( April 11, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) “The time to use the big stick has come,” wrote B. Raman recently, he Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
He was not it seems, speaking metaphorically; the “big stick” here is “all means of political and economic pressure at its [India’s] disposal.” I will consider the length and width of the big stick in a moment, but first let’s ask why the big stick? It is because “India” is unhappy. “Indian unhappiness can hurt Sri Lanka and it should be made clear that we would not hesitate to hurt it if it continues to follow its present policy of duplicity.” And the duplicity? The Rajapaksa government has …wrigg[ed] out of…[its] commitments to India …for finding a satisfactory political solution to meet the aspirations of the Tamils.” The quid pro quo is clear. India supported the “crushing of the LTTE,” and the heavy human cost associated with it, in exchange for significant regional autonomy of the Tamil majority areas of the North and East. Once promised, now withheld, this brings out the big stick.
Why does India want this? The accepted answer for years now has been that India cares for the Sri Lankan Tamils, and seeks to protect their rights, through a federal or quasi federal arraignment in Sri Lanka. The other answer is that India continues to seek a major, physical foot hold in Sri Lanka more so now that its arch international rival China has several such footholds, notably in the growing port city of Hambantota in Sri Lanka’s deep south.
And what of the stick itself? That’s opaque to me, but it’s certainly an open threat. If it’s not empty, and there is no reason it should be, then its substance must concern us. There are incipient but ominous signs that this big stick is being interpreted by the Sri Lankan government to be tactical support for the arming and training of former LTTE carder in the South of India. The Island recently ran such a story, citing Sri Lankan intelligence sources, to cries of denial from the High Commission and angry demands of ‘prove it!’ from the Indian press. When confronted with the denials, the Island pointed to a previous story in the Hindu that ran an year ago, which said: “Highly placed intelligence sources confirmed to The Hindu on Saturday that the Ministry of Home Affairs had sent alert messages that some LTTE cadre had arrived in Tamil Nadu and were engaged in a training program at an “unknown location.” They were in the process of procuring weapons and explosive substances to execute their plan.” Its seems reasonable to conclude that if this story of fresh LTTE training camps in South India is fabrication, the Hindu is as implicated as the Island in it; if it is not, then it is good to recall, as the Island itself pointed out, pre 1987 Indian denials of such Sri Lankan claims of training of militants in India are now known to untrue.
R. Hariharan, a “retired Military Intelligence officer of the Indian Army,” does not dismiss this news report out of hand. He says, like I do, that “I do not know whether the news story is true or not.” In any event, he says “India should immediately take serious notice of any reports of Eelam separatists taking refuge in Tamil Nadu to gather support or undergo training. It should tighten up actions to prevent such resurgence of separatism. It should take action to weed out suspicious elements immediately.” I do hope his advice is heeded.
For our part, as Sri Lankans, we need to own our own democracy, which is, beyond any doubt withering in the winds. There is a need, as I have been saying, to make our fundamental rights our business. While elections to the Northern Provincial council under the 13th amendment should be held sooner, rather than later (there is now some talk scheduling it), our more immediate and serious concern must be the rights of all our citizens, especially those in North and the East.
When Elephants clash, it is the grass that is trampled.