‘Saddened by Lankan "under-appreciation" of Indian aid’

A response to High Commissioner Singha’s statement


by Rajeewa Jayaweera

High Commissioner Sinha in his speech during the symposium to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala which he attended as Chief Guest had stated his country was "saddened by the under-appreciation of Indian aid" by Sri Lanka. He had further spoken of the failure to mention or acknowledge India’s assistance in the Northern Line railway project which enabled the recent start of the Yal Devi train connecting the North to the rest of the country in publicity material, the USD 1.6 billion handed over to Sri Lanka since the end of the war of which 30% being grants, rebuilding of hospitals to medical services with Indian doctors provided free of charge, assistance for IDPs, building of 50,000 houses of which 15,000 have been completed to name a few. He has also stated that "India was focussed on the needs of the people of Sri Lanka and was not dictating the needs of the Indian government or its people" and the "need for Sri Lankan people to know that India has been continuously providing aid and assistance".

High Commissioner Sinha is a seasoned career diplomat with 32 years of experience behind him. Hence I presume he thoroughly familiarized himself of the evolution of Indo-Sri Lanka relations prior to taking up his current assignment. I must state I am surprised of the statement he has made especially at a public function he attended as Chief Guest. Without delving into centuries of issues Sri Lanka has had with South Indian states, it is pertinent to visit some key issues Sri Lanka has had with India during the last 40 years and then examine if there is any justification in High Commissioner Sinha’s statement of Sri Lanka and its people being ‘under-appreciative’ of Indian aid. For obvious reasons of lack of space, I will keep the synopsis brief. At the outset, I wish to state India’s constitution clearly specify that Foreign Affairs, Defence and a couple of other subjects are the sole responsibility of the Union government. Therefore India need to accept responsibility for all acts of her state governments and its politicians may it be Tamil Nadu or otherwise in terms of their interactions with foreign countries.

Tamil terrorism in Sri Lanka would not have grown to the extent it did if not for the assistance given first by the state government of Tamil Nadu starting with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran’s gift of INR 40 mil (source "One Life is not enough" by one time Indian Minister of External Affairs Natwar Singh) and the subsequent support given by Indira Gandhi, Indian Intelligence wing RAW, Rajiv Gandhi and their governments. India assisted in the birth of Tamil Terrorismin Sri Lanka by nurturing them and providing shelter, food, training, weapons and medical facilities till they finally turned on India itself. Sri Lanka who had embarked on a course of open economy at least 10 years before India did had to abandon economic drive in order to fight Tamil Terrorists supported by India. Sri Lanka could have wiped out Tamil Terrorism in 1987 during Operation Liberation when Tamil Terrorists were in retreat and SLA had laid siege on Jaffna. Operation Liberation was halted due to the intervention by India who saw it fit to violate Sri Lanka’s air space by sending 25 tons of unsolicited food and medical supplies loaded into transport aircraft which were escorted by IAF fighters to be air dropped over Jaffna after warning GoSL of dire consequences if its forces attempted to interfere with the Indian operation. This was shortly followed by compelling President JR Jayewardene (JRJ) to agree to the Indo SL Accord which also required JRJ to "invite" Indian forces to Sri Lanka and for our own armed forces to be confined to barracks in the North and East. The Indo Sri Lanka accord was a validation of terrorism as it legitimized terrorism as a valid instrument to achieve political change. The accord also compelled Sri Lanka to lose its political independence as it gave India the ability to determine some key foreign and domestic policy issues of Sri Lanka. Another imposition by India was the 13th amendment to our constitution which has caused immeasurable damage to Sri Lanka. The accord was signed on 29 July 1987. Indian forces started arriving in Sri Lanka within a matter of days which makes a strong case to the belief that India had started assembling an invasion force even before Operation Pomalai (food drop over Jaffna) on 4 June 1987. Since this debacle in 1987, SLA was not able to take the upper hand in the conflict till 2008 when the SLA started taking the initiative and finally finished the job in May 2009. By this time, the cost incurred by Sri Lanka in terms money had run to billions of dollars. In terms of manpower and human suffering, it is immeasurable. In the more recent past, India repeatedly voted against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva whereas in view of India’s domestic political constraints, all India had to do was abstain which Sri Lanka would have appreciated immensely.

Sri Lanka no doubt is a small nation and is in no position to make demands of India. Due to the close proximity of our geographical location, Sri Lanka needs to acknowledge the need that unlike in faraway Fiji, the welfare of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka who has the sympathy of the Tamil population in Tamil Nadu does have an impact on the Indian government who would not want any separatist movements to grow in Tamil Nadu. Nevertheless India has to manage its state governments despite local politics and political horse trading.

Government of India (GoI) has gone on record on numerous occasions of the need to fully implement the 13th Amendment which is a by-product of the Indo Sri Lanka Accord. Art. 2.9 of the accord states that the surrender of arms as well as the confinement of SL security forces to barracks is required to take place within 72 hours of the cessation of hostilities. GoI was not able to achieve the first objective even at the time of the IPKF’s departure from Sri Lanka in after nearly three years in March 1990 whereas Sri Lankan security forces were confined to barracks within 72 hours before they were flown to Colombo to quell the civil unrest resulting from the accord. One of the key ‘obligations’ of GoI found in Art 2.16 states ‘India will take all necessary steps to ensure that Indian territory is not used for activities prejudicial to the unity, integrity and security of Sri Lanka’. What is not stated in the accord is that India had in fact been allowing the use of its territory prior to the signing of the accord. On 17th August 2014, President Mahinda Rajapakse with the First Lady honoured India and High Commissioner Sinha by accepting his invitation to attend an Indian Cultural Show to celebrate India’s Independence Day. On 18 August 2014, India cancelled bilateral discussions scheduled with Pakistan at Foreign Secretary level stating "talk to the separatists or talk to us" as the Pakistani High Commissioner had expressed a desire to meet with Kashmiri separatists prior to discussions with India. On 23 August 2014, Prime Minister Modi entertained a TNA delegation in Delhi who had travelled to India for this purpose.

This is but a brief synopsis of injustices committed by India during the last 40 years against both Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. High Commissioner Sinha may be a seasoned diplomat. However he does not seem to have even a basic idea of human feelings, dignity and self-respect. He must understand that the USD 1.6 billion he claims India has given to Sri Lanka does not even amount to petty cash in the final balance sheet of the cost of the 30 year conflict for which India should take their fair share of blame. By what logic can India let alone demand but even request Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment when they failed to disarm Tamil terrorists not within 72 hours but even after nearly three years?

It is only correct that India build houses and develop rail lines destroyed in battling Tamil Terrorists natured, trained and let loose by none other than India. From a different perspective, judging by India’s preference of the Northern Province to pour a major part of its aid, it would appear that in their eyes, Sri Lanka consists of the Northern Province only. We Sri Lankans may have lost out in many spheres in our lives as a result of the 30 year conflict. However, we have not lost our ability discern between right and wrong or friend and foe. The war memorial built in Sri Jayawardenapura with names of 1,200 fallen Indian soldiers is a constant reminder to us Sri Lankans of the injustices meted out by mighty India not to mention the humiliation of a part of the country being occupied for almost three years by foreign troops.

No amount of handouts and brochures will make Sri Lankans enthusiastic of India’s role in developing the North other than the 5.1% of Sri Lankans living in that part of the country. India’s role which has been biased during the last 40 years continues to be biased. If India is serious on winning hearts and minds in this country and for Sri Lankans to be more appreciative of their aid, a good point to start would be a public apology by its Head of State to all Sri Lankans for all the misdeeds committed and the suffering brought about during last 40 years.

Let me conclude by quoting Abraham Lincoln "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time".

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