Understanding India: an Indian opposition viewpoint
Dr. Subramanian Swamy, President of India’s Janata Party, was a foreign speaker whose comments were awaited with much interest at the three-day Defence Seminar organised by the Sri Lanka Army and held at the Galadari Hotel this week.
An academic and an economist, Dr. Swamy is known for his outspoken manner and has been a controversial figure in Indian politics.
He came into the local news spotlight in Sri Lanka earlier this year when the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution against Sri Lanka relating to alleged human rights violations during the latter stages of the war. The opposition Indian politician expressed views vehemently against the US-sponsored resolution both before and after its adoption, arguing that it went against India’s own interests.
“It’s a monumental blunder. India has shown that we don’t care for our backyard. We became a junior partner and destroyed our independence,” he was quoted as saying to CNN-IBN, in the Indian Express.
India’s unexpected abandoning of its small neighbour at a major international forum, by voting in favour of the resolution, left many in government circles feeling let down. At a more general level, it has led to a sense of popular resentment against India.
Asked for his views on these developments, in an interview on the sidelines of the Defence Seminar in Colombo, Dr. Swamy lashed out at India’s Congress Party and the Gandhis.
“Sonia Gandhi has a deferential attitude towards European interests. Europeans have a habit of poking their noses in (the affairs of) other countries,” he said. Mentioning in particular Norway, he noted that these powers had “no world role” any more, adding that “Sri Lanka should ignore them.”
India’s UPA coalition government is dominated by Sonia Gandhi, who has certain ‘long term interests’ Swamy said. Gandhi was not in favour of the ban on the LTTE, and opposed capital punishment for the LTTE operatives convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, he claimed. Such a stance had not been adopted in other cases.
It would be relevant to mention here that the Janata Party that Dr. Swamy leads, traces its origins to a coalition formed in the 1970s to oppose Emergency Rule by the Congress-led government of Indira Gandhi at the time. This diverse coalition became the first non-Congress government in India’s history for a brief spell (1977-1979). The Janata Party is today one of many coalition partners in the centre-right ‘National Democratic Alliance’ led by the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) that will challenge Congress at India’s next parliamentary election in 2014. Dr. Swamy predicts a change of government then.
Asked for his explanation of India’s stance on the UNHRC resolution, and questioned on the role of Tamil Nadu coalition partners who pressured the central government to support it, Dr. Swamy was dismissive. “It’s a media problem,” he said, alleging that certain Tamil Nadu political parties were getting money from the LTTE in London and Paris.
The written text of Dr. Swamy’s presentation at the conference was longer and more detailed than his conference speech. In it he asserted that the majority of people in Tamil Nadu rejected the LTTE, and also that the ‘overwhelming majority of the Indian people’ disapproved of the Indian Government decision to support the US sponsored resolution. He wrote:
“The war conducted by the Sri Lankan armed forces against a sinister terrorist organisation, had also by the sensationalised propaganda of international interlopers and busy bodies, more or less become polarised into a conflict between the Sinhala and Tamil communities which unfortunately was abetted by the political miscalculations of some shortsighted leaders of the two communities over the last three decades.
“The LTTE in fact had wanted that polarisation, and Tamil leadership fell into the quicksand created by it. They were egged on across the Palk Strait by selfish leaders in Tamil Nadu, many of whom were being financed by the LTTE.
“As an Indian and a Tamil, let me say at this point that the overwhelming proportion of the people of Tamil Nadu had rejected the LTTE whenever they were made to make a call.”
“The Sinhalese are our brothers” Dr. Swamy says. In the context of the ongoing reconciliation process he says India can’t be ‘selective’ about whom to support. He suggests that while India expresses concerns about Sri LankanTamil grievances, it needs to show concern for the Sinhalese as well.
Addressing the seminar on Friday Dr. Swamy also made reference to the international conference of the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO) that DMK leader M. Karunanidhi planned to open in Chennai today (Sunday), as part of his campaign for Eelam in Sri Lanka.
He said the Prime Minister had that day written to Karunanidhi warning that if the word ‘Eelam’ is mentioned, the conference will be banned. “So India is becoming normal…” he remarked. The Hindu reported that day that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs had written to the TESO to say the conference may be held “with the proviso that ‘Eelam’ may be dropped from the title.”
Latest reports in the Indian media say that police in Chennai have denied permission to hold the meet.
“The police have cited eleven reasons for denying permission including lack of adequate space at the venue, including disturbance to the Royapettah Government Hospital nearby, traffic congestion and a possible law and order situation,” NDTV reported. Reports also indicate that the Indian missions have denied visas to several foreign invitees to the conference.
Asked during the interview if Indian foreign policy was growing increasingly in sync with US policy in the region, Dr. Swamy responded that Prime Minister Singh is ‘deferential’ towards the US. “We like the US as a democratic country. But we want good relations with China too.”
Questions still hang in the air as to the trajectory of India’s policy towards Sri Lanka. In the light of recent Indian behaviour on the international stage, a degree of confusion prevails.
Dr. Swamy said, “Sri Lanka is our neighbour. We are cultural siblings. We have our own policy (towards Sri Lanka). Perhaps the US itself is re-thinking whether it did the right thing…”
Ending on a cryptic note, he said “Just chase the money trail of the LTTE … find out who is getting it!”
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