India, Sri Lanka and the UNHRC

N. Sathiya Moorthy, Courtesy of the Observer Research Foundation, 12 March 2012**

”The Centre will consider the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka and the overall relationship between India and its island-neighbour while formulating its stand on the US-backed resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC,” The Hindu quoted External Affairs Minister S M Krishna as telling newsmen at the Chennai Airport, en route to Singapore. In this context, the newspaper had this to add on what Krishna said in this regard: ”The Centre will take into account the overall relationship between India and Sri Lanka while deciding whether or not to back the resolution when it comes up for consideration at the on-going UNHRC session in Geneva.”

Of course, there was an (implied) reference to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa writing twice in the past weeks to Prime Minister Manmonhan Singh on the UNHRC vote, and urging the Centre to vote for the resolution and against Sri Lanka. Other political party leaders in the State, starting with former DMK Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, have also spoken in similar vein. Union Ministers belonging to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress have said that the Centre would take a decision that would be of help to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. V Narayanaswamy, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, was quoted as saying as much as what non-Congress leaders in Tamil Nadu have said, or demanded. So has State Congress president B S Gnanadesikan, since. Minister Krishna in his media interaction at Chennai, like his other Congress ministerial colleagues, listed out the India-aided facilities for the Tamils in that country.

However, a section of the media has seemingly misquoted another observation of Minister Krishna at Chennai, as if to imply that as per the federal practices of the Indian scheme, the Centre would take on board the sentiments of Tamil Nadu, as expressed by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, while taking a position on the UNHRC vote. The ‘federal’ reference instead related to another missive from Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to Prime Minister Singh on the ‘unannounced visits’ of Sri Lankan VIPs to the State, at times causing security issues (and thus avoidable embarrassment). Even in this letter to the Prime Minister, Jayalalithaa had said that the people of the State were “greatly exercised” over the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the Tamils issue, and said that that “Sri Lankan VIPs should be allowed into the State only after consulting the State Government.”

Though the Chief Minister had referred to Thirukumaran Nadesan, a Tamil married into the family of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, being attacked while on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram a few weeks ago, there have also been other unsavoury incidents involving other VIPs from that country. On the Chief Minister’s letter in this regard, Minister Krishna had this to say: “We are a federal State. We have the greatest respect for States. Whatever is the assessment of the State Governments, we will take it seriously, but we will see how we can reconcile the issue… I would like to assure the Chief Minister that her opinion will certainly be factored in the decision we are going to take.” The misquoting or interpolation of Minister Krishna’s observation on one issue into his comments on another issue, both relating to Sri Lanka, did sent out confusing signals on the Indian stand at Geneva.

Competitive politics, containment policies:  Independent of the Chief Minister’s missive on Geneva, or the DMK predecessor’s public statements and pleadings with Prime Minister Singh through his party parliamentarians, there is no doubt that the otherwise divided Tamil Nadu polity is agitated over the Geneva vote, and wants New Delhi to support the US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka. As may be recalled, throughout the period of ‘Eelam War-IV’ in Sri Lanka (2006-09) and even beyond, political parties and some pan-Tamil groups in the State have made virulent attacks on the Centre, and personal attacks on political leaders, at times even on the Prime Minister in ways the Union of India as the constitutional authority could not be expected to respond in kind. While the larger ‘Tamil cause’ in Sri Lanka needs to be appreciated and local sentiments in Tamil Nadu respected, it has often taken the form of competitive politics, mostly of the immediate electoral kind, seeking to dictate the nation’s medium-term neighbourhood policy and long-term geo-strategic approach.

On other issues involving foreign Governments, other State Governments and polity have had taken similar positions. Not very long ago, Mamta Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, where her Trinamool Congress-led State Government is still in its infancy, boycotted Prime Minister Singh’s visit to Bangladesh, to sign the much-discussed Teesta river water treaty between the two nations. Not only was the Government of India embarrassed by her last-minute protest, the boycott and public pronouncements of the Chief Minister may have also put back India-Bangladesh relations by years, if not decades. In recent weeks, she has raised questions about the delayed knowledge in respect of damaged sluice-gates of the Farakka barrage, supplying water to Bangladesh.

Likewise, successive Chief Ministers and their Governments in Jammu and Kashmir have made public statements and have at times got the State Legislature pass resolutions on equally sensitive issues, where the Centre has been even more embarrassed, either at the bilateral level or in the international community — or, both. In the past, Chief Ministers and Governments elsewhere in the country, particularly the North-East and other border-States, too had flagged issues that had a bearing on the nation’s foreign and security policies involving neighbourhood Governments and terror/militant groups based in those countries.

The “foreigners’ issue” in Assam in the Eighties is a case in point, where the political leadership in the States want only ignored established norms — and the Government at the Centre also looked the other way.

There is no denying that in a complex constitutional democracy like India, the Government at the Centre will have to take into account the sentiments of the people in particular regions and the suggestions of the local Governments, while formulating specific policies, even if it related to foreign nations, including those in the immediate and shared neighbourhood. As the ‘Bangladesh refugees’ issue (1971) and the ‘Sri Lanka Tamil refugees’ issues (1983 to date) have indicated, the State Governments end up having to bear the burden of the fallouts of the Centre’s neighbourhood and security policies. In the past, Tamil Nadu had to receive, accommodate and provide for hundreds of thousands of Tamil-speaking refugees from Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The continuing “fishermen’s issue and killing” involving Indian fishers in Sri Lankan waters needs no repetition. On the Teesta treaty issue, West Bengal farmers may be the affected lot, going by the Chief Minister’s observations.

The State Governments are thus wholly justified in expecting the Centre to hear them out before addressing specific issues pertaining to neighbourhood policy. It would however be another matter if they were to take those issues beyond the pale of proximity-related problems in neighbouring countries to a level from where they expect the Union of India to act as per their advice on suggestions on all matters pertaining to all related policies involving the chosen neighbour. It is not only the constitutional right of the Centre to enjoy freedom in formulating foreign and security policies, but it is also the constitutional responsibility and duty of the same, to ensure that such policies are executed in ways that the whole of the nation feels secure, going beyond the sense and sentiments of individual State’s people and Government, even if there is absolute unanimity of views within the State on any specific matter or material. It would be more so if the circumstances show that the unanimity in political views may have a share of political and electoral compulsions, going beyond such issues as national security and cross-border ethnic affinity. The Centre is responsible and answerable to the whole nation, and not just one State or two — though their own sense of security and belonging could not be compromised or allowed to be threatened.

‘Country-specific’ resolutions: Before the media interaction of Minister Krishna, there was confusion in Tamil Nadu over the Indian position against the UNHRC ‘country-specific’ resolutions. The Indian position on the overall subject was delineated at the UNHRC itself, but it occurred in the midst of the heat and dust generated over Sri Lanka at distant Geneva. The Indian statement at UNHRC on the occasion was made on a resolution relating to Syria, but critics of the Sri Lankan Government, and more so those against New Delhi’s perceived position on the Sri Lankan situation and UNHRC resolution, has other explanations. As a general policy of the Government of India, what applied to Syria should apply to Sri Lanka, too. But the critics drew inspiration from their constant reference to the India-aided counter-draft at the UNHRC only 10 days after the conclusion of ‘Eelam War IV’ in Sri Lanka, when the West likewise moved a resolution against the Government in Colombo on ‘accountability issues’ in the first half of 2009.

This time round, the Indian statement at the UNHRC said that the strength of the UN body lay in its adherence to principles of “objectivity, transparency, non-selectivity, non-politicisation and non-confrontation”. To sustain these attributes, the Indian statement said, the UNHRC would have to ensure “inclusiveness and emphasise dialogue and cooperation”. In doing so, it should be guided by “prudence rather than strategic expediency”, the statement said further. In this context, New Delhi was “concerned that the recent trend and spate of country-specific resolutions may well end up weakening the constructive dialogue and cooperative approach which has prevailed so far in the Human Rights Council”. New Delhi thus commended the 20th session of the UNHRC, due six months hence, as the right forum and occasion for the Council to discuss the country’s case when the four-yearly Universal Periodic Review (UPR) comes up for review. It is another matter that while India voted against Syria at the UN a few weeks ago it recorded abstention at the UNHRC since.

Ethnic angle to N-protests: The Indian case under the UPR regime will also be on the UNHRC table at the 20th session later this year. Human rights activists in the country and outside are already sharpening their arsenal to target India on a variety of issues and incidents. Their casual and near-routine reference to allegations of ‘encounter killings’ involving protestors in Jammu and Kashmir, and the North-Eastern States, and consequent charges of HR violations on various counts and under different heads, may be accompanied this time by their criticisms against the Indian State and the affected State Governments on fighting leftist militancy, taking a few specific names and character in the contemporary context in the country. Other State Governments and other issues too may be on their collective scanner.

With ‘right to life’ and ‘livelihood issues’ too becoming aspects of human rights protection and conversely of violations, some NGOs working in India and elsewhere may be tempted to flag issues pertaining to efforts at developmental and industrial displacements from the natural habitats of inhabitants and consequent loss of livelihood — as in States like West Bengal and Odhisa, formerly Orissa — and the relevant rulings of the nation’s Supreme Court and other authorities. Of immediate relevance could be similar efforts by NGOs’ seeking to flag alleged ‘nuclear dangers without a bomb’, and attendant risk factors to humans and living organisms like fish in the neighbourhood seas that they are depended on — in cases like the Koodamkulam Nuclear Power Project in southern Tamil Nadu State. Any efforts by the authorities concerned to facilitate the revival of work and consequent generation of nuclear power at the project could also be taken up at the international-level if such efforts involve police intervention or the like.

To the extent that the Tamil Nadu Government has taken a tough stand on Sri Lanka despite the possibilities of the kind, the pan-Tamil lobby in the State and elsewhere are satisfied. Whether other groups involved in the anti-Koodamkulam protests would share their views is another matter. Incidentally, a section of the anti-Koodamkulam support-groups and even a section of the identifiable leadership of the main protest, have sought to project their cause as one as much in the interest of the Tamils in the country as in the interest of the larger humanity. Some of them have thus said that the Centre was going ahead with the project only because it was unmindful of the safety, lives and livelihood of the Tamil community, this time inside the country. Independent of the core leadership of the anti-Koodamkulam protestors that is mouthing similar lines occasionally, identifiable pan-Tamil political parties, groups and leaders have also been in the forefront, but focussing exclusively on the ‘ethnic angle’ of the perceived victims in the project neighbourhood.

Sovereignty and security: Nearer home and afar, the Indian policy-maker need not be defensive about strategic security forming a major, though not exclusive component of the nation’s Sri Lanka policy. Of course, on the home front, it would be for the political leadership to carry the message, cutting across party lines and regional divides. From the policy stand-point, the first and foremost duty of a sovereign is to ensure such sovereignty has a meaning. Flowing from that and forming a cause thereof too is the basic duty of ensuring the safety and security of its people and the nation’s territorial integrity. There cannot be any prioritisation among those duties. Instead, they run co-terminus. The Indian obligation to ensure the safety and livelihood of the Sri Lankan Tamils in that country flows from a variety of causes that are historic, emotional and contemporary in nature. For India to serve their cause as well, it has to address its primary tasks as a nation-State. The Americans call it ‘supreme national interests’. India has not sacrificed traditional values and commitments, real and ingrained, as many other nations have done in pursuit of their ‘supreme national interests’.

In the contemporary global context, it is difficult for any nation to attribute altruist or ideological motives to another nation’s initiatives on HR and other forms of non-traditional security the way the US and the rest of the West have gone about the Sri Lankan situation and consequent resolution. If it has reservations, India, after a point need not have to shy away from acknowledging its reservations and discomfort — particularly in the context of acknowledged strategic allies like the US muddling in its neighbourhood waters. There is no doubt that the Sri Lankan Government has not met the post-war expectations of the international community, particularly on the reconciliation front. Nor has it been known to have kept the promise made to the international community, starting with India, and also the local polity and society. Independent of this, any issue can be calibrated to the levels the Sri Lanka has been targeted, and any protest, including those in India now, can be orchestrated to levels that the Centre is under constant pressure, over one neighbour or the other — if not in terms of resolutions of the kind against India on some other day, at some other international venue.

It is not as if China now and the US during the ‘Cold War’ years was a source of concern for New Delhi to keep the Sri Lankan State on the right side, and thus perceived by some (at times mischievously) as if India had ‘sacrificed’ Sri Lankan Tamil interests at the altar of strategic expediency. Yet, even if such a construct is formulated and propagated, as has been continuously propagated by pro-LTTE propagandists, yielding to them without thought would be ‘compromising’ the India’s security and sovereignty, which is the concern of the nation as a whole. A sense of insecurity in and by India is not a good recipe for New Delhi to preach or even threaten its neighbours, and expect them to follow suit. Thus it is not only stability of Sri Lanka that matters to India for helping the Tamils there but the sense of security in India that matters as much, and even more, in context.

Intertwined to the Indian sense of security however has not only been what the Sri Lankan Tamils can do or cannot do — or, what they say or do not say. It is also about what the Sri Lankan Government can do, or cannot do — or, what the Sinhala polity and strategic community do say and do not say. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka is the first line of defence for India, and so can it be among the first lines of offence against India, in political and military terms, too. While there is a rationale behind New Delhi having Government business on this score with Colombo, China cannot eternally remain either as an argument, or a bargaining-chip in calibrating Sri Lanka’s bilateral strategic relations with India. Such a strategic relation cannot be based on give-and-take elsewhere, nor can it become a giveaway under other expediencies. A nebulous and compromised relation of such a kind would be as good as none — or, worse.

Neighbours of India, barring possibly Pakistan, the latter too in political terms, not otherwise, have been constantly looking up to New Delhi for inspiration and leadership — and also rush to their help and defence on different levels. Sri Lanka and Maldives appreciated India’s capability in and willingness to rush help to them when the Asian tsunami devastated them in end-2004. Northern neighbours have often looked up to India for all forms of help, starting with disaster relief of different kinds. Yet, their dependence, silent or otherwise, on a veto-power at the UN Security Council cannot be over-stressed. If nothing else, they feel to be in a comfort-zone if they can count on a veto-power, particularly if the latter does not ask questions of the HR and other embarrassing kinds. This is independent of their dependence on India on all occasions — but they also appreciate that India’s voice does carry weight with all sections of the international community, though to varying degrees. For the same reason, they also do not want the Indian strategic community to confuse their economic and political dependence on countries such as China and Russia — it used to be the US and the rest of the West during the ‘Cold War’ years — with continuing relations with India, based on history and culture, and more so in recent times on India’s political stability and economic achievements.

Non-traditional security as weapon: While taking a holistic view of the nation’s medium and long-term security concerns, particularly in the immediate neighbourhood, New Delhi also needs to look at concerns of non-traditional security, as with human rights, environment and employment coming to be conceptualised in ways that they could be implanted as societal weapons inside the host country and as political weapons on the international stage. Whatever be the purpose, even altruist approaches of the kind devoid of accompanying thoughts on local developmental needs have resulted in social disharmony and consequent political instability. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s public reference to NGOs based in the US and Scandinavian countries funding the anti-Koodamkulam agitation should to be recalled in this regard. Gone thus are the days when NGO funding for Third World nations came from mom-and-pop donations and weekend collections in western churches. Today, huge NGO donations are bank-rolled by faceless organisations overseas, whose funding sources are often in the grey area of missionary or intelligence operations.

Sri Lanka’s is a case in point. Ahead of the presidential polls of 2010, some western diplomats based in Colombo, obviously speaking for their respective Governments did not shy away from private discussions indicating their desire for a regime-change. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political managers in his re-election bid, at times charged the West with conspiring to have a regime-change. At the domestic end of such criticism was former Army commander and the joint Opposition candidate, Sarath Fonseka, who has since court-martialled and cashiered after being the nation’s celebrated ‘war hero’ for a time. More recently, the Opposition United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, otherwise considered a friend of the West, publicly declared that a certain German NGO had funded detractors within the party, who were demanding his replacement. Outside the UNHRC in Geneva, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative, Tamara Kunanayakam, a career-diplomat, has since charged the West with working for a ‘regime-change’ in the country, and alleged that human rights and ‘right to protect’ were concepts that had earlier been used for intervention in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Balancing act, why? : Minister Krishna’s statement at Chennai clearly indicates that New Delhi cannot rush through a decision on the Sri Lanka resolution at the UNHRC. The reasons are many. On the face of it, pan-Tamil groups and HR activists in the country and outside would want to commit India to an anti-Sri Lanka stand, which would be for good under the circumstances. In the eyes of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora and their supporters in India, an Indian vote in support of the US resolution in UNHRC would mean near-permanent estrangement of relations between the two South Asian neighbours, creating a security scenario in the shared Indian Ocean neighbourhood that could be exploited to revive insurgent groups in the island-nation on a later date. New Delhi should be equally concerned about such prospects, which could cut either way, apart from weakening the known Indian position of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations, particularly the neighbourhood nations. It was the mindless violation of such a dictum that had facilitated LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka, but affecting and impacting on India to a greater or lesser degree.

At the same time, India is uncomfortable with the inability, if not outright unwillingness of the Sri Lankan Government, to stick to its commitments on HR-related issues and the larger reconciliation processes that was promised, both during and after the conclusion of ‘Eelam War IV’. While there has been greater appreciation in Delhi almost from the beginning to the rehabilitation and reconstruction processes initiated by the Sri Lankan Government in the aftermath of the war, the rest of the international community, particularly the West, had problems acknowledging the single-handed, and at times single-minded efforts of the Colombo dispensation in the matter. However, two years down the line, such acknowledgement is pouring in, though in trickles in public.

Colombo would want the rest of the world to believe in its commitment on the reconciliation processes as with the progress that has been made on the rehabilitation and reconstruction front. Though the Sri Lankan Government’s roadmap on the reconciliation front has not taken off as much as it was expected to through the initiation of power-devolution talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), India may already be suffering from a spot of ‘neighbourhood fatigue’, caused by the constant expectation from all concerned to carry their message to the other stake-holders and carry conviction, too, in the process — both in terms of New Delhi’s sincerity and impartiality, and its ability to convince the party concerned to deliver on the expectations of the rest. It concerns the Tamil political leadership and the international community as much as it concerns the expectations from the Sri Lankan State and the Government of the day.

With the TNA lately looking elsewhere for international support and intervention on its behalf — possibly taking after the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora line — India may have also been stymied by their approach as by that of the Colombo dispensation on issues and procedures. Subsequent developments may have proved to the TNA that the focus of the international community, starting with the US, for more over ‘accountability issues’, and not as much on a political solution, whatever the reason. It’s likely that the early, post-war TNA decision not to press ‘accountability issues’ that belonged to the past pre-supposed the position that the party took lately in rethinking a decision to send a delegation to Geneva and canvass for the US resolution. While various reasons and justifications have since been offered by different TNA leaders, the original one, standing in the name of the party’s parliamentary group leader R Sampanthan may have been the most apt and appropriate. Sampanthan said that the TNA’s campaign against the Sri Lankan Government in Geneva may be counter-productive and could revive the sense of insecurity and safety concerns in the Tamils on the island.

Pre-supposing ‘sentiments’: An argument is doing the rounds that India, to reflect the collective sentiments expressed by Minister Krishna, should consider abstaining from the UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka. On the face of it, this could mean a just suggestion, considering that New Delhi needs to “take into account the overall relationship between India and Sri Lanka, and the sentiments prevalent in our country”, as indicated by Minister Krishna. Such a suggestion, drawn from the Minister’s observation pre-supposes that all shades of “sentiments prevalent in our country” are of the pan-Tamil and/or pro-HR variety. There are other shades of less-than-active shades of opinion that puts the State-to-State relations on a higher plane, for a variety of reasons, borne out also by past experience, involving both the Sri Lankan State and the Tamil community, starting with the youthful militants from the past.

All such sentiments, starting in particular with those of the pan-Tamil and/or HR activist varieties, also put the safety, security, livelihood and overall welfare of those Tamils living back in the island-nation, particularly in the war-ravaged North and East at the top of their collective concerns. It is also in this context that Minister Krishna seems to have outlined the Indian assistance for the ‘war victims’ in Sri Lanka. Apart from the dead and the wounded, the war, according to official figures, has left behind as many as 90,000 Tamil widows. The number of orphaned children, unattended and uncared for elder citizens and injured-dependents could be legion. They are ‘defenceless’ in every sense of the term.

In short, a community that took pride in its education and employability, and thus was fighting for its constitutional and consequent political rights, which were withdrawn through constitutional means, has been reduced to fighting its every day for sustenance. It is the kind of battle that India as a neighbour has known, the Upcountry Tamils in that country alone were fighting — a battle for survival and sustenance, not for rights and self-assertion. The Indian experience has also shown that while a nation and its people could be taken to the water, as was the case with the Thirteenth Amendment, it would be for them to have the heart and wisdom to put it to good use.

In the case of 13-A, not only has successive Governments in Colombo given scant respect to the implementation of wide-ranged constitutional provisions, the minority Tamil communities, who were the beneficiaries of New Delhi’s Herculean efforts were the first to repudiate the same. The message is clear. Any externally-induced solution, whether of the facilitated Indian or Norwegian type, or enforced by international institutions like the UNHRC would not bear any fruit on the ground, unless all stake-holders are at it without any compulsions and reservations. Yet, those stake-holders would also require external assistance, if not guidance, from time to time.

If the idea is to help the war-affected Tamils in Sri Lanka in whatever way possible, the ground condition is such that third nations and global institutions will have to necessarily work through the Sri Lankan State and the Government of the day. Already, the pro-LTTE Tamilnet website has criticised the US-sponsored UNHRC resolution as falling short of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, and by extension 13-A. As Tamilnet has pointed out, the US draft has referred only to the ‘demilitarisation’ of the Tamil-majority Northern Province in Sri Lanka, without any mention of the multi-ethnic Eastern Province, which had also suffered because of the ethnic war. By not referring to the Eastern Province, the website has said that the US had distanced itself from the re-merger of the two, as became effective under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord but negated by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in 2006.

Against this, during his five-day long visit to Sri Lanka in January 2012, Minister Krishna reiterated the Indian position on 13-A, though it needs to be pointed out ‘merger’ did not form part of the constitutional amendment though to an extended process called the Provincial Council Act, also of 1987. If the talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the TNA have not taken off after a point over the past year, the first issue-based hurdle came in the form of the TNA putting on record its revived demand for re-merger. The concept had not been flagged at the inception of the talks, it was said, if only to ensure that controversial and complicated issues were not put on the table at the very outset, lest they should derail the very process even before it had begun.

Is ‘abstention’ an option for India?: The run-up to the UNHRC resolution indicated that Colombo was not ready to accept externally-induced, not to mention externally-enforced solutions, either it on the political front or on the HR front. The war years and those afterward have also shown that Sri Lanka would not accept rehabilitation and reconstruction aid with pre-conditions or even suggestions. If there is an outside power that political Lanka and the Sri Lankan State are willing to hear out on all matters of ethnic issue, it is the Indian ‘relation’. It is also a fact that the US as the author and sponsor of the pending resolution before the UNHRC has amended it to a great extent, in form and content, to make it as acceptable to the Sri Lankan Government as possible. It is not likely that the US would dilute the draft any further — but the precedent does not rule out such possibility, if that would help the ultimate aim of the sponsors.

At the time the US circulated the second and what is said to be a watered-down draft among the 47 voting members of the UNHRC, it had climbed down without being asked by any other — and without any known commitment from Colombo that it would accept the ‘compromise’, whatever the reason and justification. If anything, early Sri Lankan official reaction to the amended draft has been as critical as that to the original draft, when circulated only a couple of weeks earlier. As it stands, the amended draft seems to have made the US resolution more of ‘procedural’ nature than anything more ‘substantive’, as is understood in the context of global organisations.

It is also known, any closely-fought vote at the UNHRC, as in other UN forums, would carry different messages to the ‘winner’ and the ‘loser’, whatever the final result. That being the case, any further re-thinking on the resolution by the parties directly involved cannot be ruled out, either. For India, thus to pre-judge the positions of those directly involved at this stage, would still be too early to make long-term sense. Yet, it would have long-term consequences, not only for India-Sri Lanka relations, but more so for Indian ability to serve the larger ‘Tamil cause’ on the island-nation, whether it relates to rehabilitation, reconstruction, or reconciliation.

An Indian abstention at this stage would be as good or bad as a vote in favour of the American resolution — as it would only strain bilateral relations with Colombo (whoever is in power there), at a time when Sri Lanka is willing to hear out India on all matters Tamil, whether or not it accepts them at face-value and act accordingly. For the Tamils too, Indian aid, in the form of rail roads and housing, farm equipment and hospitals, has been more and immediate than what the rest of the world, including what their Diaspora brethren, have offered. In a recession-struck world, India still has a duty to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Others have an option. What more, in political, economic and geo-strategic terms, and also as a regional power in its own right, India has reached a stage in which it should be seen as initiating moves of the kind that the US has now initiated, if and only if New Delhi felt justified about the cause and circumstances, and prove a point and timing of its choosing, without subjecting and subjugating itself to other nations, whose reasons and motives, preferences and compulsions do not always reflect those of India. Voting on other nations’ resolution that is already amenable to agendas and amendments at the same time in the case of Sri Lanka could lead to situations in which New Delhi may find the future turn of events not justified by past and perceived commitments — as already may be the case with Sri Lanka’s commitments for the post-war era but also goes beyond the same, to cover similar other commitments by other similarly-placed nations, or even those that are different and worse still, too.

The question is simple, as the Indian dictum on ‘country-specific’ initiative goes: Is might alone is right, and if might is also a right, for powerful nations to display at choice against such other nations that they want to ‘change’, and on the lines indicated by them. The amended US draft of the Sri Lanka resolution at the UNHRC indicates a mind-set. By continuing with the original draft’s prescription for the UN Human Rights Commissioner to advise Sri Lanka, and for the latter to obtain and accept the same, the resolution seeks to introduce a ‘global supervisor’ of their choice into third countries, where they have a set prescription on concepts such as human rights and R2P — terminologies that had been floated around in Sri Lanka by western academics even when ‘Eelam War IV’ was still on. It is not the size of a nation that should matter when external forces try to inject their concepts and on their terms, but the very idea, and the very purpose that drives that idea, that should be of paramount consideration when Third World nations like India take a position, based as much on motives and methods as on concepts and contingencies.

** The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

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