Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Is security of India and Sri Lanka indivisible?



Dimuthu Premaratne captured Indian leader Narandra Modi arriving in the BMICH on Friday (May 12) to participate in the International Vesak Day celebrations. Among those captured with Modi is Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Vanni District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan(standing next to President Sirisena), whose father was alleged to have been killed by Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), in 1985, at the behest of India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Siddarthan has told the writer that former TULF MPs, M. Alalasundaram and V. Dharmalingam were killed on the morning of Sept. 3, 1985, on RAW directive. The killings should have been examined against the backdrop of the Thimpu fiasco as well as the short-lived Delhi Accord of 1985. Dharmalingham Siddarthan represents the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), another Indian-sponsored terrorist group at the time. The PLOTE attracted international notoriety when members of the group mounted a sea borne operation, in Male, in early Nov. 1988 to take power. The operation went awry due to Indian military intervention. Siddarthan’s presence, among those invited for the BMICH event is a reminder of India’s wretched past interventions here.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Indian Premier Narendra Modi declared in Colombo on Friday (May 12) that the biggest challenge to sustainable world peace today might not be necessarily from conflict between the nation states.

Addressing international Vesak Day celebrations, at the BMICH, Modi asserted: "It is from the mindsets, thought streams, entities and instruments rooted in the idea of hate and violence. The menace of terrorism in our region is a concrete manifestation of this destructive emotion (emphasis mine) Sadly, these ideologies of hate and their proponents, in our region, are not open to dialogue and hence only open to causing death and destruction."

Modi’s visit took place close on the heels of India and Sri Lanka signing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on a range of projects, including one on Trincomalee oil tank farm.

Obviously, Hindu nationalist Modi has conveniently forgotten how India caused regional crisis by destabilizing Sri Lanka to such an extent to compel the then JRJ government to accept deployment of the Indian Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. India caused massive destruction in the predominately Tamil Northern and Eastern districts. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) responded by assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991. The LTTE struck in Tamil Nadu over a year after the Indian Army pulled out of Sri Lanka at the request of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

India caused further mayhem when New Delhi established the Tamil National Army months before its withdrawal. The LTTE decimated the Tamil National Army with the tacit understanding with President Premadasa whose 14-month long honeymoon, with the LTTE, ended in June 1990.

Unfortunately, our leaders lacked courage at least to remind India that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in crisis today if not for despicable Indian strategy. As a result of Indian intervention, Sri Lanka finally ended up being ordered to probe war crimes and crimes against humanity with foreign judges, investigators and prosecutors by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In spite of being responsible for the situation here, India voted with those wanting to punish Sri Lanka on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

Having succeeded Manmohan Singh, in May 2014, PM Modi visited Colombo, in mid March 2015, in the wake of the change of government, to sign four bilateral pacts on visa, customs, youth development and building the Rabindranath Tagore memorial. It was PM Modi’s first visit to Sri Lanka, the first stand alone bilateral tour by an Indian Prime Minister, since 1987.

Rajiv Gandhi was here in July 1987 to sign the Indo-Lanka Accord, a month after forcing Sri Lanka to halt ‘Operation Liberation’ meant to eradicate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). India humiliated Sri Lanka by violating her airspace in the run-up to Gandhi’s visit.

PM Modi also flew to Ilavalai, Jaffna, where he handed over several houses to beneficiaries of the Indian-funded housing units to former IDPs under the 50,000 houses programme. On the invitation of Sri Lanka, Modi addressed parliament before visiting the Indian Army memorial at Pelawatte, Battaramulla. The memmorial is a constant reminder of Indian intervention finally leading to a war between its Army and the Indian-trained LTTE, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 of its officers and men. In addition more than 3,000 of its officers and men received injuries during the deployment here (July 1987-March 1990).

No less a person than former Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha’, in no uncertain terms blamed the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka.

India certainly owed an apology to the people of Sri Lanka for causing war. It would be a mistake on India’s part to expect the people of Sri Lanka to forget the Indian destabilization project. In fact, India’s creation influenced suicide bombings against Israel. The LTTE brazenly operated in the developed world leading to it being placed among organizations proscribed by the US and UK. Premier Modi’s interpretation of terrorism surely didn’t apply to Sri Lanka.

Premier Modi used the UN Vesak Day message to underscore India’s doctrine that security of India and Sri Lanka is indivisible. Let me quote the Indian leader verbatim:... whether it is on land or in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible. My conversations with President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have only reinforced our will to join hands in achieving our common goals. As you make important choices for the harmony and progress of your society, you will find in India a friend and partner that will support your nation-building endeavours."

It would be pertinent to briefly examine Indian foreign policy at the time Indira Gandhi ordered the destabilization of Sri Lanka in the 80s and current policy against the backdrop of growing Chinese challenge.

In the 80s, India had been in the Soviet camp hence feared the prospect of US turning Trincomalee harbour to a strategic naval base. Today, India is firmly in US led grouping, that includes Japan, and determined to check Chinese influence. Sri Lanka is under pressure from both camps, with them seeking to influence the decision making process.

Both Yahapalana government and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been compelled to play ball with India and China. India, of course, represents overall US interests in the region. Although, the US and EU differ on some policy matters, their overall strategy remains the same. Sri Lanka is an example for such understanding. Obviously US allies, Japan and India are following US strategy. But it would be important to keep in mind that unlike Japan, India would have its own strategic interests in Sri Lanka, in addition to policies adopted in line with overall US objectives here.

Sri Lankan leaders are struggling to cope with the situation. Former President Rajapaksa’s unannounced meet with Premier Modi, at India House, last Thursday night, highlighted Sri Lanka’s dilemma. Having accused Modi and India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of facilitating Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, at the January 2015 presidential poll, the former President sought a meeting with Modi. Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accompanied the former President. Presence of Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval at the India House meeting proved that Modi’s visit meant much more than participating at the UN Vesak Day celebrations and visiting Dickoya.

Former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa is on record as having explained the circumstances under which Doval demanded Sri Lanka discontinue major Chinese funded infrastructure projects and also take back the Chinese managed Colombo port terminal in the run up to the last presidential poll. Inclusion of veteran intelligence officer Doval underscored the importance of Modi’s recently concluded Colombo visit where he emphasized New Delhi’s perspective of Sri Lanka’s security. Modi’s assertion reminded Doval’s predecessor Shiv Shankar Menon explaining the threat posed by Sri Lanka to India in case hostile power having influence over Colombo. In the 80s, the prospect of US setting up base propelled India to cause terrorism in Sri Lanka to bring JRJ to his knees. Today, India is working overtime to thwart the Chinese project here.

One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his recently (Oct, 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.

Menon accused former President Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path which, New Delhi believed, threatened its security interests. Menon declaration that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast underscored New Delhi’s severe concerns in respect of the country being too close to China.

However, Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisory, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014.

Sri Lanka’s close relationship with China should be examined against the backdrop of India’s destabilization project here. If not for the Indian-sponsored terrorist project, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have contemplated transforming her ceremonial army to a professional fighting force capable of meeting the enemy’s conventional challenge. Sri Lanka continuously struggled to obtain required weapons as well as training due to India strongly objecting to arms-producing countries meeting little Lanka’s needs. Having opposed Sri Lanka securing armaments from the Jewish State, in the beginning of 80s, New Delhi today heavily depends on Israeli weapons and technology. India and Sri Lanka work closely in the defence field, a situation unthinkable a few decades ago. Perhaps, India wants Sri Lanka to place responsibility for her security in the hands of India. Modi certainly didn’t mince his words when he claimed that security interests of India and Sri Lanka were the same.

PM Modi’s declaration in respect of shared security of India and Sri Lanka should be examined in the context of Indo-US partnership in all sectors, including nuclear power. Modi underscored the pivotal importance of Sri Lanka being part of their overall military strategy in the Indian Ocean. Let me put it this way, India’s security is indivisible from that of the US.

India’s importance in overall US strategy forced the world’s solitary super power to quickly forget the then Gujarat Chief Minister Modi’s alleged failure to halt Hindu led riots in the Indian state in 2002. Violence claimed the lives of about 1,000 Muslims. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) fronliner Modi held the CM post from 2001 to 2014 before leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory at parliamentary polls. Although, the US denied Modi a visa, in 2005, he was feted at the White House by former US President Barack Obama in June 2016. Modi was also invited to address a joint session of the Congress and also met business leaders. Importance of US-India relationship compelled them to settle the December 2013 arrest of an Indian consular official in New York under controversial circumstances. Although a vast section of the media called the incident the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries in nearly 15 years, they settled it swiftly.

Sri Lanka needs to examine global as well as regional development vis a vis bilateral relations with India, Japan el al. Obviously, Sri Lanka’s security needs/threats faced cannot be under any circumstances comparable with those of India. In fact, Modi’s assertion that security of India and Sri Lanka indivisible is certainly not acceptable to a vast majority of people. But, it would be of pivotal importance that Sri Lanka should always keep India’s security concerns in mind and does nothing to endanger their interests.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Kilinochchi demo, Mulliyaweli ‘incident’ and Wigneswaran’s comment on Swamy Premananda



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) recently launched an unprecedented campaign to discourage yahapalana government from handing over military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools in the Northern Province to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).

Hundreds of ex- LTTE cadres demonstrated in former LTTE stronghold Kilinochchi, demanding that agricultural farms and pre-schools be kept under military supervision.

The military liberated Kilinochchi in early January 2009 following months long campaign involving several fighting formations.

The protest surely embarrassed the NPC administration hell-bent on restricting military activity.

Although, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been sharply divided over post-war policy, with Northern Province Chief Minister former Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran pursuing a strategy of his own, the grouping is working overtime to reduce the military presence in the Northern Province to the barest minimum.

The Colombo based foreign funded NGO community, too, has thrown its weight behind the TNA project for obvious reasons.

The TNA has never been successful in attracting former LTTE cadres to the grouping as they knew its despicable role during the war. The TNA steadfastly refused to at least urge the LTTE to give up human shields and let the fighting cadre to surrender to the Sri Lanka Army. Regardless of LTTE directives to fight to the last man and last woman, well over 10,000 surrendered to the Army, advancing on the Vanni east front.

Former LTTE cadres, both men and women, gathered at the Kilinochchi SLTB depot junction, on the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road, on the morning of April 25, 2017. Carrying placards and chanting slogans, LTTE cadres went in procession from the depot junction to the Kilinochchi District Secretariat where they handed over a petition. They requested that they be allowed to serve as members of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) assigned to work at military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools.

Former LTTE combatants alleged that their livelihoods would be at stake if the NPC took over agricultural farms and pre-schools. They expressed concern that thousands of families would be affected and a major crisis caused due to mismanagement under NPC.

Since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the TNA, Western powers, the NGO community or the civil society, as they prefer to identify themselves, as well as the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora have been campaigning for the reduction of military presence in the Northern Province, restrict contact between the military and Northern population and propagate unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against the war-winning Army. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and Western embassies have repeatedly issued statements backing the TNA. But, obviously those who had fought for the LTTE believed in efficient military managed set up-regardless of the lies propagated by interested parties.

There had never been a demonstration in the Northern Province by former LTTE cadres demanding that they be managed by the military. In fact, the TNA never anticipated the previous Rajapaksa administration recruiting former LTTE members to the CDF. The then administration went out of its way to accommodate those who had fought against the government in accordance with its overall strategy to ensure lasting peace. That strategy thwarted TNA attempts to cause turmoil and use the defeated LTTE to cause political turmoil in the Northern Province. The TNA seemed to have believed that the defeated LTTE would accept its post-war strategy and agree to work, in unison, to undermine government rule in the Northern Province. Had the TNA succeeded it would have had a catastrophic effect on the Eastern Province and undermine post-war national reconciliation process.

The Kilinochchi protest dealt a devastating blow to those who had been propagating unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

Mulliyaweli incident

The military earned the respect of the former LTTE fighting cadre for efficient post-war rehabilitation project. The successful project paved the way for thousands of men and women to return to their families, within a couple of years, though, at the onset of the programme, interested parties alleged former LTTE personnel faced long term detention. The recent Kilinochchi protest proved in no uncertain terms that members of the defeated organizations had been treated humanely and they believed in the apparatus created by the military for their benefit.

The TNA obviously cannot stomach the former LTTE cadre having faith in the military.

Close on the heels of former LTTE cadres’ Kilinochchi protest, the TNA organized one day hartal, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, demanding an explanation from yahapalana government regarding those reported missing during the war and post-conflict period. Some northern residents have launched protests at the behest of the TNA against disappearances. Colombo based The Hindu correspondent Meena Srinivasan quoted Wigneswaran as having said: "Protesters demonstrated for over 50 days. Out of sheer frustration, they have asked the public to support them by staging a hartal. We have obliged."

During April 27, 2017 hartal, still unidentified persons pelted troops carrying ‘Liberty’ bus with stones at Mulliyaweli at 7.30 pm. Off duty personnel were on their way from Vavuniya on the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road to Mullaitivu on the east coast. The government played down the incident though the Army confirmed the first such case since the conclusion of the war.

Yahapalana leaders refrained from commenting on TNA led hartal backed by an influential section of Muslim politicians.

In the run up to late April hartal, Wigneswaran took up the contentious issue of disappearances with President Maithripala Sirisena. Wigneswarn claimed that many missing persons were somewhere ascertainable thereby suggesting over two years after Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at January 2015 presidential poll, the government is running secret detention camps.

No less a person than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared that those who had been categorized as missing were either living overseas or killed fighting for the LTTE. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, too, has echoed Wickremesinghe on many occasions though interested parties, including a section of the media, propagate existence of secret detention camps.

For want of an efficient strategy, the previous government failed pathetically to counter lies. The Rajapaksa administration’s failure facilitated Western powers to haul Sri Lanka up before the UNHRC and then help oust Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential poll.

The Joint Opposition, loyal to former President Rajapaksa, has failed to examine various developments taking place. The Kilinochchi demonstration and Mulliyaweli incident should be examined against the backdrop of the TNA split. The TNA has no option but to go all out against Wigneswaran publicly challenging the top party leadership.

TNA crisis deteriorates

Recently, the TNA ridiculed Wigneswaran over a statement he had made in respect of Sri Lankan child rapist Swamy Premananda who died at the age of 59 in an Indian prison in 2011. The TNA cleverly used Wigneswaran remarks to humiliate him and cause a rift between him and the Catholic community. Wigneswaran was ridiculed for allegedly comparing Premananda with Jesus. The TNA and an influential section of Tamil Diaspora targeted Wigneswaran though they remained silent when he intervened on behalf of Premananda’s accomplices in 2015.

Wigneswaran has requested Modi to release three life convicts in the sensational Swamy Premananda case. Sri Lankans namely Kamalananda, Balan alias Balendiran and Sathis alias Sathishkumar were convicted and sentenced along with Premananda for raping 13 Sri Lankan Tamil girls, including minors, and conspiring to murder an inmate in the godman’s ashram at Fathima Nagar near Trichy.

They were sentenced to double life imprisonment, and the punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. While Premananda died in Cuddalore prison in 2011, the other three are in prison.

In his letter, Wigneswaran, said Kamalananda and the others were falsely implicated in the case. "Premananda’s ashram and its properties have to be maintained. No one is there to take care of them. Please immediately release them as they are innocent," Wignswaran said.

Premananda had set up the ashram in the 1980s at the onset of India backed terrorism campaign in Sri Lanka. In 1994, Premananda was charged with raping the 13 inmates. Horrific crime came to light after one of the girls escaped from the ashram. Another victim became pregnant and a DNA test established that Premananda was the culprit. On August 21, 1997, the then Pudukottai district and sessions court judge R Banumathi sentenced Premananda to double life imprisonment and a cumulative fine of Rs 66.4 lakh.

Controversy surrounds the interview conducted on April 14th, 2017 by a Tamil website called "Thinappuyal." When asked about the Chief Minister being a devotee of a convicted criminal by the courts, Wigneswaran has said Jesus Christ was convicted 2000 years ago but people were worshiping him now as God. The website has deleted extremely controversial section of the interview on Wigneswaran’s request as the latter obviously feared it would cause outrage among Catholics.

Many an eyebrow was raised over Wigneswaran comparing Premananda with Jesus as well as the TNA’s reaction. Instead choosing to remain silent, the TNA exploited Wigneswaran’s blunder to ruin the Chief Minister’s image. The TNA ensured Wigneswaran’s comments on Premananda received wide coverage in both print media and on the internet/social media. With Wigneswaran indicating he has absolutely no intention to be guided by the TNA and intended to deal with the government on his own, the TNA will go on the offensive. Wigneswaran is believed to have obtained an opportunity to meet President Maithripala Sirisena soon to discuss contentious issues.

Wigneswaran’s moves should be studied taking into consideration obvious battle between the TNA and UNP Minister D. M. Swaminathan over efforts to regain military held civilian property in the Northern Province.

Would it be possible for Wigneswaran to retain the support of TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF in the NPC? What would be the reaction of Western embassies seeking a consensus among all Tamil political parties and groups, both here and overseas, to secure maximum possible concessions from the government to the ongoing TNA vs Wigneswaran? The top TNA leadership would never have expected Wigneswaran to cause turmoil in the coalition in a bid to secure a bigger role at the time he was brought in as their Northern Province Chief Ministerial candidate.

There’ll be bigger and far worse intra-party battles as major TNA factions flex their muscles.