Nepal recently held an election for the 2nd time for a constituent assembly. In the meantime, in Colombo, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said they will “consult” with India on the proposal for a truth and reconciliation commission. What do these two seemingly unrelated events have in common?
Answer to this starts back in 2007
Dr. Sandra Destradi, in her 2012 book, Indian Foreign and Security Policy in South Asia: Regional Power Strategies, reveals several findings that should be of interest to Tamil observers. Her research is relevant to contextualize the current conduct of the TNA leadership and to the happenings in Nepal as well as the South Asian region. Unfortunately this requires a much more detailed and comprehensive analysis. Difficult to do in a short time and in a blog. But this needs to be debated given the recent developments.
Eelam Tamils have done a decent job in articulating the impracticality of the Sri Lankan state structure in domestic life. This narrative has also been expanded along the universal value of Human Rights in the International arena. But the regional (South Asia & Indian ocean) context for the Tamil struggle is limited. Analysis among Tamils on why Sri Lanka is an oddity in the regional context and the ability question if the Indian and US policy initiatives are nuanced enough to handle that oddity are missing. Why these countries are still following a blanket regional policy is not debated among the Tamils.
In late 2006, just as the LTTE- Sri Lanka war was escalating, Nepal was entering into a peace accord. The international players who were failing in their mediation in Sri Lanka ( as India had hoped) were now opening a new front in Nepal (to India’s angst). This Nepal “mediation” came in the form of a UN representative to Nepal and then a UN security council resolution establishing a UN Mission In Nepal (UNMIN) to “monitor the disarmament of Maoist rebels”.
( Note: Public statements being made by Erik Solheim on a proposal in 2009 for an “internationally monitored” end to the conflict needs to be seen in the context of what LTTE thought of the process in Nepal and why they insisted on a political solution even at that desperate juncture. A truthful analysis is needed on when and how LTTE decided that the Tamil struggle will have to stay alive even after its own, complete, demise.)
India’s regional Policy
India’s publicly stated regional policy since the late 90’s, founded on the Gujral Doctrine, has been regional stability and “collective prosperity”. These twin policy objectives of stability (Read, no outsider interferences in its backyard) and prosperity through regional trade integration (Read, Increased dependency on India) are at the core of the Indian policy. The US too has adopted this policy for the region with an eye on increasing the client country’s dependency on it but without overtly antagonizing India.
And in the name of regional stability, historically, Indian policy favored a constitutional Monarchy in Nepal and supported a rule by permanent ethnic majority under a unitary setup in Sri Lanka. Escalating conflicts in both countries attracted considerable attention from external actors. India was not supportive of the internationalization of the conflicts in both Sri Lanka and in Nepal. But it played along in a calibrated manner. According to one of the Indian government officials interviewed by Dr.Destradi on Nov, 17, 2008, “the Sri Lankans decided to go to the Norwegians. But it was clear that they [the Norwegians] would not succeed!”. (p. 108). So India tolerated that mediation knowing their “efforts would not alter the equilibrium.”
In Nepal, due to the people’s uprising and imminent collapse of the rule, UN was asked to help in July 2006. Which led to the first ever South Asian UN conflict resolution mission, as part of the November 2006 Nepal’s peace accord. Readers should contrast this to the UN pulling out of the conflict areas in Sri Lanka, two years later, as insisted by the Sri Lankan government. In any case, India was keen to avoid a precedent of the UN presence in the region but could not oppose the UN in Nepal at that time due to the circumstances. India nonetheless, succeeded in restricting the mandate of the UNMIN and ensuring it left Nepal in 2011.
In addition to the presence of the UNMIN, Nepal’s 2006 peace accord had one other significant aspect in contrast to the Sri Lankan cease fire accord and the peace process. Nepal’s agreement expressed ““determination to carry out a progressive restructuring of the state”. Something Sri Lanka has never been willing to do and the international players have not made that a requirement for stable peace ( LTTE’s insistence on a political solution for them to accept an internationally monitored end to the conflict stands vindicated by the current status. Just as it was then, international players are scrambling to come up with excuses for the lack of political will). This tolerance of the Sri Lankan unitary state and the supportive Indian policy has far reaching consequences to the Tamils’ future and to the course of action TNA is pursuing.
Dr. Destradi states that India changed its Nepal and Sri Lanka policies in 2006 and 2007 in a dramatic way. We will look at the Nepal policy change later.
India’s prescription for a political solution in Sri Lanka has always been ambiguous. It always used the vague term ‘negotiated settlement’ without any specifics. Dr. Destradi states that between the periods of April 2003 and May 2009, only once, in 2004, did India articulate a federal solution when it said “the unity of Sri Lanka in a federal system” (p. 109). Dr. Destradi makes the case that in 2007, India drastically pivoted its policy from that of a negotiated federal solution to that of the full implementation of the 13th amendment. She says “India’s support for this [Sri Lanka’s] military campaign which started around 2007, seems to reflect a shift in New Delhi’s goals. This shift..was the most remarkable development in bilateral relations” (p. 112). Going further she says “when in January 2009, the Indian minister of external affairs stated that a military victory represented a pre condition for a return to normalcy, India had definitively abandoned its goal of a negotiated settlement and had conformed to Colombo’s approach.” (p112).
It is unclear if this policy pivot was communicated to the TNA through any informal channels. But Mr. Gajen Ponnampalam has independently corroborated Dr. Destradi’s research when he had this to say about a meeting, held in May 21st 2009 ,between the TNA and an Indian delegation.
“The Tamil people should accept the 13th Amendment, as a solution to the ethnic question, was a direct message passed by the Indian delegation at that meeting.
When some of the TNA members attempted to explain that the 13th Amendment couldn’t be the way to find a political solution to the national question, Mr Narayanan, the then national security advisor of India, responded in an angry tone stating that India knew what was good for Tamils much better than the Tamils themselves. The Indian delegation categorically told us that the 13th Amendment was the solution.
At a critical juncture in the history of the Tamil struggle, I was witnessing a paradigm-shifting exercise at that meeting. “
This brings us back to the beginning of this post.
Question in Tamil minds should be, is the TNA’s policy of open ended engagement and asking for incremental improvements primarily driven by the Indian policy shift in 2007?
Today in Nepal, India and others have succeeded in containing the Maoists through a perpetual political stand off. The political capital Maoists had built among the masses, as demonstrated by their “stunning victory” in 2008 elections, has slowly been withering away. In Sri Lanka, after the military defeat of the LTTE, TNA also won popular support in elections. But it is also trapped in a similar process as the Maoists have been. Yet, Nepal as a country has moved in a net positive direction. As this article states “Nepal has gone from war to peace, monarchy to republic, theocratic to secular state, a monolithic hill-centric nationalism to inclusive citizenship, and possibly, from unitary to federal state. In fact, it is mainly the issue of federalism that remains to be resolved. “
But in the case of Sri Lanka, 4 years after the end of the war, India has not even been able to secure the full implementation of the 13A that has been part of the Sri Lankan constitution for 25 years: An utter failure of its policy objective. But it continues with the same myopic policy cajoling TNA along with it. Just as Maoists are now squabbling over the constituent assembly with no end in sight, TNA is framing the Tamil national struggle as a struggle for the full implementation of the constitutional provisions to the Tamils.
Eelam Tamils should take note of the commissions outlined in the Nepal peace accord and the Sri Lankan state’s recent invention of the same commissions: Human Rights Commision and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In Sri Lanka’s case, it is, curiously, supported by the Commonwealth and precisely in opposition to the UN mechanism of a Commission Of Inquiry. It is not a stretch of the imagination to assume India will not support a UN mechanism after it worked hard to be rid of it in Nepal. India’s hand behind this sham of TRC is made obvious by the Indian Foreign Minister’s interview here.
As discussed so far, if India’s objective is to bound the Tamil national question by the 13th Amendment and to block any International mechanisms to look into War crimes, Crimes against humanity and Genocide, how does TNA ( assuming it still does) hope to convince Indian policymakers to change?
TNA has no stated deadlines and no next course of action. Only an eternal hope that something positive for the Tamils will be secured by engagement and dialog. Prolonging the political vacuum while convincing the Tamil voter that some solution is just around the corner if she waits just a bit longer, is a classic way to pacify a politically mobilized people. TNA’s Northern Provincial Ccouncil electoral victory, despite a few trying to cast it as a full endorsement of TNA’s diplomatic acumen, was in fact a protest vote. India or others hoping to turn this mobilization into a ‘voter apathy’ is badly underestimating the Vanni mindset ( Sivaram’s explanation of LTTE’s Counter- Counter-Insurgency theory is a must read for Tamils on why LTTE, one of the most efficient organization in terms of resource utilization (admittedly until 2008), spent an unproportional amount of resources,material and mindshare in developing and fostering this Vanni mindset). The 2009 Genocide could not break that mindset. Neither did the Menik Farm internment camp. Sinhala Military occupation and intimidation is sure not going to break it. Why, then, the Indian and other policy makers who continue to underestimate the collective Tamil aspirations and think they can be pacified by delaying tactics is still a puzzle. It makes it much worse if TNA leadership appears to play into this by a) undermining the Tamil transnational kinship and b) not outright rejecting a domestic truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) when it was brought up by the South African president just when the British PM issued an ultimatum to Sri Lanka. The TNA’s statement that it wants to “consult” India gives the impression that it is willing to consider it if India insists on it.
Answer to my earlier question of why Indian policymakers underestimate the Tamil collective aspirations is because they have a willing Tamil partner in Sri Lanka just as they have in the Nepalese Congress in Nepal.
If TNA wants to effect an Indian policy change that will allow justice to the Tamils through an International mechanism and would allow Tamils to choose their own political, economic, and cultural destiny, then TNA also needs to study Dr.Destradi’s work on why India changed its Nepal policy in 2006.
According to her “The dramatic unfolding of events on Nepal’s streets ultimately made it impossible for India to continue with its ambiguous policy of support for the monarchy, which clearly contrasted with the popular will in Nepal.” (p136)..” Therefore, a sudden turn-about in India’s approach to Nepal took place: on 22 April 2006 Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran officially put an end to the twin-pillar approach and adopted a policy of appeasement and persuasion targeted at the Nepalese population:” (p136).
Are not the Eelam Tamils, after the horrors of Genocide inflicted upon them, worthy of a policy of appeasement?