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What next for India and Sri Lanka?

A rough draft for political change already exists in the accord of 1987

Written by A. S. Kalkat |
May 26, 2009 1:15:45 am

With the Sri Lanka government issuing Prabhakaran’s death certificate,the controversy surrounding his end will also find closure. The finality needs to be ensured so that LTTE members overseas,along with their supporters and sympathisers are denied any opportunity to invoke his name as an in-absentia leader and attempt to resurrect the LTTE and the conflict.

While the hardcore LTTE members in Sri Lanka may have been liquidated,over the long period of conflict the LTTE had managed to build up a strong support system amongst the Tamil diaspora,which will need to be dismantled. This does not imply a closure of the Tamil cause which has come full circle,back to the 1970s when there was no insurgency and the Tamils were agitating for their legitimate rights. While India had no commitment to the LTTE or other militant parties,the legitimate rights of Sri Lanka’s Tamils are India’s concern.  

The need of the hour is to analyse the aftermath and identify the road ahead for both Sri Lanka and India to avoid past mistakes. Today the Tamils in Sri Lanka do not know what their future holds. Their misgivings must be assuaged,with concrete steps. Although rehabilitation of the uprooted Tamil population is of immediate concern,pushing forward the political process should not be delayed. The end of military operations have ended. The symptom has been treated,the disease must be addressed. The cause of the ethnic conflict is well known,in fact both India and Sri Lanka had identified the critical issues which resulted in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord 1987. It was passed by the Parliaments of both countries and placed in the UN general assembly during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in Oct 1987. The US Congress welcomed the accord,and Sri Lanka government sanctified it by enacting the 13th amendment to the Constitution. It is a document that cannot be swept under the carpet — if there was ever a home-grown solution it is one. It is regrettable that succeeding governments could not follow up on the enactments. Today,in the absence of a political proposal,starting afresh can drag on. There is no reason to seek new political solutions when an agreed solution already exists. Of course,certain aspects will need to be renegotiated but the paper can kickstart political dialogue. The Tamil minority’s demand for devolution of power to the provinces is long pending. 

India has limited elbow room as it involves the citizens of a friendly foreign country whose sovereignty and integrity India is firmly committed to. There is another reasonIndia can never support Eelam — the Indian nation-state is built on the premise that religion,ethnicity or language can never be the basis for breaking away from the state.

The most damaging consequence of this conflict for India has been a perceived emotive impact in Tamil Nadu. Some fringe political parties in Tamil Nadu have tended to politicise events in Sri Lanka,which have been a sword of Damocles hanging over the Central government’s policy-making. So,by default,the Chinese managed to establish a presence in our backyard and sea lanes by obtaining the right to develop Hambantota Port,which was first offered to India. Mercifully,the recent general election has demonstrated that such concerns have been overplayed. Hopefully the future government’s decisions will not be hampered when national security is at stake. 

The steps that India needs to undertake apart from the humanitarian ones are —

a) pressure Sri Lanka to announce that Indo-Sri Lanka Accord 1987 will form the basis for devolution of power and get the process in motion

b) stress on commencing the political dialogue with the important Tamil figures in Sri Lanka pending election in the Northern Province which should not be the cause for delaying start of the political dialogue,

c) ensure proper rehabilitation of the large displaced population,in their original homes or adjacent and not in ‘refugee camps’ which will end up as ‘ghettos’,

d) closely monitor the political dialogue to ensure that a fair deal is worked out,and even the 45 million population of Tamil Nadu have to be convinced of the fairness. 

This is a defining moment in the history of post-independence Sri Lanka. With the liquidation of LTTE,the gates to the road of peace are open. It is now for the Sri Lankan government to lead both the Sinhala and Tamil communities of this great country along the road. Although President Rajapakse has repeatedly announced his intention to grant legitimate rights to the Tamil population,he also has limited room for maneouvre given the composition of the current Parliament and the hostility he will face from Sinhala chauvinists including many in his own party. He may opt for a general election to get his supporters into Parliament. India may need to give him that breathing space.


The author is retired army commander and former IPKF chief.

He is currently director emeritus,Centre for Joint Warfare Studies.

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