A Reply to 'India's Interest in a JVP Sri Lanka'

 by Arvalan


"Falling in love is awfully simple. Falling out of love is simply awful"

This is a response to "India's interest in a JVP Sri Lanka" contributed by Thileelar in the Sangam website on the 22nd January 2004.

With all due respect to him, I find Mr. Thileelar's article contains many factual errors and a lot of wishful thinking. Thileelar says "For India to be an economic giant, it has to reduce its spending on what it deems unnecessary in the long term. While neutralizing the military threats of its neighbors, it also has to stymie the economic prospects of its neighbors." This goes against the current global economic trend towards integration of economies and mutual economic pacts. The European Union is based on the principles of mutual well being and economic cooperation of the nations in that region; so is ASEAN. Australia and India's desperation to join ASEAN underscores the significance of the need for joint economic development and the mutual benefits to be derived from such economic cohabitation. Economic development is not a race between nations anymore; it is based upon developing the wider region as whole, supplementing each other and benefiting from cooperation.

"A look at all the countries in the region would make it clear that Sri Lanka is the only country with the potential to offer an economic challenge to India" states Thileelar. This is wishful thinking and does not reflect the reality. Sri Lanka has never been nor will ever be an economic threat to India. Think about the comparative market sizes and economies of scale. In addition, SL has no resource base or manpower base that makes India vulnerable. Sri Lanka embraced the free economy and opened its market in 1977. It took India 15 years to embrace the open economy and that too with many restrictions, relative to Sri Lanka's. The main reason for India opening its economy is not Sri Lanka; it is the global trend and pressure exerted from the IMF and World Bank. I would like to think that SL is a threat... but I am too realistic to think that way. A nice thought though.

The USA and Japan have so much influence in India, they don't need a foothold in SL. Microsoft and Intel have huge hubs in India, probably their largest outside the USA. Bangalore is called the second Silicon Valley. Japanese and US automotive giants, too, have joint ventures with Indian manufacturers. Therefore, they do not need UNP or LTTE help to penetrate the Indian market. The global powers influence the economic policies of China and India though the World Bank and IMF, not through its small neighbors. Even some of the Multi National Companies have more influence in these countries than their home governments themselves. According to Taraki, one of the main reasons behind the USA's and Japan's interest in Sri Lanka is because of the sea-lanes, which pass the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka. These are the sea-lanes which transport oil from Middle East to Japan and East Asia.

Mr. Thileelar writes, "There are three necessary key factors for building a strong software-based IT industry.

1) Highly skilled workforce

2) Ability to work in a globalize economy

3) An efficient and a scalable infrastructure

I do not disagree with the concept, but where he went wrong is in stating, "Sri Lanka meets these requirements." Let's take the Highly Skilled workforce factor. India boasts so many higher education institutions, which has enabled it to produce so many IT professionals and Managers. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) come to my mind. According to Michael Porter's theory on the Competitive Advantage of Nations, infrastructure is one of the main criteria which enable a country to compete usefully in today's world. It will take at least a decade for SL to develop a world-class educational institution like those of India. Sri Lanka's universities are not up to the world standard yet.

Sri Lanka has the ability to integrate itself and work with the globalizing economy. So has India. India has a vast population, which can communicate effectively in English. Further, India has a very sizable and influential Diaspora in the US and UK.

Talking about infrastructure, Sri Lanka has embarked on almost no major infrastructure projects since Independence. The Mahaweli scheme is an exception. However, India has developed its road and rail network enormously. Telecommunication is advancing at an express rate. India is on a roll and Sri Lanka is not, in regard to infrastructure development. The Sethusamudram project would bring enormous benefits to India both during its construction and after.

Mr. Thileelar dreams of Sri Lanka becoming a finance hub like Singapore. The Mumbai Stock Wxchange is much larger than Colombo's. Further, Singapore is just three hours away from Colombo. Therefore there is no need for the global players to establish a mini finance hub in Colombo.

The glaring factual error is about Taiwan controlling a substantial portion of the Chinese economy! The writer also claims that Taiwanese companies are the biggest investors in China. Taiwanese companies have indeed invested in China. But they are not even close to some other, bigger investors. They can never control the Chinese economy the way SL can never control India.

Further, it was only in 2001 that Taiwan lifted a 50-year-old ban on direct trade and investment in China. Prior to that Taiwanese companies invested via a third country.

What is the real reason?

So what is the real reason behind India's explicit support for the Sinhala nation? No one will dispute that the Sri Lankan Tamils enjoyed plenty of sympathy all over India in the late eighties. There was widespread support and admiration for the LTTE and the Tamils even when they were fighting against the Indian army. The assassination Rajiv Gandhi eliminated the sympathy for the Tamils and the LTTE. The Indian public did not believe that the death is the right punishment for the mistakes committed by Rajiv Gandhi. They had already punished him through elections. The sympathy they had towards Sri Lankan Tamils and the LTTE turned to anger and revenge after the assassination.

There is a school of thought that the Indian public has forgiven the Sikh community for the murder of Indira Gandhi, so why punish the Sri Lankan Tamils? There was widespread violence after Indira Gandhi's murder. Also the Indian Government successfully quashed the Kalistan movement. Thereby the Indians succeeded in their revenge against the Sikh separatists.

India is yet to directly act in revenge against the LTTE and Sri Lankan Tamils. The destruction of many LTTE ships (including that of Kittu's) were acts of revenge. The manipulative strategy deployed by India to save Jaffna in 2000 was also a sort of revenge on the LTTE. India at the moment will not rest till they lay their hands on the LTTE directly, no matter who rules in Tamil Nadu and Delhi.

Is there a way out?

It is remarkable that the LTTE has not acted or commented on anyway against India or its interests. It should be noted, for example, that the Tamil Cinema industry is hugely benefiting from exporting their movies to Sri Lankan-dominant countries such as Canada, the UK and Australia. It is their lifeline as the moviegoers in India have dwindled due to VCD and Cable TV penetration. This is evident from the increase in roles played as Sri Lankan Tamils in recent movies. "Nanda," "Kannathil Muthamittil" and "Nala Thamayanthi" are classic examples. The LTTE could have easily asked its sympathizers in these countries to boycott these movies, at least for a certain period, thereby sending the Tamil Cinema industry into a tailspin and almost bringing the Tamil Nadu economy to a stand still. It is noteworthy that the Cinema industry is the largest employer in Tamil Nadu. They have restrained themselves from a boycott call, due to their willingness to re establish friendly relations with India.

There is need for creative thinking on the LTTE's side to win back India's support. Public statements and pronouncements are all good and well, but have not been effective. It is time for subtle diplomacy. There is a need for an honest intermediary between the two parties. The LTTE leadership needs to find the right person and also place at his disposal a concrete plan for co existence with India post conflict. This co existence plan should incorporate Social, Economic and Military well being of both nations. In other words, it should be a Win-Win Plan. The LTTE need to demonstrate the benefits of supporting its cause in the long run for India.

Anton Balasingham has revealed a secret accord between Rajiv and Prabakaran in 1987. Maybe it is a time for another secret accord between India and LTTE. Trinco Harbor is a carrot, which could lure India to enter into a secret accord. In the post Sethusamthuram era, the Kankesanthurai and Point Pedro harbors could also become vital. The fishing resource in the Mannar gulf will be also of interest to India. An air link between Palay and Chennai will be appealing to the Tamil Diaspora who can visit both countries during a single visit.

A pact incorporating these lures and other political, economic and military matters should form the basis for the dawn of a new era of Indo Tamil relations.

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Posted January 28, 2004