Steeling the senile Sri Lankan strings – Priti Jain


Political relations are very fragile. We don’t get to choose our neighbors; our history, culture, vested economic interests and international acclamation designs the nature of our relations with a particular nation. India being one of the economically and politically developed nations in the South Asian region, it holds an important stand in all the affairs. The aspect of fragility builds itself up owing to the growing discontent and animosity in the internatio

nal political atmosphere. Though globalization might claim to bring the world closer we cannot deny the fact that this overt reign of global competence has left a faint light of faith among the nations. Every move of the contemporary nation is keenly watched over to keep oneself prepared for contingencies.

Today, the concept of utilization of soft power instead of hard power in maintaining cordial relationships with a nation is gaining currency. Soft power implies the condensation of military hard power and the evocation of ties in the light of culture, tradition, language, history and entertainment. It even goes ahead and applies public diplomacy in carving a place for itself amongst the population of the nation concerned. This comes into play only after the failure of the latter in settling the affairs in hand. It’s a slow process that might have greater futuristic impact, if not immediate payoffs.

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Indian ties with its neighbors might be at an all time low; let’s not get into our relations with Pakistan and China; we have other neighbors as well. To the south we have the island nation of Sri Lanka; coincidentally our relations are plummeting south as well. The present status has its traces back to the civil war years of Sri Lanka. The three decade long war from 1983-2009 saw its end with the death of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. The Tamils have always been a minority residing in the northern and eastern province and scarcely scattered in the rest of the country. Being a minority, the Tamils of Sri Lanka accounted for the majority of the educated population of the island. Quite ironically, the Sinhalese could not accept this intellectual backlash and the government subsequently brought about reservations for the promotion of its majority. This policy amendment saw a drastic change in the public administrative domain with the Sinhalese now eating up the larger share. With its escalation to other sectors including religious sentimentalism and politics it turned into a general apathy towards the Tamils, giving birth to LTTE.

For obvious reasons, India has had a soft corner for the Sri Lankan Tamils and it has continuously negotiated with the Sri Lankan government to come to terms with the rising dissent. The Indian government was certainly in a perplexed situation; whether to extend its support to the rebels as a move to justify the strong case of atrocities against the Lankan Tamils or depend on diplomatic negotiations with the expectations of the Lankan government quelling the situation. India chose the former and RAW took up the task of aiding the Tamils militarily and financially.* This happened in the reign of Indira Gandhi. When Rajiv Gandhi came to power he decided to take a noncommittal stance of the situation and believed in effective mediation to be the solution for Sri Lanka. These efforts seemed to be inept in controlling the situation. The year 1987 witnessed the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, keeping the LTTE in abeyance. It aimed at devolution of power to the Tamils by the Sri Lankan government, sending an Indian Peace Keeping Force to pacify the ongoing war and a subsequent withdrawal of arms by the LTTE. The LTTE did not comply with these conditions and was adamant on its demand for a separate nation for the Tamils. India and Sri Lanka could never agree to such a demand, the IPKF no longer remained a peace keeping force. It turned violent against the rebel and somewhere down the line the cause of thwarting the inter-Sri Lankan relations was lost amidst the war. The shortcomings of India came forth with the ill-trained forces in adequately suppressing the guerilla war. This aggressive Indian stand ultimately cost Rajiv Gandhi his life.

The evident fallacy of the Indian army invited flak from all over the world. They lacked a clear goal in their dissemination of the peace keeping forces. This had a heavy toll on not only the LTTE but also the civilian Tamil and Sinhalese population. The prodigal IPKF thus had to be withdrawn. The Lankan government itself managed to get rid of the LTTE chief and bring an end to the 26 year long civil war. India had a lot to learn from this mistake. Firstly, military intervention is not always the correct move in every situation. It’s true that it was a great success in case of the Bangladeshi war of independence against West Pakistan’s cultural impositions on the East; there Indira Gandhi had a well coordinated military force with her and the execution was brilliant. On the other hand, the Rajiv Gandhi regime did not take into measure the strength of the rebels. It was overly confident and could not factor out its moves in case of a setback. Secondly, the equivocal Indian agreements signed with both the erring parties backfired tremendously. The initial Indian training strengthened the Tamil arms but the gradual official transfer of support to the Sri Lankan government led to a loss of confidence in the Indian cause. Though the Indian priority of ameliorating the Tamil conditions remained intact, the means of achieving the same were altered.

Thus, it brings us back to the measures India can take in vindicating itself of the ghosts of the past military intervention. Again it has to get its goals right; it is against the Human Rights violation in Sri Lanka and in talks with the government to consider the plight of the Tamil civilians. Indian internal politics should not become a hindrance when looking at maintaining broader international peace relations. It does agree with the arguments put forth by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in disallowing Sri Lankan military to train in India, her state in particular. Promotion of soft power becomes paramount in this case. India cannot dismiss the stand of its internal parties and can’t even jeopardize its frailing ties with Sri Lanka owing to the third party interests in developing close ties with it. Being its only neighbor Sri Lanka has to maintain cordial ties with India, but we cannot take this for granted as China and Pakistan (can’t rule them out) are always in line to put forth their support, be it economical or military.

The step ahead for India lies in the Gujral Doctrine of 1996. I.K Gujral chalked down a five-point policy to be followed by India in relation to its neighbors. Here, he laid stress on the non-reciprocity of aid and support to its neighbors in order to strongly anchor its Asian bonds. It’s a litmus test for the Indian diplomacy in mustering all its strength in garnering the trust and sustaining its regional supremacy.

*Betrayal of Indian Democracy- By M.B.Chande Pg. 298

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