Jaswant Singh's visit to Sri Lanka
India has clearly exposed its stand on the ethnic conflict, when it pulled out the biggest diplomatic coup against the Tamils. India exposed its double standard by volunteering to assist the cash-strapped Sri Lankan Government to help to ease the financial strain created by the government’s war against the Tamils, to subdue them.
Great Bharat, considered the bulwark of righteousness, justice and fair play went all out to placate the Sri Lankan Government, offering 200 million US dollars worth of assistance. Out of which, Sri Lanka could purchase on the counter basis, nearly one million tonnes of wheat, rice, sugar and medicine to a total worth of 100 million US dollars, whilst another 100 million US dollar in foreign exchange facility would be provided, for unspecified purposes.
The hidden purpose may be to meet the military challenges the Sri Lankan government faces. Therefore, without any misconception, the loan extended by India would indirectly contribute to accelerate Sri Lanka’s unchecked war efforts.
India’s External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who was on two days’ official visit to Colombo, made those offers. Jaswant Singh was in Colombo on a damage control exercise, to reassure New Delhi’s continued support to Sri Lanka’s unity, integrity and sovereignty. The hastily arranged visit came on the heels of the criticism of Sri Lanka’s intransigence in denying the genuine and the reasonable aspirations of the Tamils and the unending belligerent campaign against them, from Muthuvel Karunanithi, the septuagenarian chief minister of the state of Tamil Nadu and the states leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Sri Lanka and India have reached an understanding on the measures the two countries can take collectively and individually to bring about a lasting peace in Sri Lanka, the two countries said, in a joint statement, issued after the end of the Indian External Affairs ministers visit. The joint statement, signed by both countries, failed to provide any further clue on India’s sudden decision to reassure its position to Sri Lanka, at this point of time. Also it did not say, if there was any fresh initiative by India to bring about an end to the islands drawn out conflict. There was also no reference to India’s earlier offers to help to evacuate some 40,000 Sri Lankan government troops trapped in the Jaffna Peninsula, where LTTE mounted a major offensive in April. India also had failed to make any specific reference for its move, or its consideration behind the offer of 200 million US dollars to Sri Lanka.
However, the responses so far received, clearly points out that, the External Affairs Ministers visit had resulted in the criticism of the Tamils. They feel that Vajpayee government continues to adopt the anti-Tamil policies formulated during the Indian National Congress Government of the nineties.
Tamil Diaspora were unanimous in their diatribes, when they realized that Jaswant Singh’s visit exposed India’s double-speak, to sustain the crashing economy of Sri Lanka, in the name of humanitarian assistance. Premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Government has stabbed the Tamils in their back, fumed several of them, when approached for their comments.
Tamils living in the war zone expected India to come to their rescue to relieve their agony, when it resolutely said 'No to military assistance and military intervention.' Reality has raised its ugly head enabling the Tamils to discern that the position India adopted on military intervention was due to its previous agonizing experience – once bitten twice shy – and nothing else.
In India, the seesaw battle of discontent over India’s offer of 200 million US Dollars to Sri Lanka was heard very loudly.
National Democratic Alliance partners in Tamil Nadu state were aghast on the financial aid to Sri Lanka, whilst Sri Lanka continues with its fight to decimate the Tamils in the North and East. Discordant voices were raised by the leaders of India who oppose moves that might further the sufferings of the Tamils.
Dr.S.Ramados, the founder and the leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) expressed his gravest concern and opposed the un-called for offer, saying this will tilt the balance in favor of the Sinhalese in the on-going strife with the Tamils. In a letter addressed to Jaswant Singh, Dr. Ramados reiterated that the financial assistance would tilt the balance in the favour of the Sinhalese and was not in consonance with the decision taken by the NDA. He emphasized, ‘In our opinion the financial and material assistance will directly encourage the state terrorism against Tamils and the offer is not different from the military arms and ammunition supplied to Sri Lanka by Pakistan and Sri Lanka.’
The PMK founder-leader castigated that, India should pursue vigorously a process for permanent settlement, honoring the sentiments of the Tamil minorities, ‘We can provide assistance when the peace is restored and all citizens of Sri Lanka including the Tamils can be assured of India’s help.’
Flabbergasted by the offer, the leader of the Marumalarchchi Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam (MDMK) V. Gopalasamy, popularly known as Vaiko, another leader of the NDA from Tamil Nadu, met the Indian Prime Minister Attal Bihari Vajpayee, in the company of Jaswant Singh, to register his strongest protest against India’s offers. In a 45-minute meeting, both the Indian leaders bandied in defence of Singh’s visit to Colombo. Jaswant Singh explained that ‘In this proposal, they could purchase items only in India and cannot avail finance to purchase arms from anywhere.’
Both, Dr. Ramados and Vaiko had requested the Indian Government to review its decision to provide Sri Lanka with the proposed 200 million US dollars offer.
According to common perception, the offer was a blessing in disguise to Sri Lanka. Now, Sri Lanka could buy its day-to-day necessities from India, whilst making use of the funds set aside in its budget to shop military equipment in the international market. Common sense should prevail on the Indian Government that their offer could indirectly tilt the firepower in favor of the Sri Lankan armed forces by providing an opportunity to purchase 200 million dollars worth of additional military hardware to continue the military campaign against the Tamils.
Jaswant Singh’s visit was an unexpected boon to Sri Lanka. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, the President of Sri Lanka welcomes India’s offer to be of assistance to ease the present financial strain. Earlier, the President put the country on a war footing and had spirited all the available funds to purchase sophisticated weapons and airplanes to fight the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lankan leaders earlier had second thoughts that India might pressure Sri Lanka to end the military campaign. Fortunately the big brother has displayed through a generous offer that, no love was lost towards the kid brother.
India displayed its zeal to maintain the regional super power status by volunteering to help the cash-strapped Sri Lanka. Super power track played by India might cause unnecessary irritation in the midst of Vajpayee’s coalition partners, especially from those in Tamil Nadu. Vajpayee unmindful of repercussion dispatched his External Affairs Minister, who is one of his trusted lieutenants with the mission to win over Sri Lanka’s confidence.
Jaswant Singh, earlier was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of India. He is also a well-known columnist, antiquarian, historian, bibliographer and an author. He was a former cavalry officer, who resigned his commission 30 years ago to enter public life. Now in his sixth parliamentary term, Jaswant Singh is today a leading member of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a trusted confidante of Vajpayee.
His mission was to allay the fears caused by the statement made by Muthuvel Karunanithi, the chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, President of Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam (DMK) and the State leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Karunanithi, a senior-most Tamil leader, in his capacity as the President of the Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam, declared that Sri Lanka should either grant more rights to the Tamils or agree for a territorial separation on the lines of Czech and Slovak republics to enable a permanent solution for a perpetual end of the ethnic conflict.
He being a reputed Tamil leader, well aware of the sentiments of the 80 million Tamils, expressed a realistic solution, to end the war in Sri Lanka. Taking into consideration the untold sufferings of the Tamils since 1948, he forcefully urged the Sri Lankan government to grant equal rights to Tamils, or else must come forward to adopt the Czechoslovakian model of separation, a complete peaceful resolution without shedding a drop of blood, to resolve the Sri Lankan crisis.
Replying to felicitations at a DMK-organized public meeting in Chennai (Madras), the state capital, to mark his 77th birthday, Karunanithi said the ethnic problem was neither a result of an externally induced enmity, nor an external aggression. It was from within the forces in that country and the conflict had so far claimed nearly 60,000 lives, most of who were Tamils. He urged that the reasons for this unending situation should be gone into more deeply.
Likening the internal divide in Sri Lanka to a sort of extreme bitterness in a martial relationship, he said, ‘We must also consider how long one could put up with an unwilling spouse.’
The world had entered a new era, in which, shedding blood was disliked, he said before quoting the Czechoslovakian example of a bloodless resolution of an ethnic conflict.
Karunanithi the Tamil leader was able to grasp easily, the crux of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka and prescribed the correct medicine for healing. His healing prescription was aimed at a permanent solution and not at a temporary one.
Subsequently he further clarified arguing that people would understand it better if they come out of their ivory tower and took note of the ground realities in the island.
‘There is nothing wrong in my raising the question as to what sort of political solution should be found in Sri Lanka: whether it envisages a quasi-federal or confederational set-up or will it involve the Czech-Slovak type separation’, he said in a statement.
Karunanithi said he realized more than anyone else that, nobody had the right to advise another country to divide itself, but there ought to be a distinction between those who talked of Sri Lanka’s unity sitting in the air-conditioned comfort and poring over a world map, and those who understood the ground realities.
Though, there were allegations that Karunanithi use to change his opinion often, but this time it seems that, he has spoken out his heart regarding the problem of the war and the sufferings of the Tamils in his backyard.
On the heels of Karunanithi’s policy declaration, Indian Government rushed Jaswant Singh to Colombo. His mission was to make it abundantly clear that there was no shift in Indian policy and the Government was committed to backing Colombo’s efforts for a peaceful, political solution.
Vajpayee, the Indian Prime Minister, emphasized earlier on several occasions that, India was willing to mediate if both parties requested for such intervention.
Jaswant Singh took up an opposite position and said that, the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka did not merit India’s mediation between the Sri Lanka’s Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Being reminiscent of the earlier traumatic and humiliating Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) experience, Jaswant Singh said, India does not want to be involved in any firefighting, in the war ravaged Sri Lanka, reticently repeating, ‘No way we can repeat IPKF.’ He added, ‘The question of military involvement in Sri Lanka is not an option we consider as open.’
Jaswant Singh claimed that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanithi's advancement of the Czechoslovakia solution did not create fault lines in the relations between India and Sri Lanka. He also expressed confidence in the possibility of a devolution package to a lasting peace in Sri Lanka. He hastened to add, ‘However it is the prerogative of the Sri Lankan Parliament to approve the appropriate solution.’
The joint statement did not specify the political process through which a just and lasting solution could be achieved. The devolution package for more powers to Tamils did figure in the discussions he had with Chandrika Kumaratunge. Jaswant Singh said that there could be a political solution to the ethnic strife within the framework of Sri Lankan unity and territorial integrity.
Reiterating India’s commitment for lasting peace in Sri Lanka, Jaswant Singh said that his mission to Colombo had three aspects:
Political observers feel that Jaswant Singh’s three point formulae was a worn out beaten track, not intended to provide any resolution to the genuine and reasonable aspirations of the Tamils. The views of India or any other country in the world today are irrelevant.
Jaswant Singh’s visit to Colombo is a wake-up call to the Tamils to reconsider the earnestness of Vajpayee’s government in bringing out any lasting solution to the conflict.
India displayed its wish to remain a super power in the region, adopting the policy of constructive engagement with Sri Lanka. India made use of the recent developments to restore its ties with Sri Lanka by reassuring that there was no change in its policy. It has completely allowed the issue of Tamils in the lurch, to be sorted out by the President and the Sri Lankan parliament – a turn around.