Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • February 2011
    M T W T F S S

A Sri Lankan Problem for India

Posted by harimpeiris on February 24, 2011

India, has a Sri Lankan problem which is two dimensional, one aspect of the problem having a technical solution and the other requiring a political one. The first part of the problem was mitigated for the moment last week with the release of over one hundred Indian fishermen that had been arrested and remanded by the relevant authorities for poaching in Sri Lankan waters. Now the attraction of Sri Lankan waters for fishing is understandable. For the past several decades through the period of the war, deep sea fishing in Northern waters was prohibited by the military and consequently our Northern waters teem with fish making poaching a very attractive proposition for Indian fishermen. However, this aspect of India’s Sri Lankan problem can be resolved through technical solutions, including a better coast guard program, joint patrolling with the Indians and other protective measures of maritime boundaries and fisheries resources. The mechanism to arrive at such solutions is the Indo-Lankan Joint Committee that was established way back in 2006, but has never got off the ground, an error that is being rectified now.

The other dimension of the problem that India has regarding Sri Lanka is more complex and stems from the ethnic problem. Since the war with the LTTE is over, political issues are again at the forefront and India’s problems are as follows.

Indian political dynamics 


India is home to over sixty million Tamil people and consequently throughout South India there is an abiding interest in Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem in general and the welfare of the Tamil Community in particular. That concern was muted when the LTTE was dominating Tamil politics, since there was little sympathy for the LTTE in India following the Rajive Gandhi assassination. However with the destruction of the LTTE, the dynamics have changed. It is now possible to advocate a political solution, without the fear that the LTTE would be the beneficiaries of the same. India cooperated actively in the destruction of the LTTE, by assisting Sri Lanka with intelligence sharing, especially to enforce the naval blockade of the LTTE in the North and by providing political support internationally. As Sri Lanka’s war neared its climatic end in 2009, India was in the midst of its election cycle and under intense domestic political pressure to bring a halt to the fighting. However they held off on such temptations and thereby facilitated the final destruction of the LTTE, along the banks of the Naintikadal lagoon in Mullativu. It is widely believed that the Sri Lankan government at its highest levels gave assurances to the Indian government at her highest levels, that once the LTTE was destroyed, that Sri Lanka would deliver a political solution that would essentially ensure that the Sri Lankan State, her institutions and functioning would be more accommodative and reflective of the diversity and pluralistic nature of her society. Such an undertaking became especially serious since the Indian government at the center passed on these assurances to its regional allies in the South. Tamil Nadu’s main political leaders, both incumbent Chief Minister Karunanidhi and Opposition leader “Amma” as Jayalalitha is affectionately known, find that an unresolved Sri Lankan issue, provides fodder for minor political parties and players, who seek to upstage the seniors on this issue. Further the Chief Minister is in the fight of his political life in next month’s State elections and a defeat would spell the end of the octogenarian leader’s long political career.

India’s role in the world


The other problem for India is its policy of non interference. India would prefer not to see Western or other outside political interference in Sri Lanka. As India’s role in the world expands, a regional power does not want others poking around its backyard. However, an unresolved ethnic problem, including humanitarian and human rights issues provide a legitimate reason for other nations, especially Western ones, homes to their own significant Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora communities to have continuing and compelling concerns about Sri Lanka. Such concerns passed on to India. Now a UN Security Council member and seeking a permanent seat in that body, India cannot be seen as weak and vacillating on Sri Lanka. If India cannot assist in resolving Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem, what are its credentials or rights for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

Accordingly an unresolved Sri Lankan ethnic problem, posses a significant problem for India and it is in our own interest to accommodate such concerns and resolve our internal differences.


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