Saturday, March 23, 2013

Burning Lanka doesn't always work out well

By Swapan Dasgupta

Diplomacy, it has been said, essentially involves lying for your country. By that logic, there is likely to be widespread sympathy for the complete loss of face for India’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Just about a week ago, India’s envoy was busy engaging with the US and other countries on the draft of a resolution which, while paying token obeisance to Tamil victimhood, would not trigger a ferocious xenophobic reaction in the rest of Sri Lanka. The objective was laudable: to soften the blow on Colombo while accommodating some of India’s domestic concerns.

When he returned to Geneva for last Thursday’s crucial session, he was armed with a new brief: to impress upon the DMK and the global Tamil diaspora that India’s sympathies lay with those who have trying unceasingly to secure the partition of Sri Lanka.

It is fortunate that procedures prevented India from rehabilitating the LTTE before the international community. Yet, this cynical grandstanding, aimed exclusively at preventing Congress stalwarts from losing their Lok Sabha seats at the next election, made India a laughing stock in the region. The ire of Colombo will not be directed at the US which sponsored the resolution. Washington is too powerful and too remote for Sri Lanka to even attempt any meaningful retribution. The blow will fall on India which, ironically, was more than happy when the fanatical Tigers were militarily decimated in 2009. India’s economic and strategic interests in Sri Lanka will suffer and the beneficiary will be China. More to the point, India’s foreign policy will be perceived as wildly erratic and susceptible to sectional pressures, even of the disreputable variety.

It is mildly reassuring that this self-defeating misadventure in Geneva wasn’t accompanied by a resolution in Parliament pillorying Sri Lanka for “human rights abuses” and “genocide”. Mercifully there were enough MPs who prevented this needless bullying of a small country with which India has a deep civilizational relationship.

Nor are these links confined to the Jaffna Tamils and Tamil Nadu. The Sinhala people too look up to India as a pilgrimage centre for the land of the Buddha. And, to stretch the point further, the Sinhala people also trace their ancestry to Orissa and Bengal, the home of the legendary Vijaya who established the first Sinhala kingdom around 543 BC. Sri Lanka’s India connection is clearly not confined to Tamil Nadu.

And, if civilizational links determine diplomatic posturing, would the Government have dared contemplate a resolution attacking China for its assault on Tibetan identity? Why did Parliament contemptuously repudiate the Pakistan National Assembly’s gratuitous resolution on Afzal Guru? Consistency may be the virtue of small minds but wildly erratic conduct doesn’t behove a country that has pretensions of emerging as a global player.

There are times when it is politically rewarding to rise above sectional pressures and do what is in the larger national interest. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did precisely that in 2008 when he called the Left’s bluff over the Indo-US nuclear agreement. It was his resolute stand for a larger purpose that gained the UPA considerable goodwill and was a factor in its re-election in 2009.

That the UPA leadership chose to unsuccessfully placate the DMK which used the Sri Lankan Tamil issue as a ruse to sever an alliance that had otherwise become a liability is revealing. It suggests that there already weak central command structure of the Government has become almost non-existent. The Government gives the appearance of being a replica of the later-Moghul Empire where a nominal badshah in Delhi lacked authority and was buffeted by different regional pressures—a situation deftly exploited by the East India Company.  This incoherence has, quite predictably, affected India’s foreign policy—a field that is the sole responsibility of the Centre. Our think-tanks can pontificate endlessly over a foreign policy ‘doctrine’ and dissect the nuances and calibrations but the reality is cruel. India has lost its capacity to be a meaningful global player. Today, national security merely implies a game of transfers and postings.

Elections may be a year away but more than ever India needs a government with a mandate. And, if possible, a Prime Minister with clout.

Sunday Times of India, March 24, 2013 

No comments: