Domestic politics will tell on external affairs as much as fine principles and strategic interests. In the context of the draft resolution on human rights violations in Sri Lanka now before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, India will have to factor in domestic political exigencies alongside long-held principles and long-term interests while firming up its stand. Last year, India voted for a resolution asking Sri Lanka to investigate abuses by its military during the final phase of the war with the separatist LTTE. But it did so after making efforts to water down the resolution. Though appearing to have been taken under pressure from the DMK, India’s decision to vote against Sri Lanka last year was intended to tell President Mahinda Rajapaksa that his failure to move towards a settlement of the Tamil question could no longer be glossed over. If New Delhi went beyond its own norm of not voting for country-specific resolutions, it also hoped this would be no more than a one-time exception. However, with Sri Lanka having done precious little since last year’s vote to address the rights abuses and push for reconciliation, India cannot be expected to dilute its stand now.

Ever since the war ended and allegations of large-scale atrocities began to surface, it has been obvious to friends of Sri Lanka that the only way Colombo can ride the tide of rights charges is by delivering the political package it had itself once promised. Speaking on the matter in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh steered clear of recent allegations that the Sri Lankan army killed LTTE supremo Prabakaran’s 12-year-old son in cold blood and instead emphasised the need for Sri Lankan “national reconciliation.” This was his way of showing the Rajapaksa government how it must deal with the upcoming resolution. Dr. Singh’s dilemma is unenviable. His diplomats have told him India’s 2012 vote did not push Colombo to do the right thing as some had hoped. On the other hand, Congress ally DMK wants a further toughening of stand. The party unwisely raised the stakes last year by reviving the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation. TESO meetings have so far stopped short of advocating a separate state for Sri Lankan Tamils but the outfit’s revival has itself allowed hardliners in Sri Lanka to argue that the grant of rights to the Tamils is a slippery slope to their secession. Difficult though this may sound, New Delhi must craft a Lanka policy that includes a case for the island’s Tamils free of the opportunistic imprint of Tamil Nadu’s competitive politics. The more its policies towards Colombo are seen as the product of political pressure from the State, the less effective those policies will be.

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