| by Kuldip Nayar
( March 15, 2012, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) I do not know why Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa does not present his case to the Indian society which can make all the difference. At present, he is not seen in good light at this end. There is hardly any Indian who supports the division of Sri Lanka as a fringe of Tamil fanatics demand. Still he needs to have something like a press conference at Delhi to allow the media to interact with him. A frank discussion with experts or think-tanks will help him more than the usual round of meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee or some others in office.
The Indian intelligence or civil society did not support the fascist tactics of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran. Yet they have wanted the Tamils, the minority in Sri Lanka, to be treated at par as a democratic polity does. India’s Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) which went to Sri Lanka at its government’s request is an old story. Both sides had a bitter taste of it but it is a forgotten chapter. In any case, it should come in the way of the two countries.
Yet the excesses committed during the war against the LTTE are fresh in the minds of Tamils and others in India. The society is upset over the recent revelations, for example the cold-blooded murder of Prabhakaran’s son. The fact that the government in Colombo has never taken Indians into confidence or sponsored their team to visit the areas to assess things for themselves has given birth to doubts and suspicions.
I recall that a leading-most Sri Lanka’s Sunday paper, calling itself liberal, was so annoyed with me because of my reference to the reported excesses that it stopped my writing for it. Yet Sri Lanka does not wash away the responsibility or stigma by not facing the facts.
The reaction in Tamil Nadu has been hostile, primarily because of ethnic considerations. But New Delhi has been mature enough to view the situation more objectively. Yet this has given the impression as if the Manmohan Singh government is indifferent. That may explain why the DMK, an ally of the government, has moved amendments on President’s address relating to Sri Lanka and has urged the government to back a US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka over human rights violations.
Those who follow the events in Sri Lanka are worried over the influx of refugees from Sri Lanka. The long protracted problem remains unsolved. Sri Lanka is going the wrong way in solving its ethnic problem. The Tamils nourish a grievance that they do not get their due in their own country. Rajapaksa, representing the Sinhalese, the majority community of Sri Lanka, should have at least after an overwhelming victory at the polls, looked into what has come to be the Tamil question. But he has discontinued even the singing of National Anthem in Tamil, a practice followed for years to give the Tamils a feeling of equality. This will only confirm their belief that they are second-class citizens.
The Tamils, living mostly in the northern part of the country, were critical of what the LTTE did and its chief Prabhakaran was not their hero because he brought them misery and indignities which the Sinhalese government heaped on them. Yet as long as long as he lived and the LTTE held aloft the standard of resistance from Jaffna and the places in the North, the Tamils believed that Colombo would give them a better deal under pressure.
Most of Tamils kept away from Prabhakaran lest the government should wreak its vengeance on them. Still it did. However, the fact remains that the fear of LTTE on the one hand and the pressure of Tamils outside Sri Lanka on the other made the Sinhalese government go slow in their plan to have one nation, one flag and one anthem. The steps Colombo has taken after vanquishing the LTTE do not hold much promise for the Tamils. They feel too lonely, too neglected.
President Rajapakshe continues to oppose the decentralising of power even within a unitary type of government. This is injurious to the Sri Lankan government’s point of view. A disgruntled Tamil community within and outside its borders may give rise to extremism again. The impression in Indian parliament after the news of atrocities committed in the last days of the war against the LTTE indicates that the embers of annoyance exist.
Colombo does not have to change Rajapaksa but must put pressure to change his style of governance, dynastic and dictatorial.
New Delhi has allocated a large sum of money for rehabilitating the Tamils who have suffered during the war. Still 300,000 Tamils are languishing in camps or living in the open although the war ended more than a year ago.
And there is no dilution of the situation that the Tamils continue to be discriminated. A democracy, which Sri Lanka claims to be one, has to treat all citizens equally. The Sinhalese are in a majority and Tamils in a minority. Yet, together, they constitute the nation.
New Delhi, which enjoys good relations with Colombo, has been under pressure from Tamil Nadu, to get a better deal for the Tamils. A federal structure is what is needed in Sri Lanka so that North has a feeling that it is as much part of the country as other areas are.
But, to spite New Delhi, the Rajapaksa government has begun building close relations with Pakistan and China, the two countries which are in conflict with India. Sri Lanka has, in fact, given the two facilities to China for building the Trincomalee Harbour and to Pakistan for training the new entrants to the Lankan army. However irritating, they do not change New Delhi’s policy of befriending Sri Lanka and helping the country to have a system where the Tamils can participate politically. This is in Colombo own interest.