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Our politicians and India

“If President Jayewardene’s India policy was a disaster, President Premadasa did no better, he did not understand India. He too did not consult the establishment and functioned in the manner of a dictator. He related to India in a coarse and clumsy manner. When he ordered the IPKF, which had sacrificed over 1270 men and taken thousands of casualties, seeking to safeguard our unity, he arbitrarily drove a thousand nails into our coffin. He never realized that the Indian Army was a hallowed institution. Any attack on any Indian establishment and the whole country begins to ooze with patriotism from every pore.”
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by a Special Correspondent


(April 18, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Our politicians have never been able to understand India. They either blow hot or blow cold. Some years before independence Mr. J.R. Jayawerdene, attending a Congress party conference in Trivandrum had stated that Ceylon should be a state of India! The same Mr. Jayawardena unnecessarily went out of his way years later. to antagonize India and her rulers, - so much so they subverted this country and transformed a low intensity ethnic conflict into a full scale of insurgency, which today has almost torn the country apart.

The present government approach to India reminds us of the blind man feeling the elephant and describing what he thinks it is. The present political leaders built friendships with the current leadership in India when both parties were in the opposition. Which certainly was a farsighted approach. Even today it is reported that they also keep in touch with the Congress Party in India, This is indeed commendable. But our country’s relations particularly with India should not be based essentially on personal relationships.

India is not a ‘third world’ country when it comes to her national institutions. She takes great pride in being a real democracy and the largest one on planet earth where 600 million voters decide on who shall rule over them, with what intent and how. The Indian Parliament is a hallowed institution as is the armed forces establishment of India. So is the bureaucracy it may not be the most efficient in the world but their executives can match any counterpart anywhere. The same goes for their Foreign Service. An Indian Prime Minister (no less a person than Rajiv Gandhi had to apologise to the Foreign service for an intemperate remark he made against a Foreign secretary) The Indian Supreme Court is a fearless activist one and is a nationally respected institution. These institutions are not to be trifled with - as for the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Foreign Service, when they close ranks only god can help the adversary and more often than not even He /She cannot help. Politicians and Ministers in India are transient beings. They depend heavily on the institutions. It is very much as it is in Britain. Anyone who has watched the ‘Yes Minister’ series would realize the importance of the British civil service and the Foreign Service. The members of these ‘hallowed’ institutions regard themselves as the permanent guardians of India’s national interests.

Sri Lankan Ministers (and not only of this government) have foolishly thought that the Indian establishment is the same as ours. When some of our politicians ‘come into power’ as they characterize their coming into office, they immediately become enlightened and consider themselves to be the fountains of wisdom. They also become all powerful because the constitutions of 1972 and ‘78 gave power of life and death over the public service to the transient politicians. Unlike in Plato’s Republic, most politicians invariably repeat invariably are the least qualified to perform the most noble and the highest duty in a society; which is to make its laws. Sri Lankan politicians often think that their Indian counterparts also wield the same power as they do here over the establishment. They invariably relate to individual politicians and tend to by pass the establishment (as they do in this country; forgetting that institutional memory resides in institutions). It does not take them long to learn the harsh truth. Unfortunately, some of them learn it the hard way. Whilst the transient politician is important the bureaucrat is equally important in India as he could if he so wishes scuttle the best laid plans of his political masters. This is not to deny that relationships between political leaders are important or to deny the obvious namely that political leaders ultimately decide on the destiny of nations.

It is indeed important for us to understand the nature of the Indian establishment and how it functions. It is also important for us understand India’s interest in Sri Lanka (which transcends friendships) and how she may seek to secure those interest.

As has been mentioned earlier President Jayawardene without the benefit of institutional advice set out to woo the west during the period of the cold war without realizing that he was sending out wrong signals to a paranoid India. Once he had antagonized India the damages done. At one point of time, President Jayawardene had done almost irreparable damage to Sri Lanka’s interest. He neither understood nor did he give consideration to India’s interests or concerns in the pre-cold war era. President J did not consult the permanent establishment, had little regard for the bureaucracy, which is suspect whatever political party is in power, hence there were no ‘note-takers’ and no record of what ever transpired. This is true even today.

What was indeed most unfortunate was that President Jayewardene had inherited the closest of relationships with India. It must be said to the everlasting credit of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, that did us proud. She not only put us on the world map but also related to India with impeccable tact and circumspection. She was and will remain as the best Foreign Minister we have had since independence. She consciously followed her husband in continuing a policy of true friendship with India the country not merely with the political leadership, even though that was a part of the total relationship. Mrs. Bandaranaike certainly did have close personal relations with the Indian leadership. She was always conscious of India’s interests and did nothing to make India feel that her vital interests were in any manner endangered. Mrs. B was able not only to conclude a Maritime Agreement with China in the early 60s, after the Indo-China war but she was also permitted Pakistani troops to fly through Colombo to what was then East Pakistan during the Bangladesh war of independence. Such was the strength of our relationship with India.

It must also not be forgotten that it was during her stewardship that we were able to sort out the problem of stateless Indian Tamils and last but not least she was able to have India withdraw her claim to Katchchativu. Is there any Sri Lankan leader past or present who could match her achievements? Mrs. Bandaranaike achieved all this not by slavishly cringing and crawling or by running to Delhi to consult and brief at every turn of events here. She never compromised the dignity, integrity and sovereignty of this country.

If President Jayewardene’s India policy was a disaster, President Premadasa did no better, he did not understand India. He too did not consult the establishment and functioned in the manner of a dictator. He related to India in a coarse and clumsy manner. When he ordered the IPKF, which had sacrificed over 1270 men and taken thousands of casualties, seeking to safeguard our unity, he arbitrarily drove a thousand nails into our coffin. He never realized that the Indian Army was a hallowed institution. Any attack on any Indian establishment and the whole country begins to ooze with patriotism from every pore.

It is not a pleasurable thing to recall our past but it is necessary to do so even if it were only to teach us not to repeat them. After the disastrous era in our relations with India ended the government of 1994 did set about restoring the relationship with India but after sometime the relationship tended to slip most unnecessarily into a servile one. With each change of government in Delhi we were the first bearing gifts. It was almost in the manner of a vassal state paying tribute to the new ruler.

Indian Hegemonists such as Pannikar considered India to be the successor to the British Raj and sought to incorporate Burma and Ceylon, as we were then known, into the Indian Union. The two countries being considered as being with India’s defence perimeter. The imperialist hegemons of India always coveted Ceylon and this brought sharp rebukes from the likes of Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela. It was only in 1987 that India was finally able to bring Lanka within her defence perimeter through the ‘Letters’ that were exchanged between President Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Agreement. India did not fulfill its obligations under the Agreement particularly to interdict supplies to the LTTE and to disarm them. The Agreement is now considered pass even though some foolish and ignorant Minister of this government, who should have known better, has recently stated that the Agreement is still in force. We must then be in serious violation of it with the internationalization of our conflict.

With the end of Congress rule and the hegemonists having learned their lesson, successive coalition governments appear to have moved away from imperialistic ambitions. The approach of Inder Kumar Gujral and the policy he enunciated towards India’s smaller neighbours served in no small measure to assure India’s neighbours that they would be treated with respect and not be interfered with. The disastrous intervention in Sri Lanka has also taught her an unforgettable lesson. There is today no reason to fear that India would once again destabilize this country. Perhaps the only circumstance in which they may do so would be if the LTTE establishes a separate state. That would without doubt be inimical to India’s security and may raise the threat of the Balkanization of India.

India’s enemies would exploit the creation of a separate state and India would be forced to act to preserve its integrity.

India does not pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s integrity today, on the contrary she is the real guarantor of it not the powerful western countries that are playing various roles today. Our relationship with India should be a constructive one based on mutual respect as equal nations (despite India’s size and strength) within the United Nations. If it needs to be structured then let us by all means enter into a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation incorporating a security dimension and end this perception of servility on our part, created by Ministers of our government, which is neither good for India nor Sri Lanka.

Though the threat of destabilization by India had receded beyond the horizon, they related to India as if we were a protectorate of that country and lost the respect of that country.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

5 comments

Anonymous said...

I agree jayawardena is the architect of all evil in SL.But surely you cannot believe indian hegomony is a policy of the past.It has been part and parcel of its foreign policy. If the policy has changed why is it that impotent politicians like Ranil W keep running to india at every turn. Any way it is up to india to reassure her neighbours.Hegamony is a policy of the past it will certainly not help india in the present enlightened era.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article. It sounds like an Indian person writing the article and the content is more appropriate to apply for Indian perspective and seriously lacks the Lankan interests. We live in a world that is far beyond our control and worshipping godified animals and clay figurines is not an answer to our problems. Having created terrorism in Lanka, a blessed country to the humanity, Indian subcontinent will pay a terrible price sooner than later. As a leftover pseudo-independent English colonial government system, India will suffer to the eternity and there will be no end to Indian pseudo-hypocrisy. So-called Indian pride in double-acts is not new, but started some seven thousand years back. I hope true leaders who happened to be living in Lanka Pura during ancient times will come to secure the ancient glory before India going to the oblivion during next world war. By the way, your partiality is 100% pro-Indian and please think of changing the web name to Sri Indian Guardian. Please beware that India is doomed if another despotic power trains and sends separatist groups from within native minorities in India just the way they sent LTTE and others, and Hindus will have no place to call home. Whatever said and done, these Indians (Hindus) are suffering from the curse of turning the great ancient civilisation up side down until their doomsday.

Anonymous said...

Best foreign minister?! Not to antagonize India?! How comes then She allowed Pakistan Air Force use SriLankas Air Space and refueling facilities when India and Pakistan at war in 1971 - Birth of Bangaladesh!

Anonymous said...

well well well ... we go on to prove ourselves as very big drums again... Just a big noise but absolutely hollow inside...I think this is the biggest problem with SriLanka...False pride but there is nothing to show...Pathetic

Anonymous said...

Could you explain why India allowed terrorist groups from Sri lanka including LTTE toUse india for training purposes from 1975/1976 when MRS.Bwas in power. If MRS.B had such a good persoanl relationship with India Why did not india Fullfilled her obligation to give citizenship to the agreed number of indian tamils{In the S-S pact] during her time in office[1970-1977]

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