Enter India?

Like the Brahma taking off to the air when suddenly his seat — the Pandupulasanaya becomes red hot catching him unawares, India has suddenly sprung into action on Sri Lanka after remaining absolutely aloof to the Sri Lankan situation for long years. We are not being moved to hyperbole because an Indian commentator, Sultan Shahin writing to Asia Times (published in The Island yesterday) says that President Kumaratunga’s attempted coup against Premier Ranil Wickremasinghe has achieved a ‘near miracle’ in getting almost all of India’s strategic thinkers supporting her move.

India, it will be recalled, remained supremely aloof to calamitous events in Sri Lanka, even after the fall of Elephant Pass to the LTTE and 45,000 Sri Lankan troops being trapped in the Jaffna peninsula. All India could do at that time was to offer ‘humanitarian’ aid. But now the situation appears to have changed dramatically.

The Vice Chief of the Indian Army Lt. Gen. Shatanu Choudary had in Chennai on Saturday said that ‘ all options were open on the Sri Lankan crisis. including military intervention’. Janata Party President Dr. Subramaniam Swamy was also quoted in this report of the United Press of India (UNI) saying that India should set pre-conditions, before intervening militarily in Sri Lanka. Dr. Swamy had further said that a permanent base in Colombo will ensure that the Sinhala leadership ‘does not stab India as President Premadasa did in 1988-90’ while calling for a quasi federal type of constitution to replace the existing constitution. (This UNI report was reproduced on the front page of The Island yesterday).

What had apparently brought about the this volte-face among Indian strategists are the latest proposals of the LTTE for the establishment of an Interim Administration under their control. The LTTE since the commencement of the peace process played a grand hoax of searching for a ‘federal solution’ such as sending their cadres all over the world — save perhaps to the North Pole and South Pole — to study federalism. But when the proposals drafted by their ‘ constitutional experts’ with the participation of the likes of ‘peace facilitators’ such as Norwegian Eric Solheim, it was manifestly clear that this was a blue print for a separate state.

The strategic thinkers who have reached near unanimity, mentioned in the Asia Times report include: former Indian Foreign Secretary and Ambassador J.N. Dixit, a former Indian Finance Minister, Harvard educated Professor P. Chidamparan, former diplomat and Congress Party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar.

While Colombo’s peaceniks saw the LTTE proposals as a strategy for negotiations, where the maximum demands were made for bargaining purposes, the Indian strategists with much experience gained from their dealings with the LTTE saw it otherwise. They saw the demand for the north-east for five years under the LTTE for the proposed five years as a separate state where the LTTE would exercise supreme power over the executive and judiciary with no legislature. It would also have plenary police powers and power to control the seas. This was seen as a de facto Eelam.

The Indians see President Kumaratunga’s move as a strategic move to thwart the LTTE ambitions and most probably they have no faith in the negotiations that may take place between the UNF government and the LTTE. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe has been steadily giving in to most of the demands made by the LTTE.

Whether the Indian surmise of strategic interests being the reason behind her attempted ‘political coup’ or a it was an attempt by her to oust the UNF government and take full control of the government is debatable. Whether she as minister in full charge of defence of this country will be able to implement the demands she made of the UNF government such as the dismantling of LTTE camps in some areas is indeed doubtful without a full scale conflict breaking out once again.

These new developments raise questions about what has happened to the Peace Axis forged between Sri Lanka, LTTE, Norway, India, United States and Japan. India, we assumed was being informed of every move and decision that was being taken. The reactions of the LTTE to these new developments will be eagerly awaited.

Most Sri Lankans – Sinhalese, Muslims and even Tamils will welcome a more positive role played by India particularly because all people want to rid the country of the fascist terrorism that is still prevailing in areas under LTTE control. They will welcome direct military intervention as suggested by the Vice Army Chief of India. The ‘international community’ may have been attempting a very subtle diplomatic strategy but been very soft on LTTE violations of the laws of the land, the Ceasefire Agreement and human rights. Only the United States had been outspoken against LTTE terrorism. However, the LTTE’s proposals for an Interim Administration is a kick in the teeth of the ‘international community’.

Dr. Subramaniam Swamy’s statement that a ‘permanent base in Colombo’ will also have to be taken heed of. Intervention of foreign powers has its price and Sri Lankans who internationalised their problem have only to blame themselves for it. It is indeed ironic that Sri Lanka which wanted the entire Indian Ocean region free of foreign powers only three decades ago, now seems to be considered the backyard of so many nations.

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