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Why is PM Singh afraid to commit?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando 
( August 28, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Indian Prime Minister's reluctance to make a commitment on his attending CHOGM has piqued the curiosity of many government party politicians. Arguably, Singh could be seeking a prior commitment from Mahinda that he would not tamper with 13A, now or later. The government was reported to have reiterated its position that it was firmly committed to making changes to 13A as a matter of policy.

Manmohan Singh prefers not to make any commitment of his attending CHOGM, arguably to exert pressure on Mahinda to desist from any attempt at tinkering with the 13A at any stage even after the Northern Provincial Council elections.
The JHU and Wimal Weerawansa's Party which steadfastly opposed elections in the North with 13A unchanged have almost muted their protests without even a whimper. Wimal Weerawansa, who shouted from the 'roof-tops' that if 13A is not changed before elections to the Northern Provincial Council, he would definitely resign his ministerial portfolio, while Champika Ranawaka, for all his explosive anti-13A pronouncements, has now backed down to talking of something more mundane as milk food. This sudden volte face by two strong opponents of the 13A could be either their immense trust in Rajapaksa to do what is needed, or they have got a firm commitment from him to do just that.

Firm commitment from President

In fact Wimal and the JHU were hard at work to get an interim report from the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) now sitting to discuss proposals to amend the 13A, before elections in the North are held.

But they dropped it probably as a result of a positive response or a firm commitment from Mahinda. In a careful evaluation of past political trends which had motivated the Government of Sri Lanka to take some decisive action on matters having a bearing on India, too, had mostly been during pre-election times, when there is least resistance for contemplated action from the Indians' side. This has been the past experience and Mahinda knows it very well. When Chandrika dissolved Ranil's Government in 2004, she had timed it to coincide with the dissolution of the Indian Parliament at that time. The then BJP Government was supportive of Ranil's Government to such an extent that it tried to influence Chandrika not to dissolve Ranil's Government. Chandrika who had correctly read the Indian political landscape, and knowing that there would be a change of government, went ahead and dissolved Ranil's Government. Still more pertinent in this regard is the timing of launching the final, decisive war against the LTTE which annihilated the entire outfit. It was predictably India's election time; more precisely, at a time when ballot counting after the election was being held. Uncertainty combined with anxiety tied Tamil Nadu's hands to make its strident voice against the war, from being heard. Mahinda was shrewd enough to correctly read the situation as it was the right time to destroy the LTTE.

Ideal time

In pursuance of similar past experiences, Mahinda must have earmarked the time of Indian elections as being ideal to tinker with 13A. This thinking was given an added boost by the fact that in the event the Congress Party losing the election and another party coming into power, it will not be as enthusiastic as the Congress Party to enforce the Rajiv Gandhi-sponsored Provincial Council system in Sri Lanka. Gandhi family's and the Congress Party legacy of controversial Sri Lankan policy will not be carried on with any seriousness by any other party coming into power in India. It could most probably be Mahinda's resolve to hand over an ego boosting victory to the ultranationalists in his political circus and go for a Presidential election.

Manmohan is no stranger to political skulduggery. Therefore he is privy to what Mahinda will next play on the chess board of politics. He is not making a strong commitment about his participation at CHOGM precisely because of this reason.

Manmohan Singh prefers not to make any commitment of his attending CHOGM, arguably to exert pressure on Mahinda to desist from any attempt at tinkering with the 13A at any stage even after the Northern Provincial Council elections. During the time of the Premadasa regime in 1984, Sri Lanka boycotted the SAARC Foreign Ministers meeting in protest against the non-withdrawal of the Indian Forces from the country. However, that year's SAARC conference was held not in India but in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan wrote the following letter to Premadasa in 1989, apropos the subject, "Only one thing that the late Pakistani President, Zia Ul Haq, and she, had agreed on, was on Pakistan's support for Sri Lanka." She had said, in fact, more support to Sri Lanka should have been given at the time. Bhutto had said the boycott by Sri Lanka of the SAARC Foreign Ministers Meeting in Islamabad scheduled for 1 July 1989 was not an attack on India since it was being held in Pakistan and not in India..."

Tussles between the nations

In a move of retaliation or a tit-for-tat, India refrained from participating in the 1992 SAARC Conference held in Colombo. Prior to that, India also boycotted the SAARC Foreign Ministers meeting in November 1991 held in Colombo. This resulted in Sri Lanka having to postpone the SAARC Conference scheduled for 1992.

It also led to tussles between both nations when they tried one-upmanship on one another, especially when hosting international conferences which are a good reminder or even a foreshow of what is in store as regards CHOGM. The root-cause of such issues between the two countries has always been the ethnic problem in the country. On this occasion as well, the ethnic problem lies at the root of India's refusal to give any commitment on its attendance at CHOGM. The Sri Lankan Government making a firm commitment on the implementation of 13A, as it stands, minus any dilution, is a sine qua non for India's commitment to attend CHOGM in Colombo.

It is pertinent here to reflectively look back on what happened to Premadasa's SAARC dreams without India's blessings. They came crashing down so badly that ultimately he had to eat humble pie and appeal to the Indian PM, Narasimha Rao, to bail him out from the corner into which he had painted himself. In the present context, one does not have to do much stretching of one's imagination to foresee what would be the fate of the forthcoming CHOGM If India's blessing is not forthcoming.
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