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Will Mahinda become Modi's headache?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( May 28, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mahinda Rajapaksa is a pragmatic politician. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was close to win the election in India, he called on Shiv Sena Leader, Uddhav Thackeray, who is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also strengthened ties with Leader of Janatha Party, Subramaniam Swamy. He invited this ardent critic of LTTE to Sri Lanka. It was similar to his association with The Hindu editor-in-chief, N. Ram, during the Congress Party rule. Mahinda planned to get closer to the foreign policy planners of the Indian Government through Thackeray and Swamy. His first aim was to garner an invitation for an official visit to India. He wanted to disprove the pro-opposition analyses that he would be in hot water when Modi came to power.

Mahinda also wanted to teach a lesson to the leaders of Tamil Nadu, who were expecting to control the policies of the Modi Government regarding Sri Lanka. He wanted to meet Modi and to defeat the ideas of the opposition and Tamil Nadu, before the next Presidential Election. Meanwhile, Modi's decision to invite the leaders of the SAARC countries for his swearing-in ceremony was an unexpected win for Mahinda. He left for India proudly mocking the opposition and Tamil Nadu. He invited Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran, to be part of his delegation to New Delhi, in a plan to further upset the Tamil Nadu leaders. However, he failed in that strategy as Wigneswaran rejected the invitation.

Although Mahinda flaunted Modi's invitation as his victory, the difficulty Modi had to face in Tamil Nadu due to the invitation will not bode well for Mahinda. The protests against the Sri Lankan President may push the new Premier to give priority to the problem of Sri Lanka. Modi may have changed his earlier position that issues with Sri Lanka are less important compared to the problems with other countries.

Congress Party turned the Sri Lankan issue into a problem related to Tamil Nadu and India, by way of training Tamil militants in India and arming them. When the BJP came to power in 1998, the problem of Sri Lanka had turned into a civil war. M.K. Narayan Swamy revealed in one of his books about the Sri Lanka's Tamil issue thus:

"Now that Sri Lanka has jettisoned the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Tamil Tigers, one of India's best kept secrets can be revealed. It was New Delhi that quietly authored the process that led to the Norway-brokered pact.
The dominant thinking in India and Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, is that New Delhi has been a distant watcher to the goings on in the war-hit island barring its interactions with Colombo and countries like Norway as part of a 'hands off' policy sparked off by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's 1991 assassination.

While it is true that India took a detached view of the ethnic conflict in the aftermath of Gandhi's killing, things changed shortly after Atal Bihari Vajpayee took office in 1998 at the head of a non-Congress coalition.

By 1999, the Indian State had concluded after years of study that there could never be a military winner in Sri Lanka: Neither the government nor the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would reign supreme although at that stage the rebels appeared to hold an upper hand.
The Indian Government then took the view that it was time for a major peace push in Sri Lanka.

Supervised by National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, the Indian establishment got into the act of ushering in peace in Sri Lanka, with just one rider everything would be done away from media glare. Only a few would be in the know of what was being planned.

Then Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga was waging a 'war for peace' against the LTTE that steadily lost steam as the Tigers hit back with a military precision that stunned the world.

The stalemate was a continuation of what had happened earlier. The Indian military intervention in 1987-90 had run aground; the fighting between 1990 and 1994, mostly during Ranasinghe Premadasa's Presidency, led to no decisive result; and the war during Kumaratunga's Presidency was going the same way.

The Indian establishment, however, felt that Kumaratunga was incapable of making peace. What Sri Lanka needed, so went the reading, was a leader who was ready to shake hands with the LTTE with a long-term vision to bring peace to the country.

It may have been a coincidence, but political convulsions quickly rocked Colombo, destabilizing Kumaratunga's Government and sparking an election in 2000 and a second election the next year.

The Indian establishment felt there was a need to bring in an international player to facilitate peace in Sri Lanka, a party both Colombo and the LTTE could do business with as they appeared incapable of talking to one another.
Kumaratunga's first choice was France, but this the LTTE rejected.
India by then had zeroed in on Norway; Norwegian diplomats began visiting New Delhi. No publicity was given to these brainstorming trips.

Norway was picked for mainly three reasons: It was physically far removed from South Asia; it had no territorial ambitions; and it had a proven record in peace building.

Kumaratunga and the LTTE eventually settled on Norway as the peace facilitator. The war, however, continued to rage.
Norway's Chosen Special Envoy, Erik Solheim, travelled to Kilinochchi, the LTTE-controlled northern part of Sri Lanka, in November 2000 and met the group's top leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, for the first time.

The next month, the LTTE offered a ceasefire and extended it, month by month, for four months. After that the Tigers again took the offensive.

In July 2001, the LTTE virtually overran Sri Lanka's International Airport at Katunayake, dealing a shattering blow from which Colombo never recovered.

The second of the two elections followed, and Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Opposition Leader, became Prime Minister in December 2001. Events galloped at a rapid pace, in both New Delhi and Colombo, but all under wraps.
Overseen by New Delhi, a truce document began to be drafted. Norway was deeply involved in the exercise, roping in some of its veteran diplomats.

Eventually, this translated into CFA, India also told Norwegian diplomats to let the LTTE know about the Indian involvement in the entire effort.

On 21 February 2002, LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran signed the CFA; Wickremesinghe put his signature a day later.
Since India never publicized its role in the developments, many Indians argued that New Delhi was letting Sri Lanka slip into Western hands!

By then, India had also mooted the idea of a Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the first such international peace monitoring body outside the UN aegis. India wanted Nordic countries – Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland – to make up the SLMM to oversee the ceasefire."

The article pointed out that the BJP Government had pressured the Sri Lanka Government to resolve the issue through negotiations with the LTTE. The policy of the Indian Government changed when the Congress Party came to power defeating the BJP. Congress Party and specially the Gandhi family wanted to destroy the LTTE and its leader Prabakaran, who was held responsible for killing Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress Party led Indian Government assisted the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government to annihilate the LTTE amidst protests by the international community. The reason behind the present situation in Tamil Nadu is the Congress Government disregarding Tamil sentiments there.

The Congress Party support extended to the LTTE in 1983 drew Tamil Nadu and India to the problem of Sri Lanka. Likewise, Tamil Nadu and India again messed with the Sri Lankan issue through Congress support to the Sri Lanka Government in 2009.

If Modi views the problem of Sri Lanka in the same way the BJP considered it in 1998, he may pressure Mahinda to discuss with the Western countries, including the US, and even Tamil Nadu, to settle the issue.

When the BJP came to power in 1998, Prabakaran became the headache of Prime Minister Vajpayee. In the same way, today Modi's headache is Mahinda. The persons who are interested in the Sri Lanka's issue are waiting to see the remedy Modi is offering to the problem.

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