Consolidating military victories
and expediting APRC process

It was perhaps just a matter of time, before the sabre rattling from across the Palk Straits reached a fever pitch. But last week, with troops advancing in the North and with no signs of a let up in the military onslaught against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Colombo was forced to look at the concerns being expressed in Tamil Nadu.

For some time now, there have been murmurs of discontent in the corridors of power in Chennai, and even in New Delhi, at the manner in which Colombo was prosecuting the war against the Tigers. Although reservations have been expressed from many international platforms, Colombo has refused to back down and has continued its military operations.

Now, however, these reservations have come to the fore and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on record as saying that, he is ‘concerned’ about events in Sri Lanka. He has also re-iterated that India believes only in a political solution to Sri Lanka’s crisis.

The Indian Premier’s future responses to Colombo’s stance will be eagerly awaited in the coming days. But Prime Minister Singh has an unenviable task on his hands. His is a coalition government that only recently, very narrowly survived a vote of confidence. Given the vulnerability of his numbers in the Indian legislature, he cannot afford to be extravagant in his policies and principles.

And that is where Tamil Nadu politics comes into play. Muthuvelu Karunanidhi, 84-year-old leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, which is home to 66 million Tamils, is leading the revolt, demanding that, the central government in New Delhi intervenes in the Sri Lankan conflict. Karunanidhi has threatened to withdraw his support to Prime Minister Singh, claiming parliamentarians would resign in support of his demand. In fact, his daughter has already done so.

Karunanidhi’s chief rival in the Tamil Nadu political stakes, Jayalalitha Jayaram has denounced Karunanidhi’s call and said instead, that India should abstain from providing military assistance to Colombo. Significantly, Jayaram has also noted that India should not interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. Therefore, her statement is a strategic ploy that meets the demands of opposing her rival, but stops short of endorsing Colombo’s actions.

It was the ever colourful Wimal Weerawansa, now the de-facto leader of the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna who pointed out that this is mere political theatre being played out for the benefit of audiences in Tamil Nadu, and there is more than a modicum of truth in it. Even so, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must be a worried man.
Understandably, Singh is walking a political tightrope. If he offends the political sensibilities of Karunanidhi, Singh risks losing his parliamentary majority. On the other hand, opposing Colombo would mean plunging headlong into a political and military crisis with Sri Lanka, like his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi did- and paid for dearly with his life.

And Singh is not getting any respite from Colombo either. President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself confirmed that the military offensives would continue and presidential sibling and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reaffirmed this. The younger Rajapaksa said that, the political ramifications in Tamil Nadu are an ‘internal matter for India’- perhaps a gentle reminder to New Delhi, that Colombo also wishes what it considers to be ‘internal matters of Sri Lanka’ to be left well and truly to be handled by the Sri Lankan government alone.

Despite this shooting from the lip, Colombo needs to be prudent in its dealings with New Delhi, if only because of the political realities the Singh government is faced with. Even if Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh detests a standoff with the Sri Lankan Government, he may well be thrust into it, because of his vulnerability in the Indian legislature, and that is a factor Colombo has to reckon with.

Twenty years ago, in the events leading up to the infamous ‘parippu’ invasion of Sri Lanka’s air space by India, during the J.R. Jayewardene government, there was Jyotindra Nath Dixit, Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, dictating every step of the drama. This may have been a handicap in the long run, given Dixit’s machinations, but nevertheless, the communication channels between Jayewardene and then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were wide open- and the same cannot be said of the levels of communication between the two governments today.

Colombo also has a long way to go in convincing New Delhi- and the rest of the world, that it is indeed working out a political formula to redress the grievances of the minority Tamil community. It is true that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) was summoned hastily, recently, but that too, seemed a knee-jerk reaction to the unfolding events in Tamil Nadu, rather than being any deliberation of substance.

New Delhi- and for that matter, most of the international community, has time and again, reiterated that, while Sri Lanka’s unitary status was respected, it was also expected that a political framework to devolve power would follow. It is high time that Colombo realises that merely summoning the APRC will not suffice.

It is becoming clear that, the Sri Lankan forces are on the verge of a historic victory over the LTTE. However, such a victory will be a reality only if triumphs in the battlefield are accompanied by successes in diplomacy and international endorsements of Colombo’s gains. A mere capture of Kilinochchi, which does not prove our commitment to a political solution in the eyes of the rest of the world, is surely not what the country wants at this moment in time.