China factor in Indian Ocean dictating policy

Strategic considerations have always prevailed over Tamil Nadu's opinion on Sri Lanka, and the latest stand of the Centre on the UN Human Rights Council resolution reflects the trend, say analysts.

In guarded remarks in Parliament, senior Ministers have said India is traditionally against country-specific resolutions, indicating that it is unlikely to back a U.S.-sponsored resolution demanding accountability in the island nation.

The Shastri-Sirimavo Bandaranaike pact of 1964 on repatriation of people of Indian origin, the 1974 maritime boundary agreement ceding Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in the interest of “good neighbourly relations,” and the indifference to the protests in the State demanding an end to war in 2009 and various resolutions of the State Assembly show that the Union government has remained impervious to Tamil Nadu's sentiments.

South Asia expert V. Suryanarayan argues that while dealing with Tamil Nadu's role in the making of the India-Sri Lanka foreign policy during the year of one-party domination in New Delhi, the Centre had ignored the sentiments and wishes of Tamil Nadu.

He recalled that in 1964, when Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sirimavo Bandaranaike signed the pact, it was bitterly opposed by the late Kamaraj and V.K. Krishna Menon, in addition to DMK leaders.

In 1974, the maritime boundary agreement that resulted in Katchatheevu falling on the Sri Lankan side was opposed by the DMK in Parliament as they were against the surrender of territory. Besides, the agreement took away the traditional fishing rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen.

Although seldom spelt out officially, India's traditional support to Sri Lanka in international forums on issues concerning human rights is seen in the light of perceived fears that the island may gravitate towards China in the emerging geo-strategic scenario.

D.S. Rajan, Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, says India's concerns over the growing strategic influence of China in Indian Ocean is one of the factors behind the country's continuing support for Sri Lanka. “While the government of India has not so far voiced it clearly, there is a perception that China's presence in Sri Lanka, its projects such as the building of the Hambantota port, has some military potential, although Colombo has denied it,” Mr. Rajan said.

Prof. Suryanarayan contends that India cannot afford to take a “cynical view,” citing the China factor, as India's foreign policy had always been guided by the principles of idealism.

“We had condemned the Pol Pot regime,” he says, explaining that in the affairs of South Asian countries, there was nothing strictly “domestic.” “They are closely knit and what happens in one country will have a profound impact on another country,” he adds.

He notes that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not implemented the 13 amendment and has also taken New Delhi for a ride by undoing many of the provisions and deliberately creating demographic changes by settling Sinhalese in Tamil areas.

Commenting on India's stand in Geneva, Prof. Ramu Manivannan, Head, Department of Politics and Public Administration in the University of Madras, has said in a recent paper that India might once again ignore this growing constituency of parties, leaders and people in Tamil Nadu, who remain disenchanted with India's foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.

“Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has only been articulating this concern through resolutions passed in the state legislature, making a political appeal to the Indian government with regard to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Sri Lankan government and its authorities. There is a certain sanctity to popular legislature and peoples' voice in a democracy that the government cannot ignore for long before it is too late,” says Prof. Manivannan.

Tamil nationalists such as P. Nedumaran and K. Veeramani have also demanded that the Centre take a clear stand against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council. New Delhi's argument that it cannot support a country-specific resolution does not hold water, says Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam general secretary Viduthalai Rajendran,

“India cannot put forth this policy premise, when the security of the people of a sovereign nation is under threat. The United Nations and the international community have the responsibility to protect (R2P, as the doctrine is referred to in global parlance) when a country fails to protect its own citizens. This was the basis for the intervention in Sudan,” he says.

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