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Who'll be Modi's point man to take decisions on Sri Lanka?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( May 21, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The way the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime thinks about India's new Prime Minister is different. They estimate that Narendra Modi may take about a year to consolidate power at the centre. By that time he would not have time to focus on Sri Lanka and other regional issues, or so they think. They also think that Modi may not support the US agenda on Sri Lanka since he himself had no good relations with the US when he was Gujarat's Chief Minister.

Modi is not that exposed to international politics and therefore he may not interfere in regional issues since he may focus on the internal politics of India, the Rajapaksa regime thinks.

Last minute decision

However, when considering the Congress Government's last minute decision to ban the LTTE for five more years in India, it seems that the former Government of India has certain doubts as to whether Modi may change India's Sri Lanka policy. Congress might have thought that a Modi Government could follow a loose policy on the LTTE. Sri Lanka also banned pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora organizations during the last period of the Congress Government. India implemented this ban unofficially for five years, although Western countries including Canada did not accept it.
The announcement by the Indian Government of imposing a five-year ban on the LTTE carried the message that pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora members may enter Tamil Nadu and mobilize people against the Central Government. India voted in favour of the resolutions mooted at the UNHRC in 2012 and 2013, but abstained from voting this year. The reason may be to prevent a future government led by Modi supporting an international probe against Sri Lanka.

All these indicate that Congress had understood that Modi might have a different approach towards Sri Lanka. India's former Defence Adviser, Shivshankar Menon, decided on Indian policy on Sri Lanka. Menon is a close friend of the Rajapaksas. Today, the Rajapaksas are waiting to see who will be appointed as India's new National Security Adviser under the BJP Government. Rajapaksas seem to think that the National Security Adviser will be the person deciding policies on Sri Lanka in the context that Modi may take a year to consolidate power in New Delhi.

Several names have been proposed as the National Security Adviser under the Modi Government. One of them is Ajith Kumar Doval who was the Director, Intelligence Bureau under the Vajpayee Government. Another nominee is Kanwal Sibal, who was the Foreign Secretary under Vajpayee. Yet another name touted is S. Jaishankar, Political Secretary, Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka during the 1988-89 period. He advised the IPKF in Sri Lanka at that time. His father, K. Subramaniam was also a defence expert.

Meanwhile, the fourth name touted for the post of National Security Adviser is Shyam Saran. Saran was appointed Foreign Secretary in June 2004 and visited Sri Lanka in July 2006. He instructed President Rajapaksa to provide a political solution to the North. However, he resigned from the post before Rajapaksa began the war in September 2006. Saran visited Sri Lanka in 2011 to deliver a lecture on India-Sri Lanka relations.

Puri factor

However, the most crucial name proposed for the post of National Security Adviser is Hardeep Puri, who served at the Indian High Commission of Sri Lanka during the period of Indian intervention from 1984 to 1988. He was also the Permanent Representative of India at the UN from 2009 to 2013. Later, he changed his allegiance to the BJP. Puri was the person who made the controversial statement urging for an international probe on crimes during the last days of war in Sri Lanka.

Puri recently said, "India can be against the LTTE, but cannot afford to be against the Tamils. The problem, both amongst the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka and large sections of the Tamil population in India is that the LTTE successfully manipulated Tamil opinion by projecting itself as the only physical shield against Sinhala repression. We cannot wish away this sentiment. The only safeguard for the Tamils in Sri Lanka is delivery of the promised devolution based on the 13th Amendment.

"Both the AIADMK and the DMK, along with smaller parties in Tamil Nadu are on the same page on the Sri Lanka issue. The problem will continue to fester till Colombo has a genuine change of heart. Recent signals are anything but encouraging. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on 27 March 2013: 'Could we afford to have a provincial administration here, which pointed a gun at the national leadership at the drop of a hat? We don't want to be at the mercy of scheming provincial administrations.' Let alone the 13th Amendment, the Defence Secretary seems to be suggesting the winding up of Provincial Councils altogether!

"Notwithstanding assurances to India, the 'brothers' running Sri Lanka appear to have no intention to move on political reconciliation and devolution. This 'majoritarianism' in total disregard of respecting and protecting the rights of minorities is a narrow and calibrated political strategy designed to safeguard Sinhalese parliamentary strength. Recent attacks on the Muslim trading community in the heart of Colombo by fanatical Sinhalese, allegedly led by Buddhist monks are manifestations of similar callous and cynical disregard for the rights of linguistic, religious and cultural minorities. India did the right thing by supporting the resolution on war crimes.

"Exaggerated projections of Chinese inroads and influence are a bogey, which many of our smaller neighbours periodically try on us. Apart from being practical, the Chinese are also hard headed. They will pursue economic and commercial opportunities irrespective of the way India votes. Support for Sri Lanka up to 2012 did not prevent them from looking for commercial projects there. Many Chinese successes have something to do with our own inability to deliver commercial projects on time."

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, angered by this, made the following statement. "Had the then Indian Government acted with responsibility, Sri Lanka wouldn't have experienced a 30-year war.
"People of all communities would have been still suffering horrors of war, if not for the eradication of terrorism in May 2009, following a three-year combined Security Forces campaign. India could never absolve itself of the responsibility for creating terrorism here, though some of those directly involved in subverting Sri Lanka were blaming the Rajapaksa administration for the plight of Tamil speaking people here."
In this context, it may not be easy for the Rajapaksas if Puri is appointed as the Adviser on National Security by Prime Minister Modi.

'Ace of Hearts'

During the election, the Rajapaksa Government of Sri Lanka did two acts that embarrassed India. One is discussing a defence pact with China and the other was consulting Pakistani Legal Expert Chandhry Ahsan on the impact of the resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. This service was solicited through a special request channelled by President Mahinda Rajapaksa by way of the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

These however didn't please the Indian Government. This indicates that the Rajapaksa regime is trying to play the same old game of cards showing India the trump of China, thereby aiming to win the government there. It is yet to be seen if the Modi Government also can be tricked with the same China and Pakistan trump cards.

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