Churn in Tamil Nadu reopens spectre of R2P - Prof. David

[TamilNet, Sunday, 30 November 2008, 23:48 GMT]
Contrasting  the relatively slow changing and stable U.S. foreign policy to Pandora’s Box of unpredictable possibilities of India’s foreign policy towards Sri Lanka, Prof David in an op-ed column in Sri Lanka’s weekly Lakbima, asserts that “if  TN [Tamil Nadu] boils over not all the protestations of sovereign rights by the Sinhala state will count for a farthing; it will be R2P in its most rough manifestation.” Even ruling out outright military intervention, Prof David says, the new administration in India may take a tough line including using trade as a weapon, harass the Sri Lankan State, or turn a blind-eye to LTTE military activities.

Full text of the article follows:

India; Lanka’s great unknown
Prof David
Professor Kumar David
US foreign policy, for example, evolves slowly and is relatively stable as administrations change; the Cubans, the Israelis and Palestinians, or for that matter the denizens of any other country in the rest of the world, are not thrown into paroxysms of confusion every few years by the thought that the superpower is undergoing a psychic shift. Current events and past history show, however, that India’s Lanka-game-plan is a Pandora’s Box of unpredictable possibilities. Who for example imagined, six or twelve months ago, that Tamil Nadu (TN) would write the rules of the game for Lanka’s race war? And in an extreme case scenario it well may; if TN boils over not all the protestations of sovereign rights by the Sinhala state will count for a farthing; it will be R2P in its most rough manifestation. On the other hand, what if TN is faced with the fait accompli of the fall of Kilinochchi?

Events of the last two months:
BJP TN State President L Ganesan made some pretty startling declarations. If the BJP was elected to the Centre (elections are due May 2009, latest) India would “solve the problem within six months”, he also promised that the BJP’s election manifesto would contain a detailed section on the issue. He had some pretty rough words for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his “refusal to stop the war is an insult to India” he declared. The electoral sting was reserved for Manmohan Singh: “This shows that the UPA government is not respected by other countries and the prestige and influence of India have declined after Manmohan Singh took over as premier”.

The coming months will show whether Advani and the BJP centre back up this tough line, and decide whether Congress or the BJP manage to cobble up a working coalition. What is clear, however, is that Lanka’s race war will be kicked around as a football in Indian electoral politics; deservedly an impotent football. The prize is not just 50 or so TN seats in the Lok Sabha, but perhaps another 50 in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra which can be influenced by Dravidian sentiments. If the BJP continues to play tough, Congress will bend, that’s for sure.

Manmohan Singh is a paragon of financial probity and an honourable man, but his Achilles’ heel is the charge of impotency; spinelessness. Going into an election as the underdog (most people expect a pro-BJP coalition victory), Congress will have to prove that not just Sonia, but Manmohan too can stand straight.

But there are many Lankan irons in the Indian electoral fire. CPI National Secretary T Raja and TN CPI leader T Pandian have been in the forefront of an anti-Rajapaksa campaign.

Here are some quotes from their statements and speeches: “Indiscriminate firepower unleashed on an unarmed people”; “Jaffna is an open prison”; “catastrophic human disaster”; “bloodbath”; “we will shut down the TN on 25 November in protest”. More troubling is Raja’s declaration that Delhi’s inaction had “woken a sleeping giant”, meaning Delhi should not take the quiescence of Tamil nationalism in India for granted. Two, more extremist politicos, MDMD’s Vaikoo and PMK’s Ramados, have openly flouted Indian law by threatening to evoke long dormant Tamil secessionist sentiments.

Much of this is electoral rhetoric but it would be a foolish Lankan politician (there are plenty around) who blithely deceives himself that electoral bluster will want for subsequent momentum - ask Banda about the post-1956 hangover. Student activism has also erupted with medium sized protest marches not only in TN but as far afield as JNU in Delhi; top Tamil film industry people (directors, actors, producers) were involved in two campaigns in October and November.

The Times of India explains that Lankan Tamils in the diaspora control the Indian Rs 110 million global Tamil film distribution network; hence they are not likely to stop exerting their popularity.

OK so what?:
OK so TN is on the boil, or on the way to the boil as the pot begins to simmer. OK let’s take a worst case scenario for Lanka’s Sinhala State and assume a tough line administration takes office in Delhi next year. So what can India do, given that military intervention is absolutely ruled out? There are four levels of escalation an Indian government can use; depending on how bloody minded it feels about our local blood-lust. (The tonnage of bombs dropped by Rajapaksa on the Wanni now equals that of the Hiroshima bomb; something that advocates of carpet-bombing, and ‘Leftists’ touting for portfolios and nominations, will one day have to answer for.) The first level is just more of the same, diplomatic arm-twisting but perhaps more robust. The second level is practical pressure, trade is a possible weapon given our reliance on Indian food imports.

The next two levels are quite serious and probably will never happen; any Lankan government in its senses will do a deal before things go that far. This includes turning a blind-eye as the LTTE replenishes its supply lines and support bases in TN, and finally, actual harassment of the Sinhala State - poor Cuba, but it need not get half so bad to hurt a lot. My point is this, in the final analysis; India calls the shots, if it wants to. But does it want to? Well it’s too early to say but at present the Sonia-Singh Indian government has given the Lankan state near carte blanche. That may however be in the past tense as the prospect of electoral defeat looms large.

The Tamils and the Sinhalese:
No solution imposed by India will stick unless it can carry the support of a majority of the Sinhalese - ignore the race hating bottom quartile. As much as the legitimate demands of the Tamil people must be met, forget Prabakaran and the LTTE, so the legitimate fears of the Sinhalese people must be comforted, forget Mahinda Rajapaksa and his henchmen. In the absence of reliable statistics I do not know whether, at this moment in time, the LTTE commands a greater proportion of Tamil allegiance or the regime a greater proportion of Sinhala allegiance. But the same principles apply across the board. Personally I abhor nationalism and chauvinism, Tamil or Sinhalese, but people live within their own level of consciousness; therefore these realities have to be accommodated in realpolitik.

 

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