India’s choice of friends
Posted on October 7th, 2018

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

India must be gnashing teeth. The government they installed in Sri Lanka has not only failed them miserably, but is also tarnishing their image. This government did stop Chinese submarines from docking at the Colombo Port. This is of cold comfort when the entire Hambantota Port was leased to China along with another 15,000 acres of land for the next 99 years. India can pretend to the world that China ‘forced’ Sri Lanka to hand over the Seaport, but they know the Sri Lankan Government ‘dropped’ the Seaport on China’s lap. Getting the Mattala Airport would only be a face saver, for without the Seaport, the Airport’s full value cannot be garnered.

Revelation at UN

At the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly in New York, Maithripala Sirisena revealed that during the last two weeks of the war, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were planning an aerial attack on Colombo from India, possibly Chennai. If India were to claim that they were unaware of such an attack, which would be to admit that their own intelligence was lacking. Neither can they admit to being aware of such plans, for that would tantamount to planning the invasion of a sovereign country. All India can do is studiously ignore the comment, as they had to with the Hambantota Port matter.

Meanwhile, in the Jaffna Peninsula and Batticaloa, a number of commemoration events were organized to remember the hardcore terrorist Thileepan. The commemoration commenced at the Thileepan memorial statue near Nallur Kovil, in Jaffna, and spanned to other areas over the days. These events were attended by Tamil politicians and families of the missing and dead terrorists. The injunction, the Police filed, failed to ban the commemoration events and remove all decorations for a terrorist who belonged to an organization that is banned in Sri Lanka. The Jaffna Magistrate, Sinnathurai Satheeskaran, rejected the Police request after the Tamil National Alliance spokesman, Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran, with a team of lawyers represented the Jaffna Municipal Councillor S. Jayaseelan who was summoned by the Magistrate following the injunction filed by Police. The government did not bat an eyelid.

While the media hardly makes a flutter about the significance of 19 May, anymore, a number of articles appeared waxing eloquent phrases about Thileepan. One newspaper article even equated this hardcore terrorist to Mahatma Gandhi.

True, Mahatma Gandhi too engaged in a number of fasts to pressurize the powers of the day. However, that hardly makes Thileepan another Mahatma Gandhi, just because he too engaged in a fast-unto-death protest. The article stated that he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. A greater insult could not have been levelled against the humanitarian, which bounces on to India as well.

Mahatma Gandhi is a celebrated figure of righteousness, even amongst those whom he protested against, because his fight was not for exclusive rights, but for collective rights. He stood for religious harmony and acceptance. He eschewed violence on principle, not because he was incapacitated.

Thileepan on the other hand had to be relegated to the LTTE ‘political’ wing after he sustained injuries at Operation Vadamarachchi. His fight was to get rid of the Sinhalese from one third of our country’s land. In his fight, he did not only battle with Sri Lanka’s  professional military forces, but also engaged in murderous and marauding acts against innocent Sinhala villagers and acts of intimidation against his own people.

Incidentally, his fast-unto-death protest was not against the Sri Lankan Government, but against the Indian Government. He was pressurizing the Indian Government to withdraw the Indian Peace Keeping Force that was installed in Sri Lanka’s North and the East.

The background to the IPKF ending up in Sri Lanka was revealed at the recently held dinner in honour of Mahinda Rajapaksa by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party MP Dr. Subramanyam Swamy. At the event, Rajiv Gandhi’s Minister of State for External Affairs, Natwar Singh recalled that Rajiv Gandhi rushed the IPKF without Cabinet knowledge after receiving a frantic phone call from the then Sri Lankan President, J.R. Jayewardene.

Panic call  

Contrary to popular belief that India forced its troops on us, Singh recalls that Jayewardene had called in panic for Gandhi’s help after the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed. Apparently, Jayewardene had said, There will be a coup tonight. I need your help. Unless help arrives immediately, the situation will get out of hand.”

The journalist S. Venkat Narayan who accompanied Gandhi also remembers the tense situation that was developing when Gandhi arrived in Sri Lanka to sign the Accord. He writes that Colombo was burning and the entire entourage had to be airlifted to Galle Face Green and then taken to their hotel, The Taj Samudra.

It was at the conclusion of this ignominious trip that a naval rating assaulted Gandhi with a rifle butt. While his action caused a huge embarrassment to the then Sri Lankan Government, Wijemuni Vijitha Rohana de Silva became an instant hero among Sri Lankans. Subsequently, Jayewardene’s successor Ranasinghe Premadasa bestowed him a Presidential Pardon.

The important point here though is that India risked the relationship with Sri Lanka by coming with their Accord to give a political solution to the Sri Lankan Tamils. Interestingly though, their focus was on the Tamils in the North and the East than the Indian descendants in the Hills. The Indian descendants, under the leadership of Saumyamoorthi Thondaman, rather than fighting for exclusive rights, worked to integrate with the country’s system. Today, many are no longer estate workers engaged in menial tasks living in substandard living conditions. Rather, they have entered other fields as professionals and are living on par with other Sri Lankans.

Tamils in the North especially, who once dominated the top professional fields, are now struggling to find a livelihood to keep themselves afloat.

Instead of taking a leaf from the veteran politician Thondaman, India resorted to pressurize the Sri Lankan Government to adapt India’s model disregarding that the two countries are as different as chalk and cheese.

India was totally committed to the task of giving the Sri Lankan Tamils in the North and the East a political say and governing powers of self-determination. While all the terrorist groups, funded, trained and supported by the Indian Government, fell in line with India’s plans and entered the political stream, the LTTE alone refused. It is against this Indian intervention that Thileepan launched a fast-unto-death
protest.

India’s failure to get the LTTE to fall in line that resulted in Sri Lanka facing another 22 years of terrorism, is laid squarely on India’s shoulders. Despite the passage of years, the relationship between the two countries continues to be strained. That is one main reason for the failure of the free trade agreement that India has been promoting for years, first as CEPA and now as ECTA. Even when the Hambantota Port was being handed over to the Chinese, Sri Lankans, though sad, thought it is perhaps better to have a Chinese presence to neutralize India.

Until now, war crimes allegations were against Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. However, Sirisena by accepting that it was he who was in charge during this questionable period has exonerated them and has wittingly or unwittingly taken on the responsibility. This makes India guilty of installing the very man who is now responsible for the war crime charges in which Darusman’s Report estimate as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians were indiscriminately killed by the Sri Lankan Government. Thus, India can, now, never openly acknowledge their contribution to end terrorism in Sri Lanka, nor their efforts to look after those caught in the crossfire. Sirisena’s further remarks that implicate India of planning to attack Sri Lanka makes matters worse for India’s image.

While Sirisena was making this remark, TNA leader R. Sampanthan, while on a tour in India with the Sri Lankan Government, asked Narendra Modi to be strict with Sri Lanka and have the new Constitution implemented. Few days later TNA Spokesman Sumanthiran was arguing in the Jaffna Magistrate Courts to allow the commemoration of Thileepan’s protest against India’s intervention.

When will India learn that elements treacherous to one’s own country, for selfish gains, do not make trustworthy partners?

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