My op-ed in Mint: Leverage in Sri Lanka

A stable balance between Sri Lanka’s ethnic groups better serves India’s interests than a partitioned island

In an op-ed in Mint I suggest how India might acquire greater leverage over the Sri Lankan government and use it to shape post-civil war situation.


New Delhi’s half-apologetic, half-embarrassed attitude towards providing military assistance to Sri Lanka pushed Colombo into the arms of China, Pakistan, Iran and Libya. India was too timid to support, or oppose, any one side. As a result it not only finds itself little more than a bystander, but grasping for ways to avoid the consequences of the Sri Lankan civil war from destabilizing its domestic affairs.

It is possible to arrest this loss of leverage and, indeed, to reverse it. First, New Delhi should restate its position—to Sri Lankans as much as its own citizens—that it does not favour an independent Tamil Eelam. A stable political balance between the two main ethnic groups will better serve India’s interests than a partitioned island. Those who contend that an Eelam will be more sympathetic to India should contemplate the lessons of Bangladesh. Neither gratitude nor ethnic-cultural links will prevent a sovereign state from pursuing its interests. For India’s smaller neighbours, this means playing India against China, Pakistan or the US. Moreover, if an independent Eelam were ever to come about, its Sinhala counterpart is likely to align with China.

Second, New Delhi should signal to Colombo that it will calibrate bilateral relations to progress in rehabilitating the Tamil minority. Even as Colombo has sought to engage distant benefactors, it is aware that rebuilding its war-ravaged economy is impossible without good relations with India. Colombo needs urgent assistance from the International Monetary Fund. Given Western criticism over its human rights record, it will need India’s support to tide over even its short-term difficulties.

Third, India must play a constructive role in rebuilding Sri Lankan Tamil politics. In this regard, instead of merely grandstanding on behalf of a terrorist organization, politicians in Tamil Nadu would do well to cultivate ties with moderate Sri Lankan Tamil political formations. This would not only serve India’s interests, but also help secure peace and stability in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE’s defeat is an opportunity for India to re-craft its approach towards Sri Lanka. Unless New Delhi acts decisively, it risks its strategic frontiers being shrunk by Colombo’s wartime benefactors.[Mint]

18 thoughts on “My op-ed in Mint: Leverage in Sri Lanka”

  1. Are you living in the same India? Have you ever seen Karunanidhi willing to abandon his whole Tamils-under-siege gimmick? That’s like asking Kaangress to discard The Family, or asking BJP to abandon Ram. Absolutely impossible. No Tamil Nadu politician will be caught dead being photographed with a Singhalese politician. If India wants to regain lost ground with Sri Lanka, it had better go to work on Tamil Nadu’s politics first.

  2. Sanjay:

    If India wants to regain lost ground with Sri Lanka, it had better go to work on Tamil Nadu’s politics first.

    That’s entirely right.

  3. Wishful think! In fact, recycled from 22 years ago.

    India, or rather RAW, has awfully failed to measure the mood in Sri Lanka. Truth is that both sides to the conflict blame India for their predicament.

    Sinhalese blame India’s training and financing of Tamil militants for the three decades of bloodshed on the island. However much help is offered now is seen as measures to impede China’s inroads than out of genuine goodwill towards the Sinhalese.

    Tamils blame the same India for abandoning the “Tamileelam cause” half-way, for attempts to throttle a half baked ‘Indo-Lanka’ accord, and finally backing Colombo on a “military solution”.

    Anyone with access to Colombo during the Mumbai incident last year would have gauged the level of deep seated anti-Indian feeling there.

    In my opinion, India is in a lose-lose scenario vis-a-vis Sri Lanka.

    It can continue to back Colombo to “wipe out” militancy and subjugate the Tamil population. Thereafter, Sri Lanka will fall onto the laps of its erstwhile, even trust worthy, partner, China; Tamils will have no energy for an another RAW backed insurgency. Remnants of LTTE are likely to target India in “revenge attacks” than Sri Lanka, as the rhetoric suggests Colombo is only fighting a proxy war for New Delhi.

    Alternatively, India can back a Tamil state. Even then, Sri Lanka will lapse China’s sphere. Leaving the Tamils and Sinhalese to fight a Indo-China proxy war. Why is that a lose for India? Regional instability.

  4. >>New Delhi should restate its position—to Sri Lankans as much as its own citizens—that it does not favour an independent Tamil Eelam.

    What is New Delhi? I thought this is a democracy where the will of the people determines the will of the government, not the other way round.

    >>if an independent Eelam were ever to come about, its Sinhala counterpart is likely to align with China.

    Did not Srilanka support Pakistan in 1971 long before LTTE was born? Did not Srilanka allow China to use its port even before China started to actively assist it?

    Finally I ask you, are the Tamils of India second rate citizens, that everybody has started advising them against supporting an independent Tamil eelam? Why did not other Indians advise Bengalis to keep shut when thousands of Bengalis were killed in East Pakistan? Since Bangladeshis are thankless does this mean it is right for the Tamils of Srilanka to die? What good has Srilanka done for India to support it at the cost of alienating India’s own Tamils?

    You will never understand the pain unless it is your own people. A federal republic like India survives on the empathy one group of people have towards the others. If it is not there, then forget it.

  5. Shaan
    “You will never understand the pain unless it is your own people.”
    — Had The Eelam been the goal for the freedom & prosperity of the ordinary SL Tamil populace, then it would’ve been long achieved by now, atleast total autonomy would’ve surely been gained – but this was not what the devious Prabhakaran aspired for orelse he wouldn’t had connived with the Sinhalese against India, because he just wanted to merely replace the Sinhalese as the autocratic power over the masses & the main factor that helped him grow into a monster were the handful of emotional fools – nay sadistic – so called symphatizers who at the cost of freedom & prosperity of the SL tamils, being well placed & safe in faraway lands need not go thru the sufferings & humiliations faced by them, these parasites fed fat on their tribulation & now cry foul when their machismos image is being torn apart,
    nay —“ You shall never understand the pain unless you emerge out of your self-love & consciously develop compassion”.

  6. >>Had The Eelam been the goal for the freedom & prosperity of the ordinary SL Tamil populace, then it would’ve been long achieved by now

    If you think that freedom would have been long achieved if that had been really been the wish of the SL Tamils, then why did it take almost 200 years for India to achieve independence (counting from Battle of Plassey)? Does this mean Indians did not want independence?

    You must understand why the Srilankan govt happily makes public all the assistance that India has given to them in this war even though the Indian govt is very uncomfortable with it. They know well that making this information public would make Tamils of India angry and this would cause instability in India, which Srilanka and its sponsor China really want.

    Tamils are tired of hearing this LTTE-Prabhakaran-monster-killing of Rajiv story again and again. According to the Indo-Srilanka accord of 1987 there should have been a single autonomous Tamil state in Srilanka comprising of the north and the east. Recently the supreme court of Srilanka trashed it saying that it is incompatible with the constitution of Srilanka. It simply means that India is not in a position to make this tiny country implement the bilateral agreements it has signed. This shows the gross incompetence of Indian political leadership. That is the reason the SL Tamils have now turned to the west for help. Now Obama says that unless the Srilankan govt mends its ways the idea of unified Srilanka could be a question mark in the future. Tamils know fully well that India’s political leadership lacks strategic sense and cannot adopt forceful means even with the smallest countries. So they just want India to keep away from aiding Colombo even if India is unable to interfere actively. Underestimating the political ability of Tamils and humiliating them further would consistently erode the leadership position of India in South Asia. Srilanka cannot continue to subjugate Tamils for ever. With or without India, with or without LTTE, Tamils would achieve their freedom even if it takes 200 years as it took in the case of India.

  7. Shaan

    —Good! now start thinking beyond Prabhakaran & have mercy on your fellow Tamils by restraining your overflowing crude emotions & for god’s sake start reasoning wisely & humanly for the Eelam to be a free, prosperous & peaceful reality.

  8. @Nitin,
    Dear Sir,

    whatever you seem to have suggested for actions tobe taken by India are nothing new.they have been repeated in some form or other.The reality now is that the Srilankan Tamils can no more stay as part of the larger Srilankan state as the bonds of trust which keep people together as a nation is gone in the present moment and it can never come back.There were a number of oppurtunities to have a constructive dialogue but both sides failed to capitalise on it. Tamil Eelam is a the only way out and one needs to learn to accept it. Self determination is a natural process of human society when one is cowed down by atrocities.

    There is a larger game going on in Srilanka and I suppose India has failed to establish its credentials as a regional power with her attitude of Kabhi Haan kabhi Naa.

    And by the way when did libya supply arms to Srilanka.This is news.

  9. As an Indian Tamil, having no exposure to Srilankan issues, I would like to comment upon the recent happenings:

    1. Self determination for the Eelam tamils, has a historic reason. The British [as they always do], left SriLanka, in the hands of the tamils and the sinhalese [like Indian/Pak, Palestine/Israel etc..]. The majority (Sinhala) dominated and isolated the minority (Tamils). The Tamils in the North East have been there from the times of the Chola Dynasty [A few thousand years]. In fact the North and East were parts of the Chola Dynasty, just like Tanjore (today’s South India) was. In such a context, maybe India should/Could lay claim to Eelam!
    This would really open up the Indian presence in South Asia.

    As a True Patriotic Indian and a True Tamil, I would like India to lay claim to North and Eatern SriLanka. After all the Cholans were Indians.

    But let us not betray an ancient race of its rightful land! And become Vultures!
    The Eelam Tamils have been subjugated by the majority
    and this has been done systematically.
    When we could carve a Bangladesh our of Pakistan [and they have been ingrates], why shouldnt we help the Eelam Tamils have their own country?

    Why should we Indians, punish all Eelam Tamils for the violence of a few (Prabha and LTTE).

    As Indians we are emotional people.

    Would a Sikh tolerate, another Sikh killed in Vienna or in Afghanistan.

    Would a bengali tolerate a bengali killed in Bangladesh?

    Would Bihari tolerate a Bihari attacked or Killed in Mumbai?

    Would a Malayalee tolerate a Malayalee attacked or killed in the Middle East ?

    Would we Indians, tolerate Indians being attacked in Australia?

    Then why should the Tamils tolerate, their people, killed systematically by the Government of SriLanka? We all know that the Indian government has accused Israel of war crimes for killing 900 palestinians in Gaza, but our Indian Government and MEA has praised the Srilankan resolution in the UN, where GoSL has justified killing
    over 20,000 Eelam Tamils!!
    What a shame, murderous double standards on human rights, in the land of Buddha, Mahavir and Gandhi!

    We cannot trust the Chinese, and we cannot trust the Srilankans. A 1000 years ago, the Srilankans fought the Cholans by taking the help of the Kalinga rulers. In 1971 they supported Pakistan. During 26/11 in Mumbai, they were celebrating. When Indira was assassinated, they burst crackers and distributed sweets, asking the Tamils, “Where is your amma now ?”.
    The Lankans have always been successful in dividing the Indians.

    Let them not succeed this time.

    I beg each and every Indian brother. Let us be united now, let us help the Eelam tamils realise their dream of a seperate nation.
    Our obstinacy, our inactions and our folly in believing a few old corrupted fools, has resulted in a genocide of epic proportions in our backyard. Let us not lose this opporunity to set things right and wash the blood away from our doorsteps.

    Let us, as Indians, unite to keep the chinese pig and the Srilankan snake at bay. Let us take back South Asia, as King Ashoka did a few thousand years back.

  10. Hi Sanjay,
    The recent elections in India has shown how Tamilnadu cares very little for Srilankan tamils due to the likes of MK.Karunanidhi who can shed only kanner thuligal while fighting at delhi for his family.
    My great great grAND FATHER IS FROM YALPANAM as jaffna is called. I feel sorry my fellow tamils are bing butchered from air and by MBLs while the world watches because they happen to be majority Hindus who have no courage to support fellow hindus.They hid behind a false propagnada put out by vested interests that LTTE is led by christians because Prabhakarans son is named antony!!!!LTTE may be had about 7000 fighters but there are 30% Tamil population who have been uprooted from their homes and no Hindu can even wear a pottu in colombo due to fear of JVP goons. India will intervene if bengali hindus are killed by Muslim fellow pakistanies but not Tamils because these Hindus are killed by budhists.India must understand that there was no LTTE during 1980. It was Singhal chavunism which created LTTE.If India and SriLnaka think that they can take land belonging to tamils and live ever after then time is not far off when even tamil seperatism may come up in tamilnadu what to talk of SriLanka, then it will be phyric victory for SriLankans. If they show maturity and give respect to Tamils in unified SriLanka , then SriLanka can prosper.

  11. Hi All,

    Iam from Colombo and my family had moved in from North Srilanka a few years ago.

    We are Hindus, and this is our sin in Srilanka today.

    -We cant wear our Pottu (Sindhur on foreheads), or sandal past after visiting temples.

    -We cant wear sari’s in the Indian style [only srilankan style allowed, or we womenfolk will be stripped in the middle of the road by sinhalese eve teasers]

    – We cannot talk in Tamil in Marketplaces, for fear of bad (real bad) treatment by merchants and fellow customers.

    – We cannot receive Tamil Mail or Letters written in Tamil, the postman will know, and he will inform the nearest Sinhala Goon Office, and then we will be threatened again [phone or abuses on the streets]

    – We keep receving letters threatening us to marry our daughters or nieces to Sinhalsese families, and to shed our Tamil or Hindu identities.

    It is a very difficult life to be a Hindu / Tamil in Colombo today.

    If this is the state of human rights, then it cannot be imagines how tough it would be for IDP people in camps up North!

    I beg the world to save us. Mr.Obama you cannot ignore the plight of us tamils. All the Tamil/Indian policiticans have ditched us.
    We have nobody to save the tamils today.

    Should I tell my children that this is the end of tamils in Srilanka?

  12. Latest anti-India rhetoric from Lanka. This is from the website of the Sri Lankan govt.

    …According to the Asian Tribune the most recent case is the new Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna who urged us to address the “root cause of the conflict” by effective devolution of powers to all communities in the Island nation. I say to Mr. Krishna “Who are you to tell us, a sovereign nation how to run our country? You just mind your own business or wind up like that woman Navi Pillai. The choice is yours.To India we say that not only will there be no devolution of any sort because it is the necessary and sufficient step to separation but also the Indo Lanka Accord forced on us by India will be annulled and thrown out so that we could cleanse this land of the last vestige of Indian hegemony. You created the LTTE with the intention of annexing our land. We liquidated what you created. You can annex the moon much easier than that…The complete article is available in Eelam through devolution

  13. after 60 years of independance…. and bad policies of our great indian national party ..only the mice fear india.
    kargil, parliament attack, 26/11 mumbai , IC814 to kandahar … the list goes on ……

    ..only the mice fear india now …

  14. Shaan , you forgot to add this passage from that srilankan article :

    “There are many in India who would have loved to vote against us but if that happened, India would have found it very uncomfortable to live anywhere in Asia in particular at her present location with her neighbours. She will then have to move the entire Indian sub continent to a location near America where she would be under the protection of American hegemony. That probably is why Japan decided to abstain though she was originally for voting against Sri Lanka”

  15. @netaji,
    I have shouted with full throat in several forums several times and lost my energy. But many of my fellow Indians do not seem to recognize the threat from Sri Lanka and think that Sri Lankans are their genuine friends. The way they thought of the Chinese. Indians don’t have a sense of history. Many even don’t know about Sri Lanka’s help to Pakistan in 1971 war. Sri Lanka’s atrocities were masked under the banner of fighting terrorism. But now the fight is over, and the Sri Lankans thankful to their Chinese allies are now beginning to train their guns at India. And what is India doing? Nothing.

  16. shaan, continue the good work. let the world know of the atrocities in srilankan concentration camps.
    the lankans cant be trusted. history has proven that.
    this is a serious period for indian security in the indian ocean, we have bet on the wrong horse, the GoSL will ditch us for the chinese.
    why are we always repeating our mistakes, here in india?

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