“Grievances of Tamils legitimate, India will continue to persuade Colombo to ensure equal treatment”

In his interaction with editors here on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh painted a generally challenging picture for India in the international arena and appealed for cohesiveness in the polity to “swim against the tide.”

Of the international issues he touched upon, Dr. Singh provided a reality check on ties with Bangladesh, termed grievances of Tamils in Sri Lanka as “legitimate” and was hopeful that India would not be denied enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies though the recent plenary of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has attempted to tighten the transfer norms.

Enrichment issue

Despite the NSG and the G-8 wanting to close ENR transfer doors to countries out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) fold, the Prime Minister mentioned France and Russia among the big three of the civil nuclear technology (the U.S.-Japan is the third) that would honour their commitments when India struck bilateral civil nuclear agreements with them.

Last year, French President Nicholas Sarkozy mentioned efforts by some countries to change ENR technology transfer norms to non-NPT signatory countries and assured Dr. Singh that his government would honour the commitment given during the inking of the Indo-French civil nuclear agreement. Russia too was prepared to do business in the entire spectrum of civil nuclear field, added Dr. Singh.

Dr. Singh called the grievances of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka “legitimate” and said India would persevere in its attempt to persuade Colombo to ensure that all ethnic groups are treated equally. While the decimation of the LTTE was “good,” the Tamil problem did not disappear. “They feel they are reduced to second-class citizens. And our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect. It is not easy,'' he acknowledged.

“Within Sri Lanka's population, there are hotheads, the Sinhala chauvinism is a reality. But we have to find a difficult balance because what happens in Sri Lanka has a domestic dimension also. The Tamil Nadu government and the Assembly have often shown great worry about what is happening. Our challenge is to keep the Tamil Nadu government on our side. I have had good cooperation with Jayalalithaa. I raised this matter with her the very first time. What she asked of me was moderate. Whatever be the resolutions that were passed in the Assembly, I found her fully conscious of the complexities and the realities of managing this relationship,'' added the Prime Minister.

With Bangladesh, India's relations have improved since the time of the caretaker government. With Dhaka having “gone out of its way” in apprehending anti-Indian insurgent groups operating from Bangladesh for a long time, India reciprocated by offering a $ one billion credit line and is looking at ways and means of some further unilateral concessions.

But India must reckon that at least 25 per cent of the population of Bangladesh “swears” by the Jamiat-ul-Islami and is very anti-Indian. “They are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI. So, a political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time. We do not know what these terrorist elements, who have a hold on the jamiat-e-islami elements in Bangladesh, can be up to,'' he warned.

On getting back black money stashed away in foreign accounts, the Prime Minister gave the impression that some advanced countries, which were also tax havens, have been trying to stall efforts in this direction.

India would do all it could to bring back black money sent abroad but this process would take time. But even if some of it were to return to the country, the problem of black money was unlikely to disappear overnight.

“Black money exists, if you look at all European countries also the average amount of black money is at least 25 per cent of the economies…this is a reality. We can deal with corruption, we can deal with black money but quite frankly it is wrong for anyone to assume there is a magic wand which will lead to an instant solution of these difficult societal problems,'' observed the Prime Minister.

“We are in the process of negotiating double taxation avoidance agreements, tax information agreements and we have fought hard in the Group of 20 to see that the secrecy of tax saving banking systems should be modified. This is not a one shot operation. We are doing all that is possible and we could accelerate it,'' he added.

Terming the situation on the international front as “not so positive,” the Prime Minister pointed out that his pessimism stemmed from the “fragile” state of international global recovery. The growth rate in the U.S. was faltering, Europe is facing a sovereign debt crisis and it will be a “major international collapse” if the Euro zone fails to survive.

The Middle East was another area of acute concern. There are 60 lakh Indians working in the region and India sources nearly two-thirds of its oil supplies from there. “What turn these events will take nobody knows,” Dr. Singh commented.

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