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`Sri Lankan govt not serious about resolving Tamil issue`

By Kamna Arora | Last Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 15:42

Putting ties with its neighbour at stake, India has voted for the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The resolution, which was adopted 25-13, called on Colombo to conduct an "independent and credible" investigation into allegations of human rights violations.

India`s stand has, however, failed to pacify stir at home with DMK chief M Karunanidhi saying he was not satisfied with India`s response and the US resolution. Earlier this week, the DMK had quit the United Progressive Alliance government for failing to adopt a strong stance against Sri Lanka.

In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of, an expert on Sri Lankan affairs, Dr Smruti S Pattanaik, discussed India`s vote against Sri Lanka at UNHRC and Colombo`s seriousness in resolving issues with Tamil population.

Dr Smruti S Pattanaik is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis.

Kamna: How do you read India`s vote against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC? How will this decision affect Colombo-New Delhi ties?

Smruti: Before the final phase of war in 2009, there was a political understanding between the two countries that with the end of war and elimination of LTTE, the government of Sri Lanka will initiate political process to address the ethnic issue which mainly pertains to political rights and revolves around devolution of power to the Provincial Councils. Rajapakse`s government in `Mahinda Chintan` had also spoken of `Thirteenth Amendment Plus` and to build domestic consensus on the issue of devolving power to the North and the East.

It has been more than three years, but the government has not come up with any plans or proposals that indicate that the government is serious about resolving the issue. Instead of building consensus, the government did everything to arouse nationalism based on the end of war. This triumphalism did not help the matter where concession to Tamils can be discussed.

In the first UNHRC meeting, India voted in favour of Sri Lanka as it was felt that the country would need time to rebuild and attend to post-war rehabilitation and resettlement. However, the GoSL (Government of Sri Lanka) exhibited reluctance to provide devolution and did not come up with its much advertised `homegrown` solution. It rejected the thirteenth amendment passed by its Parliament under which Provincial Councils were created, saying that it was externally imposed. But it did not come up with alternative model.

Meanwhile, more evidence of war crime committed by Sri Lankan security forces came to the international attention. The Tamil population land remains occupied, high security zones continued to be maintained, and there are arrest and detention of Tamils on terrorism prevention Act. All these taken together influenced India`s decision as New Delhi was clear that the GoSL was not even serious about implementing its own LLRC recommendation which will to some extent address the post-war grievances.

Kamna: How influencing was the DMK`s role in pushing India against Sri Lanka?

Smruti: The DMK was able to bring public attention to the Tamil issue. But this is a decision of the Government of India whether to take the situation in Sri Lanka into consideration. Festering of Tamil problem in Sri Lanka will have security implications for India. India does not want repetition of the past that led to the problem of terrorism.

Kamna: How do you rate the Sri Lankan government`s performance in addressing the grievances of Tamils?

Smruti: The Sri Lankan government is not serious about resolving the political problem. This is reflected in the several rounds of talks they have held with the TNA. The approach of the government has been majoritarian. Tamil problem in Sri Lanka is a political problem and economic development will not resolve problems there.

Kamna: Pakistan has voted in favour of Sri Lanka. Should India read between the lines?

Smruti: I think India should not be bothered by how Pakistan and for that matter China voted. India`s concerns in Sri Lanka are different, given the geographical proximity and ethnic affinity which can be sources of stability and instability for India. Pakistan and China will not be affected in similar manner.

Kamna: Why is Sri Lanka important to India?

Smruti: Sri Lanka is important for various reasons: geopolitical proximity, socio-cultural ties, its location in the Indian Ocean and the growing trade ties. Sri Lanka can be used by extra-regional powers for their geopolitical interests. However, India`s relation with Sri Lanka is multifaceted and conducted at multiple levels. Unlike other countries, people-to-people contact plays an important role in this case.

First Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 15:42

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