“India has a stake in the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka” - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

“India has a stake in the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka”

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
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“India should not and I think will not get involved in micro-managing matters internal to Sri Lanka. India can, however, help to create an atmosphere to promote a national consensus, without intrusively interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.”
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By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(October 27, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) “Indian Foreign Policy is not decided by any one individual. It is based largely on a national consensus. I do not see any great difference between the approach to relations with Sri Lanka of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the one hand and Prime Minister Manmohan Sigh on the other,” said Professor Gopalaswami Parthasarathy in an exclusive interview with the Sri Lanka Guardian.

In New Delhi, Mr. Parthasarathy was Deputy Secretary in the Foreign Secretary’s Office (1976-1978). He has served as Spokesman, Ministry of External Affairs and Information Adviser and Spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (1985-90). He has been a member of Indian Delegations in several international conferences including summits at United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and SAARC.

Mr. Parthasarathy is presently Visiting Professor in the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. He is also a Senior Fellow and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a member of the Executive Committee of the Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi.

Excerpts of the interview;

Q. Your career as a diplomat, foreign ministerial positions and spokesperson of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi gives you in-depth knowledge of workings of the government and put you in a unique position to assess the mindset of the Indian government towards Sri Lanka and the other intricate regional issues. Amongst the several current positions, you are the visiting Professor for the Centre for Policy Research and a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. My primary questing is why India is not taking a proactive engagement in Sri Lanka and giving room for other regional nauseates like Pakistan, China and Iran to fiddle in the affairs of that country?

A.
I am not sure whether your assessment that India is not proactive in Sri Lanka is entirely correct. I think one has to understand that there has been a qualitative change in the global environment after the end of the Cold War. In today’s world order, countries that may otherwise even be rivals in many areas cooperate in many areas. The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, therefore, reflected the rivalries of the Cold War which had a bearing on India’s security concerns at that time.

Since 1987, there has been a qualitative improvement in the climate of India-Sri Lanka relations, which are now characterized by mutual trust and confidence. While there are no longer doubts in Sri Lanka about India’s commitment to the unity and territorial integrity of the Island, there is also a measure of confidence in India that Sri Lanka will not allow any foreign presence detrimental to India’s security on its soil. In these circumstances, while we in India are fully mindful of other countries fishing in our backyard, our two countries are rapidly expanding trade and economic cooperation and cooperating in regional and global forums. I was delighted to see and work together with representatives from Sri Lanka, while participating recently in a Track II Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum, in Beijing. As democracies, we share common values and should cooperate for promoting peace, stability and cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

Q. Many opinions and thoughts are being reflected about India’s non-interference policy in Sri Lanka. Poignant of all is that ‘Once bitten always shy’ position. India, understanding the complex situation in Sri Lanka, does not want to get involved to get hurt like its 1987 intervention when the President Ranasinghe Premadasa and LTTE leader Pirabakaran jointly booted the Indian intervention. Now that LTTE factor is not there, isn’t it right to take an assertive stand to resolve the ever declining state of affairs in Sri Lanka.

A.
As I said earlier India has a stake in the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. We are no longer confronted with a situation like in the 1980s when thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were compelled to flee to India. We believe that the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution, if implemented in letter and spirit, creates a basis for moving forward a process of reconciliation within Sri Lanka.

Let me clarify one point on the events leading to the induction of the IPKF in 1987. The IPKF was sent to Sri Lanka because of a request from President Jayawardene, who told Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that he feared that the insurrection in the South of the Island was getting out of hand and could lead to a situation, in which the entire island could be engulfed in chaos. Since he could not pull out Sri Lankan forces from the Northeast because this would result in a takeover of the Northeast by the LTTE, President Jayawardene asked for the deployment of an Indian Peace Keeping Force to enable him to move the Sri Lankan forces deployed there to the South. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi agreed to this request.

File Photo: Prof. G. Parthasarathy with Mr. Rajiv Gandhi on board a Aircraft when they were travelling to Moscow in 1989.

India had decided even in 1988 to reduce and thereafter withdraw its forces once elections were held and an elected Government took charge in the Northeastern Province under the 1987 Agreement. Rather than supporting the elected Provincial Government, President Premadasa chose to strike a deal with the LTTE, in the belief that the LTTE would dance to his tune. We also know that President Premadasa’s Government even provided arms to the LTTE. This decision was taken at a time when Sri Lanka’s armed forces lacked the material and manpower resources to take on the LTTE. This naturally led to the IPKF being withdrawn somewhat sooner than earlier planned. It is for the people of Sri Lanka to judge whether the price they paid by way of two more decades of LTTE terrorism that followed President Premadasa’s decision to “befriend” the LTTE, served their interests and welfare.

Q. Some say ‘Sonia factor’ is the determinant element in the remote dealing. What are your views on this?

A.
Indian Foreign Policy is not decided by any one individual. It is based largely on a national consensus. I do not see any great difference between the approach to relations with Sri Lanka of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the one hand and Prime Minister Manmohan Sigh on the other.

Q. With the Indian help, 13th Amendment was incorporated into the Sri Lanka constitution and powers were devolved to the provinces. 13th amendment is proving to be a nightmare as Colombo is not prepared to allow independent functioning of the provinces. Eastern Province is the good example as to how the government wants to control the provinces. The concurrent list that is part of the provision is being abused by the government. Instead of using them as a last resort, the government is using the provision as its primary powers and is undermining the provincial administrations. The Eastern Province experience is that the Chief Minister is even unable to appoint a toilet cleaner to his office without the approval of the centre. Is 13th amendment adequate to deal with the crisis facing Sri Lanka?

A. As I said earlier, it is my hope that President Rajapakse who now enjoys overwhelming public support in Sri Lanka will implement the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution, both in letter and in spirit. That would in itself be an important step forward. I also understand there are moves to transfer all subjects from the Concurrent list to the State list as a part of an overall package. Moreover, between 1995 and 2000 President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her constitutional advisers, Professor G.L. Peiris and Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam put together a devolution package with provisions beyond what was envisaged in the 13th Amendment. Consequently, there are several ideas on the table and I think that given the mood of national confidence now prevailing in Sri Lanka, formulation and implementation of an effective devolution package would go a long way in addressing the deep scars of the prolonged ethnic conflict in the Island.

Q. Sources close to the President privately state there is a plan to have the Provincial Council as a facade and devolve real power to the smallest units, like village level and district level as a Machiavellian strategy to disrupt any move towards a Tamil homeland. The present All Party Representative Committee recommendations will be diluted to achieve this objective. Will India oppose such move?

A.
Let me not offer comments on speculation. As I said, a credible devolution of powers going beyond the 13th Amendment would be welcome. In our own case, the Indian Constitution has been amended in 1993 to empower grass roots village level institutions, without in any was eroding the power of the States. I am sure similarly innovative solutions can be found in Sri Lanka.

Q. Sri Lankan constitutional and electoral provisions are so rigid that it is very difficult to get 2/3rd majority by a single party in the legislature to address the real needs of the nation. Only way this could be handled is by government entering into a bipartisan agreement with the opposition. All previous efforts to bring a bipartisan agreement have failed due to traditional mistrust between the parties. Don’t you think India can play an important role to bring in the culture of accommodative politics by a bipartisan path? Has or will India move in this direction?

A.I have always believed that the people and Parliamentarians of Sri Lanka know best what is good for their country. India should not and I think will not get involved in micro-managing matters internal to Sri Lanka. India can, however, help to create an atmosphere to promote a national consensus, without intrusively interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

Q. It appears Tamil Nadu factor is not influencing the Centre unlike in the 1980’s. Does the Centre understand that Tamil Nadu uproars are just bubbles that burst and they do not have long term influence on the Centre?

A. The Government of India represents the interests and respects the sentiments of all Indians. It is not a question of what is good for just Tamil Nadu, but for India as a whole. I think the Tamil Nadu Government and people in Tamil Nadu understand this very well. It is particularly important for India’s friends to understand that in an era of coalition politics in India, no Government in New Delhi can be insensitive to sentiments and legitimate aspirations of people in Tamil Nadu, or in any other State in the country.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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