Indo Lanka Relations before China War and After India’s neighbourhood policy dominated by self-interest Part IV
Posted on March 14th, 2014

Bandu de Silva

US -India Cooperation against Sri Lanka

            The post war period, last three years especially, Indo-Sri Lanka relations were seen going through a period of stress. The first manifestation of this came with India extending support to a Resolution that US along with European Union succeeded in passing at the UNHRC in Geneva in 2012 and again in 2013 calling for accountability greater demonstration of commitment to reconciliation. These were seen as arising from electoral compulsions which  New Delhi is facing in Tamil Nadu which accounts for big slice of votes for any party aspiring for political power in Lok Sabha and form the government. External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid was quite vocal about it.

During the war against terrorism, US and Western powers were vary about intervening in the Sri Lankan internal issue through consideration for India’s interest in the issue. After the withdrawal of the IPKF and assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, though India showed reluctance to be directly involved, India, nevertheless, made it known that she was opposed to any outside meddling in the Sri Lanka situation. The West refrained from intervening even in the last phase of the war even though some contingency plans to halt a total defeat of the LTTE seemed to be under consideration precisely because India was opposed to such an intervention. India, for her own reasons, wanted LTTE defeated.

It is the post-war situation that has brought about an understanding between India and the US. This is where the Sri Lankan government seems to have mishandled the situation as a result of the overemphasis on the glory of victory and seen from Indian eyes, to be less enthusiastic about.

China Bogey

This primary consideration cannot exist as a mere hypothesis. In US’s eyes, a conceived threat, even if not real, exists in the form of an emerging China for super-power status economically, by the end of the decade, but with growing capacity as a military power too. The fear of military domination by China even regionally, for which America has reasons, judging from China’s strong defence of what China considers Chinese territory in the north China Sea and Southern China Sea, is doubted by many.

The problems are those created by the US by defending Taiwan and Senkuku island whose administration US transferred to Japan ignoring China’s claims. In the South Sea, US is promoting the disputing countries like Vietnam, Philippines and others to defend their rights, as Hilary Clinton did vocally during her South East Asian tour in 2912. I have discussed the defence capabilities China in relation to that of US in an earlier article.(“What Chinese Want”)  It is seen as one of the myths that the Pentagon is preoccupied with presently, to boost up its own budget and expansion of its establishment more than a real threat. 

How  wavering is India’s Policy Towards China?

China’s conceived aggressiveness, which Tom Doctoroff, CEO of Walter Thompson in China described recently as a “myth”  has been employed by US as a useful tool to keep pressure on Asian states to adopt a policy of being vary towards China, if not of total opposition, which they can ill-afford.(Tom Doctoroff: 2013, ‘What Chinese Want”, Palgrave-Macmilllan. USA). This was seen from statements made by Hilary Clinton during her last visit to ASEAN countries and to Japan.

The uncertainty of India ‘s own policy towards China which is arising from the theme I have selected for discussion, can be seen from the way, after much vocal expression of cooperation between the two countries when Premier Manmohan Singh went to Beijing in October 2013 and signed seven agreements including one on de-escalation of border issues, these sentiments were qualified by External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid in Lok Sabha on February 5, 2014, when he stated that “India [was] keeping an eye on strategic rival, China’s investment in infrastructure projects in India’s immediate neighbourhood. He revealed that Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan and Maldives were involved. How important is this statement made in the wake of a “Calling Attention Meeting” raised by DMK Minister Baalu in Lok Sabha, in which Mr.Baalu drew attention to attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy, as reflecting India’s real attitude about China can come under questioning. One could be  inclined to accord lower priority to it on the ground that the circumstances in which it was stated has to be taken into account. But Salman Kurshid is not a Minister who makes statements without an eye to the fall out.

According to Asian Tribune report, the discussion in Lok Sabha was held against the background of a report that the Chinese were going to descend on Kachchativu which had reached the US…………This looks sheer rumour – mongering without substance on the part of an irresponsible source. Whoever is responsible for it,  that shows the forces at work to discredit China and fuel a no-trust relationship between India and China.

Kurshid’s response, nevertheless, is important, as it reveals that Kachchativu or not, the Indian authorities are not going by pious declarations made on ceremonial occasions as the leaders of the two countries did in Beijing, but are having serious reservations on China’s engagements in her neighbouring countries. In short, Indians are keeping a close watch on China’s activities in the neighbourhood. But the occasion on which the intentions of the two governments were declared was not a simple ceremonial occasion. It was an occasion when the two countries laid the foundation for new era of bi-lateral cooperation especially in the economic field. There could be somebody adding fuel to the general suspicions over China’s growing presence in India’s neighbourhood.

If one were to judge from Hilary Clinton’s record during South East Asian tour and visit to Japan referred to earlier, one cannot altogether rule out that US would not be interested in what goes between China and India.

One should also recall that during the visit to India by US Commander of the Pacific Fleet, the growing presence of China became a subject of discussion. Such influences on forming and shifting attitudes of countries over their neigbours is not unusual. One should recall that during General Ne Win’s six day private visit to India in March 1968, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made use of the visit not only to overview the mutual cooperation between the two countries but also to remind the Burmese leader the nature and extent of Chinese threat to the two countries and the possibility of military co-operation between in meeting the common danger. (Prof.V.P.Dutt: India’s Foreign Policy, 1984, p.340). These are conventional attitudes which entered diplomatic intercourse then as much as today, as the US Pacific Commander was doing during his visit to India not so long ago.

US ‘s problems with India

Recent reports indicate some frictions between US and India in the diplomatic front like the affair of the treatment meted out to female Indian Deputy Consul General in New York and its fallout in India, Indian refusal to intervene in Bangladesh to bring pressure on Prime Minister Sheik Hasina to postpone elections until US favourite, Mrs. Khaleda Zia, decided on a political process to enter elections, and more importantly, over India support to Afghan President over the demand for US forces withdrawal. The situation in Afghanistan where India agrees with President Hamid Karzai  and the Russians that withdrawal of US troops would not bring about destabilization in Afghanistan. As stated already, India is spending millions in support of Afghanistan to tackle the problem of extreme militant groups operating from Pakistan which poses a threat to India itself.

But it is my view that the considerations underlying India’s present strategic cooperation with US and the phenomenal advantages arising to both countries from the nuclear cooperation agreement are far more important to undermine the relationship that any effects of hi-cups arising from other events. The nuclear cooperation programme is one which involves a multi-billion dollars by way opportunities it provides to US firms for the sale of nuclear reactors,- that is a blessing in disguise to the flagging US economy – and the opportunity for India to gain access to advanced nuclear technology and for Indian participation in investments in US. Even India’s support for the Afghan President, in the final analysis, could provide a way out for US, if she wants to honourably withdraw troops from Afghanistan or participate in training Afghans in anti-terrorism techniques. In short, US would not want to abandon the advantage she has gained in geo-politics of Asia by winning over to her side. India’s standing in world today helps her also  to pursue her neo-colonial policies riding on her back.

Tamil Nadu Factor in Sri Lanka

I argued earlier that it was India’s overall strategic interest which determined relations with Sri Lanka and other compulsions like the Tamil Nadu factor were subordinate to it. While I see no reason to change this basic premise as an overall determinant, one is compelled to ask because of external manifestations, if one needs to recognize an increasing role played by Tamil Nadu politics in shaping India’s attitudes towards Sri Lanka. I would not change my basic premise in the face of overwhelming presence of such trends.

Tamil Nadu pressure is a situation that New Delhi could not set aside as the party responsible for the country’s foreign policy. In the US, or in other federal states, decision making on foreign policy rest entirely on the centre. If one gives credence to the idea that it is the Tamil Nadu factor which is holding up the certre’s authority for decision making, it is only a recognition of the weakness of the centre to which it has been reduced, arising largely, from the way the fortunes of the political party which controls the centre’s political power is lies.  That is real politics. What it then means is that despite the presence of a strong military apparatus at it disposal, which Prime Minister Nehru once threatened to use when southern separatism moves were gaining ascendancy, the centre has become incapable of exercising authority in certain instances like following a policy towards Sri Lanka independent of Tamil Nadu pressure.

There is no such problem arising from the Muslim minority, however, in the case of Indian policy towards Pakistan, precisely because they are integrated into the Indian political system. There is but a fear of extreme Muslim elements in the neighbourhood trying to create instability within India. This recognition is seen as the reason why India is ready to finance the purchase of Russian arms for Afghanistan so that that country could deal with such groups once US troops are withdrawn. The problem has not created as big an issue as the Tamil Nadu factor in respect of Sri Lanka.

Can we therefore, say that the Tamil Nadu case stands as the single exception that gives the impression that it is a factor that holds up a clear policy towards the island nation? That would be too facile a suggestion. One could cite the example how New Delhi’s efforts to come to an agreement with Bangladesh over the vexed question of sharing Ganges water, was thwarted by the Bengal state government. Kashmir could also offer some parallels.

The escalation of the problem of Tamil Nadu is a recent one, perhaps, portending the escalation in pre-China-war days which Premier Nehru had to put down with a threat of use of military power. This time it seems to come along with a ‘fanciful glorification‘ of the past of the Tamils. This is what  Bruce Trigger, the eminent British archaeologist, who passed away not so long ago, pointed out in respect of the pre-WW German history writing which preceded the rise of ultra-nationalism in Germany. It is in such a context that the progress of the new Tamil consciousness in Tamil Nadu politics and how the Centre has progressively come to accept these, which includes the acceptance of Tamil as a classical language of India, and many other assertions by the Tamil Nadu government have come to be accepted in New Delhi.

That could explain how sentiments which were not expressed on behalf of Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka came to be expressed on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils from around the 1970s with greater acceleration in recent times. If one may fall back on what Ambassador Galbraith and others observed, what led India to make disastrous mistakes of responding to peoples’ emotions which led to the border with China.

Potential rising regional power

In conclusion we may ask if it is not correct that India, the bigger partner, and the potential rising regional power did not do enough to bring Sri Lanka within the vortex of what the Indian leadership was trying to achieve regionally and internationally. Though SWRD Bandaranaike’s role was recognized at the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi in 1949, there was little follow up. (G.H.Jansen: 1966, Afro-Asian and Non-Alignment, London).  Sri Lanka slipped into its own saddle. One cannot think in terms of India not wanting to play “Big Brorther” as present External Affairs Minister, Salman Kurshid says. It is not so.

A country like India looking for a leadership role as it did under Jawahallal Nehru, should have been mindful to develop a more engaging bi-lateral foreign policy towards the small nation but the Sri Lankan Foreign ministry documents did not point to such an initiative on India’s part. What one sees on record, of which very little is known outside privileged circles, is that display of trust building between the two countries had not been a strong point in the relationship, not only at bureaucratic and diplomatic level but even at the top political level.(W.T.Jayasighe:2002, Indo-Ceylon Problem).

This was seen in India’s approach to the Indo-Ceylon Problem” from the days of Premier Nehru and Prime Ministers D.S.Senanayake and Dudley Senanayake, in which Nehru opposed any compulsory repatritation of people of Indian origin in the island. This case of non-contribution to trust building which one often hears from the Indian side pitted against Sri Lanka’s present leadership, over the issue of assurances given to India on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, is an old legacy, one may say, that Indian leadership, notably, Premier Jawaharlal Nehru, left on the issue of Indians in Sri Lanka for Sri Lanka to emulate. India’s record in this respect was so horrendous, Though Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, known as a perfect gentleman, was shy to  say t loudly, the former forthright Civil Servant, W.T.Jayasinghe, whom J.N.Dxt called a perfect embodiment of a Civil Servant, took no chances with his Indian counterparts, but had the gist of discussions between him and his Indian counterpart recorded in the form of exchanges of documents. India reputation was so high!

India’s neighbourhood policy is one that was dominated by India’s self interests, strategic interests to the core. Independent India was actively pursuing British colonial legacy on border issues, while in respect of Sri Lanka, under Jawaharlal Nehru, she was following more or less, the British concept of a ‘colonial plantation.’ What has followed since JR Jayewardene government came to the scene is a hegemonic manifestation now linked to US and Western interests.


4 Responses to “Indo Lanka Relations before China War and After India’s neighbourhood policy dominated by self-interest Part IV”

  1. Christie Says:

    Analysis based on general and usual thinking do not apply in analysing the Indian monster. First of all there was no India before the British made India; then it was Indian sub continent comprising of different nations like Europe. The only binding element then was Hindunism. English erection gave birth to British and the British Empire. British erection gave birth to thhe British Empire then the British Indian Empire. Imperialist Indians like Mohandas, Bose and Nehru were the first to realise the fortunes of the Indian Empire. Long before the decline of the British, Indian imperialists have already started their mission.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    As I FOREWARNED the female canine Ananthi has howled at the UNHRC.

    That makes it 2 Tamils howling at UNHRC.

    Who made her a VIP? MR govt. Take the blame MR. Don’t run away from it.

    If you lay down with dogs you most certainly end up getting their tick darlings.

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    Mahapola Education Fund is HANDED over to an Endian GAMBLING company!!!

    This is damn criminal. This Endian family company is a VERY SMALL company that is NOTHING in Endia. They plan to get money from SL gamblers and now owns Mahapola Education Fund!!

    Something is wrong with GOSL.

    “A private company that is to operate an online lottery will pay Rs. 500 million per year to an education fund administered by the Sri Lankan government, according to a government minister.

    Internal Trade Minister Johnston Fernando has said the company will make this annual payment to the Mahapola Education Fund in the next three years.

    The Minister told the media that the company had already paid Rs. 100 million and would increase the contribution to Rs. 1 billion in the fifth year of operation.

    The main opposition United National Party (UNP) has raised doubts over Oceanic Games (Private) Limited, which has been given management of the lottery to be operated in collaboration with eGame Solutions, a Hong Kong-based company.

    According to Minister Fernando, Oceanic Games (Pvt) Limited did not have a license to operate the on-line lottery but had been given its management after open tenders were called a year ago.

    He added that the government had not given a lottery license to anyone in the private sector, but a license for the Mahapola Fund.

    The Minister further noted that the government has given the management of the Education Fund to the private company.”


  4. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    In the 19th century Britain’s Rothschild owned East India Company, in one of the most successful acts of industrial espionage ever, sent a botanist to China, where he stole both the technique for processing tea leaves (which is surprisingly complex) and a vast collection of tea plants. That allowed the British to grow tea in India, breaking China’s stranglehold on the market.

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