EDITORIAL: SUSHMA SWARAJ VISIT AND THE FUTURE OF INDO-LANKAN TIES

| by Senguttuvan

( April 24, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The centre-stage in Sri Lankan politics shifted from the post-Geneva debacle during the last days of March to the high profile 6-day visit (Apr 16-21)of Smt. Swashma Swaraj, senior BJP MP and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and her multi-party delegation.. The visit, in the boards for some months now, finally took place though there was some speculation on both sides there could be an unanticipated delay on account of the volte face by the Indians in Geneve. The Sri Lankan side made the initial error of having taken India for granted in the eyes of the world. Conventional wisdom should have warned opinion makers here space should have been made for the unexpected – more so because the heat generated in Tamilnadu where the competing interests of both Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi continued to grapple in the seemingly endless Lankan issue. The clear refusal, albeit under various ruses, by Mahinda Rajapakse to settle the Lankan National Question – promised by him several times to be along the 13th Amendment – was straining relationship between the two countries. Worse still is the Rajapakse refusal to even implement the recommendations of his own creation – the LLRC. The Commission – manned mostly by Commissioners sympathetic to the government – and believed to be on instructions to deliver to the governments measurement a set of recommendations to appease the region and the international community before that tumultuous meeting in Geneva in March. And now to prevaricate it has to go through Parliamentary process and/or only parts of it (favourable to the regime) will be implemented when the Rajapakses feel so, is a further poorly camouflaged exercise in perfidy.
Indian Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj gestures during a visit to the National Vocational Campus in Batticoloa on April 20, 2012. – GETTY IMAGES
Whereas Tamilnadu Chief Minister Selvi Jayalalitha and former CM Shri Karunanidhi agreed to send representatives to be part of the delegation respectively from the AIDMK and DMK, Jayalalitha, upon learning of the Itinerary prepared by GoSL pulled out her Representative Williams Rabi Bernard objecting with the comment “this looks more like a guided tour with Dinners and Lunches thrown in” She complained the visit is unlikely to take the delegation to the actual areas where Northern Tamils are held in camps or a neutral visit to areas of the delegation’s choice rather than the “prepared” Agenda of the Army/GoSL structured to avoid sensitive areas where Tamils are held. Predictably, Karunanidhi also pulled out his representative TKS Elongovan for similar reasons. It is, therefore, clear even before the arrival of the delegation the absence of the two main political parties from Tamilnadu substantially diluted the very purpose of the visit. Many wonder, therefore,why did the SushmaSwaraj lead visit therefore go ahead at all.
If one were to speculate on sound reasonable grounds, it appears to be the strategy of the GoI to structure their future Lankan policy more on an All-India Parties basis where most majorpolitical parties there speak in a single voice on Sri Lanka. Hence Sushma Swaraj and the BJP to the fore say these sources. Brahmins of South Bloc appear to suspect the Rajapakses will continue their cat and mouse game to avoid a settlement – paying little heed to their own LLRC recommendations or the “advise”of the USA, UK and the EU in Geneva come time barred to next March/April. Rajapakses have gained.
A particular notoriety for principles and commitment like in that case when things became bad in Geneva before the final vote G.L. Peiris is reported to have telephoned
India’s S.M. Krishna and assured all recommendations of the LLRC Report will be implemented if India vote against the US resolution. The Indians are clearly more experienced and wiser pointing out no favour is done to India by Sri Lanka in bringing relief to their own people. As another Analyst titled his recent piece “Evva shape-keraganta puluvam” (all these matters can be “shaped” in our favour) The wily Rajapakses should not count on their hunches far too much here. By all accounts their options are fastly diminishing.
The Sushma Swaraj visit itself is reported differently in either side of the Straits. Predictably, the media controlled by the Lankan State was quick to suggest in banner headlines the delegation is “impressed” “satisfied” with the arrangements made to the IDPs in their areas. Other suggestions are the “delegation has admitted the visit has been useful to study the genuine steps taken by President Rajapakse in the direction of reconciliation” But when the delegation met the press at the Taj after a Banquet was hosted in their honour by President Rajapakse Smt.Swaraj put paid to the speculation in the questions from the media when she carefully confirmed “President Rajapakse assured a solution encompassing devolution will be made along the lines of 13th Amendment” Bandula Jayasekera, the official State representative present, remained mum. The regime now uses a journalist from the private English media – openly identified as a “Govt. man” – who writes “a senior Govt. source denies” this but does not identify the “senior Govt source” The talks during the Banquet apparently have not been without “incidents” It is learnt when the President claimed “people in Jaffna are now not dying or crying” Smt Swaraj had mentioned the presence of the army in Jaffna should be reduced along lines of the pre-war levels with the Police playing their regular role. To this the President has snapped back “where, in that case, do I send my army to. I cannot send them to a foreign soil (India?)” Naturally, the delegation shocked at this infantile reaction has allowed the matter to pass.
Incidentally, the man who contentiously lead the astonishing Lankan jumbo delegation in Geneve – Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe – is credited with the dubious distinction of having publicly announced somewhat arbitrarily and 3 days before the crucial vote –that India’s vote is already in the Lankan bag. This undiplomatic faux pas, one among many by members of our unduly large delegation, is believed to be a prime reason for India’s reluctant disenchantment in Geneva. Samarasinghe’s foolhardy effort at trying to be clever by half has harmed the regime substantially in their cohabitation with India – vital in more ways than one to the regime’s political survival. Once more Sri Lanka is forced to learn the hard way diplomacy is a far more delicate and sophisticated discipline conducted by trained, learned professionals enjoying a network of friends and connections in the diplomatic world. Prof.G.L. Peiris would have learnt a sudden burst of unsolicited visits to several countries in the African continent is a poor substitute to goodwill earned by our career diplomats enjoying personal friendship with colleagues in other countries.
The present Rajapakse dilemma is less the Indian “issue” but more the fastly declining economic situation in the country. People, battered by the unbearable Cost of Living, are taking the law into their hands. The past few days have shown “uprisings” in the poorer districts of Working Class Colombo which the government media is apparently asked to camouflage as “war on drug-traffickers” The people have known for quite a while the close connections between government high-ups and the drug-trafficking crime-underworld and therefore it is unlikely to gain popular acceptance these “uprisings” are in the interest of law and order. Kidnappings, house-breaking, daytime robberies are reported from many parts of the South. One reads of the unprecedented and yet shocking case where a 2nd year female student of the Peradeniya university was handed over to the Police in a chain-snatching incident at Gampola where she is alleged to have used a sharp instrument on a Tamil woman.
The media reports, not for the first time, a controversial official associated with the CBSL – after the recent receipt of the IMF tranche at enhanced interest rates – hoarsely claiming “ our GDP is on the rise” A wag suggests the CBSL man has the imminent rise of Gas, Diesel and Petrol in mind and not the Gross National Product. These, at any rate, have been increased several times in the past year with no end to this in sight – a further example of the poor economic management of the regime. All the government has claimed in its defence is these are due to “reasons outside our control and due to world market movements” The once respected Central Bank (CBSL)now finds itself in the embarrassing position where the IMF and World Bank are given different and conflicting versions of the Balance of Payments situation of the economy. Many suspect the Rajapakses are losing control of the economy and point out the US$-SLRs parity today stands close to Rs.131 despite many assurances from the government’s duo of economic Czars it will not be allowed to go beyond Rs.120. Apolitical economists in the country fear the amateurish management of the economy will resulting Dollar-Rupee parity exceeding Rs.150 by mid-year. Naturally, the government will then need a platform to hold on to power. One way out will be an anti-Indian stance- a usual bait for which the Souther electorate falls for. Robert Mugabe runs for over 40 years with an iron-fist his once prosperous Zimbabwe – that he has plundered to the bone marrow. He continues to blame and survive on the falsity of “UN Sanctions” The profligate Sukarno did the same with Indonesia and for years lived on the ignorance of the semi-literate Indonesians on his “Crush Malaysia” Campaign. Over a hundred million Indonesians were kept in dire straits for decades by Sukarno until the Suharto-Nasution Coup threw them out in 1965. Indonesia, run well in the past few years, is now an economic power-house in ASEAN. It will not be far too long before Lankans – drugged by the euphoria of a war victory in 2009 and other false propaganda – wake up to reality – a wimpish and divided opposition notwithstanding.
In a separate issue former Tamilnadu Chief Minister – angered by regular reports of eviction of Tamils now in the North in the post-2009 period to change the demographic reality there, tells the Indian media “Since Mahinda Rajapakse is dodging the issue, the UN must intervene as in the case of South Sudan and insist on a Referendum by the people of North Sri Lanka. Gothabaya Rajapakse, the Defence Secretary and government official, joins the fray and reminds Karunanidhi ”if he is interested he can create a Tamil Eelam in Tamilnadu” Possibly, as a consequence of this spat a group of journalists and reporters from Chennai’s Sun TV, coming here to cover the Sushma Swaraj delegation visit, were turned back at the airport. Their protest to immigration authorities they hold valid Lankan Visas and Media status were all ignored. It is understood Sun TV is owned by close members of the Karunanidhi family. Then there is the otherwise balanced and respected Editor of a well-known English Sunday newspaper who editorially joins in the issue noting “Eelam should be tried out in India-not here” Both seem to miss the point. Eelam is the Tamil name for the North-East Province of present Sri Lanka, where the Tamils were in overwhelming majority until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. Ilangai, for the record, is the present name of the whole Island.
Civil society that remained somewhat detached or that had no apetite to get involved in the murky business of anything political is coming round to the reality the Rajapakses are taking the nation down the abyss. Seeing the collapse of a once decent society in many spheres responsible citizens like those in the Friday Forum, CIMOG, OPA are alerting the people and, in many other ways, nudging the recalcitrant Rajapakses to face reality. But the power-bent regime choses to remain obstinate. Their only focus is to consolidate the many lucrative benefits coming the way of the immediate extended family and its army of sycophants. The uninterrupted rule of the Rajapakses is ably helped by a more than cooperative judiciary and a security apparatus subverted to total and unquestioned loyalty. How many of the Lankan “98% literate” are aware the Rajapakses personal fortunes rules sway over the social and economic well-being of the entire nation. In case the Rajapakse fortunes are challenged there is no saying where they will stop. They will find any excuse to stay in power- including taking the country along a path more deadlier than July 1983. These are the considered words of the pro-government journalist in the private media referred earlier “the US bid launched (in Geneva) at the behest of the Tamils and the Tamil diaspora- backed by the US, EU, UN and S.Africa” This falsehood is calculated to rouse feelings against Tamils within, in case things go wrong for the regime
A regular Indian Writer-Security Analyst has this to say of the current overview in the Indian side ”Sri Lanka is insensitive and callous in not responding to international concerns on allegations of HR & W-Crimes perpetrated against Tamils in Sri Lanka. The ethnic reconciliation process is making tardy progress
The strategies and professionalism in governance of the Rajapakse clan in managing our future relations India will soon go out to establish if India, at least as long as the Rajapakses chose to subvert the system and remain, is our friend, enemy – or even frenemy.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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