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Importance of the Indian PM’s visit To Sri Lanka


The 15th SAARC summit in Colombo concluded on Sunday with grandiose proclamations being made on combating terrorism and finding solutions to the food and energy crises facing the region. The summit concluded without any major glitch and was an overall success despite a few embarrassments here and there including the security lapses on India’s National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan at the BMICH on Saturday and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Presidential Secretariat the previous day.

The President Rajapaksa regime could be happy for the successful summit that brought the attention of the region and certain sections of the world on Sri Lanka. For the government it may seem worth the large amounts of money spent on hosting the summit and the effort put into its preparations although the opposition has come out strongly against the lavish extravagance displayed by the Foreign Ministry in entertaining the delegates.

For President Mahinda Rajapksa and the government the SAARC Summit provided a boost to the war it has waged against the LTTE and is moving ahead successfully. The proclamations made by all SAARC heads of state against terrorism that plague almost all the countries in the region was a contributing factor, but the real morale boost for the government comes from another quarter.

This is the arrival of Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in the country with a high powered delegation that included External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and External Affairs Ministry Secretary Shivshankar Mennon. The warmth shown between the two leaders of India and Sri Lanka carried an important message and the photo opportunities President Mahinda Rajapaksa enjoyed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a dream come true for President Rajapaksa at this moment of time.

The importance of the arrival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has to be seen in the light of the Indian dynamic in the Sri Lankan conflict. There is no argument that India is a crucial factor in the resolution of the conflict in Sri Lanka. History shows that it is India that could always tilt the balance of the Sri Lankan conflict and let it fester or see a conclusion. When analyzing the history of the conflict it could be seen clearly.

It was India’s foreign intelligence service the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) that was primarily responsible for arming and training the rebel groups in Sri Lanka in the early eighties. This has been well documented in Rohan Gunaratne’s ‘Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka’ and Narayan Swami’s ‘Tigers of Lanka.’

 At that moment the Indian mindset was driven by the fact that the rightwing J.R. Jayewardene government was getting too close to the US and the West with its liberal economic policies and wanted to put its foot down on Sri Lanka before a heavy US influence take place in its backyard. During those Cold War days India was still a closed economy tilted towards the Soviet block.

The opportunity for this came in the late eighties when a successful military operation in the North under the command of Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa was driving the LTTE and the other Tamil militant groups into a corner. India made this a window to intervene in the Sri Lankan conflict. When the successful military operation codenamed ‘Operation Liberation’ was moving forward Indian media especially in Tamil Nadu fed by Indian intelligence sources went to town with screaming headlines on Human Rights abuses by the Sri Lankan military and the displacement of Tamils in the North. It should be noted that most Tamils had close affinity with India and considered Tamil Nadu their second home. Tamil leaders always turned to India to tell their grievances.

At this crucial moment India asked the Sri Lankan government to halt the military operation and sent Indian Air Force jets over Sri Lankan skies to the North which came to be infamously known as the “Parippu drop.”  Indian warships were  also placed outside the Sri Lankan territorial waters.

The Indian government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi stepped into the scene and arm twisted the Sri Lankan government into accepting the Provincial Council system and sent Indian troops to Sri Lanka calling themselves the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF). Prime Minister Gandhi also prevailed upon the Tamil militants to settle for the provincial councils and made it clear that the intention of India was not to create a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. All but Prabhakaran relented. For Prabhakaran who was convinced of creating a separate state the turn around of India was disappointing.

 After a brief interlude and just a ceremonial handing over of arms, Prabhakaran and the LTTE went to war against the IPKF. After fierce fighting with the LTTE and heavy pressure from President Ranasinghe Premadasa who initiated his own dialogue with the LTTE, a dejected IPKF left. However the LTTE took its revenge on Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by assassinating him while on an election campaign in Tamil Nadu.

After more than a decade the issue has now come full circle. The Congress Party is in Power after a number of years and the Sri Lankan government has again launched a successful military operation that promises to defeat the LTTE. For the Congress Party the assassination of Rajiv Ganndhi is still fresh in their minds. The intervening years have added many other factors to the conflict as well. The LTTE has grown into a ruthless terrorist outfit that feeds on and contributes to international terrorism. Its terror tactics were even directed against respected Tamil leaders and the Tamil community as well. The LTTE has rejected several peace moves including a promising peace move by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The last peace effort backed by the international community was willfully scuttled by the LTTE.

In this backdrop, at a time the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapksa has launched a successful military campaign to defeat the LTTE, the visit of the Indian Prime Minister is significant. And this SAARC summit was not originally scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka but in the Maldives. India if wanted could have rejected Sri Lanka jumping the queue and scuttled the summit by creating a problem.

The Indian Prime Minister’s visit is significant because a move by Sri Lanka earlier to get a bilateral visit to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary independence commemoration in February this year did not bear fruit. At this time when the troops are successfully moving towards the LTTE’s stronghold Killinochchi, support from India is vital to defeat the LTTE. The Indian police too have busted an LTTE arms smuggling operation in Tamil Nadu and had taken several key operatives into custody during last week.

President Mahinda Rajapksa and the Sri Lankan government in return has given an undertaking to implement the 13th Amendment in full giving police as well as certain land powers to the Provincial Councils as a political solution to the conflict. PresidentMahinda Rajapaksa made himself clear on this when he referred to the Eastern provincial council election and appointing ‘a former child soldier’ as the Chief Minister during his address to the SAARC summit. He assured the same to the North as well.

For India and the Congress Party Government the 13th Amendment and the provincial councils are important since it was their brainchild in the first place. It should be noted that the peace process of the Ranil Wickremesinghe government received only lukewarm support by India and on certain occasions seemed to have a hostile attitude towards the process which gave centre stage to Norway and the Western nations.

India has again gained prominence in the Sri Lanka conflict. Through his visit and the photo opportunities India has sent out a strong message to the LTTE as well as the Tamil community in the country.


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