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Mainstream, VOL L, No 15, March 31, 2012

Dimensions of Sri Lanka Crisis

Monday 2 April 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty



The searing experience of genocidal attack on a whole minority group in neighbouring Sri Lanka has naturally sent shock waves throughout India. It would be wrong and invidious to regard it as a matter of emotional upsetting for the people of Tamil Nadu alone, as some circles bereft of a sense of national integration seem to suggest. In fact, the pre-planned gangsterism in Sri Lanka has spared no pains in turning it into an anti-Indian fury: nothing else can explain the fact that in the course of a single day as many as seventeen shops were gutted down in the capital city of Colombo itself—shops which belonged not to Tamils, old and new, but to non-Tamil Sri Lanka citizens whose only fault was that their forefathers three or four generations back had migrated from India.

Whatever piffle President Jayewardene may be doling out these days, there is little doubt that the pogrom had been meticulously planned and executed with the houses to be marked out for attack and arson and known Tamil militants cold-bloodedly butchered inside prison by personnel of the police and armed forces. The clear hint of the things to come could be had from the extra-ordinary provision in the Public Security Act which permitted the police and security forces to dispose of the dead bodies without any inquest or post-mortem—the provision against which the polite Indian objection touched off an officially orchestrated Hate-India campaign in the Sri Lanka press. Whether Jayewardene is being pressurised by a hard core in the present Sri Lanka establishment is of little material consequence, because there is nothing to substantiate that he demurred from taking any of the provocative steps from police brutalities in the Tamil north to the latest move to virtually gag even the TULF.

With all these provocations, it is time for the tension-charged public of Tamil Nadu to realise that any outburst of anger would not help the situation: rather it would endanger the lives of those very people whose well-being they are most concerned with apart from playing into the hands of our adversaries abroad.

Six years ago Junius R. Jayewardene fought the election with the promise of ensuring law and order in the island Republic. Today he presides over a set-up which has engineered organised violence to divert mounting public discontent at the failure of his policies. For it is easy to whip up anti-Tamil animosity to ride on the crest of Sinhala chauvinism of the most obscurantist brand in the style of all bankrupt politicians going in for a last-throw gamble.

It would however be short-sighted to look upon the Sri Lanka crisis as a mere ethnic conflict which is the exclusive domestic concern of that country. It has a wider and very ominous dimen-sion. Junius Jayewardene has never made any secret of his preference for a pro-US tilt. From his economic to foreign policy, the stamp of his ideological allegiance is clear as daylight. He was an unhappy man at the New Delhi Nonaligned Summit in March when he found that his line of beseeching for Western favours at Williamsburg did not find adequate response. On the issue of Diego Garcia, he fought hard for Washington to keep it out of the Indian Ocean context while his stand on the nonaligned demand for the convening of the UN Conference on the Indian Ocean has throughout been, to say the least, equivocal. Despite all the official denials from Colombo about an American arrangement for Trincomalee, the preference of the Jayewardene Administration for US invest-ments to build it up has never been convincingly rebutted: the possibility of its development as an R & R zone for the US marines and ultimately to be used for the Seventh Fleet even if the nomenclature of a base is avoided, has long been a matter of concern for the nonaligned littoral neighbours of Sri Lanka.
Viewed in this background, the report of Jayewardene’s SOS to the US, UK, Pakistan and Bangladesh for military help has substance, to borrow the diplomatic phrase of Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao. Despite angry official denials from Colombo and the expulsion of the UPI man who broke the story, the fact of the matter is that New Delhi was in the know of the soundings from Sri Lanka for a military back-up in whatever form long before the UPI report was filed. It was an obvious move to bypass and isolate India, and this is not just because of the anti-Tamilian aspect of the crisis.

If one were to examine carefully the goings-on in Sri Lanka today, one can discern the ominous contours of the American strategic consensus at work: the systematic repression of all militant elements in the wide area that surrounds Trincomalee culminating finally in the outlawry of all political opposition which has some base in the sensitive area. The attack on the Communists fits in with the preparations for a more conspicuous American presence which has to come inexorably with the de facto Washington control not only of Trincomalee but the island itself—its policy, economy and defence. Instead of the Indian Ocean becoming a zone of peace, Diego Garcia seems to be moving north.

For Indian foreign and defence policy, a new scenario has unfolded. The US strategic consensus is coming out in full view. The outpost of American hegemony is not confined to Pakistan alone: it is making an all-out bid to gain another foothold in Sri Lanka with Jayewardene preparing the ground just as General Zia-ul-Haq has been doing in Pakistan under a different set of circumstances. The ring around India is sought to be forged. This is the American version of South Asian Regional Cooperation.

Obviously this goes against the interests of the nine hundred million people who inhabit South Asia. It is with our eyes focused on that constituency of nine hundred million that the govern-ment and people of India have readity welcomed the emergence of the Regional Cooperation entity that has just taken shape with the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the seven South Asian countries in New Delhi earlier this week—a cooperation which, if it is to be viable, has to stand up to this new type of colonial offensive under Reagan’s Pax Americana.

No doubt the Reagan Administration with its congenital allergy for nonalignment would like to discredit the chairperson of NAM. And this is sought to be done through the dangerous provo-cations now bring engineered by the present set-up in Sri Lanka. Such a challenge can be met neither by heroics nor by histrionics. It is time for the government to seriously take the initiative of building national unity to face this menacing challenge of a global character. This can hardly be done by repeatedly crying wolf about the threat from outside. The threat from outside has to be met with calm confidence by rallying the nation, those political elements that are concerned about the threat to our sovereignty and national integrity posed by Washington’s strategic consensus. The anger and despair, particularly in the South, can be cashed in for electoral advantage —a game which too many may be in a hurry to play. But this may harm national interests in the long run, for it may drain off the sustenance which is needed for meeting the greater challenge posed by those whose game Jayewardene has been playing behind a façade of calculated bluster.

Amidst gathering turbulence, a testing time indeed—not only for New Delhi but for the nation as a whole.

(Mainstream, August 6, 1983)

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