“India must stand by Sri Lanka, vote against US resolution” Says India’s Pioneer newspaper

The Pioneer Newspaper in India

– by Walter Jayawardhana –

In a forthright and hard-hitting column published in its Sunday edition India’s Pioneer newspaper said  nothing would be more ruinous for India’s national interest if the Congress were to decide to force Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid to vote for the resolution against Sri Lanka moved by the US in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The column said if Sri Lanka is accused of unfair use of state power against civilians and ‘armed opposition’, by the resolution so is India charged in some quarters about counter terrorism operations in the Kashmir Valley.

The Pioneer column written by a senior journalist,Kanchan Gupta from New Delhi said , “. If Sri Lanka must open its doors to international rapporteurs and allow unfettered access to the UN Human Rights Commissioner and other UNHRC staff, then a similar and seemingly credible demand can be made of India. Are we willing to accept this and other demands? Are we willing to subjugate our national sovereignty to illegitimate interference in our domestic affairs? These and other questions must be confronted and answered before we push for punitive action against Sri Lanka.”

“ If Sri Lanka is guilty of suppressing Tamil aspirations (including the right to self-determination), India stands accused of doing far worse, not only in Pakistan but also in Europe and America. If Sri Lanka must open its doors to international rapporteurs and allow unfettered access to the UN Human Rights Commissioner and other UNHRC staff, then a similar and seemingly credible demand can be made of India. Are we willing to accept this and other demands? Are we willing to subjugate our national sovereignty to illegitimate interference in our domestic affairs? These and other questions must be confronted and answered before we push for punitive action against Sri Lanka”the column said.

“Colombo had the guts to declare war on domestic terror and take that war to its logical conclusion. New Delhi has been consistently hypocritical, refusing to acknowledge that the Indian state is indeed waging war on terror — whether in battling jihadis in the Kashmir Valley or Maoists in the jungles of central and eastern India. Our hypocrisy blinds us to the fact that in any asymmetrical war of this nature there are bound to be collateral damages; Sri Lanka witnessed similar losses to life and property in wiping out, root and branch, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. How they cope with those losses is their concern inasmuch as how we deal with death and destruction at home; there is no scope for third party intervention just as there is no space for third party mediation”the column unhesitatingly declared.

The following is the full text of the column:

“Nothing would be more disastrous for India’s national interest if the Congress were to decide to force Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid to vote for the resolution against Sri Lanka moved by the US in the United Nations Human Rights Council. At the fag end of UPA 2’s tenure, the Congress would be tempted to appease the DMK rather than risk the alliance collapsing and dying a premature death. But as Khurshid knows, succumbing to political blackmail at home can lead to possibilities of more than embarrassment abroad: It required Herculean effort to stave off a similar anti-India vote at the UNHRC when PV Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister and President Bill Clinton was determined to rub India’s nose in the dirt. Robin Raphael was implementing a Democratic Administration’s South Asia agenda which could witness a revival with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel pitching for Pakistan against India.

As Minister of State in South Block, Khurshid barely managed to prevent the anti-India resolution from being put to vote in Geneva —had it not been for Atal Bihari Vajpayee stepping in to retrieve the situation by deploying his diplomatic skills and calling in favours, Pakistan would have scored a splendid victory. Times have changed, India is in a far more stronger position today than it was in the 1990s and the US is no more the sole and dominant global power. Ironically, it is precisely for those very reasons that Khurshid will find it impossible to prevent an anti-India resolution from being carried through on the back of a majority vote. Among those voting against India would be Sri Lanka and all sundry countries who stood by that country when New Delhi broke ranks to vote against Colombo in March last year. Not that Sonia Gandhi would want to take the Opposition’s help in such a situation, but even if she were to do so, Khurshid would not have Vajpayee leading the counter-offensive.

Even the most casual reading of the draft resolution circulated by the US would show that a similar resolution can be moved against India at the UNHRC to demonstrate care and concern for Kashmiris. There would be more than enough takers for that, even if the care is bogus and the concern treacly — make no mistake of that. For, if Sri Lanka is accused of unfair use of state power against civilians and ‘armed opposition’, so is India charged in some quarters about counter-terrorism operations in the Kashmir Valley. If Sri Lanka is guilty of suppressing Tamil aspirations (including the right to self-determination), India stands accused of doing far worse, not only in Pakistan but also in Europe and America. If Sri Lanka must open its doors to international rapporteurs and allow unfettered access to the UN Human Rights Commissioner and other UNHRC staff, then a similar and seemingly credible demand can be made of India. Are we willing to accept this and other demands? Are we willing to subjugate our national sovereignty to illegitimate interference in our domestic affairs? These and other questions must be confronted and answered before we push for punitive action against Sri Lanka.

It could be argued that separatism and its attendant terrorism in Kashmir Valley cannot be compared to Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. A legitimate case could also be made in justification of putting down terrorism in Kashmir Valley and disallowing secessionists their presumed right to secede territory from the Union of India. But in the popular perception, and if the veneer of sophistry were to be rubbed off, there is little that separates Kashmiri separatism in India from Tamil secessionism in Sri Lanka. Colombo had the guts to declare war on domestic terror and take that war to its logical conclusion. New Delhi has been consistently hypocritical, refusing to acknowledge that the Indian state is indeed waging war on terror — whether in battling jihadis in the Kashmir Valley or Maoists in the jungles of central and eastern India. Our hypocrisy blinds us to the fact that in any asymmetrical war of this nature there are bound to be collateral damages; Sri Lanka witnessed similar losses to life and property in wiping out, root and branch, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. How they cope with those losses is their concern inasmuch as how we deal with death and destruction at home; there is no scope for third party intervention just as there is no space for third party mediation.

This is not to suggest that Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority must remain uncared for or denied equal social, economic and political rights by the country’s Sinhala majority. Nor would it be prudent, least of all for Colombo, to gloss over excesses committed by the Sri Lankan Army in the last months of the war against LTTE. It would be equally in order to point out that four years after the last LTTE fighter fell and V Prabhakaran met a death no different from that to which he sent thousands of others, including fellow Tamils and India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to deliver the peace dividend. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has clearly failed to honour his commitments to his own people — the Tamils are as much citizens of Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese — about devolution of power and facilitating the integration of the minority into the nation’s society, polity and economy. The promised 13th Amendment to the Constitution is not the only promise that remains unfulfilled. Worse, majoritarianism defined by narrow sectarian interest and Sinhala supremacy which recalls harsh memories of the 1980s have come to dominate Colombo’s decision-making process.

India could have prevented that. If only New Delhi had been wise enough to dishonour bogus ‘coalition dharma’ and partnered Colombo’s war on terror, it would have been in a position to influence both the conduct of the war and the terms of peace. But India erred, and erred grievously. Instead of standing by Sri Lanka, it vacated space for China to step in. No less fatally flawed was India’s policy after the guns fell silent — we could have, even at that late stage, proactively engaged with Sri Lanka and fashioned a durable peace. Sadly, we took recourse to highfalutin bunkum that neither impressed nor scared Sri Lanka and left the Tamils to the tender mercies of the Sinhalas. We allowed national interest to be subverted by the crude identity politics of the DMK whose chief M Karunanidhi brazenly proclaims, every now and then, that seeing the creation of ‘Tamil Eeelam’ (whose borders he does not specify) is his dream. We prostrate ourselves before Karunanidhi to ensure parliamentary majority; would we be so supine with, say, Syed Ali Shah Geelani?

There is still a window of opportunity that is open to us, a tiny window no doubt but a window nonetheless, to cut our losses and ensure national interest takes precedence over vacuous politics of cynicism. India must vote against the US-sponsored resolution in the UNHRC. It’s also an opportunity for Khurshid to do what he (and I know this for a fact) instinctively believes is the right thing to do. Voting against Sri Lanka in 2012 was bad enough; repeating that folly would be unmitigated disaster — for us, and for Sri Lanka’s Tamils.

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