The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 5

The Nation Sunday, September 21, 2014 Page 5
Politics
Chamara Sumanapala
A
day before Chinese President Xi
Jinping arrived in India, Prime
Minister Narendra Modi met
with Chinese journalists based
in New Delhi. He expressed confidence in
building ties between India and China,
referring to the age old connection between
the two lands, even coining a new term to
describe his ambitions for the Sino-Indian
ties. “If I have to describe potential of India-
China ties I will say- INCH (India & China)
towardsMILES (Millenniumof Exceptional
Synergy)!” Modi later Tweeted.
Apart from this meeting, Modi also used
social media and internet to remind about
the ancient ties between the two countries.
There appeared what could be called “info-
graphics” referring to theBuddhist heritage
in Gujarat and ancient Chinese explorer
Hiuen Tsang’s travels in that state nearly
1500 years ago. The maps and pictures
were associated with descriptions given in
English and Chinese.
It is obvious that Modi was focusing on
the traditional friendship between the
two countries, rather than the Nehruvian
concept based on non-alignment and
Panchsheel
’ which received a mortal blow
during the 1962 Sino-India War. Relations
between the two countries were strained
after that conflict, a situation which showed
only mild improvements for decades.
However, with the eclipse of the old
guard, the old wounds healed faster. Mao
Zedong and Zhou Enlai both passed away
in 1976. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi
was assassinated in 1984. China opened its
economy throughout the 1980s and India in
1991. But the old wounds remained. Both
China and India developed extensive people
to people and trade links with the United
States. But China and India remained
so near yet so far. People to people links,
which create cultural and trade links never
developed between the Asian giants who
were racing to reach the top.
The United States could have played a
vital part of this “three way relationship”
by creating links that could be beneficial
to all. However, the United States was
apprehensive of the growing power of
China especially in the last decade. The
US fostered friendship with the Congress-
led government of India and on the other
hand created the apprehension of a “string
of pearls” strategy by which China was
surrounding India with ports it helped to
construct in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other
countries in the region.
The Modi government has no intention
of falling to this trap of fostering friendship
with a giant far away at the expense of
the giant nearby. While the US has been a
declining giant, China is a growing giant.
This does not mean that India should, or
would, ignore the United States. But it
implies that India cannot afford to ignore
China, which it had been doing for toomany
years.
It is at this juncture that two
complimentary ideas are coming from New
Delhi and Beijing, which could lead to a
prosperous and peaceful Asia. On one hand
is the “21st Century Maritime Silk Route”
(MSR) concept promoted by President Xi
Jinping. On the other hand is the “Asian
Commonwealth” based on trade and
espoused by certain quarters of the BJP
government. Incidentally, these two ideas
lead to the same conclusion. Asia should
move towards a more comprehensive
integration of its peoples which could easily
be done through trade.
SriLanka,locatedatthecenterof thetrade
routes going through the Indian Ocean, is a
vital point in any trade based strategy in the
area. Any layman, looking at the shipping
routes from West Asia to Australia, West
Asia to East Asia and East Africa to East
Asia can see the importance of Sri Lanka.
This is the basis of the aspiration espoused
by Mahinda Chinthana, of creating a
regional hub in this country.
The most striking example of reaching
a “hub status” by using geography-at
least in Asian region- is Singapore. But
Singapore is not the only place where
geography is conducive in reaching “hub
status.” Singapore was successful because
it gave priority to many aspects that were
vital, such as education and infrastructure
development. Sri Lanka shouldactively seek
improvement in not only infrastructure
development
but
also
educational
advancement.
As a small country, Sri Lanka does not
have vested interests in big power politics.
With its geographical location also coming
to the picture, Sri Lanka is the ideal country
to promote the MSR and thereby increase
prosperity and peace in the region. In effect,
Sri Lanka will be able to practically create
the groundwork to achieve the “Indian
Ocean Peace Zone” once proposed by the
country’s former Prime Minister Sirimavo
RD Bandaranaike.
What the other countries in Asia,
especially countries suchas China, India and
Japan could do is to help Sri Lanka achieve
a hub status. In return, Sri Lanka can easily
play a vital role to make MSR a reality. In
this, not only material development but
also educational development is needed. Sri
Lanka,withitscomparativelygoodeducation
system, can create a more knowledgeable
society. There should be a focused program
to create such a society by improving the
education standards of the country.
On the other hand, the Western countries
should also understand the positive
outcomes of an Asian Commonwealth
and MSR. It is not just about Asia. In this
interconnected, “globalized” world, Asia
cannot exist alone. Furthermore, a more
prosperous and peaceful Asia will be a huge
market which even Europe and the United
States could benefit from. Latin America
is already creating increasing trade links
with East Asia through the Pacific Ocean.
The Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean can
become a huge Indo-Pacific interconnected
trade zone. For this both the MSR and the
Asian Commonwealth concepts are vital.
Since Sri Lanka is a vital point in the MSR,
it is a vital point for the Indo-Pacific region
as well.
India cannot afford to ignore China, which it had been doing for too many years. Here
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands
after issuing a joint statement regarding “incidents” on the two countries’ disputed border
when the former visited India a few days go
The US fostered friendship with the
Congress-led government of India
and on the other hand created
the apprehension of a “string of
pearls” strategy by which China
was surrounding India with ports
it helped to construct in Pakistan,
Sri Lanka and other countries in
the region. The Modi government
has no intention of falling to this
trap of fostering friendship with a
giant far away at the expense of
the giant nearby. While the US has
been a declining giant, China is a
growing giant. This does not mean
that India should, or would, ignore
the United States. But it implies that
India cannot afford to ignore China
INCH towards MILES and beyond the seas
AFP
O
n the face of it, the referendum
held last week on the future
of Scotland and therefore the
future of the British union,
has some relevance for Sri
Lanka. After all it was about separation.
This is why it excited the Eelamist com-
mentariat. The fact that the Scottish people
chose, by majority, to remain in the union
need not dampen their enthusiasm because
the ‘unionists’ bent over backwards to offer
concessions and the ‘losers’ can demand
that they deliver.
The analogy applied to Sri Lanka would
run on the following lines: ‘Those in Tamil
areas demand a referendum. If they win,
that’s Eelam on a platter. If they don’t, they
can prevail on Sri Lanka “unionists” to
deliver on concessions pledged during the
election campaign’. In other words, a win-
win situation.
That’s where the comparison stops,
though. In the first place what Scotland is
to the British Isles is not what ‘Eelam’ (as
defined by the LTTE, TNA and others) is to
Sri Lanka. More than half the Tamils in
Sri Lanka live outside the boundaries of
the EelamMap. The ‘traditional homeland’
claim is at best dubious. Historical evi-
dence doesn’t support the contentions. Ar-
chaeological evidence rebels against such
fantasies packaged as ‘history’. There was
never ‘annexing’ by one party of another,
apart from invasions fromwhat is now
South India and adventures by the land-
grabbing likes of Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The lines have no basis in any history
apart from the whims and fancies of a pen
pusher in the British colonial government.
There were no ‘Tamil areas’ which even the
wildest imagination coincide with creative
Eelamist cartography.
But there are lessons to be drawn from
the Scotland vote. Thrishantha Nanayak-
kara makes some valid points. First of all,
he alerts us to the value of the main politi-
cal parties (i.e. those that are not ‘ethnic’ or
‘regional’) having a strong footing across
the country and among ‘minority’ groups.
He observes that if conservatives and labor
were not strong among Scots, Scotland
would today be an independent country.
There is a lesson there. Neither the
SLFP-led UPFA nor the UNP have any sup-
port worth mentioning among Tamil voters
in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
They’ve gone in general for coalition op-
tions in elections. The inability to ‘move’
in the way Labor and Conservative have in
Britain could stem frommultiple factors.
First there is a manifest reluctance to en-
gage with Tamil nationalism in a civilized
and democratic manner, especially when
Tamil politicians adopted racist, chauvin-
istic and unreasonable political positions.
The pernicious communalist lines adopted
by many Tamil political entities have not
The Scotland vote
and Sri Lanka
helped either. They’ve more often than not
played to what could be called a primordial
angst of that community at not having a
‘country’ that is Tamil-made of by Tamils,
with Tamils and for Tamils kind. In this
respect, the Scottish National Party (SNP)
does not have a political equivalent among
Tamil political groupings in Sri Lanka.
Thrishantha points to ‘a remarkable level
of integrity and moral high ground that
is associated with the SNP’. They did not
feed a Scottish version of an embryonic
LTTE the way the TULF and before them
the Federal Party did in Sri Lanka. Indeed,
the values of democracy and tolerance
championed by the SNP found currency in
the imagination of the Scottish polity; again
something we have not see in the Tamil
community here in Sri Lanka. Perhaps this
is why the Conservatives and Labor could
sanction a referendumwhere they would
naturally seek a preservation of the union.
In Sri Lanka neither the main parties nor
the ‘separatist’ have operated in a manner
made for ‘democratic-trust’ if you will.
Another interesting element in the Scot-
tish vote that is relevant to Sri Lanka is the
economics of resources and control of the
same. Scotland is resource-rich in a way
that would-be Eelam is not. The ‘union’ had
a commercial stake in keeping Scotland in
its folds. What Scotland would gain from
remaining in the union is not too clear at
this point. But in Sri Lanka ‘resources’
hardly constitute the heart of the matter. It
is more about identity, belonging (or lack
thereof) and also a convenient garb for
problems that are not peculiar to the Tamil
community.
This is why when the TNA wants inter-
national observers present in the event of
talks with the Government, it is logical to
either reject it due to the bad experience
with such ‘facilitators’ or to demand ‘local
observers’ too for the TNA was after all the
proxy of a terrorist organization and the
people of THIS country have a far greater
stake in observing negotiations than any
non-Sri Lankan entity. The Scottish affair
did not at any point require third-party
presence but this was not on account of
mutual distrust being absent. Different
contexts, different modalities – it is as
simple as that.
Still, it is not enough to blame the TNA
and the previous avatars of Tamil commu-
nalism. The question of belonging has not
been addressed in a manner that the Tamil
community finds satisfactory. Grievance,
perceived or real, deserves the ‘grievance’
tag and in a democratic polity there has to
be space for articulation and address. This,
more than anything else, will force every-
one to substantiate claim and if this is not
possible for such claims to be struck off the
agenda. The weight of evidence is against
the positions generally taken by Tamil
nationalist elements at least to the extent
that even devolution (forget separatism) to
lines drawn by the British advantageous to
expansionist visions of Tamil communal-
ists is untenable.
Indecent as the British have been over
the past several centuries including that
country’s support of genocide by clinging
to Washington’s coattails, the way ‘Scot-
land’ was handled is of a kind that is far
superior to how the political leaders of Sri
Lanka engaged with (or refused to do so)
with territory-based demands of Tamil
nationalism. Now that’s a plum that can be
picked from the Scottish political pie.
Indeed, the values of
democracy and tolerance
championed by the Scottish
National Party (SNP) found
currency in the imagination
of the Scottish polity; again
something we have not seen
in the Tamil community here
in Sri Lanka. Perhaps this
is why the Conservatives
and Labor could sanction
a referendumwhere they
would naturally seek a
preservation of the union. In
Sri Lanka neither the main
parties nor the ‘separatist’
have operated in a manner
made for ‘democratic-trust’
if you will
There are lessons to be drawn from the Scotland vote. Here Pro-independence voters from theWestern Isles of Lewis and Bute march down
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on September 19, 2014, to protest Scotland’s independence referendum results
AFP
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