The Indian Minister of External Affairs is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka tomorrow (Oct. 7); and every such visit is of significance given the twists and turns in the bi-lateral relations between the two South Asian neighbours. A former President of Sri Lanka on touching down at New Delhi’s Palam airport (since renamed) said [...]


Vital agenda for India’s EAM


The Indian Minister of External Affairs is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka tomorrow (Oct. 7); and every such visit is of significance given the twists and turns in the bi-lateral relations between the two South Asian neighbours.

A former President of Sri Lanka on touching down at New Delhi’s Palam airport (since renamed) said he was a “lover of India” and an admirer of its administration only to be undone by that country which fostered an armed separatist insurrection that brought unimaginable misery to Sri Lanka’s people. That same separatist movement would also engineer the assassination of India’s own soldiers and onetime Prime Minister. 

Much later, a former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka referred to the “irreversible excellence” in the relations between India and Sri Lanka, certainly an overstatement of reality. He too was assassinated by the perpetrators of that same insurrection.
A whole host of outstanding issues are there to be discussed, but what is on the agenda seems a closely guarded secret.
What the Indian Government keeps badgering Sri Lanka about is the implementation of the ‘Made in India’ 13th Amendment to the (Sri Lankan) Constitution, and a right royal slip-up by the Sri Lankan President to give 13+. If ever there was a flippant comment it was this, but the Indians, shrewd as they are, cross-checked with the Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister who went on to confirm it. Now the Government has to live with that pledge as well.

The 13A has not only the feigned interest of the minority Tamils in the North and East insofar as the Indians are concerned, but it serves the domestic political compulsions and geo-political interests of India in having a foothold in north Sri Lanka – the closest land mass to its southern flank. Now, with the pro-India Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in office in the North, India’s objectives in triggering that separatist insurrection 30 years ago have been achieved.

India never wanted a separate Tamil state in north Sri Lanka. It feared a pan-Tamil tie-up with the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu would rekindle separatist tendencies that the state first exhibited in 1962. All that India wanted was a fine balance between the emotive politics of Tamil Nadu and the huge vote bank in that state and a pro-Indian Northern Provincial Council. This, is the first visit by an Indian External Affairs Minister after the long years of persistent trying.

Call it an ‘Indian rope trick’ if you like, for it is now firmly round the neck of the Sri Lankan Government. It was this Government that allowed the first Indian Consulate to be opened in Jaffna and opened the doors for Indian projects under the tag of ‘rehabilitation’. So much so, that when this Government tried to showcase its development projects in the North since the end of the ‘war’ in 2009, the people were made to believe that these were actually Indian Government projects.
Why one can justifiably say that the geo-political interests of India take precedence over real concern for the people of north Sri Lanka is patently obvious by India’s approach to the poaching issue. If more than a thousand fishing boats set out to sea thrice a week in the Palk Strait and steal the fish from their rightful owners, the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen of the north, that evidence alone is sufficient to rest the case.

The deafening silence by the TNA lest it jeopardise relations with its masters only illustrates the point. The TNA may crow about its landslide victory recently, playing no doubt to the sentiments of the people, but now comes the crunch. Will it go against India to safeguard its voters?

The Indian Prime Minister told the UN General Assembly last week; “There can never ever be a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India”. Then, is not sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander? Does the same not apply to Sri Lanka? Does the right to protect India’s borders mean it can violate others’ borders with impunity? This is the modern-day Chola invasion of Sri Lanka.

The red herrings demanding Kachchativu (Please see Pages 10 and 11 for the ST INSIGHT story) and the purposeful delaying by India of the Joint Working Group on Fisheries (which in fact should be renamed the Joint Working Group on Poaching) as the continuing rape of Sri Lanka’s marine resources and environment goes on, are a dirty disgrace. But it is also a matter that the Sri Lankan Government must stand up for (consider how Sri Lankan officials in the past negotiated with India – see Page 10 the Kachchativu Agreement – a short history).

The INSIGHT reports revealed that the matter of Tamil Nadu fishermen poaching with impunity in Sri Lankan waters is not a matter concerning their livelihood as self-employed fishermen. They are “labourers”, by their own admission, working for a multi-billion rupee prawn, shrimp and cuttlefish export industry serving the West and Japan. They are engaged in IUU (Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported) fishing practices that are banned worldwide.

The West (including the European Union) and Japan want to have the IUU and eat it. It’s now up to the Sri Lankan Government to provide them with the co-ordinates and dates of these boatmen’s incursions because the attitude seems to be ‘what we don’t see doesn’t happen’, especially when dealing with India. It behoves the Sri Lankan Government to move swiftly as we see the dwindling of our resources before our very eyes.

Among the other issues that need to be discussed with the visiting Indian Minister, a reasonable and sober gentleman, are;

* India’s (back stabbing) vote against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council and the reasons thereto.
* Quid pro quo for Sri Lanka’s support for India for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
* The removal of trade restrictions for Sri Lankan goods and non-tariff barriers in India.
* The safety of Sri Lankan pilgrims and visitors in Tamil Nadu.
* The protection of Buddhist sites in India.
* The possible fall-outs from the Kundakulam and Kalpakkam nuclear power projects in Tamil Nadu.
* Relaxation of visa restrictions and more people-to-people exchanges.
* Joint celebrations of Swami Vivekananda and Anagarika Dharmapala birth anniversaries.

There is one thing the visiting Minister might wish to consider; i.e. whether India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka will forever be Tamil Nadu-centric and if that be so, isn’t this alienating the rest of India from good neighbourly relations with Sri Lanka and losing the Sri Lankan people’s natural affinity and goodwill for his country?

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