Indo – Lanka Relations before the China War and After Part II
Posted on March 11th, 2014

By Bandu de Silva

No impact of Pre-independence Indian politics

On Sri Lanka’s side, the great movements that took place in the sub-continent during the pre-independent phase had little impact on the emerging island nation. A few Leftists had come under the influence of India Socialists like Jayaprakash Narayan overseas. These links were maintained to some extent. The Bolshevik-Leninist party led by Colvin R de Silva at the time of Independence was an outcrop of the BLPI in India under the shadow of which all Sri Lankan political prisoner escapees from Sri Lanka functioned. As for the mainstream Gandhian movement, there was not much enthusiasm among the political elite in Sri Lanka, though later, J.R.Jayewardene claimed that he learned the basics of Gandhism in the Gandhi Ashram first learning to wash the toilets.

Yes. There were a few Sri Lankans wearing even Gandhi caps, (really Nehru caps) and Indian Sherwani style dress among the immediate post-independent elite as my own Ambassador in Bonn, S.P Wickremesinghe was. A few others even held on to views of joining India in a federation. My former Ambassador in Beijing, Wilmot Perera, a product of Shantiniketan, gave expression to it at a farewell dinner accorded to by the Indian Ambassador, R.K.Nehru. Though Ambassador Nehru may not have heard it because of a physical impairment he suffered from, his senior Counsellor, Bahadur Singh kicked me under the table as the Ambassador was saying it and later asked me if the Ambassador was expressing his personal view. When later indo-China hostilities sufaced, Wilmot Perera was a very disturbed man. 

When Dr. Gopal, author of a new book on Gandhi, (son of the great Savant, Dr. Radhakrishnan) whose association I renewed at the International House in New Delhi in April 1983,  asked me how the Gandhi film was received in Sri Lanka, I was embarrassed and had to suppress the information that it was not on the circuit of better known Cinema Houses in Colombo -not even in Sellamutthu’s Ceylon Theatre circuit – but shown in one or two bug-infested old cinema houses down Panchikawatta patronized by Pettah’s Nattamis and one cinema in Jaffna.

This is the contrast to what I wrote in my last article that there was so much goodwill for India among the average people of Sri Lanka. It would be a mistake to think that it was so among the city’s elite. It was only after Sai Baba became popular that any Colombo elite, suddenly caught up in a sudden wave of superstition, were seen going to his Ashram in Bangalore.

No reaon for engagement

Sri Lanka, on her part, had then not given any strong reasons to India for engagement in the type of foreign policy relationship she had developed towards Burma as an emerging Asian partner with an independent mind, and India was seen ready to forge such relationship with even the rest of Asia like Sukarno’s Indonesia, when he supported the holding of Afro-Asian conference in Bandung in 1956, later to be extended to other parts of the world. This was largely, the result of the first Prime Minister, D.S Senanayake’s reluctance to get involved in international politics. He was satisfied with the modest role of a nation living on her export oriented plantation economy which was the British legacy and the few extension of agriculture which he had pursued as the former head (Minister) of the Agricultural Committee in the State Council, and continuing with the social policies which had been commenced earlier which saw the rise in literacy and life-span index and the lowering of infantile and maternal mortality rate.

 He was not overtly interested in the island’s membership in the UN. It was blessing in disguise to him. He even shunned some offers to locate UN regional offices in Colombo on the ground that it might add up to raising the cost of living of people.

 The events which took place at Bandung with Sir John Kotelawala’s  unexpected statement which disturbed the mood of the Conference, was a pointer as observed earlier, to the absence of any mutual consultations between the two South Asian countries on the lines which  India was projecting there. In my view, Indian diplomacy which had taken so much interest in finding loop holes in Ceylon’s Indian and Pakistani Registration (Citizenship) Act of 1949, had not thought of taking Sri Lanka along with her in international fora. Was it then more a failure of Indian diplomacy that Ceylon’s Prime Minister introduced a pro-US point of view at this Conference? In contrast, it was customary later after Sri Lanka was admitted to UN membership for Sri Lankan diplomats to be told to interact closely with their Indian counterparts as well as African countries on international issues.   

Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake’s closure of ports and airports to Dutch vessels and aircraft proceeding to Indonesia with troops and material to suppress Indonesian rebellion, was a single isolated event but its  significance is that it marked a new mood in which Sri Lanka was the first to give expression. It was later to activate other Asian neighbours leading Premier Nehru to take the lead role to summon as Asian Ministers’ Conference in New Delhi.  Prime Minister DS Senanayake’s move could be seen as a preemptive one to see that the country did not get embroiled in an overt international issue, rather than one following a deep rooted foreign policy consideration. This was clear from Senanayake showing no enthusiasm when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called for the holding of an Asian Ministers Conference to deliberate on the Indonesian situation. He felt that Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, had done her part and that was the end. Though the Cabinet was of the view that Colombo should participate in the Conference, DS Senanayake’s vacillation was due to his reluctance to get overtly involved in a brewing international issue. Premier Nehru had to send him several messages and finally, he sent SWRD Bandaranaike to New Delhi. If Bandaranaike, building on Colombo’s initiative, cut a figure in New Delhi, that was more his personal contribution as much as there was general support for him from the government and the opposition.      

Enter Bandaranaike

Even after Bandaranaike came into power in 1956, after he began to articulate his new approach to foreign policy in terms of “dynamic neutralism ” in the bi-polarised world, Prime Minister Nehru showed no interest. Though the Anglo-French invasion of Suez in 1956 provided  Banadaranaike his first entry point into global politics there was no serious follow up in Sri Lanka. He proceeded to New York to address the UN General Assembly. He met the British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, his onetime Oxford colleague, on his way before meeting General Eisenhower, President of US, obviously because he did not want to be misunderstood. Despite his overt declarations against power blocs, he was still conscious of the importance of maintain economic and even strategic openings with Britain and US.

The reception to Bandaranaike at the UNGA was not commensurate with the enthusiasm he displayed. He addressed an almost empty house due to bad logistic by the new Mission opened in New York. This was not unusual at these boring Plenary sessions at UN and other international fora, but the mission should have at least rounded up the Afro-Asian representatives to be present, considering that this was the first time the Prime Minister of a new member nation was addressing the General assembly and he was bringing in a new message from Asia after the Anglo-Suez Suez invasion of Egypt.

 Bandaranike’s eloquence was recognized but India under Nehru, who was no less egoistic, but the latter did not appear prepared to accommodate him in the top rank of the non-alignment movement he was building up. Bandaranaike had to make strident efforts to articulate his own concept of “Dynamic Neutralism ” after he became the Prime Minister. He started with the Foreign Service. When he met five of us, the new recruits to the Foreign Service in July 1956, he asked them “What is my foreign policy?” One of them  answered this heavily personality-loaded question rather casually, saying it was “same as Nehru’s,” Bandaranaike jumped into a rage to ask “Who told you so?” The significance of this episode is that it demonstrated how Bandaranaike felt over his policy being equated to that of Nehru’s formula of non-alignment. In other words, what it showed was that this Oxford trained orator was not prepared to play second fiddle to his counterpart across the Palk Straits, however big that country was. That remained so throughout the short duration of Bandaranaike wielding power though he built up a close family relationship with the Nehrus. (In contrast, as will be shown later, Mrs Bandaranaike eschewed such personalised explanations of foreign policy offering a more practical explanation. 

Bandaranaike’s eloquence was recognized but India under Nehru, who was no less egoistic, did not appear prepared to accommodate him in the top rank of the non-alignment movement he was building. He had to make strident efforts to articulate his own concept of “Dynamic Neutralism” which he had commenced articulating in his pre-premiership days.

On Nehru’s part, there was then no enthusiasm to bring Sri Lanka to the vortex of top rung of Asian policy making. The post Suez development was an exception, as Bandaranaike on his own was making noises about it. Nehru, on the other hand, was looking in the direction of Tito of Yugoslavia and Nasser of Egypt (The Trio) who met in Belgrade to formally launch the non-aligned movement. Tito and Nasser were greater assets in the direction Nehru was looking. That meant Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka was side-lined, whatever, impressions he was creating locally articulating the island’s new foreign policy direction under him. 

Was this a reality or mere analysts imagination? Did Nehru avoid a what present External Affairs Minister, Salman Kurshid, called a “big Brother relationship.” I do   not think that a soft diplomacy approach in India’s relations with Sri Lanka would have been out of place. I am thinking of how US Deputy Secretary, Strobe pursued such diplomacy with Jaswant Singh who was later to become BJP government’s minister of External Affairs.

Starting with a “Problem”  

India had no serious border issues either, with Sri Lanka at the time of independence as she had with other neighbours but there was the old issue of people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka whose presence had evoked debate in the pre-independence State Council of Ceylon. Consequently, as observed at the outset, the  “Indo-Ceylon Problem,” became the major issue for Sri Lanka with India.  

At diplomatic level, to judge from the demeanour of early Indian High Commissioners like C.C.Desai, one saw how tainted Indian attitudes towards Sri Lanka was, dominated by hegemonic overtones and uncompromising manifestations over this burning issue of Indian residents in Sri Lanka. The Indian Constitution of 1954 was used as a tool foreign policy to close the door for Indian residents in other countries any rights for Indian citizenship. India’s self-interest was exposed ignoring any human rights considerations on her part, a situation which is in dire contrast to India pursuing human rights issues along with US today in Geneva. The problems arising from the interpretation of domicile clause of wives and children of Indians and Pakistanis under the Indian and Pakistani residents (Citizenship) Act of 1948, and the way Desai reacted and Prime Minister Nehru used non-committal language in a reply sent to Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake over the substance of talks Senanayake held in London with Nehru, is a living testimony to the way India treated Sri Lanka at the time. The idea of trust building was thrown out of the window, if that was a consideration in bi-lateral relations between two states. W.T.Jayasinghe has recorded this in his book “Indo-Ceylon Problem.”   

That scenario was, in a sense, no second to what much later, the former Indian High Commissioner, J.N.Dixit came to wield in the political /strategic field making the issue of Sri Lankan Tamil ethnic issue an Indo-Sri Lanka issue. Except for this early manifestations of hegemonic and uncompromising stand on what came to be known as the “Indo-Ceylon problem” and the matter forgotten for the time being, Indo-Lanka relations remained non-existent except superficially. To say things were cordial would be a misnomer.  There was far warmer relationship between Sri Lanka and Maldives and Sri Lanka and Burma at the time than with India.

Though nothing really worthwhile took place during the days of the Senanayakes who preferred isolation in respect of international relations, if not more Westward looking as the Leftists alleged , -Sri Lanka was not yet admitted to the UN membership ” except the participation in the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi in 1949 on Indonesia’s future. That did not develop into an Indo-Sri Lankan partnership of jointly dealing with global issues. In fact the Soviets accused that New Delhi Asian Relations Conference  was too mild attacking colonialism and was trying to create an Asian bloc. (Sen Gupta, p.49).  

As observed above, bi-lateral relations did not warm with SWRD Bandaranaike coming to power, despite the opportunity it provided like the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s call to close down British the bases in Sri Lanka, which was a clear demonstration of the island nation’s commitment in the direction of non-aligned policy. This opening provided for escalating relationship with the rise of SWRD Bandaranaike in the Sri Lankan political scene in 1956, did not catch on till India faced the border war with China in 1962.

Rise of Mrs.Bandaranaike

The Chinese confrontation made India to look for friends. Though India might have expected Sri Lanka to respond emotionally in India’s favour, it did not happen that way. Mrs Bandaranaike who had by now succeeded her assassinated husband, and earned a niche for herself in the non-aligned movement, followed a different approach using her influence in the NAM. She had been invited jointly by Tito and Nasser in 1960 to participate in the Preparatory Meeting to be held in Cairo to discuss the holding of the NAM Summit. It was not India sponsored. The next Preparatory meeting for the Cairo Summit was held in Colombo and the invitations to original participants in Belgrade and others to attend the the Summit to be held in Cairo in 1964, were sent under the joint names of Mrs.Bandaranaike , Marshal Tito and President Nasser One could now see how Sri Lanka under Mrs. Bandaranaike has splurged into international politics without any prompting from India and she had become a greater focus of international attention even more than aging Nehru.  

            India at the time was recovering from the shock of invasion by China on her northern border, which saw her Pancaseela policy forged with China earlier sent  asunder. India expected Sri Lanka to positively back India on the issue. But this did not happen. Mrs Banadaranike’s prestige arose when both China and India accepted her mediatory role in trying to find a solution to the border dispute. International focus had now shifted from New Delhi to Colombo as the future country to watch.    

The Chinese confrontation made a difference to India’s neighboohood perspective. She began to look for friends. Though India might have expected Sri Lanka to respond emotionally in India’s favour, it did not happen that way. Mrs Bandaranaike who had by now succeeded her assassinated husband, and earned a niche for herself in the non-aligned movement, followed a different approach using her influence in the NAM. She had been invited jointly by Tito and Nasser in 1960 to participate in the Preparatory Meeting to be held in Cairo to discuss the holding of the NAM Summit. Mrs.Bandaranaike’s rise in international scale was not India sponsored. She had become a greater focus of international attention even more than aging Nehru.

It owed much to her own personality, her perception of looking at international relations as a way “to influence international public opinion….. bring respect for the country and help preserve peace.” That was a different approach from her oxford educated husband, who laid emphasis on an egoistic scale. As an analyst observed, what was at the bottom of her success was that she was supported by the professionally experience of her Ministry of External Affairs. (W.M.Karunadsa: 1997, ‘Sri Lanka and Non Alignment‘ p.68). A point that has not been brought out is that she considered the policy of non-alignment was one way of protecting the country’s territorial integrity which she used to remind her advisers including this writer. This s a point over which the approaches of India and Sri Lanka to non-alignment may seem to differ, India having standing of a moral force which the small neghbour dd not seem to possess.   

The next Preparatory meeting for the Cairo Summit was held in Colombo and the fact that the invitations to original participants in Belgrade and others to attend the Summit to be held in Cairo in 1964, were sent under the joint names of Mrs.Bandaranaike , Marshal Tito and President Nasser, was no mere formality but a recognition of Mrs Bandaranaike’s rising role in the international scene.  One could now see how Sri Lanka under Mrs. Bandaranaike has splurged into international politics without any prompting from India. 

            India at the time was recovering from the shock of invasion by China on her northern border, which saw her Pancaseela policy forged with China earlier sent  asunder. India expected Sri Lanka to positively back India on the border issue. But this did not happen.  

Situation under political changes

Commenting on change of government [in Sri Lanka] , Prof. V.P. Dutt observed that [Indian] policy [does] not change with change of governments. This was true under the interlude under Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake when bi-lateral relations remained cordial and economic cooperation expanded.  Senanayake saw the opening of the Birla group’s textile mill as a “stepping stone for even closer collaboration between the two countries. Trade between the two countries rose under the Dudley Senanayake administration. But as observed earlier, there was nothing to contribute to a cordial bi-lateral relationship with India on the vexed issue of Indians in the island but more damage to trust building.

Prof. Dutt’s observation did not remain true when JR Jayewardena government took office at the end of 1977. India’s perspective on Sri Lanka has changed considerably with the return of Indira Gandhi to power a second time, proving the truth of J.N.Dixit’s oft quoted observation that in diplomacy, there were no permanent friendship but permanent interest. That was a more hawkish presentation of the old Kautilyan adage. 

The bi-lateral Agreements signed in 1964 by Prime Minister Mrs Banadaranaike and Premier Bhadur Shastri over the future of a large number of Indians in Sri Lanka, and again, over the settlement of maritime boundaries in the Palk Straits by Agreement signed in 1974 and over the Gulf of Mannar by the Agreement signed in 1976 were interpreted in both countries as landmark achievements in bi-lateral relations and willingness on the part of leaders of both countries to settle bi-lateral issues in a peaceful and just manner.

 In the case of the agreement of 1964, however, India knew fully well that she was treating the Sri Lankan situation differently from what she was facing in Burma in respect of Indian residents in that country who were forced by the Ne Win government to leave without any compensation for the loss of business in the case of traders, and without any facilities for repatriation of assets by all. This situation was kept under low key and India did not make a public outcry because relations with Burma had “incalculable security implications for India”. (Prof.V.P.Dutt: 1987, p338). This was a case which illustrates how security implications affected India following a uniform policy towards the same issue of Indian residents in neighbouring countries. Though early responses of India were to deny any responsibility for the Indian residents in Sri Lanka, during the issue over Tibet, India went on record claiming that the Nepali businessmen in Tibet were Indian citizens and India had a right to intercede on their behalf. That also pointed to Indian policy variations to suit circumstances.  

 In the end, though the 1964 Agreement with Sri Lanka was a positive development, through bureaucratic manipulation on India’s side, the effect of the 1964 Agreement was not fully realized.

What the era of Mrs Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka and Indira Gandhi in India mark is a period of quiet diplomacy under which outstanding bi-lateral issues were sought to be settled amicably.

Jayewardene Factor

There have been a number of explanations about the shift of emphasis in Indian policy towards Sri Lanka from the time of ascendancy of J.R.Jayewardene on   the Sri Lankan political scene. These include deterioration of personal relations between the leadership, a point on which the late Mervyn de Silva, placed emphasis. However, a point that has not been discussed sufficiently, is the situation which arose from the declaration of emergency rule in India from 1975 to mid 1977, which was opposed by many Western countries and denounced by China, but had the support of the Soviet Union and the sympathy of the Bandaranaike government. It was the opposition led by J.R. Jayewardene  was firmly opposed to it, that came to India’s diplomatic attention more than Mrs.Banadaranaike’s tacit support. That was one more important signal to India where J.R.Jayewardene stood in relation to India.

[To be Continued]

3 Responses to “Indo – Lanka Relations before the China War and After Part II”

  1. NAK Says:

    Even though he was called Pandith Nehru,he was no pandith of any thing,pandith was added as a dressing up,according to Dr.Subramaiam Swamy. Further according to him he despised educated people tried to keep them at a distance. Dr.Ambedkar was one to face Nehru’s mistreatment and Subash Chanrabose was another who was made to flee the country.
    So it does not come as a surprise him not taking SWRD any closer.
    baggage to colour her decisions.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    These bloody terrorists cannot be stopped other than by “LTTE”.

    “It has been reported that members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) met with US and UK diplomatic delegations in Sri Lanka.

    The discussions were reportedly held in Colombo while TNA Leader R. Sampanthan and MPs Mavai Senathirajah and M. Sumanthiran were said to have been present.

    The British High Commissioner John Rankin and officials of the US Embassy were said to have participated in the discussions.

    The discussions revolved around the resolution on Sri Lanka to be brought forward at the UNHRC sessions while the TNA had extended its support to the resolution.”

    -adaderana.lk

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    Just talk no action!

    Settle Sinhala and Muslims in the north NOW. Stop nonsense. Stop promises. DO IT NOW.

    Muslim, Sinhala IDPs’ right to return to NP should be recognised – President

    By Shamindra Ferdinando

    President Mahinda Rajapaksa early this week declared that since the vast majority of internally displaced Tamil people in the Northern Province had been resettled, it was now the responsibility of the government to resettle the Sinhalese and the Muslims chased away by the LTTE.

    President Rajapaksa emphasised that the right of all those evicted by terrorists at gunpoint more than 20 years ago to return should be recognised.

    The President was addressing a propaganda rally at Ratmalana Railway grounds on Monday (March 10) in support of those contesting the Colombo district on the UPFA ticket.

    In an obvious reference to the ongoing attempt to haul Sri Lanka before an international war crimes tribunal, President Rajapaksa said that the release of child soldiers had been conveniently forgotten. The government hadn’t received the appreciation it deserved for the swift release of child combatants, the President said, explaining the speedy rehabilitation and release of combatants.

    The President said that society would provide a conducive environment to those returning to civilian life better than detention facilities.

    President Rajapaksa said no one could undermine his administration as long as the people were with it.

    Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General Udaya Perera recently briefed Agnes Asekenye-Oonyu, Head of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) on the situation at open welfare centres in Jaffna and the ongoing resettlement project.

    Maj. Gen. Perera told The Island that the LTTE had driven people of all three communities out of the Jaffna peninsula during the conflict. The Sinhalese were chased out in the 1980s, the Muslims in 1990 and the Tamils during Operation Riviresa, which regain Jaffna in late 1995. Although the peninsula was brought under government administration in 1996, those the LTTE had driven away had not been able to return, the Major General said.

    Major General Perera assured the UN official Sri Lanka’s commitment to resettle the war displaced as soon as possible.

    Defence Ministry sources told The Island that the return of about 30 Sinhala families to Navatkuly close to Jaffna had prompted the US Embassy to dispatch its political officer, Michael A. Ervin, to inquire into the circumstances under which they had arrived there. Sources said that the families residing at Navatkuly were among those forced to flee the peninsula at the onset of hostilities in the 1980s. According to the 1981 Census, there had been 19,334 Sinhalese in Northern Province, comprising the administrative districts of Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mannar. The majority of them had lived in the Jaffna peninsula and owned property at the time hostilities erupted.

    Ministry sources said that the natural growth of a particular community too, should be taken into consideration before resettlement of those driven out of the Northern Province got underway.”

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