Monday, 20th October 2014

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Spare a thought for Manmohan Singh

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India has a question for Sri Lanka: How will India’s vote in the UNHRC impact Indo-Lanka relations? It’s a complicated question and one which prompts multiple answers.  
 Officially, the Government still considers India a friendly country. The nature and volume of trade between the two countries, especially what Sri Lanka imports, both in terms of volume and number of items, makes severing relations hard. The fact that the Indian Parliament did not choose to pass a resolution against Sri Lanka will also be factored in: ‘face-value’ has value.

On the other hand, the Government will most certainly appreciate Pakistan’s friendship and also China’s support. Unofficially, it is likely that the Government will move closer to these two countries, not so much to ‘teach India a lesson, but for pragmatic reasons, of which the following must be flagged: ‘India cannot be counted on’.

If there was a buzz regarding Geneva 2012, this time around there was hardly a murmur.  If people wondered what India would do last year, this year there was no doubt.  India’s vote was not ‘news’.  
Did India, or rather Delhi/Singh, have a choice though?  

First of all, India, having burnt the friendship boat or rather what was left of it in Geneva in 2012, could hardly be expected to do a volte face and certainly not after pandering to the pro-LTTE Sour Grape lobby in India and elsewhere.  
Secondly, India, aspiring as it is to break into the UN Security Council, can hardly afford to annoy the USA, which country tabled the resolution against Sri Lanka.  Please note that the US Ambassador’s semantic intervention (resolution ON Sri Lanka and not AGAINST her) fools no one for at best it smacks of a 21st Century version of ‘White Man’s Burden’.  
Thirdly, Manmohan Singh and the Congress Party cannot ignore political arithmetic.  Whether its Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi that’s calling for accompaniment, Singh has to dance to the Tamil Nadu tune come election time.  It is for this reason that Sonia Gandhi had to forgive her husband’s murderer. Perhaps.  

Fourthly, nothing that Singh does (against Sri Lanka) is ‘enough’ for Tamil Nadu because Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi have to keep upping the stakes as both appeal to the worst sentiments of Tamil Nationalism to secure and usurp power in that state respectively.  Singh was burnt both before and after Geneva.  

Fifthly, Singh has a lot to lose by pandering to Tamil Nadu, which is why the Resolution on (against) Sri Lanka in the Indian Parliament was stillborn.  
With all these issues to think of, India is also harangued by Sri Lanka’s firm friendship with Pakistan and China.  Now some may say that India sided with the USA to ‘send a message to Sri Lanka regarding the growing Chinese “presence” in the island,’ but when we consider the volatility of the factors Singh has to take note of, this seems trivial.  Singh is first a politician and then a patriot; like all politicians one may add.  If Delhi sided with Sri Lanka and Singh lost the election, a sojourn in the political wilderness may have seemed too high a price to pay for not having a lesser Chinese presence in the backyard.  

Regardless of all this, and all the tired and expected noises India is now forced to make about accountability and reconciliation (by way of the 13th Amendment; read ‘boundary-lining Eelam myths’), Sri Lanka has to understand Singh’s predicament and read his choice-lack accurately.  The man didn’t have many options.  An option-poor man’s statements and demands must therefore be viewed with compassion and empathy.  

It is better for Sri Lanka, to let Singh find cures for his many political miseries, and concentrate on getting things done right here in Colombo, Killinochchi, Moneragala and elsewhere, in the Constitution and the Separation of Powers, with respect to transparency and accountability, reconciliation and rule of law.  This should be done not because there’s going to be another circus in Geneva a year from now, but the only way Sri Lanka can resist spoilers from other countries is to be united. Unity is not obtained by poetry workshops and development exhibitions, but by a full consideration of what ‘citizen’ means and what has to be done on all fronts to make citizenship meaningful, to create a Sri Lanka where citizens feel acknowledged, respected and belonging. 

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