President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to New Delhi last week has helped clear some of the air on India-Sri Lanka relations. Since India’s vote for a resolution pulling up Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in March this year, Colombo has nursed a sense of betrayal. Competitive politics in Tamil Nadu, which has seen leaders of the Dravidian parties aggressively stake out positions against the Sri Lankan government, has only added to the island nation’s insecurities vis-à-vis India. A stopover by President Rajapaksa in New Delhi en route to Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh — he had been invited to participate in the foundation ceremonies of an international Buddhist university — provided the right opportunity for the two countries to reassert the essentials of their relationship. In the past two decades, the two sides have successfully built friendly ties, which have expanded to include robust economic links. Globally, India is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner, and in South Asia, Sri Lanka is India’s largest trade partner. Aside from all this, tourist, religious, sporting and educational contacts have thrived. India played a critical diplomatic role in the Sri Lankan military’s defeat of the LTTE. It is no secret that New Delhi feels let down by the Rajapaksa government, which allowed Sinhala triumphalism to dictate political discourse on the Tamil question after its victory on the battlefield instead of moving to settle the issue. Reducing the reality of New Delhi’s interest in this to “Tamil Nadu politics” is to miss the point that India is committed to a peaceful and united Sri Lanka, for which a just resolution of the Tamil question is vital. Nor does the ‘China card’ or ‘Pakistan card’ alter the importance of this for India.
Aside from reiterating shared security interests, India’s message to President Rajapaksa on the urgency of finalising a roadmap towards a political resolution of Tamil aspirations comes not a moment too soon. Talks between the government and the Tamil National Alliance, the political grouping that is an electorally proven representative of the Tamils, have so far gone nowhere. The TNA is sceptical of joining a parliamentary select committee; the labours of previous committees to find a solution to the Tamil question have been unceremoniously shelved. With such a track record, the Sri Lankan government has the greater responsibility in taking steps that will convince Tamils of its sincerity. The holding of elections in the Northern Province is the essential first step. An early announcement of a date for the election would make the path to reconciliation in Sri Lanka that much easier.