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'Tamil issue pushed to margins as India, Lanka rework ties'

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

In the new equations in the aftermath of regime changes in and Colombo post 2014, the ownership of Sri Lankan Tamil question that had assumed all through the ethnic conflict is no more at the centre of the table, says a new book.

The two countries are now engaged in reworking their relations in terms of regional or maritime security and economic development, says the book "After the Fall: in Victory and War" by author-journalist Mohan K Tikku.

"Without saying so, the Tamil issue has been pushed to the margins. However high-minded India's intents in taking up the Tamil cause might have been, it has not yielded commensurate The game has changed. The promises that a former president (on devolution of powers to Tamils) might have made (to India) are equally passe," the book says.

Ever since stepped in to play some role in resolving the ethnic tangle following the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, it had been New Delhi's endeavour to persuade the Sri Lankan government to accommodate Tamil aspirations by moving in the direction of a federal constitutional framework within a united Sri Lanka, it says.

The same approach and thought process was enshrined in the Indo-Peace Agreement signed in Colombo in 1987. India's sole justification for incurring huge human material costs in its Sri Lankan operation was that it had at least prepared the ground for a degree of devolution of powers to the Tamils in the north-eastern province and to bring peace to the island.

Under President Mahinda Rajapaksa it looked like the game

was getting back to square one. Despite odds, did not give up trying still holding on the hope that the president might be amenable to building a consensus for national reconciliation, the book says.

"There was, however, no going forward for without overturning its position on the Tamil question. Like China's enlarging role in Myanmar had forced to soften its policy towards the military junta in Yangon, now set out make India do something similar by playing its China/Pakistan card against her. Lanka was now harping on what it did not get from India rather than what it did."

Given the limitations placed on its policy options, New Delhi now decided to reprioritise its preferences in a different way, Tikku says.

As its earlier commitment to ensure that the Sri Lankan Tamils got their rights was proving harder to realise, India was equally concerned as its immediate security concerns in the region were left unaddressed. In other words, maritime security rather than the Tamil question would henceforth be the primary concern. The Tamil question could no longer be key component to New Delhi's Sri Lanka policy, the author says.

For the current ruling dispensation in Sri Lanka, the formidable electoral victories of 2015 were the easiest part; the more challenging project is to steer the country through a phase of transitional justice. The international community needs to do it differently and better this time. It should incentivise the government to go down the road to accountability and reform while enabling the public to see hope in change, the author says.

Mild-mannered Sirisena has started rather boldly, the book


"In the first six months of his presidency, Sirisena paved the way for the Nineteenth and Twentieth Constitution Amendments. These were designed to restore the Constitutional Council, abbreviate powers fo the president, redraw the electoral map of the country through a Delimitation Commission and make important changes in the system of voting.

"With such a formidable agenda in front of him and a rainbow coalition of 49 parties and groups behind him, it would take a lot of tact and some luck on part of President Sirisena to work his way through the difficult terrain ahead," it says.

Between the end of a totalitarian Tamil militant leader in the north and unseating of an authoritarian president in Colombo, the wheel has come a full circle like a Buddhist 'chakra'. There were uncanny similarities between the two adversaries' approach to power. In different ways each believed in their own invincibility, the book says.

It terms Sri Lanka's victory against the LTTE as decisive enough to end in total destruction of the LTTE leadership, its cadre and the infrastructure of the quasi-government that it had put in place.

"The victory was celebrated in Colombo with such uncritical acclaim that there was even talk of commending it for replication elsewhere.

"As part of the post-victory upbeat mood, the Lankan government itself was keen to show the way to others interested in 'defeating terrorism' in their own backyards. Some countries, Thailand and Myanmar among them, expressed an apparent interest in 'learning' from the Sri Lankan experience. But before Sri Lanka marketed its brand product it was important to see if it really had a brand to sell," the author says.

In 2011, the author says he visited a school just 6 miles from Mullivaikkal, on the northeast of the coast of the island where the army finally crushed the Tigers - an area still off limits for civilians.

The government says there are too many land mines to allow resettlement; critics say there are too many bodies in mass graves.

First Published: Sun, May 15 2016. 13:57 IST