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SL foreign policy might lead to Indo-Lanka Accord Two

by Shanaka Jayasekara

Lessons from the Jayewardene Era

(August 24, Sydney, Sri Lanka Guardian) The current foreign policy of the Rajapaksa administration is reminiscent of the tragic blunders made during the J. R. Jayewardene era. In the 1980s, President JRJ embarked on a foreign policy approach that explicitly drifted away from India and what was considered the Indian sphere of influence.

As a product of cold war politics, Jayewardene to hedge his bets with the Americans at a time when India was officially considered non-aligned but, in fact, was dependent upon a friendship agreement with the Soviet Union (USSR). President Jayewardene also called Yankee Dicky was received with the pomp and pageantry by the Regan administration during his US visit in 1984. This was followed by the USS Kitty Hawk visiting Colombo in November 1985 and negotiations on a new VOA station and restoration of the Trincomalee oil tank farm. President Jayewardene was to show brinkmanship in challenging the unwritten code of Sub-Continent geopolitics, also termed the Indira doctrine. Unlike the more explicit Monroe doctrine, the Indira doctrine is an implicit understanding that India will neither intervene in the domestic affairs of any state in the region unless requested to do so, nor tolerate such intervention by an outsider power.

The Indian government in return for its non-interventionist policy during the war wanted President Rajapaksa to present a political package that adequately devolved power to the Northern Province. This could have been, as President Rajapaksa indicated, 13-plus-plus––the abolition of the Concurrent List of the Thirteenth amendment and the introduction of an Upper house.
The stark reality only dawned on President Jayewardene, when Indian Air Force Mirage fighter jets and cargo planes air-dropped humanitarian violating the Sri Lankan airspace and that came to be known as the Paripu Drop (on June 04, 1987), which halted Operation Liberation or the Vaddamarachchi offensive against the LTTE. It was apparent there was no strategic alliance with the West; we were duped. The truth is that no major power will jeopardise economic and commercial interests in India to support tiny Sri Lanka. It resulted in the Indo-Lanka Accord and the accompanying Annexure being imposed on Sri Lanka.

Eelam War Four and the Kerala Trio

The Rajapaksa administration at the commencement of the war in 2006 developed an astute Indian policy for which the groundwork had been by the then Indian High Commissioner in Colombo at the time Nirupama Rao. The plan was very simple, the most influential bureaucratic troika in Colombo would meet their counterparts every three months for a debriefing and respond to Indian concerns. In India the process was guided by the National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and former High Commissioner Nirupama Rao, loosely referred to in Colombo as the "Kerala Trio".

The troika meetings worked extremely well with regular visits to New Delhi by Presidential Advisor at the time, Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga; they briefed M.K. Narayanan, Shiv Shankar Menon and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh on the ground situation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a veteran of Operation Liberation in 1987, was well aware of possible Indian intervention and evinced a keen interest in ensuring continued Indian support for the military effort. The Sri Lankan side understood Indian concerns and worked with the Indians to overcome pressure from Tamil Nadu. The futile hunger strikes by DMK leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi was handled cleverly through quiet diplomacy. The date for the final assault on Vellamullivaikkal was postponed by a few days to 17-19 May in view of the India general election on 13 May, 2009.

After the war the focus was lost, Sri Lanka was captivated in euphoric victory celebrations and the troika meetings in New Delhi abruptly ended. However, the personal rapport between these individuals continued as a back channel for Indo-Lanka relations. In August 2009 Nirupama Roa became Foreign Secretary and in January 2010 M. K. Narayanan was replaced as National Security Advisor by Shiv Shankar Menon. In August 2011, Nirupama Rao was shipped off to Washington as Indian Ambassador to the US.

The Indian government in return for its non-interventionist policy during the war wanted President Rajapaksa to present a political package that adequately devolved power to the Northern Province. This could have been, as President Rajapaksa indicated, 13-plus-plus––the abolition of the Concurrent List of the Thirteenth amendment and the introduction of an Upper house. However, after many consultative processes such as the APRC, the Tissa Vithrna committee and now a proposed Parliamentary Select Committee, India is fast losing patience with Sri Lanka.

Tamil Nadu, Now a One Party State

The political leadership in Colombo has failed to understand the winds of change in Tamil Nadu. The 2G frequency spectrum scandal in which Union Telecom Minister A. Raja and Kanimozhi the daughter of DMK leader Karunanidhi were involved has dramatically changed the political landscape in Tamil Nadu.

The large scale dissatisfaction with the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and its leader Karunanidhi was clearly demonstrated at the State elections on 13 April 2011, when the AIADMK coalition led by Jayalalithaa Jayaram won a landslide victory with 203 seats in the state assembly. The DMK was able to win a mere 31 seats.

After the LTTE assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, Indian support and particularly Tamil Nadu political support for the LTTE ceased to be. The major political parties overtly distanced themselves from the LTTE, leaving fringe politicians such as P .Nedumaran, Vaiyapuri Gopalsamy (Vaiko-MDMK) and S. Seeman (Naan Tamilar) to capitalise on the Sri Lankan Tamil cause.

A desire to see the Chola Flag hoisted somewhere is embedded in the Tamil Nadu psyche. During the period that the LTTE was politically ostracised, Tamil Nadu simply suppressed their emotions for the Eelam cause. After the elimination of the LTTE, Tamil Nadu is re-emerging as the defender of all Tamils. It uses the Eelam cause to whip up the sentiments of pan-Tamil nationalism and in the absence of a formidable countervailing force, Jayalalithaa is redefining herself as the Lady Mujib of Tamil Nadu.

Indo-Lanka Accord Two

We have returned to a period similar to that of 1977–1987, a decade when M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) was unchallenged in Tamil Nadu politics. It is clear that Jayalalithaa will dominate Tamil Nadu politics for the foreseeable future, while the DMK continues to be troubled by the Spectrum Scandal.

The Tamil Nadu vote has always been critical to forming government at the Centre. In the past, the Congress Party and the BJP coalesced with DMK and AIADMK respectively. However, after the political decimation of the DMK, both the Congress Party and the BJP will want an alliance with Jayalalithaa before the general elections in 2014.

Sri Lanka is at the top of the agenda of Jayalalithaa. Recent comments by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a meeting with Vaiko alluding to the growing influence of China over Sri Lanka, indicate a sense of insecurity on the part of India.

The Rajapaksa administration is heading in the same direction as the Jayewardene government. The same attributes that Jayewardene disregarded are slowly stacking up; Indian political leadership is concerned about the external involvement (Chinese intentions); persuasive power politics from Tamil Nadu and human rights allegations. It is apparent to anyone that India will be compelled to act and take the lead on Sri Lanka, if the current impasse continues.

The Rajapaksa administration still has an opportunity to come out with a political settlement and its failure to do so will lead to a settlement being imposed on Sri Lanka.

( The writer, Associate Lecturer,Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (PICT), Macquarie University,Sydney, Australia )

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