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Indian strategic analyst writes on ‘lost leverage’

[TamilNet, Friday, 9 October 2009 14:21 One Comment]

Brahma_Chellaney_140 “Today, India stands more marginalized than ever in Sri Lanka. Its natural constituency—the Tamils—feels not only betrayed, but also looks at India as a colluder in the bloodbath. India already had alienated the Sinhalese majority in the 1980s,” writes Professor Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, in a forthright article appeared in Forbes, Friday. Welcoming his admissions and responding to him, Tamil circles said that who ever now addresses the national aspirations of Eezham Tamils, holds the key to the region of South India-Sri Lanka- Maldives, but India is yet to learn the lesson and may continue forfeiting leverage even with its own people, by blunting the national question.

What could resolve the crisis in the potential maritime region of South Asia is not allowing Colombo to play the role of ‘China in Tibet’ that would bring in eternal instability to the region, but allowing a ‘Singapore’ to emerge in the north and east of the island for an economically dynamic southern South Asia, Tamil circles said.

If India is not prepared to positively respond to the reality, someone else is going to do that. Even China may do it, making further inroads into India’s own people in the South, Tamil circles further said.

According to them, the elite in the two southern states of India, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, not only miserably failed, but behaved negative to their own future regional interests, by not making themselves internationally felt in diplomatic weight in equalling Sinhalese.

Both the states have a massive global diaspora to impress the world. They are no less to the island of Sri Lanka in geopolitical importance. But it is once again petty biases of the ‘elite’ of these two states that made them to play dubious role along with the Indian Establishment, ultimately undermining the global as well as strategic significance and the long term interests of Tamils and Malayalis in the competitive world of today, diaspora Tamil circles commented.

Professor Chellaney in his article argues how personal bias in the Indian Establishment superseded professional handling of national interests of the country:

“Since then [1987], Sri Lanka has served as a reminder of how India’s foreign policy is driven not by resolute, long-term goals, but by a meandering approach influenced by the personal caprice of those in power.”

“Another personality driven shift in India’s Sri Lanka policy came after the 2004 change of government in New Delhi, when the desire to avenge Gandhi’s assassination trumped strategic considerations, with the hands-off approach being abandoned [...] and Indian help [to Colombo] came liberally.”

“Even after the crushing of the Tamil Tigers, India went out of the way to castigate the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, in June for shining a spotlight on the deplorable human-rights situation in Sri Lanka, including the continuing internment of internally displaced Tamils.”

Prof. Chellany admits that Rajiv Gandhi’s mind was poisoned by J R Jeyawardane, making him retract from the promised support to Eezham Tamil aspirations and thus bringing in the rift between Tamils and India. Rajiv was made to believe that an Eezham would pave way for a greater Tamil country.

“The story of the loss of India’s preeminent role in Sri Lanka actually begins in 1987, when New Delhi made an abrupt U-turn in policy and demanded that the Tigers lay down their arms. Their refusal to bow to the diktat was viewed as treachery, and the Indian army was ordered to rout them.”

“[Rajiv] Gandhi did not consider a simple truth: If Bangladesh’s 1971 creation did not provoke an Indian Bengali nationalist demand for a Greater Bangladesh, why would an Eelam lead to a Greater Eelam,” asks Prof. Chellany pointing out that the Eezham Tamils have their own identity, different from the Tamils of Tamil Nadu and the fear of Greater Eezham is unfounded:

“Actually, the Tamils in India and Sri Lanka have pursued divergent identities since the fall of the Pandyan kingdom in the 14th century,” he says, citing the example of Tamil Nadu not responding as expected to the plight of Eezham Tamils.

"In fact, nothing better illustrates the fallacy Jayewardene sold Gandhi than the absence of a Tamil backlash in India to the killings of thousands of countless Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka this year, and to the continued incarceration in tent camps of 280,000 Tamil refugees, including 80,000 children. In fact, even as the Sri Lankan war reached a gory culmination, India’s Tamil Nadu state voted in national elections for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Gandhi’s widow, Sonia Gandhi, although that governing coalition had shied away from raising its voice over the Sri Lankan slaughter."

The following are further excerpts from Prof. Chellaney’s article, revealing what India lost by a biased and imprudent foreign policy:

Beijing has been able to make strategic inroads into a critically located country in India’s backyard.

India, too, contributed to the Sri Lankan bloodbath through its military aid, except that it has ended up, strangely, with its leverage undermined.

A “major turning point” in the war, as Sri Lankan navy chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda acknowledged, came when the rebels’ supply ships were eliminated, one by one, with input from Indian naval intelligence, cutting off all supplies to the rebel-held areas. That in turn allowed the Sri Lankan ground forces to make rapid advances and unravel the de facto state the Tigers had established in the island nation’s north and east.

In any event, Colombo was emboldened by the fact that the more it chipped away at India’s traditional role, the more New Delhi seemed willing to pander to its needs.

India’s waning leverage over Sri Lanka is manifest from the way it now has to jostle for influence there with arch-rivals China and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recently that India has conveyed its "concerns in no uncertain terms to Sri Lanka on various occasions, stressing the need for them to focus on resettling and rehabilitating the displaced Tamil population at the earliest." But India seems unable to make a difference even with messages delivered in "no uncertain terms."

Indeed, India has ceded strategic space in its regional backyard in such a manner that Bhutan now remains its sole pocket of influence. In Sri Lanka, India has allowed itself to become a marginal player despite its geostrategic advantage and trade and investment clout.

Indeed, the manner in which Colombo played the China and Pakistan cards in recent years to outsmart India is likely to remain an enduring feature of Sri Lankan diplomacy, making Sri Lanka a potential springboard for anti-India maneuvers.

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One Comment »

  • kamal david said:

    I think India is the only party that has some leverage. Not sure what sort of a strategst this guy is, his opinion is not correct. On the other hand, if the Indians don’t want to get involved, that’s a different story all-to-gether. I can very well understand this too: we Tamils have not been the pet story in most places in the World including our very own "Home Land"!