India walking a tightrope over Sri Lanka
  • President joins world’s leaders at St. Petersburg
  • India facing contentious issues with Jayalalithaa
  • Jayalalithaa-Manmohan meet raises speculations
  • China’s influence, a matter for anxiety to India
  • Is the Select Committee another ploy to buy time?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa left the shores on Tuesday to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held in Russia from June 16 to 18.
The international forum in St. Petersburg brought together over 5,000 political and business leaders from around the world, joined by leading voices from academia, civil society and the media to discuss and deliberate the key issues facing Russia and the world.

The guests at the St. Petersburg economic forum included Hu Jin Tao – President of the People’s Republic of China, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – Prime Minister of Spain, Tarja Halonen – President of Finland, Nursultan Nazarbayev – President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in addition to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
President Rajapaksa was scheduled to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the St .Petersburg forum, for bilateral talks. He apparently made use of the opportunity to extend his profound and sincere gratitude to the Russian political authority for standing by Sri Lanka at a time when a barrage of accusations were made against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council.

Following remarks by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the 17th session of the Human Rights Council, representative from the Russian Federation, Konstantin Dolgov speaking in support of its longstanding ally welcomed the steps taken by the Sri Lankan Government to address the allegations.
Dolgov said the Russian Federation believes that the approach to this issue must be independent and impartial, as experience showed that all parties to a conflict commit violations.

Russian view
The support extended by Russia was further to the views expressed by the Russian ambassador in Sri Lanka Vladimir P. Mikhaylov. The Ambassador expressing the view of the Russian Government, said when Sri Lanka is healing from the 30-year-long armed conflict, the United Nations must render assistance, not complicate the reconciliation process. He made these remarks during a meeting with Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa at the Ministry on Wednesday April 20, 2011.
“We believe that now, when Sri Lanka is healing its wounds after a long armed conflict, the UN may render its assistance, if needed, and not complicate the process of reconciliation. Our representative to the UN in New York recently reconfirmed this position,” the Ambassador has said.
The Russian stand is more than exhilarating to Sri Lanka at a time the country was facing severe difficulties in a hostile global climate. The assurances and the reassurances by the Russian authorities prompted President Rajapaksa to reciprocate in a fitting manner. Hence the visit to Russia was imperative politically for the Rajapaksa administration. The timing is excellent when his scheduled visit was planned to coincide with the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The objective could be described as a dual purpose visit where he had the opportunity not only to meet the Russian political hierarchy but also the Chinese President Hu Jin Tao.
During his visit to Russia, the President was accompanied by External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peries, Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardena and Director of the President Media Bandula Jayasekara.
On an earlier occasion, when Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Russia, he was awarded a Honoris Causa Doctorate by the People’s Friendship University (PFU), formally known as Patrice Lumumba University of Moscow in Russia, on February 6, 2010. The People’s Friendship University was celebrating its Golden Jubilee, and to mark the anniversary it has been decided to award the Honorary Doctorate to President Rajapaksa for his contribution for world peace and for outstanding success against defeating terrorism.

Russian solidarity
The Government of Russia extended its solidarity towards Sri Lanka during the 17th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which was appreciated by the government and the affiliated parties while several Tamil parties expressed their disillusionment. The rationale behind the thinking of the Tamil parties is to exert more pressure on the government through international intervention to expedite the reconciliation process. As far as the Tamil parties are concerned the Russian stand has frustrated them politically.
Russia and China are two countries that would stand by Sri Lanka at any international forum. The Chinese stand on the Sri Lankan issue was expressed by the Chinese Foreign Minister during the recent visit of Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister to China.
President Rajapaksa had the opportunity during his current visit to Russia to brief the Chinese President on the present political climate and the difficulties Sri Lanka is facing owing to the hostile environment created by the West.
All is well with Russia and China, but in the India front, the closest neighbour to Sri Lanka, the country is facing some contentious issues. Especially with Jayalalithaa Jeyaram at the helm in Tamil Nadu, problems such as fishing in the Northern waters and issues relating to Tamils living in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country are likely to aggravate.
It was in this backdrop that Jayalalithaa met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi at the beginning of the week, giving rise to speculation that she would exert pressure on the Centre for concerted action by India on the Sri Lankan issue.
The Manmohan Singh-Jayalalithaa meet was particularly crucial to Indian politics at a time when the Congress is losing its grip on the provinces. The Deccan Herald reported that there were innuendos by Jayalalithaa in many ways where she expressed her willingness to join hands with the ruling Congress, if the Congress party moves to drop the Karunanidhi-led DMK.
The Deccan Herald said thus: “The huge excitement witnessed in the political and media circles even before her special plane landed here early Monday evening is something that only Ms. Jayalalithaa can create.
“Red carpets and basket loads of bouquets complemented the packed media conference after her warm meeting with the Prime Minister at his Race Course Road residence.

Drop DMK
“If one is willing to read between the lines — and there is no big gap between those lines — Ms Jayalalithaa dropped enough hints to the Congress that she would be willing to hold hands with the national party, if it dumped the DMK and approached her. ‘If anyone wants my support, they have to ask me. You cannot ask on their behalf,’ she shot back when a scribe asked her at the press meet whether she was hesitating to align with the Congress because the party was ‘weak’ in Tamil Nadu. ‘It’s premature to comment on such questions; no one from the UPA has asked me this,’ she said.
“To another question, the AIADMK chief said it would not be appropriate on her part to call on Congress President Sonia Gandhi as the Congress and the DMK continued to be partners in the UPA. ‘In such a situation, it would not be appropriate for me to call on Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who is also the Congress President.’
Asked about the support offer she had made to the UPA (minus DMK) last November, Ms. Jayalalithaa said, ‘The offer was made seven months ago. The situation was entirely different. After that, much water has flowed under the bridge. The Congress has made it clear that its alliance continues with the DMK. Both are still partners in the UPA coalition government.’”
Jayalalithaa had also discussed with the Indian Prime Minister issues relating to Sri Lanka and the fishing problem where she alleged that many Indian fishermen are subjected to harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy. It is learnt that India’s National Security Advisor Shiva Shankar Menon was present at this meeting to brief the two leaders on the progress the Indian delegation made during the visit to Sri Lanka.

Fishing problem
Certainly, the meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister will open new vistas of opportunity to both sides and a new chapter in the relations between the Centre and the State Government of Tamil Nadu though they were hostile political proponents at one stage or the other. In any case, it was important for the Centre to maintain a consistent policy in respect of Tamil Nadu since otherwise it would be difficult for India to create a conducive and the necessary political environment to deal with Sri Lanka. The Centre could exert pressure on Jayalalithaa to go slow on Sri Lanka, if it makes a remarkable progress on the question relating to Tamil Nadu fishermen, which has become a contentious issue as far as the Tamil Nadu authorities are concerned. The Indian delegation while in Sri Lanka devoted more time in trying to untangle the problem over fishing in the Northern waters, which could be a debilitating factor in Indo-Sri Lanka relations in the future.
The Chinese factor and its influence on Sri Lanka, which had already caused apprehensions in the Indian establishment, could be cited by the Centre as a reason why Jayalalithaa should soften her stand on Sri Lanka. However, this is only possible if India could move the Sri Lankan authorities to devise a reasonable solution for the fishing problem, more particularly because it is a matter closer to her heart. It was this issue that helped and influenced the people of Tamil Nadu to put Jayalalithaa back on the saddle. Nevertheless, too much of hostility towards Sri Lanka could create an imbalance in the southern political equation as far as the Centre is concerned, given the other geopolitical factors that exist in the region. Chinese influence in the backyard of India (especially in Pakistan) is certainly a matter for anxiety to the Indian body polity, which has prompted the ruling Congress to be more vigilant and forge closer to the United States.

Friendly ties with TN
In the circumstances, it is unlikely that the Kachchativu would be a pressing issue as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, though there could be uneasiness in Tamil Nadu over the problems relating to fishing in the Northern waters, Tamils living in the North and East. Nevertheless, what is important is to foster friendly ties with Tamil Nadu political authority who had already called on the Centre to stop the ferry service between India and Sri Lanka which started after a lapse of nearly 30 years.
If the Indian Government had moved strategically to calm down the hostile attitude of Tamil Nadu towards Sri Lanka, it alone would be a step towards enhancing the scope of Indo-Lanka relations. This may, on the other hand, pave the way for a more constructive dialogue between the two countries to resolve the residual matters in respect of the Tamil question.
Meanwhile, the Indian delegation comprising the National Security Advisor, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary who were in Sri Lanka last week were privy to the views expressed by the Tamil parties on the problems the Tamils were facing in the areas where there is a heavy military presence.
The Indian Press which reported extensively on the outcome of the visit of the Indian delegation had this to say:
“The patience of the Tamil parties, led by the TNA (Tamil National Alliance), is wearing thin. In the meeting held with the Indian ‘troika’ comprising National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, the TNA leaders’ emphasis was on an equitable solution at the earliest. They pointed out that the war ended more than two years ago and the Northern Province was the only one without even a provincial council, which was the first step towards democratic, decentralised governance. All the eight other provinces had elected provincial councils.

Detainees problem
“The indifferent pace of resettling and rehabilitating the displaced was one; the lack of access to detainees was another. There were about 800 suspected LTTE cadres and sympathisers who have been in custody for between eight to 10 years. Then there are over 4,000 recent detainees whose families have no access to them. “There are sons, husbands and brothers who were seen being taken into custody at the end of the war. But not seen after that. The data on them (has) not been made available,” TNA Leader R. Sampanthan said.
“The Tamil MPs not only raised the issues of detainees but also about the increasing, and obviously deliberate, militarization of the North and East. ‘We are looking at maximum possible devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka. The absence of violence has presented us an opportunity which could benefit the country and all the people,’ he added.
“A perennially contentious issue has been the total reluctance of successive Lankan governments to devolve land and police powers to the region. The issue could derail the process this time as well. ‘In India, who has the land and police powers?’ Sampanthan asked.
“Taking into consideration ‘the tendency of the major Opposition parties to blame the government for all problems,’ Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance have lobbed the ball back at the Opposition on what kind of autonomy the Northern Province should get.
“Mr. Rajapaksa had earlier stated that he had a solution in mind, but wanted the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), an umbrella organisation of Tamil parties, and government representatives to reach a broad agreement on the issues raised by either side. Six rounds of talks have been held and another round is slated for June 23.
“With India making clear that it is only interested in a solution to the problem and did not want Sri Lanka to rigidly follow the formula under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the UPFA government and the President have got the manoeuvring space to broadbase the debate and rope in the Opposition too in the search for a political solution to the Tamil question that will be acceptable to all sections of the people.”
The Tamil parties other than the TNA also met with the Indian delegation. TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) Leader V. Anandasangaree, D. Sitharthan of PLOT and T. Sritharan accused that the Sri Lanka was treating people in its Tamil-majority Northeast as ‘aborigines.’

Manage their affairs
“It is very unfortunate that the (Sri Lankan) Government does not allow people and officials of the North and East to manage their affairs as done in all other seven provinces,” they said in a memorandum given to the Indian delegation.
“The government goes on enforcing its own agenda without any consideration for their views,” they said.
The three met the Indian delegation in Colombo Saturday. They told Indians that “without allowing things to go out of control, the (Indian) delegates should explore the possibilities of persuading the Sri Lankan Government to agree to the demands of the minorities.”
This, they said, includes resolving the ethnic problem, de-militarizing the Northeast, freeing Tamils detained without trial over minor offences, and not constructing houses for the Army in the North and East.
“The government should not penalise the owners of properties for selling or giving their lands to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) under threat,” their memorandum said.
Sri Lanka crushed the Tamil Tigers militarily in May 2009, and since then has taken a belligerent stand on issues confronting the Tamil community.
However, during the meeting with the Sri Lankan delegation and subsequently with President Rajapaksa the Indians sounded out the problems facing owing to the drastically changing global political equation. Though they could extend their support to Sri Lanka the Indian delegation said that there are limitations due to domestic political obligations and the changing composition of the Non Aligned movement and the Arab league.
The Rajapaksa administration also made an attempt to convince the Indians that the Land and Police powers if assigned to provinces would do more harm than good to the country Former TULF MP Sam Tambimttu’s son who had joined the SLFP briefed the Indians and the others during a breakfast meeting which subsequently led to a greater discussion on the matter. He is also likely to leave for India shortly to hold discussions with key personnel to convince India of the Sri Lankan position, several other Tamil professionals form the East are likely to join him.
The Indians while addressing the media made indirect references to Lanka’s concerns and said that it was up to the government to devise a political solution which they think would be comfortable for them and that India would not interfere in the process, they also said that the 13th Amendment should not be a rigid guide line under which the solution should be formulated.
Non interference is a unique future in the Manmohan Singh administration, but at the same time will India be under obligation to help Sri Lanka only when the country faces problems internationally is the question. The question posed by many is that would India go into a laid back position in the future concerning problems relating to Sri Lanka internationally?
If this happens there could be dangerous trend that could follow which might put Sri Lanka in a difficult position globally.

More liberal view
In the meantime, the government taking a more liberal view of the Indian position relating to Sri Lanka has decided to assign Parliament to draft a solution for the current problem. The President is likely to inform the Speaker on the matter and to appoint a competent Select Committee to draft a possible solution who will in turn discuss with the Party Leaders before making a final decision on the composition of the Parliamentary Select committee. The Indian delegation emphatically told that they were not expecting the government to dwell on the 13th Amendment, but what they expect is a solution for the problem.
Days before the arrival of the Indian delegation, the government is on record saying that they would devise a solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
On Friday, the President met with the leaders of the affiliated parties who expressed their views on the proposed 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Some think the 13th Amendment is obsolete and yet others think it is a piece of garbage, but the more academic types think that it could be the basis for a solution.
If the government is contemplating on a solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment, then the Amendment itself has to be the base for such resolution. However, many constituent partners are opposed to the land powers and police powers being given to the provinces, though the President did not make a specific mention of those provisions when he met with the Indian delegation.
The Parliamentary Select Committee is one way of circumventing additional powers being granted to the provinces since the majority of the Select Committee will be nominees of the UPFA government.
The main opposition the United National Party (UNP) is now posing the question as to how the government is trying to resolve the issue, a valid question two years after defeating the LTTE. However, the more pertinent question is as to whether there is a time frame within which the Select Committee should complete their deliberations and compile what is acceptable to the Tamils and others, or else is that another ploy to buy time.