India’s unequivocal stance and ‘political
There may have been decisive
moments in the military thrust against the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but last
week saw a landmark event in the diplomatic
offensive against the Tigers: India’s unequivocal
rejection of active intervention in the Sri Lankan
This was articulated by Indian External Affairs
Mukherjee in the Indian legislature, the Lok Sabha,
and led to turmoil there, forcing sittings to be
temporarily suspended, for the Indian MPs seem to
have instantly recognised the significance of what
Mukherjee was saying.
As if that were not enough, Mukherjee was even more
damning in his indictment of the LTTE. He blamed
them for ‘damaging the interests of the Tamil
community’ and urged the Tigers to lay down arms,
and release all civilians the organisation had been
holding as hostages. Mukherjee also noted that the
group was still a proscribed outfit in India.
Explaining the Indian stance, the minister was to
speak of a ‘political opportunity’ to restore peace
to Sri Lanka’s war ravaged areas and spoke of the
13th Amendment to the Constitution, as a means of
devolving power to the regions - strong words
indeed, and as unambiguous as it had ever been from
our giant neighbour.
Judging from these comments, if the ground war
against the Tigers has turned a corner, so has India
in its attitude towards the LTTE terror machine, an
organization which, it first nurtured, only to find
it turning its guns against its former benefactors,
leading to the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv
The Gandhi killing was, undoubtedly, a
miscalculation of gross proportions by LTTE supremo
Velupillai Prabhakaran - as his theoretician, Anton
Balasingham, would, eventually, grudgingly concede -
but even so, India had to factor in the sentiments
of 66 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu, before it could
act decisively against the LTTE.
This, it now seems to have done. As recently as
mid-last year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
was making recalcitrant noises about Sri Lanka’s
military offensives against the Tigers, and calling
for a less hostile level of engagement with the LTTE.
For whatever reason, that Indian ambivalence seems
to have perished now.
There could be many reasons for the change of heart
across the Palk Straits. New Delhi may genuinely be
convinced that Colombo is on the correct path, in
dealing with the Tigers in a no-holds-barred
offensive. Its attitude may be tempered by what
happened in Mumbai. Then, it may be also realising
that the LTTE faces imminent defeat.
The enormity of India’s endorsement of what Colombo
is doing, lies not in the fact that it means New
Delhi will not stand in the way of a military
annihilation of the LTTE; it is because, it also
effectively prevents any other superpower from
dabbling too much in the Sri Lankan conflict.
In recent weeks, we have seen some such scenarios
come to the fore. Britain made an ill-fated attempt
to send a special envoy to Sri Lanka, the United
States and Britain jointly called for restraint in
the war, and even the various branch organisations
of the United
Nations were making a din with their provocative
Now, with India’s virtual endorsement of what
Colombo is doing, these nations and organisations
would have to think twice, before they commit
themselves into the melee of public statements,
special envoys and calls for a ceasefire. Already,
that has been in evidence this week.
United Nations Under Secretary General for
Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator
Sir John Holmes, who had previously been branded a
‘terrorist’, for his sympathetic stance towards the
LTTE, was in the country, and was suitably piqued by
the Tigers’ refusal to release civilians trapped in
the ever-shrinking conflict zone.
Holmes did call upon Government forces too to
minimise civilian casualties in their military
thrust, but significantly, there was no demand for a
ceasefire, a prospect that has been anathema to the
political and military hierarchy in Colombo, and a
demand that has been dismissed as being ‘laughable’
by government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.
But Colombo cannot afford to be complacent. Firstly,
the war is not over yet. And, as former LTTE
strongman and now potential Sri Lanka Freedom Party
member Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias ‘Karuna’,
points out, when the conventional war ends, the
Tigers will revert to guerrilla mode, in which it
can operate for at least some time.
That is when the ‘political opportunity’ articulated
by Mukherjee becomes vital. President Mahinda
Rajapaksa should realise that the politicians in
Colombo will want to cash in, for defeat is an
orphan, while victory has many fathers. That is also
when the nationalist bandwagon is likely to make
strident calls for as little devolution as possible.
This is when the political leadership should step up
and act, not in the manner of politicians, but in
the mould of statesmen. The President, given his
current popularity in the south, will be able to
sell any package of meaningful autonomy to the
minorities, to the southern electorate. And that is
the ‘political opportunity’ that he should not
Many leaders before him - Dudley Senanayake, S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene and Chandrika
Kumaratunge - found it difficult to sell devolution
to the Sinhalese. However, because of his military
victories over the LTTE, the majority now trust
President Rajapaksa. And it is a trust he should use
wisely, not opportunistically.
For, it would be a tragedy indeed, if President
Mahinda Rajapaksa wins the war, as no one before him
has ever done, but loses the peace.