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Monday, March 25, 2013 - 7.30 GMT
Jammu & Kashmir now in the wings

Indian opportunism in Geneva will rebound in global arena

By Lucien Rajakarunanayake


If there were any efforts by its diplomats in Geneva to show that India has the strength to “water down” the US sponsored resolution proposed at the current United Nations Human Rights Commission (UHRC) sessions in Geneva, these were completely thwarted by what is taking place back home in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.

The resolution against Sri Lanka has now been passed. It appears that New Delhi will receive more battering from Tamil Nadu, with major implications for India’s Foreign Policy. India will have to do much worrying and praying about Jammu & Kashmir, in the months ahead.

The withdrawal of Karunanadhi’s DMK from the Congress-led PA government in New Delhi, has made the Union Government of Manmohan Singh so weak that a BJP member has described as the “lamest of lame ducks”. Having presented a budget with the aim of winning the next general election due next year, the UPA minus the DMK, now faces a situation of possibly having to advance the election due to continuing instability and also not have a chance to implement its populist policies presented in a budget that lacks both political and economic sense and sensibility.

Sri Lanka is facing the pain of extremism, and even terrorism, in Tamil Nadu in the recent attacks carried out against its citizens and institutions there for the past several months, the latest is the attack on two Buddhist monks, one who is studying in another part of India and the other a pilgrim. The statements by the Government of India that it is taking all measures to ensure the safety of Sri Lankan nationals in and visiting India are of little purpose in the context of what is taking place in Tamil Nadu, with the main political rivals there unleashing the worst extremism in pretended support for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

What is taking place there, apart from the stoking of anger against Sri Lanka, by the promotion of widespread protest and violence against Sri Lankan citizens and property, while Sri Lanka is the country with the largest volume of trade with India, is the threat to Indian foreign relations with the policy of the country being dictated by the interests of internal regional politics rather than the wider national interests of the country. The warnings about this are many, from Indians who have been studying the current developments there.

The political rivalry between the DMK of Karunanidhi and the AIADMK led by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is targeted at the coming general elections, with both trying to wield more power at the Centre. The rivalry is sharper with the expectations among them of the next Prime Minister of India being from Tamil Nadu, and the DMK’s support going to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram of the Congress, against the hopes of Jayalalithaa to get to the helm in New Delhi. The danger of what this rivalry could do, when played out to influence foreign policy, with demands to include “genocide” on the US- sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka, and the call for foreign investigation in Sri Lanka has been pointed out buy important sections of the Indian media as well as scholars and key political analysts.

Incite passions

As the “Pioneer” states in its editorial “Short-sighted politics” (March 20): DMK can’t dictate foreign policy -- “The DMK chief Karunanidhi’s decision to pull out of the ruling UPA Government has been motivated more by the desire to reclaim lost political ground in Tamil Nadu than by the concern for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Ever since the party was ousted from power in the State by the Jayalalithaa led AIADMK, Mr. Karunanidhi has been struggling to find an issue which could revive his and his party’s fortunes, and he appears to have discovered that outside his State, and indeed the country. He has been shedding copious tears over the alleged marginalization of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka after the Government there succeeded in eliminating terrorist V Prabhakaran and decimating his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Claiming that he was standing firm with his Tamil brethren in the island-nation in its hour of crisis, the DMK supremo has sought to incite passions in the State and build for himself a vote-bank ahead of the Lok Sabha election. He has been especially belligerent because he has to contend with a similar, if less aggressive, stand by his political rivals in the State.

“But in this game of one-upmanship, Mr. Karunanidhi must realize that his aggression does no good to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Had the DMK leader been really serious in ensuring justice, he out to have persuaded the Centre to negotiate with Colombo concrete ways and means to protect the rights of the Tamil population and to empower them politically. He should have asked Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance -- which is a conglomeration of various parties fighting for the Tamil cause – to join the parliamentary select committee which is looking precisely into those various grievances which the Tamils have raised. By becoming part of the panel, the TNA could not only have given its suggestions but also ensured that the Government there implemented them. Mr. Karunanidhi could have persuaded the Manmohan Singh regime to push Colombo into fast-tracking the recommendations of the LLRC, which was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to go into various aspects of the conflict and into the failure of the 2002 ceasefire agreement. The LLRC report is a public document and Colombo has accepted it.

“But Mr. Karunanidhi didn’t do that because he would not have been able to arouse the passions that he is whipping up now in Tamil Nadu by citing some genuine but mostly perceived grievances. Instead he has taken to grand-standing, marching his party out of the UPA regime, and at the same time expressing his willingness to return if parliament adopts a resolution condemning Colombo. He has also been demanding that India back (or move) a strong resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC for “genocide”. That is ridiculous. Sri Lanka has been a friend and its friendship is critical to our geo-political interests in the region. There are better ways to persuade a friend than to humiliate it before the world and lose strategic advantage. The country’s foreign policy cannot be dictated by the DMK. It is now to be hoped that the UPA regime does not capitulate and do something foolish to get its ally back; like moving a resolution in Parliament that castigates Sri Lanka.” (My emphasis)

Similarly “Hindu” in its editorial titled “Mindless Solidarity” ( March 20) states, “the mindless violence of some of the fringe Tamil outfits is putting at risk India’s own moral authority to urge Sri Lanka to move towards a political settlement of the ethnic conflict.”

Fanatic fringe

As the Hindu states, “A fanatic fringe seems intent on hijacking the protest movement in Tamil Nadu against Sri Lanka’s treatment of its Tamil citizens. With the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam no longer in the picture, large sections of the people in Tamil Nadu have begun to openly sympathise with the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka. But, even as the protest movement gathers momentum, extremist outfits without any popular base have started carrying out violent attacks on Sri Lankan students and offices. After the ransacking of the Madurai office of Mihin Lanka, which offers cheap flights to Sri Lanka from different cities in Tamil Nadu, activists belonging to some of these outfits assaulted a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who was part of a student team. Even Sri Lankan Tamils on pilgrimage to India have been at the receiving end of violence by people claiming to represent these outfits. Also, the very same people claiming to champion the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils have sought to paint the troubles of Indian fishermen venturing into Sri Lankan waters in the colours of a Sinhalese-Tamil conflict, though the conflict is essentially between Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen over fishing rights and livelihood concerns. Clearly, the efforts of these outfits seem directed at gaining publicity and winning new followers rather than at furthering the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils. Obfuscation of the real issues appears to be part of the overall strategy. (My emphasis).

“That the protests and attacks have peaked at a time when a resolution on human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan military toward the end of the war with the LTTE in 2009 is before the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva is certainly no coincidence. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and the principal opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, have been asking the Centre to put pressure on Sri Lanka to punish those responsible for human rights abuses and to honour its responsibilities and commitments to Sri Lankan Tamils. However, the mindless violence of some of the fringe Tamil outfits is putting at risk India’s own moral authority to urge Sri Lanka to move towards a political settlement of the ethnic conflict. India’s approach toward Sri Lanka cannot hinge entirely or even primarily on domestic politics in Tamil Nadu. Those in Tamil Nadu talking of a separate Tamil Eelam as a solution seem to have no clue about the human costs that would be involved in partitioning a country and a people. India must look beyond Tamil Nadu while bringing to bear diplomatic pressure on Sri Lanka and working in coordination with other countries to ensure full and equal rights for Tamils as citizens of a united Sri Lanka.’

Jammu & Kashmir

Apart from the issue of India’s foreign policy being dictated by the interests of Tamil Nadu politics, there are also other serious concerns about the consequences of these moves to humiliate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world, vis-ŕ-vis the possible future threats to India, too. The world is not unaware of the skeletons in India’s own cupboard on human rights, violation of humanitarian law and war crimes. The recent execution by the Indian State of Afzal Guru, in a secret hanging that has shocked all democratic opinion in India, has brought the situation in Jammu and Kashmir into sharper focus. While the anti-Sri Lankan protesters in Tamil Nadu are holding up photos of Prabhakaran’s young son, allegedly killed by Sri Lankan forces, a despicable act if true, but a matter on which there is no proof or reliable evidence ( unlike the recruitment and use, leading to suicide and killing of child soldiers by the LTTE), the whole world is now aware of the official execution of the Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru, in what has been described as “Hanging by Stealth” that makes a mockery of the constitutional principles of the rule of law and due process. He was hanged two days after the President of India turned down his appeal for clemency, having been in death row for more than a decade, with no response to his appeal.

This paragraph from the “Frontline” report by V. Venkatesan (March 8, 2013) explains it all. “A hanging, when executed in secrecy becomes an extra judicial execution in which the Ministry of Home Affairs, the President and other constitutional authorities are complicit. The news of the President’s rejection of his mercy petition was conveyed to Afzal only an hour before his execution. His wife, residing in Kashmir, was informed through Speed Post. The letter reached her two days after the execution. The Prime Minister, according to reports, expressed his unhappiness over the non-communication of the decision to hang Afzal to his wife and son well before the execution.”

It is most interesting that the Prime Minister of India was unhappy, if at all, only about the delay in informing Afzal’s wife and son and not of the entire speed and secrecy with which the execution or extrajudicial killing was carried out. This will remain a huge blot on India’s record on human rights, and will remind the world of much more violations of human rights that are taking place and have taken place over the past several decades in Jammu and Kashmir. It will reopen discussion of the mass graves and the extrajudicial killings carried by the hundreds, by the police and security forces to quell opposition and uprisings in J & K, while India refuses resolve this issue.

Neelam Deo, ex-diplomat and former Secretary for Sri Lanka in India, writing in the “The Economic Times” (March 20) has this note of warning. “Opportunistic actions such as our vote on Sri Lanka, taken to pacify internal demands, usually extracts a price in the global arena. We may also face harsher criticism of the handling of protest in J & K and our North-eastern states from spiteful neighbours like Pakistan and also in a fora where we are absent such as the Organization of Islamic Countries and the Arab League. It will only be a matter of time before our current friends in the West sponsor a similar resolution against us in the UNHRC itself.”

The battle for political power in Tamil Nadu with the copious shedding of crocodile tears for the Sri Lankan Tamils may help the narrow politics of that State, but the ugly rush to give in to such pressures by the Centre, including a desperate pitching in by Sonia Gandhi to say how much she aches for the Sri Lankan Tamils, -- just as “Indiraji and Rajivji” - did, shows the shameful depths that Indian leaders will descend to preserve power. This is hardly the sign of a truly rising nation that seeks to give leadership to Asia. The inability to deal with its immediate neighbours due to internal regional pressures will condemn India to crises in international relations, much worse than the coalition compulsions that steer Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh today.




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Last modified: March 25, 2013.

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