Friday, Oct 31, 2014

Colombo correction

The problem of reconciling the tension between the national and the regional on foreign policy-making is not going to disappear after the elections. The problem of reconciling the tension between the national and the regional on foreign policy-making is not going to disappear after the elections.
Written by C Raja Mohan | Posted: April 1, 2014 1:20 am

UPA finally breaks its habit of putting party interest over national interest.

The UPA government’s decision to abstain on a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week was indeed unexpected. In the last two years, India had backed the West-sponsored resolutions on Sri Lanka’s human rights violations during Colombo’s victorious war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which ended in 2009.

If India’s earlier position was about pandering to the Congress party’s allies in Chennai, its reversal this year has come amid the ruling party’s political isolation in Tamil Nadu. With apparently little to gain from further appeasement, the UPA government has chosen to do the right thing.

In a terrible irony, the more Delhi bowed to the Tamil parties in Chennai, the less clout it had in promoting the rights of the Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka. The about turn in Geneva on Sri Lanka, then, is a belated but welcome corrective to one of the UPA’s worst foreign policy legacies — of putting the Congress party’s narrow political considerations above the national interest.

In its first term, the UPA, under pressure from the CPM, made heavy weather of the historic civil nuclear initiative with the United States unveiled in 2005. Instead of vigorously defending the deal — which sought to end India’s prolonged global nuclear isolation — Congress president Sonia Gandhi pulled the plug in 2007. It was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s apparent threat to resign in mid-2008 that allowed the clinching of the deal, with great political difficulty.

The reluctance to pursue what was in plain national interest became even more telling in the second term of the UPA. In 2010, Manmohan Singh boldly decided to transform the bilateral relationship with Bangladesh by resolving all outstanding issues, including cross-border terrorism, market access, transit, river water sharing and the cleaning up of a messy boundary inherited from the partition of the subcontinent.

When the big moment for signing the agreements came in September 2011, during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka, the prime minister held back on the Teesta waters agreement as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee threw a tantrum. Although the prime minister went ahead and signed the land boundary agreement with Dhaka, UPA 2 found it difficult to mobilise political support at home for its ratification in Parliament.

The second term also saw the Congress party becoming more wobbly towards Sri Lanka. Recall the prime ministers’s decision to skip the Commonwealth summit in Colombo last year. The pressure came not just from the Tamil parties, but also from senior Congress leaders in the state, including Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. While the PM saw the negative consequences of snubbing continued…

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