“No Indian vote against Sri Lanka” but “a strong bi-lateral neighbourhood policy
Posted on March 22nd, 2014

By Bandu de Silva

           The above Caption summarises what Satya Moorthy wrote in Ceylon Today newspaper dated 13th March 2014. The article had been originally featured in the Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.

Satya Moorthy’s article which was entitled “Why India should not vote against Sri Lanka at UNHCR ” would have warmed the hearts of many Sri Lankans. The issue where the article was published, however, matters little provided it was well communicated. It is the communicator and the contents issuing, as it is in this case, from a person who is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter, that would call for attention by both the political and bureaucratic establishment in New Delhi as well as other opinion-makers.

 If one followed my recent long article which was published in the printed version of Ceylon Today from March 10to March 15 2014,  unfortunately missed  in the Online version except the first installment because of its length, (one could read, it in full in Asian Tribune website) one would have seen that I have argued that India, commencing from the inception of independence, did not follow a positive neighbourly relationship with any of her neighbours  barring Burma. Sri Lanka was no exception. The need for India to develop strong bi-lateral relations ”based neighbourhood which idea Satya Moorthy seems to be advancing is not proved by India’s record of conduct of bilateral relations with any of her neighbours.

 In contrast, in respect of Sri Lanka, I argued that from the time of independence, India treated Sri Lanka as a country not deserving to be considered a neighbourhood Frontline State, but first, as a colonial plantation, and later, as a country where a hegemonic relationship close to gun-boat diplomacy would do. The transgression of Sri Lanka’s airspace by missile carrying Mirage jets with orders to shoot if there was any opposition, which accompanied the transport planes which came on the ostensible “Mercy Mission’ reminded one of the time Western Gun boats sailed up and down the China Sea from Shanghai to Tien-sing and the march of foreign troops from Tien-sing to Beijing. That is not to mention the cross-border terrorism In Sri Lanka which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promoted earlier.

 The opinion I expressed was based on my somewhat limited experience as a former first students in the University of Ceylon of India History, culture and political institutions, and as one of two Sri Lankan diplomats who were privileged to have had a close working relationship on the “Indo-Ceylon problem”, (The “Indo-Ceylon Problem ” issue always remained outside the Department of External Affairs then as it is today), and after, as a close observer of Indo-Sri Lanka affairs and India’s other neighborhood policies. That is then not an altogether uninformed opinion on the part of a Sri Lankan. I do not expect that Indian official position on Sri Lanka would change because of a single opinion like this. For that matter, even the Sri Lankan Foreign Office is not interested in such analysis and opinions.    

             As I see, the topic Satya Moorthy specified, namely, the Draft Geneva Resolution against Sri Lanka, is not an isolated case. I have traced a pattern from the way India had selected to treat Sri Lanka from the time of Independence, first as a plantation colony, when Premier Jawaharlal Nehru argued that the Indians should be given citizenship of the island, and threw trust-building to the woods in India’s dealing with the island, and later where Premier Indira Gandhi thought it fit policy to break up the administration by promoting cross-border terrorism, something that she herself had asked Burma not to encourage, and later asked her SARRC neighbours not to encourage, and now joining hands with US on a Resolution against Sri Lanka on grounds of violation of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law during the last phase of the war against LTTE terrorism. From the time of Premier Jawaharlal Nehru it was US that India wanted on j her side but not the Soviet Union.

Leaving out IPKF

The selective period marked for investigation in the Draft resolution in Geneva keeps the phase of IPKF intervention out which means India is assured that the times of engagement of Indian troops in Sri Lanka’s north and east is not included.

 I have argued that all along, India’s policy towards Sri Lanka was based on self-interest and nothing more.  According to my line of argument, India falling in line with US on the last two Geneva Resolutions was something to be expected. From 1972 after the border war erupted with China, Nehru was seeking US air cover for India to continue the war. But US Ambassador, John K.Galbraith shot down such an adventure and recommended only air and transport support to evacuate beleaguered Indian troops. Today, after the fall of the former Soviet Union, India has made a full circle and is closely allied with US in a strategic partnership not only build up her defences but going outside it to a project of cooperation in strategic moves in the Indian Ocean. It is in this connection that the impending termination of the lease of Diego Garcia and other developments in the Indian Ocean area have become crucial to watch.  

  The real reason given for India’s present stand on the Geneva vote is her  domestic compulsions of keeping the south, especially, Tamil Nadu and Podichhery, which are big vote  banks for the Congress government, contended. There has been no hiding about this domestic compulsion. External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid recently made it very open unlike his Prime Minister. India should also be pleased to note that the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the astute political animal he is, understands the predicament of the Congress politicians though in Sri Lanka, the opinion is mostly opposed to the Indian position. Such  parochial considerations in foreign policy making cannot advance the cause of a country looking for higher stakes like aspiring to play a higher role in international politics. 

            There is something going much deeper down arising from Satya Moorthy’s argument as to why India should not vote against Sri Lanka at UNHCR. He has not argued sufficiently why India should not vote against Sri Lanka except what may be gleaned as wanting a SAARC – neighbourhood – solidarity in place as India’s foreign policy. That is the need for India to have a neighbourhood bilateral policy towards Sri Lanka as much as for other countries, which,  If I  may be permitted to expand on, heightens India’s standing as a moral colossus.

The present idea that India as a moral and cultural colossus in the world is a misnomer, and is based on invalid and exaggerated interpretation of data. Neither the Buddha nor any other seers, nor Mahatma Gandhi, the modern day promoter of Ahimsa (non-violence), could be cited in support of that moral colossus idea. It should depend on what India represents today right at this moment.

Besides, a society which separated society into strict castiesm and has made millions of human beings made untouchables also introduces its own complexities.

India even failed even to stop the break- up of British India, the blame for which is often passed on to Mohamed Ali Jinnah, who was later to become the first President of Pakistan. Division was written in India’s diversity, to overcome which slogans such as ‘Unity in Diversity’ were coined.  However, the fact India still possesses one of the largest Muslim populations of the world, should not be overlooked and that is a plus point for India’s claim as a moral/cultural force.

Since the border war with China, there has been a huge military buildup not only to match with and even supersede that of Pakistan, but to match with that of the greater force of China.  I pointed out earlier that India acquired a Air craft Carrier long before China did.

Equally, there has been a great build up economically after India adopted the open economic policy. I have shown how military power was used as a threat against a small state like Sri Lanka in the 1980s to achieve India’s interests, i.e., the use of Trincomalee harbour and the exclusive use of WW II oil tanks.      

An Opinion against Militarism

Attention can be drawn to an opinion expressed by David Brooks in New York Times dated March 10, 2014 who speaks of a remarkable shift in how Americans see the world and their own country’s role in the world, according to the most recent Pew Research Center survey. For the first time in recorded history, a majority of Americans believe that their country has a declining influence on what’s happening around the globe. A slight majority of Americans now say that their country is doing too much to help solve the world’s problems. He says, at first blush, “this looks like isolationism. After the exhaustion from Iraq and Afghanistan, and amid the lingering economic stagnation, Americans are turning inward….but if you actually look at the data, you see that this is not the case. America is not turning inward economically. More than three-quarters of Americans believe the U.S. should get more economically integrated with the world, according to Pew”.

Lesson for India

            Here is lesson for India. Given India’s historical and cultural background, one would have expected far more wide expression of views on militarization here than in US. In the case of India, there were no debacles like in Vietnam, or engrossing in a non-ending morass as in Iraq or Afghanistan to which US has fallen. A long war with China as Nehru wanted in 1972, was avoided because of warnings by US Ambassador John K. Galbraith to accept Chinese offer of cease fire and that was provided by NAM intervention initiated by Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Mrs. Bandaranaike.  

            India, unlike Sri Lanka, has a few Foundations and groups studying foreign policy and expressing views as the Foundation where Satya Moorthy works presently, which can influence foreign policy direction.  Though Satya Moorthy has not referred to the prospects of drawing a lesson from the growing opinion in US, it can be seen that India too cannot expect to build up her influence round the region, not to speak round the world, based on the emphasis on military might. Presently, the military might of India, to build up which Prime Minister Nehru put in every effort after the war with China,  might serve, on one hand, her needs to maintain political cohesion as in Jammu and Kashmir and in the border states of the East and the North East, and as it was once used by Premier Nehru to threaten southern separatism; and on the other hand, advance her defence capabilities against threat of aggression, while at the same time, serving the major arms producing countries a big market for their weapons.

Anything going beyond India’s defence requirements  and leading to a status of a strategic partnership with others in India’s neighbourhood, with exclusive claims to the “Indian Ocean” as the present partnership with US seems to indicate, is a situation which India might not be able to sell globally, particularly if she has international ambitions like gaining a permanent seat in the Security Council. Even a country like Sri Lanka which had earlier agreed to support India, will need to take a close view based  on policy when the time arrives, rather than express support based on mere friendship, a consideration which India has thrown away in going with the US in the case of Geneva vote on Sri Lanka. India will have to give better proof of her moral and cultural colossus stand than she has been able to demonstrate in relation to her neighbours, especially the weaker ones like Sri Lanka, and emergence as a group leader in the region, rather than a military colossus, to be lifted up to a higher status internationally by the immediate- neighbor group.         

Serving Indian Interests

Just as the Americans have shown that they have lost faith in the idea that American political and military institutions can do much to shape the world, and demonstrated that there are “severe restrictions on what political and military efforts can do”, India too may have, sooner or later, to  realise that military power beyond India’s  immediate defence needs may not serve Indian interests better. India may not have reached the status that US has reached today but it is time to be  warned that opposition can build up elsewhere. This is, of course, forgetting that the bogey of external threat could be kept alive ”emotions can play a better role in India as much as in China ” longer.    

            As Brook observed, “the real power in the world is not military or political. It is the power of individuals to withdraw their consent. In an age of global markets and global media, the power of the state and the tank, it is thought, can pale before the power of the swarms of individuals.” When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the Chinese in the Great Hall of Beijing in October 2013 after signing seven Agreements with China, invited the Chinese to participate in India’s three trillion investment programme , there was clear message of co-operation. Against this any talk of India watching infrastructural build up in countries around India, like Sri Lanka, which External Affairs Minister, Salman Kurshid spoke of in Lok Sabha recently, send different signals. This is what I called India’s wavering neighhood policy. Can this seeming divergence be explained as an expectation to build cooperation with China by the Indian Prime Minister, while his  External Affairs Minister, addressing the Lok Sabha spoke of reality? 

            On the other hand, India joining US to keep china’s blue water capacity extending to the Indian Ocean is not going to be a healthy sign. India once supported Sri Lanka in calling for a Zone of Peace in the Indian Ocean area, if she was not its progenitor, cannot herself come to fill that role with her own naval power linked to the US naval power.    

The point that Satya Moorthy makes that India cannot avoid her neighbor hood, is quite valid. One might even ask if India was cursed with ‘unruly’ neighbours. It calls for much patience to develop a firm policy towards each of them. That should come from the moral content, which though much touted, appears to be sadly lacking in India which is engrossed with ‘survival’politics.

 Such moral content cannot be found by accommodating parochialism which is imminent in the electoral compulsions one often hears of, or by chasing alleged Human Rights and humanitarian law violations in Sri Lanka’s war with US.  That was a war that India tacitly supported in the end allowing no other country to intervene. The issues in the draft Resolution against Sri Lanka are also not ones in which India’s own hands are seen to be clean from the way affairs in Jammu-Kashmir and in the eastern and north-eastern states have been proceeding             and Indian Peace Keeping Force is alleged to have conducted itself.

Satya Moorthy is not the only one who has written/spoken against India’s vote against Sri Lanka. I recall, a former Indian Foreign Secretary too wrote similarly. There could be others.  Have these been of any use? However much Satya Moorthy might pontificate in Chennai at the Foundation where he is a Senior Fellow, and I,  in Colombo without his type of  credentials, will the Indian government’s present stand on Sri Lanka be changed to a more illuminating and emancipated relationship as the foreign policy of an up-coming Asian giant ought to be? It was because of my doubts that I concluded my last article saying India’s neighbourhood policies were dominated by self-interest and nothing more. The moral/cultural colossus idea is then sheer bluff. Can India rise in such a situation to reach the international heights she aspires to achieve? The answer is a “Yes” or “No”. She might get US support but that is at the extent of abandoning her neighbourhood, which Satya Moorthy says, India cannot avoid.


5 Responses to ““No Indian vote against Sri Lanka” but “a strong bi-lateral neighbourhood policy”

  1. Christie Says:

    Who are behind this scheme? India, Indian colonial parasites (examples: Sooka & Pillai) and vermin (British MPs of Indian extraction, high ranking US officials and wealthy Indians who give contributions to politicians). India voted agins us last time. eWhat the Indian Imperialist does now is not relevant. Indian state Mauritius is a co-sponsor of the resolution.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    As I said before Russian action is WRONG on principle. This is NOT GOOD DEAR PUTIN. Stop it now.

    “Reuters) – Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia’s treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call in Ukraine to prevent the use of Russian.

    Russia has defended its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by arguing it has the right to protect Russian-speakers outside its borders, so the reference to linguistic tensions in another former Soviet republic comes at a highly sensitive moment.”

  3. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The inclusion of the 13th amendment in the latest round of human rights resolution against Sri Lanka should be a wake up call to Colombo that this issue of singularly giving the Northern and Eastern provinces land and police acts when it goes against Sri Lanka’s laws of equal treatment to all provinces should demonstrate the political motives of India.

    At the end of March India will join the UNHRC in condemning Sri Lanka on human rights issues, including supposed ongoing human rights violations on minorities. That translates to stopping Christian missionaries converting Buddhists or the Muslims doing the same. Considering that India has all these elements in her society including the human rights violations commited during Operation Blue Star, or her massive military presence in Kashmir where Kashmiri people routinely suffer acts of human rights violations to India’s military history with the United Liberation front of Assam.

    This also includes India’s military atrocities on similar movements against the tribals of Nagaland, the states of Mizoram, and Manipur. Yet the UNHRC continues to ignore them and only focus on Sri Lanka while India continues to harbor NGO pro Eelam groups such as TESO and TELO. What is even more demeaning to Sri Lanka is that India will not do the same with human rights violations that occur on a regular basis in Pakistan or Bangladesh, let alone China.

    To add gasoline to the fire, Great Britain has demanded that the UNHRC take on a “Sierra Leone type war crimes tribunal on Sri Lanka!!!” This is the very height of arrogance. London does not even make it a secret that this demand is due to requests made to her politicians by pro LTTE groups in the UK. Sri Lanka is being singled out, falsely accused and the depth and scope of those trumped up accusations are getting worse by the passing year.

    Recently India turned down China’s request to enter the Indian ocean. This does not have to be China’s problem. Under the strategic partnership with China, Sri Lanka should and I must add “must” negotiate with China to allow China to build a Chinese military base in Trincomalee. This is equally applicable to Russia. In exchange Colombo should demand that she become a member state of the CSTO and the SCO. In a rapidly changing world where Russia has tested the resolve of the US/NATO powers and found them lacking in any power to her ambitions to build eight military bases across the world.

    If Sri Lanka were to ever realize this untapped power to become a member state of both the CSTO and the SCO in exchange for both Russia and China to build military bases in Sri Lanka it would neutralize India’s strangle hold on Sri Lanka, including that of the UK, the US and the UN.

    Both Russia and China are neighbors of Sri Lanka and both are rising powers. Both also are expanding their military power in one way or the other, while the US is not Sri Lanka’s neighbor, is a failing power both economically and culturally and is the main culprit that has slapped Sri Lanka with two human rights violations while she has an unbroken record of such violations which again the UNHRC will not address for the simple reason the US as a power can determine her own destiny.

    Right now Sri Lanka does not have that leverage and is being treated by other nations in a manner of a third rate nation. Outside of the issue that most if not all of these charges have not been proved, are concocted by the lowest common denominator, the pro LTTE organizations and are getting away with it Sri Lanka with a stroke of a pen eliminate this hindrance if she was to do what I commented above with China and Russia.

    The urgency increases when one realizes that within Sri Lanka pro Eelam and LTTE members are preparing to re ignite the fight for Eelam in one way or the other, within Sri Lanka. By being a member state of the CSTO & the SCO and harboring military bases for both China and Russia, that would eliminate India in all aspects of diplomacy ranging from human rights accusations to her military might. The same would hold true of the US and her NATO alley the UK

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Don’t believe that India will not Vote against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC meeting …. IT WILL! It is up to Sri Lanka to make India pay as high a price as we can for that decision.

    The governing Congress Party of India is DESPERATE for votes in Tamil Nadu, and will throw SRi Lanka to the wolves to placate and win Tamil votes in the upcoming election. The Union Govt of India is increasingly INCAPABLE of acting in India’s National Interest, as regional parties exert greater pressure blackmailing the Union Govt to achieve their partisan goals. Driving a stake through Indo-Sri Lanka relations mimics Mamata Banerjee’s scuttling of the Indo-Bangladesh agreement on illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into India. The susceptibility of the Union Govt of India to blackmail by regional players is increasing.

    This has always been the case in Indo-Sri Lanka relations since independence and will continue to be a PERMANENT thorn in Sri Lanka’s side in the future as well.

    For that reason, Sri Lanka should distance itself from India, and innoculate itself from this Tamil Nadu flu by allying itself more closely to China and Russia.

    Unfortunately, the other potential ally of Sri Lanka, the United States, is now pursuing a foolish ultimately self-destructive strategy of pitting India against China. In this quest, the US is throwing Sri Lanka to the wolves to curry favor with Tamil Nadu and gain a regional foothold in India, forming an Indo-US axis against Sri Lanka.

    For this reason, Sri Lanka will have to distance itself from the United States as well, and reduce its dependence on US controlled markets.

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    A following line from the article:

    Sanctions bind Russia nation together, for now By Elizabeth Piper, Reuters, March 21, 2014 11:56 AM

    shows that Russians also resent the Hypocrisy and Double Standards of the NeoColonialist West.


    The bravado runs deep, tapping a well of anger over years of perceived slights and hypocrisy by Western nations happy to invade nations to protect human rights and democracy and blind to the strategic interests of others.

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