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Will Sonia favour Rajapaksa over Tamil Nadu?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( November 6, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Under normal circumstances Indian policy on Sri Lanka is decided by a combination of several factors based on information and intelligence made available to the government by its foreign policy think tanks, Foreign Ministry assessment reports, intelligence service findings and the information gathered by the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka. Indisputably, however, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attendance or non-attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will be decided at Janpath Street; more precisely it will be Sonia Gandhi, who will be the final arbiter of such important State policy matters.

She adamantly and unwaveringly stuck to a policy of destroying Velupillai Prabhakaran and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as retribution for the assassination of her husband, Rajiv Gandhi. She may have had another compulsion to see the terrorist organization destroyed; she may have foreseen a possibility that her son could be a target at some future date, if Prabhakaran and the LTTE were allowed to survive.

In pursuing the path of revenge for the assassination of her husband, she did not hesitate to disregard the Tamil Nadu factor in her various political considerations. She was well aware that she was courting the displeasure of Tamil Nadu, when she extended her wholehearted and unmitigated support to the Rajapaksa Government to destroy the LTTE. She also knew it could weaken the Congress support base in the State Government of Tamil Nadu.

Singular concern at the time

It is possible that she may have been influenced by the insistence of the then National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan, that Prabhakaran's destruction was the single most overriding concern for India at that time. At a personal level, she may not have had much of a regard for Tamil Nadu's sentiments as her husband's assassination was carried out in Tamil Nadu by Tamil Nadu Tiger activists.

In a purely objective analysis of Indian policy during and after the war, what stands out clearly is its singular commitment to protect Mahinda Rajapaksa, pushing other political considerations to the background. Sonia Gandhi undoubtedly was the force behind India's overt and covert moves to protect Rajapaksa from any international fallouts arising from the war against the LTTE.

A clear-cut example of India's protective role towards the Rajapaksa regime is the tactful and competent manner it handled the US-sponsored resolution against the Sri Lankan Government at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last year. Although India voted for it, the resolution would have most probably been adopted even if India voted against it, or abstained. However, the most important consideration in this regard is India's deft handling of backroom negotiations, which resulted in a much watered-down resolution being adopted at the UNHRC. If India voted against the resolution in its original form, which was a stronger version, it would have been obviously more harmful to the Sri Lankan Government. India voting for a much diluted motion, with its sting effectively neutralized by them also, was to Sri Lanka's advantage.

Sonia's disenchantment with Rajapaksa

Sonia Gandhi started to gradually disengage from Sri Lankan affaires a while ago, and with good reason. Mahinda Rajapaksa was prevaricating about holding the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections to a humiliatingly unacceptable level. When Rajapaksa met Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in his last trip to India, he received the bad tidings that Sonia Gandhi was not happy with his delaying tactics as regards the NPC elections. It produced a far-reaching effect on Rajapaksa, as it was Mukharjee, who helped him develop better relations with Sonia Gandhi during the time he was India's Foreign Minister. Rajapaksa got the message with all its nuances and decided to hold elections for the NPC. With equal alacrity, India decided to help Sri Lanka realize its ambition of hosting CHOGM.

It will not be surprising if Sonia Gandhi decides that Singh should attend CHOGM. In the meantime, the Indian media has taken up the importance of Singh's attendance. They point out that India has so far not avoided such international forums. They also extol the virtues of maintaining cordial relations with neighbouring Sri Lanka. Lest one forgets, a former Congress Government in 1992 boycotted a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Conference in this country and even worse, canvassed other countries in the region to do the same.

In the developing political scene in India now, what has struck analysts with more than a modicum of certainty is that Jayalalithaa Jayaram and Sonia Gandhi have drifted apart considerably. Contrarily, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Leader, Narendra Modi, and Jayalalithaa have drawn closer to each other.

Apparently, as things stand now, it looks like Sonia Gandhi has taken off Tamil Nadu from her electoral map of any political consequence. If Sonia continues to consider the Rajapaksa Government, which is unequivocally committed to keeping the Tiger rump in any manifestation utterly and totally suppressed, never to be resurrected again, is more important than Tamil Nadu, Manmohan Sing is sure to grace CHOGM when it comes round.

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