This is my Nation  


India shows concern over Tamil Nadu factor

The government was this week once again grappling with the prospect of combating western influences in the international community demanding a war crimes probe against Sri Lanka for alleged atrocities committed during the final phase of the Eelam war.
The bad news came from several regions. In Australia, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd expressed concern over the now infamous ‘Channel 4 documentary’ broadcast in Britain and said that an independent inquiry into the issue was warranted.
In neighbouring India, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, fresh from her recent journey to Colombo, was saying that India will always be sensitive to the concerns of the state of Tamil Nadu in determining policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka.

The Australian Foreign Minister’s statement, though not having a major impact, will be a disappointment for Colombo. Australia was until now one of the few developed nations that had maintained a stoic silence on the Sri Lankan issue and that has changed.
Canberra’s ‘hands off’ policy was largely due to the influences of Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer who had a close personal friendship with our own late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and therefore had an in-depth understanding of the nuances of Sri Lanka’s war.
Downer is now out of office and out of Parliament and as a result his influences in Canberra have waned. Correspondingly, the Tamil Diaspora in the major Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne has been active and now, the Australian government has officially voiced its sentiments.

Of more concern to Colombo though would be Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s remarks. Of course, there are no startling revelations therein; it is always understood that New Delhi has to be sensitive to issues in Tamil Nadu before deciding on their policy towards Sri Lanka.
What is important though is the context in which the remarks were made. Jayalalitha Jayaram has just been sworn in as the Chief Minister of the state and has been instrumental in passing a resolution against Sri Lanka which calls for economic sanctions against Colombo.
With her public statement Rao was attempting to kill two birds with one stone: she was trying to appease Jayaram whose party now wields a massive majority in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly and at the same time trying to send a thinly veiled message to Colombo.

That latter is because, during her recent visit to Sri Lanka, Rao was told in no uncertain terms by President Mahinda Rajapaksa no less that any political solution to redress the grievances of all communities in Sri Lanka will be ‘home grown’, via a Parliamentary Select Committee.
That was effectively Colombo’s way of rejecting the ‘13th Amendment plus’ proposal forwarded by New Delhi which would have liked to see the 13th Amendment being implemented in full with police and land powers being granted to the regions.

Sri Lanka, it was understood, was not keen on this concept and hence the proposal to constitute a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) emerged, although both the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were quick to denounce it as simply a delaying tactic.
However, Colombo is also keen to have India on its side and towards this end, there are indications that a dialogue will be initiated with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram as well. Colombo’s envoy to New Delhi, Prasad Kariyawasam has been entrusted with this task.
The government is also intensifying its efforts to counter the ‘war crimes’ propaganda elsewhere. Government MP Rajiva Wijesinha has been dispatched to London to specifically address the Channel 4 documentary issue and performed commendably in the BBC’s ‘Hard Talk’ programme.

Colombo also announced that more than twenty Non-Aligned nations had dismissed the Darusman report commissioned by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a welcome sign that not all countries were susceptible to the machinations of the pro-Tiger western bloc of nations.
More good news came in the form of an invitation from Pakistan to President Rajapaksa to visit that country. In the normal course of events this would hardly merit a mention as such invitations are routine but in the present scenario this has added significance.
It is well known that India is quite concerned about Sri Lanka’s close ties with its own neighbours with which it has a less than cordial relationship: Pakistan and China. It is already suspicious about the massive amounts of Chinese investments in Sri Lanka.

Pakistan on the other hand has always been an ally of Sri Lanka and was one of a handful of countries that consented to provide the military with the required hardware for the final phase of the Eelam war at short notice.
India has always had a thorny relationship with Pakistan and it will not want Colombo to tilt its allegiances towards Islamabad in a hurry. Any visit by President Rajapaksa to Pakistan therefore will carry more significance than a state visit that is a mere courtesy call.
Also on the international stage this week, Opposition and United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was in New York meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. That meeting too will be watched with interest by policy makers in Colombo.

Moon is not the most popular man in Sri Lanka these days and nor is Wickremesinghe. The former was publicly vilified in Sri Lanka after he called for the appointment of a commission to probe the war crimes allegations. Wickremesinghe has also been branded locally as a ‘traitor’.
In this scenario, the UNP leader, also fighting to retain the leadership of his own party, is unlikely to endorse the calls for an international probe on the alleged atrocities with Moon. That would further jeopardise his own standing vis-à-vis the Sri Lankan electorate.
Therefore, what he is likely to raise are matters such as the detention of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and the issue of media freedom in Sri Lanka. Indeed, it is a political tightrope that Wickremesinghe too is walking!
The coming week though would also see the government focus on the domestic arena as well. That is because of local government elections to three score local authorities around the country. The results though appear to be a foregone conclusion; hence the lack of great enthusiasm for that contest!