Why Does India Not Have a Geneva Game-Plan?

by Kumar David, Colombo Telegraph, March 10, 2021

Why is there uncertainty, even at this late stage, about the stand India will take on the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka’s long ended civil war and overlapping allegations that the current regime harbours authoritarian ambitions?  India’s silence is both curious and significant. There are three substantive players in the Geneva game. Team 1 is the core group (UK, Canada, Germany and three other ninnies) supported by the new US Administration; they work as a unit. Team 2 is China; the only other important team member is Russia. Team 3 is India and India alone, an important outlier. Everyone else (there are 47 voting members on the Council) is small change to be led by the nose by one or other of the big teams and this goes for the Islamic states and Pakistan. America-Europe or China, Teams 1 or 2, will tell them what to do, and these nobodies will obey – give or take a tear drop for their fellow Sons of the Prophet in Lanka. The caveat is that if Team 3 (India) takes a strong position, one way for the other, it will swing five-plus votes which will be the factor deciding whether Sri Lanka is fried crisp or mildly sautéed. 

The motivations of Team 1 and Team 2 are known and consist of international and a domestic dimensions. The international-strategic aspect has been much commented on. China’s wants a safe maritime concourse in the East China Sea, Straits of Malacca and Indian Ocean. Friendly states and harbours along the way are prized. Team 1, behind which stands the Quad (US, Australia, Japan and New Zealand) desires to block China’s upswing. All this you read in the newspapers daily. Then there is the domestic imperative. Team 1 and the West have an ethos of human rights concern in public spaces – whether deemed bogus or not, it exists as a political force. If a British or an American government is seen as soft on human rights – Burma, Lanka, Belarus etc. – the domestic opposition (Labour, Republicans, Churches and NGOs) will go to town. The unpopularity will be substantial. China too has its internal dimension. Its chorus is “Non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries” which says: You screw your Rohingyas, Tamils, or whoever and leave us free to bugger our Uyghurs.  (Crudely stated, but my editor is a miser for words and I have to keep it short). The motivation of Teams 1 & 2 is transparent, their behaviour predictable.

India is the enigma. Why so undecided with only two weeks to go to the vote? What is the Indian Government weighing up that makes it so flatfooted? No reputed commentator has stuck his neck out and said “This is what India will do”. I will make no predictions as it is clear Narendra Modi and GoI are themselves clueless which way they are pointing. The fears that have got India flatfooted in order of importance are as follows.  

a) India needs to mull the China factor judiciously. If the Lankan regime cosies up to China excessively, such as allowing Chinese bases, it will be punished. But how does punishing Lanka benefit India? It’s better to balance the cards and avoid a showdown. 

b) India does not want to beat the Double-Paksa regime over the head with a big stick, nor does it wish to starve Lanka and be seen as a bully. This is not the mid-1980s, the military-political crisis is not even remotely as critical. Rightly, the big stick has been put away. 

c) There is concern in the BJP about Tamil Nadu and worry of an anti-BJP electoral backlash among Dravidians in India if Tamil brethren in the Island bite the dust. 

The only good Muslim in the Hindutva-Bible is a dead Muslim but Lanka’s less than two million fans of the Prophet are small change for Modi and the BJP. The BJP’s and the Lankan Executive’s shared loathing of Islam is unlikely to factor in GoI’s decision making. 

Though the LTTE, and 30 years ago the JVP were deemed terrorists, a clear distinction must be made between the following categories: Death in armed engagements (war), killing of persons suspected of being to LTTE, JVP etc. but taken prisoner or arrested outside war-engagement, and thirdly civilians. Under no condition can killing or torture of prisoners, arrestees or civilians be condoned. The Lankan police and military systematically, the LTTE often, and the JVP briefly in 1989, are guilty of these crimes. 

Now even Patali Champika seems to concede that there is a blithering, blooming imbroglio that needs sorting out:

සියලු දෙනා භයානක වැරදි කරා – කිසිම පැත්තක සාන්තුවරු නැහැ – ඉදිරිය සැලසුම් කරමු පරණ වැරදි යළි නොඑන්න – YouTube

I  doubt if the Double-Paksa government has the flexibility to think outside the box as does Champiks. Though I don’t agree with some of what he says, he does concede that fresh thinking is timely. Sinhala-Buddhists are numerically a huge majority, but the other 25% won’t accept rigid single-community hegemony. Surely there is room for a new deal including accountability. India, to be helpful, must exploit these tensions and opportunities.

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