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Narendra Modi must bring about serious foreign policy change

| by Rajasingham Jayadevan

( April 6, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The current Indian parliament (lok Sabah) will end its constitutional term on 14 May 2014. The expectations are, BJP coalition will win comfortably. BJP’s Narendra Modi is seen as the Prime Minister in waiting and expected to take India forward in an outright way from the foundation BJP laid for the economic upturn during its last term in office.

The demand for change in political direction is much felt, as India remains regionally and internationally a subdued state. Its non-assertive foreign policy is ravaged by its inability to articulate its regional authority. This is boomeranging on India, thus facilitating China to extend its spears without any check and balance. Never in the history of independent India has it been bullied by all of its neighboring states. Even the little state of Sri Lanka is taking fearless comfort and dictating terms on many issues-thus teasing with lozenges to the Indian fishermen after India abstained from voting in the UNHRC. India’s foreign policy is in deadlock and it is surely non assertive and submissive.

India’s muted approach is permitting Sri Lanka to enforce its will without any fear - a predicament of an elephant becoming highly allergic to ant venom. Continuation of this unreceptive foreign policy will eventually kill India’s stakes, as the fast changing international circumstances will lead to unredeemable consequences.

All the hopes are on the popular BJP leader Narendra Modhi to revive and reignite a commanding Indian foreign policy to assert its stakes in the global politics. BJP’s foreign policy based on its nationalist principles is expected to be different to that of the present pathetically weak Congress lead coalition. There is dire need for a change in the policy direction.

The Pakistani Daily in its editorial of 21 January 2014 asserted: "It could be that considering the BJP's candidate for the top slot Narendra Modi's election campaign momentum and his track record in Gujarat …. that could outshine Rahul's political career so far, Sonia decided not to take the plunge,". Such a binocular view from a country contagious to India speaks volumes of Narendra Modi’s chances to become the Prime Minister of India.

The party will also try to focus on states like West Bengal, Kerala, Odisha and in the northeast where it does not have a presence.

When I had a long meeting with Narendra Modi on a five mile drive to the infamous Swaminarayan temple in Neasden in London some years ago, I presented him with a memorandum on the political resolution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. It was a useful engagement and he made his candid comments. The Rajiv Gandhi factor was at peak at that time and he expressed his difficulties in carrying out an outright campaign. But he promised to do whatever within his limits.

Lots of blood have been spilt since my meeting with him and the internal political compulsions too have changed to the worse with the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009 and there is dire need to rethink India’s foreign policy towards Sri Lanka. Any such change must not be heavily compromised to protect only the Indian fishermen and investments in Sri Lanka.

Difficulties faced by the Sri Lankan Tamils should be the core determinant factor of the Indo-Sri Lanka relationship. When India attempts to outmanoeuvre in its back door dealings with Sri Lanka, it is encountering more difficulties. Overwhelming agitations in Tamil Nadu and its recent indecisive engagement in the UN on Sri Lanka are signs of failures of India.

For the past five years, India has failed to impact on Sri Lanka to meaningfully implement the 13th amendment to the constitution of the Island nation. The conditions have become hopeless with the lack of will on the part of India to engage to overcome the stalemate. It is rather bogged down in setting up housing schemes for war ravaged Tamils and strengthening the economic development plans of the Sri Lanka government.

For the first time, a free and fair Northern Provincial government election had taken place. Stubbornness of Sri Lanka government to undermine the constitutional mandate of the Northern Provincial Council did not invite India to play its assertive role, except for expressing its frustrations now and then for media consumption.

Within the Tamil politics, strong feelings are emerging that any political resolution to the Sri Lankan conflict must be aclearly defined federal model of governance. Tamil agitations since independence in 1948 to achieve some form of reasonable devolution has not gone anywhere, except for the community being brutalised in a ferocious manner.

In the post 2009 scenario, India should have played its due role to respond to the crisis with a mature sense. Modi’s election must pave the way for India to positively engage with the UN, to find a political solution to the political crisis in Sri Lanka. Taking forward a federal solution in Sri Lanka must be its aim.

There is demand from some quarters to hold a referendum under the aegis of the UN for the Tamils to decide their own future. In this, India must play its part by articulating a best federal model and secure a political status for the Tamils. In that, two options are prevailing in the Tamil community:
  • Establish a clearly defined federal governance within Sri Lanka.
  • An option for the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka to join the Indian federation as the 29th federal state to enjoy the freedom, security and the economic upliftment as a nation of people.
There is a need to refocus the political debate of power sharing in Sri Lanka. A referendum on the above theme will precipitate Sri Lanka to come up with its own devolutionary arrangements and safeguards for the minorities.

India needs a national leader to take forward a broader political mission and whether Narendra Modi, who did wonders in Gujarat, will stamp his name as a national leader who could take unprecedented steps to correct India’s progressing malaise, is a challenge he needs to deliver.

On Sri Lanka, India must move away from the Kachchai Thivu demand and should turn the table to create a much broader agenda beneficial to India.

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