TURMOIL IN SRI LANKA:
THREAT TO INDIA’S
Dr. Anil Athale,
former Joint Dir War Studies Division
Ever since the Presidential
elections in Sri Lanka
and ascent of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa
to the Sri Lankan Presidency, there was apprehension that the hardliner would
opt for military solution to the four decade old Tamil problem. This year as Sri Lanka has
abrogated the cease fire agreement and renewed fighting has broken out, there
is a real danger of the island turning into another trouble spot in the Indian
While many Tamils disagree with the means used by the Tigers
and its fascist outlook, they nevertheless regard them as saviours
of Tamils in face of Sinhala chauvinism. This is the greatest strength of the
Tigers and makes it possible for them to survive. There is no military solution
to the underlying political problem, a fact well understood in India ( and therefore
our remarkable success in curbing internal conflicts from Naga to Punjab to
Indian ocean is a
unique area in as much as for an ocean it has very few littoral countries. As a
consequence most of its vast expanse consist of open or international sea. It is
reputed to be very rich in minerals and in times to come as the resources on
land exhaust, a race for sea bed exploitation is a distinct possibility. The
Chinese naval expansion , proceeding currently at 13% growth rate per annum as
well as her attempts to build a base at Coco island belonging to Mynmar and at Gawadar in Pakistan,
portend an Indian ocean rivalry. India can ill
afford to lose control of this area , vital for its
security. Located at the apex of Indian ocean , a
friendly and peaceful Sri Lanka is
essential for Indian defence.
The future domination of the Indian ocean
by Chinese poses a threat to the vital interest of Japan
as well as the United States.
It is a well known secret that the two decade old Indian intervention in Sri Lanka ( the IPKF interlude of 1987) was prompted by the fear of
the Trincomalee harbour
going into hostile hands. Logically, today the interests of India, Japan
and the US seem to coincide
in having peace in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil-Sinhala rivalry is ‘mother of oldest conflicts’.
The two sides trace their animosities to the battle between Tamil King Ellara (after whom Ellam is
named) and Sinhalese Duttagamini in 167 (or 145) B.C. ! Obviously it was
not a continuing conflict and there were many periods of peace between the two.
But it must be understood that in the perception of ordinary Tamils and Sinhalas, the conflict is as old. This in itself becomes an
obstacle to a solution.
Since the Buddhist revival of 1956-57, Sri
Lanka has become a ‘Buddhist State,
much on the lines of many Islamic states that exist. But even worse, the law of
the land denies equal opportunities to non –Sinhala citizens. Many, specially Indian commentators have
flippantly ‘advised’ Tamils to accept Sri Lankan unity without realising that Sri Lanka is NOT a secular state like India
nor is it a ‘fair state’ like UK etc in terms of rule of law. Thus there is a
fundamental problem of the nature of Sri Lankan state at the root of this
Geography dictates that any conflict in the countries of the
Indian subcontinent affects India
as she is at the centre and her borders touch on each and every country. Common
borders ,race, religion and history make India and Sri
Lanka one of the closest neighbors in the region with the
possible exception of Nepal.
But mere cultural similarities or even common religion or race do not
necessarily lead to peaceful relations- examples; Sino-Japanese or relations
between dozen odd middle eastern countries , prove
Sri Lanka is a plural society and
multi ethnic country.
Like the other developing countries , the process of
economic development as well as nation building , on since 1945 all over the
third world, has often led to clashes between various groups within the nation.
India has experienced this
and so has Sri Lanka.
In the late 19th century conflicts took place mainly between the Budhists and Catholics and Muslims. The most serious riots
against the Catholics took place in 1883 and 1903. Major Anti Muslim riots took
place in 1915 . But since 1958, the focus of Sinhala
violence has shifted to Tamils. Major anti Tamil riots took place in 1958,1977 and 1981-83. This antagonism has led to a feeling of
insecurity amongst the Tamils and the movement for Tamil Elam or homeland , was born out of this cauldron of hate.
The Tamil speaking people of the Indian state
of Tamil Nadu have historical and blood relations ties with the Tamils of Sri
Lanka. ( Wife of tennis icon Vijay AmritRaj
is from Jaffna
while wife of cricket ace Muthahiah Murlidharan is from Tamilnadu…proves
the point) They could not remain inactive and watch the genocidal tactics of
the Sri Lanka
army against their own brethren . Rise of Drvadian parties like Dravid Kazagam and later of its two offshoots DMK and AI_ADMK
ensured a competitive backing for the rights of the Sri Lanka Tamils. The late
MGR went a step further and linked the Tamil survival with Indian nationalism.
Indian support to the Tamil militants was good politics, both regionally as
well as nationally. India
intervened in Sri Lanka
in 1987 initially with the sole aim of saving the Tamils. That subsequently it
ended up fighting the Tamils themselves can be only understood as a result of naivete of top Indian leaders, bungling of an egotist
diplomat and shrewdness of President Jayavardhane.
There are three distinct Tamil entities in Sri Lanka,
Jaffna Tamils living in Sri Lanka’s other Sinhala majority area,
There is no chance of a Greater Elaam
or Tamil Nadu joining it. Even Pondecherry is
maintaining its separate existence , it will be
foolish to consider this seriously.
The IPKF failed due to two main reasons,
Lanka government went back on promise
of political concessions.
At a crucial period in 1988, under late Premadasa, it is the Sri Lankan govt. and the army that
supplied arms and ammunition to the LTTE to fight the Indian Army.
CONTOURS OF A POSSIBLE SOLUTION.
Tamil Elaam is no solution. The
new state cannot be in peace with Sri Lanka as the Eastern province claimed by them has mixed
population , the boundary is not . well defined and is
600 kms long. Perpetual bloodshed is predetermined in
case of that outcome.
On the other hand most Sri Lankan Tamils would be quite
satisfied with Indian type of Federal structure. The first step in the
direction has to be taken by the Sinhlas by
recognising that Sri Lanka
is a multi ethnic and NOT a Buddhist state. The Sinhalas
have to give up their insistence on ‘Unitary’ state and accept federalism.
Federal structure with a Kashmir
like arrangement where
with Article 370, the Kashmiri identity is preserved.
A three language formulae to solve the language
Equality before law for all citizens and no Sinhala
Open negotiations and a cease fire.
guarantee this accord.
Unfortunately, with our capital located in Delhi, the ruling establishment is often
oblivious to the Indian ocean, despite the fact that the last rulers, British,
came from the sea. One often wonders if situation would have been different if
Mohammed Bin Tuglaq had succeeded and capital shifted
to Daulatabad…….near the centre of the country?
Before and ideological dispute can be solved it needs to be
converted into a tangible dispute over territory or rights. The Middle East
process only got off the ground and also derailed) once the Palestinians
recognised Israel’s right to
exist and Israel
in turn accepted the demand for a Palestinian state. Once the ideological
hurdle was crossed there can be give and take over territory. Till such time
this happens, there is very little chance of peace. World and major powers like
the US and Japan have to
convince or coerce the Sri Lankans into abandoning
the path of military solution. India
has to act and realize that between inaction and military intervention, there
are many tools available to it.
The dialogue must be open and the
world at large told of the issue involved. But the first step for the process
to begin is for both sides to accept
that they are in a ‘No Win Situation’. If the world and India
fails to convince the Sri Lankans, then we are
looking at a fire next door with China gleefully fishing in troubled