Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is in charge of both the military as well as urban development. During the 2008-9 final battle against the LTTE, it was he (as Secretary of Defense) who orchestrated the campaign against Velupillai Prabhakaran, a devout Christian who headed the Tamil Tigers. Although then army chief Sarath Fonseka attempted to grab the credit for the victory of the Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE, the fact remains that until political and administrative cover was provided to the military by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Secretary Defense Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan Army could not succeed in overcoming the Tamil Tigers.
Throughout 2008 and until the LTTE was finally eliminated by the middle of the next year, there was ceaseless pressure from countries big and small on President Rajapaksa to declare yet another ceasefire with the LTTE. It was the efficient and determined prosecution of hostilities by the political leadership that made the difference.
In the past, whenever the LTTE got on the back foot, it used to use its international contacts to get the Sri Lankan government to agree to a ceasefire which would give time and space for the LTTE to regroup itself and afterwards enter the battlefield once again. This time around, President Rajapaksa made it clear that there would be no ceasefire.
Conditioned by six centuries of European knowledge dominance over the rest of the globe and by three centuries when that small continent was the master of the earth, NATO members look askance on non-western countries acting the way they themselves do. Thus, while the hundreds of thousands of casualties caused by NATO sanctions and military action gets excused as “collateral damage”, the much lower civilian death toll from the Sri Lankan military’s operations against the Tamil Tigers has been used to seek trial of some Sri Lankan leaders and army officers for “war crimes”.
NATO prefers mild unassertive leaders in countries which their members once ruled. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India is a particular favorite. During his recent meeting with US President Barack Obama, he forgot both Obama’s inattention to India as well as the perilous state of US finances to beg Obama for assistance. The body language between the two leaders was a contrast between a submissive, almost cringing Manmohan Singh and a confident Barack Obama, aware that in the Singh-Sonia duo, India had a leadership that could be expected to obey Washington without question.
Months ago, while on a visit to London, this columnist had come to know from influential sources of a plan by “white” Commonwealth countries to have their Heads of Government boycott the mid-November Colombo conclave of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. Once this fact was brought to public notice via a report in the Sunday Guardian, there was a strong reaction within the Commonwealth bloc about the manner in which the racist spirit of Winston Churchill was threatening to divide the Commonwealth - still a noble institution, thanks significantly to the gracious leadership of Queen Elizabeth - into “white” and “non-white” through a CHOGM boycott.
After the report came out, wiser counsel prevailed. It is now clear that the UK, Australia and New Zealand will be represented not (as earlier thought) by their Foreign Ministers, but their Prime Ministers themselves. The only Churchillian left in the ring is Canada’s PM, Stephen Harper, who believes that his absence from the CHOGM conclave would create anything but a yawn. However, there is another Commonwealth leader who has been consistent in hewing to the Churchill doctrine that the “lesser orders” should listen to the “higher orders”: Manmohan Singh.
Neither Singh nor his country (India) would have been regarded by Winston Churchill as deserving of respect. The wartime PM of Britain was openly and continuously contemptuous of India and its people, which is why it is a surprise that Singh seems to be following the Churchillian rule book in using criteria that NATO adopts not for itself but for others, to snub Sri Lanka.
The absence of any confirmation will further damage relations between Sri Lanka and India, already not in the best state of repair. The Singh government has allowed the West Bengal CM to dictate the pace of engagement with Bangladesh and the DMK to affect India’s engagement with Sri Lanka. Unless the Prime Minister takes a stand which is in the overall national interest, rather than get swayed by sectional considerations, he will be doing India ill.
Hopefully, the lack of confirmation from the Ministry of External Affairs of Singh’s participation at the 2013 CHOGM is due not to the “Follow Churchill” streak in the PM but because of the bureaucratic lethargy common within his government. Singh needs to come to Colombo, and not just because Sri Lanka is a proud civilization where two great traditions, the Tamil and the Sinhala, have flowered for millennia.
The Indian Ocean is the key to a considerable part of India’s strategic goals, and the location of Sri Lanka makes that country indispensable as a partner if India is to evolve and implement a workable Indian Ocean strategy. Manmohan Singh ought to have been the first to officially confirm that he would be attending the Colombo Summit. Now he will be the last, assuming, of course, that sane counsel prevails over those arguing for a boycott by India’s PM of the Colombo Summit.
(The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair and Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, India.