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Opportunistic alliances & Indo-Lanka ties

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( April 30, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) "Among all the countries that attained freedom after the Second World War, in Africa and Asia, only your nation and our nation have preserved the democratic traditions without any interruption.

"We were the first to change our governments by constitutional process. We have done this on several occasions and I have been at the receiving end of several of those changes. Today, I am the President of Sri Lanka by the choice of its people and not by any constitutional or military coup.

"Your country too has set an example to the democratic world by changing its government by the democratic process. I will not go into recent history, but there are many parallels that can be drawn between events that took place in your country during the last two years and the events that took place in our country during the same period.

"You may not know but my one and only son was sent to jail and up to date he has not been charged for any offence. My nephew, who is my Private Secretary, was put in jail. Up to date he has not been charged for any offence.

"I was not put into jail because our opposition was too powerful to put the Leader of the Opposition in jail, as they did in the case of Morarji Desi." (Looking Beyond the Island's Shores)

The above speech was delivered by President J.R. Jayewardene. He expressed those views while he was touring in India after the electoral victory of 1977, on an invitation by Indian Premier, Morarji Desai. He made references to former Prime Minister, Sirima Bandaranaike, whom he defeated, and former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who was defeated by Desai.

Through this speech, JR analyzed Indo-Lanka relations, by focusing on the affiliations between the UNP and the Janatha Party in the opposition to the SLFP and the Congress Party that were in power. JR was of the view that the Sri Lankan Government under Sirima Bandaranaike followed Indira's Congress rule and committed anti-democratic acts. Same analysis can be found in JR's biography also.

JR's biography

"There was also an external factor that JR and the UNP believed had been in operation to strengthen Mrs. Bandaranaike in her efforts to secure yet another postponement of the elections now scheduled for 1977, that is, the influence of Mrs. Gandhi. When Mrs. Gandhi had arrived in the island on 27 April 1973 for two days of talks with her Sri Lankan counterpart, few people anticipated the dramatic improvement in relations between the two countries that occurred from that point onwards during the tenure of office of the two women as Prime Ministers of their two countries. Nor could they have predicted that the warm personal ties that developed between them and their immediate families would have such important consequences for relations between the two countries in the 1980s. Indeed, in the years 1975 and 1976 the compatibility of views between the two Prime Ministers had reached a point where critics within Sri Lanka, JR among them, felt that the personal friendship had an unhealthy effect on the internal politics of Sri Lanka. Mrs. Gandhi's imposition of emergency rule in India in 1975 came as a great shock to the democratic world and led to widespread criticism. The Sri Lanka Government under Mrs. Bandaranaike was one of the very few that made any public statement in support of Mrs. Gandhi' assumption of near-dictatorial authority under emergency powers. There was, for example, the speech of T.B. Illangaratne, Sri Lanka's Minister for Trade, Public Administration and Home Affairs, in Delhi in February 1976, at a banquet given in his honour by Y.B. Chavan, India's Minister for External Affairs, at which he is reported to have said: 'No group should be allowed to destroy democracy by utilizing the freedom it affords in the name of democracy.' Both governments faced a General Election in 1976 or 1977; both leaders sought to postpone the election. JR, for one, believed that Mrs. Bandaranaike was following her Indian counterpart's example in this.

"JR did not need the services of Sri Lanka's army of fortune tellers to see that the election campaign was certain to end in a substantial victory for his party. The only doubt in his mind was about the size of the majority. Many of the UNPers were predicting something close to a two-thirds majority for the UNP, 110 seats or more in the new Parliament which would have 168 MPs. There were a few who spoke of 135 to 140 seats – and they were proved right ¬– but JR was not as sanguine as they were till 20-21 March when the results of the General Elections in India stunned the world when the Congress Party suffered its first electoral defeat at a national level. For the first time since independence, India would change a government through the ballot, something Sri Lanka had done so often. Above all there were the defeats suffered by Mrs. Gandhi, and her son Sanjay Gandhi. It was at this point that JR and his closest allies in the UNP campaign began to have confidence in their ability to inflict a resounding defeat on the SLFP.

"As we have seen, both governments faced a General Election in 1976 or 1977; both Mrs. Gandhi and Mrs. Bandaranaike had sought to postpone the election, with Mrs. Bandaranaike following her Indian counterpart's example in this. Mrs. Gandhi had changed her mind and decided to face a General Election in March 1977, despite the fact that she had the votes in parliament to secure a postponement. Mrs. Bandaranaike faced a general election in the middle of 1977 once she found that she did not have the votes in Parliament for yet another postponement after the one she secured in 1972. On both sides of the Palk Strait the election campaign of the governing party was led by a mother and son combination. The parallel was amazing and the UNP gleefully exploited the Indian election result to their own advantage in their campaign." (JR and the Twilight of Mrs Bandaranaike's Government)

International crisis

The main cause behind the civil war that erupted in Sri Lanka in 1983 was the conflict between the JR regime and Indira's government. It was not a mere personal clash, but an international crisis. While the SLFP and the Congress Party of India took a pro-Soviet stand, the UNP and the Janatha Party sided with the US. The conflict ended with the end of Cold War and the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord was signed by J.R. Jayewardene and Rajiv Gandhi in this context.

After President R. Premadasa succeeded JR as Ececutive President of Sri Lanka, he sent back the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord was thrown into the dustbin. Thus, the conflict between the UNP and the Congress Party ended, but the memory of this blunder still remains. Prof. Rohan Gunaratne wrote in his book Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka that the Congress Government under Narasimha Rao backed the attempt to impeach President Premadasa. It is no secret that the Congress Party was happy to bring back the Bandaranaikes to power and gave their blessings to the ascendancy of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to power in 1994. The Congress Government publicly supported the set of proposals that Chandrika set forth to resolve the ethnic problem. Then the UNP protested against the Congress Government for allegedly influencing the UNP MPs to support Chandrika's package.

When the Congress Party rule ended and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, the UNP was quite jubilant. The BJP Government told Chandrika that her political package was of no use, if the LTTE did not accept it. The UNP was also of the same view. When the UNP came to power in 2001, both Ranil's Government and the BJP were of similar views with regard to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka. The BJP fully backed Ranil's peace attempt. But, while the BJP was in power in India's centre, the High Commissioner in Colombo was Nirupam Sen, who was loyal to the Congress Party. He was behind brokering the deal between Chandrika and the JVP to ally to topple the UNP Government parallel to the defeat of the BJP in India.

When the Congress Party came back into power in 2004, a coalition led by the SLFP was at the helm in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, since the BJP was long way off from forming a government, Ranil got close to the Congress Party. Another reason for his change in allegiance was the fact that Vajpayee, who was close to him, resigned from the BJP leadership. Ranil got so close to the Congress Party that at the 2009 election he expressed to the Indian media that the BJP provided the UNP Government with weapons to suppress the LTTE during the period between 2002 and 2003, when he was the Prime Minister. Under the influence of the friends in the Congress Party, Ranil said the Sri Lankan Government was fighting the LTTE with the weapons given by the BJP.

This statement was a direct contradiction of the BJP's allegation that the Congress Party was supporting the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government during the war. Ranil was trying to save his position as the Opposition Leader with the support of the Congress Party. This pushed him further away from the BJP and his last code with the BJP fell off from his hand with the resignation of Advani from the leadership of the BJP.

Narendra Modi is a new leader with whom the UNP has no ties. The Defence Adviser of the Congress Government was of the view that Mahinda as President and Ranil as Prime Minister may pave the way to seek a solution to the ethnic problem. He was protecting both Mahinda and Ranil. But it is not clear yet what Modi's attitude would be in terms of Sri Lanka, if he comes to power.

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