| by Dilrukshi Handunnetti

( March 11, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The guessing game has been on for months as to how India would vote when the US-sponsored resolution is up for a vote by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in Geneva this month.

Delhi has sadly also allowed Tamil Nadu to dictate foreign policy to some extent in the recent past, but more so on the eve of an important election. Yet, it is not good enough to appease Tami Nadu, and the Centre remains in its political grip. Though domestic compulsions, both electoral and political, make Delhi behave in the present manner, it s also an act it cannot follow too far as the ramifications could prove painful.
For some politicians, analysts and even citizens – generally dispassionate about matters of foreign policy – debating which way India would move has become important. In reality, it is not rocket science and there is no mystery associated with Indian behaviour at present. There may be the official government position that the regional power is yet to decide on a stance, but at this late stage, there are no surprises. India has already decided and that is to vote in favour.

Much is being said as to why India should vote against the resolution but there is more passionate denouncing of the neighbour as a country that is in the firm grip of Tamil Nadu's separatist lobby, now reaching fever pitch as Parliamentary Elections draw near.

Meanwhile, the government and its acolytes continue to roundly condemn the resolution for being 'flawed' on all fronts, only to find the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), calling for a stronger resolution, despite the harshness of its content, though couched in genteel UN language. This resonates quite well with the extreme voices heard from Tamil Nadu, urging India to table a separate resolution on Sri Lanka through which to push for an immediate international investigation.

The current resolution does support the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner's recommendation "on the need for an independent and credible international investigation in the absence of a credible national process with tangible results," and the text is explicit and unambiguous. While the US has moved the resolution and is vocal about its position, India too is clear about its stance, though not vocal, trying a balancing act that will not upset either Sri Lanka or Tamil Nadu too much. This decision is also not without links to Sri Lanka's own share of mistakes in handling sensitive Indo-Lanka relations in recent years, though Colombo is happy to merely point out that Delhi is a mere prisoner in the hands of Jayalalithaa.

A hurtful stance

India has a publicly-stated position that there is still no decision with regard to the resolution on Sri Lanka. But in reality, some of the missteps taken by Sri Lankan politicians and diplomats have contributed to this stance, adopted previously, besides having a weak Centre that cannot handle the pressure that is mounted in Tamil Nadu, which would prove politically perilous for the Congress, if not carefully handled.

For Sri Lanka, it is demeaning to be censured by the international community this way, particularly when it is possible that some countries may adapt further stances that may hurt the island's European-dependent economy. Above all, it is most injurious to Sri Lankan sentiments to find India not extending overt support as first, as this naturally reflects badly on Sri Lanka which is already been treated as the prodigal by a section of the international community.
An indication of India's stance came last Sunday when the Joint Secretary and Official Spokesperson of India's Ministry of External Affairs, N. Syed Akbarrudin, was quoted in Ceylon Today , stating that it was possible for India to vote for the resolution, though if necessary, India would also not hesitate to negotiate with the US on the same.

Vote against Sri Lanka

It is known that India, a country that has adopted the position of not supporting country-specific resolutions, had veered away from this position two years ago, subsequent to its confidentially conveyed position of supporting Sri Lanka resulting in a Sri Lankan delegate making a public statement disclosing this stance to the media, which was the touted reason for an immediate outburst in Tamil Nadu.

Delhi has sadly also allowed Tamil Nadu to dictate foreign policy to some extent in the recent past, but more so on the eve of an important election. Yet, it is not good enough to appease Tami Nadu, and the Centre remains in its political grip. Though domestic compulsions, both electoral and political, make Delhi behave in the present manner, it s also an act it cannot follow too far as the ramifications could prove painful. Having fanned the flames of separatism in the island's North, India's own role in fostering militant groups in Sri Lanka is recorded fact. Besides emboldening Tamil Nadu to make stronger claim for the recognition of an Eelam, this also had India's backyard turning into a veritable playground for Tamil militant groups, and finally, Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated. Though having to perform a precarious juggling act, for political stability of the vast Indian nation, the Centre is well-positioned to resist moves that would promote actual terrorism or foster the separatist cause – they being the costly lessons learnt from the past.

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu had begun to make further demands for the tabling of a separate resolution highlighting the demand for an independent investigation forthwith. "This is not only an issue of the Tamils' but a serious human rights violation, and with the help of human rights organizations in over 25 States, we will spread awareness so that the whole nation rises against the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan Government," the National General Secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Tamil Nadu, V. Suresh, was quoted having said, yesterday. Suresh has urged the Centre not to hide behind economic and strategic interests, and to take a firm step in investigating the genocide and war crimes in Sri Lanka, for which he claims, activists from all parts of India have decided to garner support.

Keeping promises

India has voted in favour of the previous UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka, and often, the actual reasons are buried in the political diatribe and the continuing blame game. While Delhi does try to appease Tamil Nadu, there is more to this behaviour and that is deeply political and strategic.
For all the appearances of standing by Tamil Nadu, an emotional State that has a big political say, Delhi's actual requirement is some solid and progressive political steps by Colombo.

This is why India has become quite visible in the draft UNHRC resolution which calls for the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the empowerment of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) which was set up last year, and the implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations, to ensure parity. There lies India's truth and while the rhetoric at both ends can prove deafening, winning the strategically important giant neighbour's support would largely rest on how Sri Lanka itself responds to the call for reconciliation. The Untied States and many of the other countries that are clamouring for an international investigation into alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka may not genuinely care for the plight of the Tamil people and genuine efforts in reconciliation, but India has a stake. It may be prudent for Sri Lanka to pitch to that, in the long term.

( The writer is an editor of the Ceylon Today, Colombo based daily, where this piece was originally appeared.)


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