21, 1991 assassination of one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the midst of an election propaganda rally in Tamil Nadu. The eelam lobby strongly opposed capital punishment to those LTTE operatives, though they sought punitive action against Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The eelam lobby had the backing of the European Union (EU) which opposed capital punishment.

It would be interesting to note that ‘Madras Cafe’ discusses the complicity on the part of some Indian officials on the LTTE operation leading to the assassination of Gandhi.

The LTTE rump and the Tamil Diaspora are likely to softly push Jayalalithaa to continue her efforts on their behalf though she cannot influence the centre.

Those who have been waiting for international intervention too are disappointed over the development in India. A strong government in New Delhi is not conducive for such projects.

What would be the new government’s position on the South African initiative to facilitate a dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the TNA?

Would Modi’s DNA take a different position vis-a-vis Sri lanka at the UNHRC?

What would be his position on Sri Lanka’s long standing relationship with China and Pakistan?

Had Modi been dependent on Jayalalithaa or some other South Indian political partner for survival in the Lok Sabha, the situation would have been different.

Thanks to a vast majority of Indians, Modi has received a strong mandate in the 16th Lok Sabha elections. Whatever various interested parties say, Modi’s massive victory is greatly beneficial to Sri Lanka.

Both DMK and AIDMIK will have to review their position on Sri Lanka in the wake of the likes of MDMK leader Vaiko, who campaigned on an anti-Sri Lanka platfrom suffering a crushing defeat. Vaiko has been pushing for a UN backed referendum on eelam. Vaiko’s defeat revealed that The Tamil Nadu electorate had not been overtly concerned about accountability issues in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE’s ally, Karunidhi’s DMK has suffered a stunning defeat in Tamil Nadu due to the AIDMIK securing 37 out of 39 seats in the state. But both are not in a position to compel the new government to pursue pro-eelam strategies at the expense of Indo-Lanka relations.

The Hindu nationalist party’s decision to name Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in spite of allegations over his involvement in violence directed against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 meant that the BJP quite rightly realises that there were other issues to worry about than accountability over the Gujarat massacre.

The BJP ignored western criticism of Modi. Although some BJPers expressed displeasure over Modi’s nomination, he had the support of the vast majority, hence he received the go ahead.

Tony Blair suspended all ties with Modi in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat massacre. The UK restored ties with him in 2012 as Modi gradually, moved up.

British PM David Cameron was one of the first leaders to phone Modi on May 16 to congratulate him on his victory. Modi was also boycotted by the US as well the EU over the Gujarat riots that left over 1,000 people dead. Since Modi’s nomination as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, those who had previously shunned him sought to enhance direct links with him. In fact, they approached him in late 2012, in the backdrop of reports that the Gujarat Chief Minister could emerge as the next leader. Having sent the British High Commissioner in India to meet Modi in Oct 1012, the UK declared "active engagement with Gujarat," was the way to boost relations.

The change of attitude by western powers towards Modi was a forgone conclusion. They could not have shunned the prime minister of India, regardless of allegations.

These preaching accountability at international forums will find it extremely difficult to explain the basis of their arguments in the wake of a major turnaround from their previous boycott of the Indian leader.

But they never felt the need to take punitive action against the Congress for causing deaths of thousands in neighbouring Sri Lanka by launching terrorist groups. The Congress leadership, though being tainted by massive violence in Sri Lanka under its watch, was never asked to explain its conduct. The Congress detabilized Sri Lanka to pave the way for Indian military intervention.

The Congress never accepted responsibility for destabilizing Sri Lanka. There hadn’t been a similar case where a regional power destabilized a friendly country primarily for domestic, political and security reasons. But the international community adopted a different approach in other cases. A case in point is former Liberian President Charles Taylor being sentenced to 50-years in prison for fomenting terrorism in the neighbouring Sierra Leone. Taylor, a one-time US agent, began serving his jail term last year in the UK.

Although, Modi had to experience western ire for killing, raping and looting, which began in February and continued until mid-June 2002, the Congress escaped international scrutiny. More than 2,000 Muslims were murdered, and tens of thousands rendered homeless in carefully planned and coordinated attacks of unprecedented savagery. Under Congress watch, mobs slaughtered thousands of Sikhs in the wake the then Premier Indira Gandhi’s assassination in late October 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards to avenge the army assault on militants in Amritsar, Punjab in June 1984.

Let us hope that the new Indian administration rethink its policy on Sri Lanka. Although some believed that Jayalalithaa could influence Modi, the new government is most likely to adopt a different approach towards post-war Sri Lanka. The Congress will never be allowed to forget that it caused war here. Sri Lanka’s fate could have been much different had the Congress managed to retain power at the parliamentary election in late 1989. Had the then premier Rajiv Gandhi secured victory, he wouldn’t have accepted President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s unilateral call for the immediate withdrawal of the Indian army. Having won the election, the National Front Government, under Premier V.P. Singh’s leadership acted swiftly to withdraw the Indian army. One-time Indian Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs titled Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha asserted that the Indian pullout was one of the three significant events faced by the then Foreign Minister, Inder Kumar Gujral. Let me reproduce what Dixit said:

"He (Gujral) was the principal advocate of India withdrawing its armed forces from Sri Lanka in response to demands from the then President of Sri Lanka, R. Premadasa. Gujral’s view was that India should not have got into any active mediatory role in Sri Lankan ethnic crisis ab initio. He was even more opposed to India training and providing support to Tamil separatist groups and to India ultimately sending its armed forces into a neighbouring country to resolve what was essentially an internal problem of Sri Lanka. He did not accept the argument that if India had not got actively interested , it might have had to face a separatist movement in Tamil Nadu. He was also of the view that India’s military involvement and political mediation in Sri Lanka was against the basic principles of nonalignment and the stipulations of international law. He orchestrated a 180 degree turn in India’s Sri Lanka policy. There were segments of Indian public opinion which welcomed his decision as a statesman-like action, restoring India’s foreign policy on the right track and regaining the moral high ground which it had apparently lost in Sri Lanka."

Dixit’s assertion should be examined with his own assessment on the Indian project in Sri Lanka. Dixit called Premier Indira Gandhi’s decision to throw India’s weight behind terrorism in Sri Lanka as one of the two foreign policy decisions she could be faulted with.