Security of India and Sri Lanka ‘indivisible’ ?


By Gamini Gunawardane

Rtd. Snr. DIG

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his recent Vesak visit to Sri Lanka had stated in his speech made at the BMICH to celebrate the International Wesak Day, among other things that "Whether it is on land or in the waters of Indian Ocean the security of our societies is indivisible." This idea deserves scrutiny. Is it in fact so? Not from Sri Lanka’s point of view. It reminds use of one of those de Lanerole’s plays (‘Ralahamy Rides Again’ (?) ) where the Ralahamy in his pretended exuberance of good will said "Your house is my house etc., and goes on nearly to say, "your wife is my wife" but stops half way!

But this statement is not a laughing matter, coming from the Indian Prime Minister, and hence calls for a serious scrutiny. Is Sri Lanka’s security indivisible from that of India? It never was nor is. These two neighbouring sovereign countries have existed side by side down the ages, for over two and half thousand years of known history. We have been two separate and independent countries not really depending on each other for security. In fact, a country called ‘India’ came into existence only in 1947 after being unified for the first time as ‘British India’ during the British times and after the partition of Pakistan, also in 1947. Sri Lanka on the other hand, has existed as a single political and geographical entity surrounded by sea all round her, with a culture of her own together with a highly developed hydraulic-engineering civilization and as a well-known center for Theravada Buddhism, well known in the then known world by the name Seehaladweepa both in the East and West. She was governed by an unbroken line of kings until as late as 1815A.C.

However, another aspect from the historical point of view is that down our history is that, there have been several invasions to this country by Southern Indian powers in different times upto about the 13 the Century, emanating from Chola, Pandya and Chera kingdoms who plundered the splendor of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Kingdoms. One such invasion lasted for 40 years while the other 70 years after which the invaders were driven back. Some Anuradhapura Kings had their troops stationed in Mannar area to counter any sudden invasions from South India. Thus, it will be seen that the security threat to this country came from nowhere but from the Indian Sub-continent until the European invasions since 1505. The important thing to note here is that, if there ever was any security threat to Sri Lanka it was from India, besides the Western countries.

Despite all this, both Sinhalese and Tamils looked at India as a friendly neighbour. In fact, the Sinhala Buddhists looked upon India with affinity as the country of the Buddha and Emperor Asoka as the great friend who sent his own son Mahinda Thero and later his daughter, Sanghamitta Theri carrying the bring the message of the great Teacher, the Buddha. Later, the left Tooth Relic was sent to this country by the Royalty of Kalinga when their security became threatened. Since then the possession of the Tooth Relic became the symbol of political power in this country. And thousands of Buddhists go on the great pilgrimage to visit the sacred places where Buddha traversed. That pilgrimage is not referred to as a trip to India but to the revered Jambu Dweepa or better in Sinhala as ‘Dambadivu Thala Uthum’ todate. Thus, it was the consensual belief of the Sinhala Buddhists in this country that India was the country of our spiritual relatives and it was unthinkable that any harm or hostility would come from that friendly country until they were rudely awakened to the existential reality that the Tamil Terrorists had descended here with Terrorist training and succor from this would be ‘unfailing friend’.

Till then, this comfort zone was further cushioned by the happenings in the early 20th century when Sri Lankans were looking up to India with fresh fascination with their robust Anti-British patriotic movement that was an inspiration, the young intellectuals’ admiration for great men like Rabindranath Tagore, his Shanthi Nikethan where young and up an coming literati rushed in droves; Satyajith Ray’s and his films, and then the Hindi films and film songs while the Tamils were head over heels with the south Indian films and those film stars and later Bharaha Natyam and much later, admiration of our cricketers by the Indian cricket fans. all factors on which a great relationship between the two countries could have been built and flourished.

Mr. Modi has referred to the Indian Ocean around our two countries. Although it is called Indian Ocean by the British as much as they called Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, it does not really belong to India as such. It is the Ocean that covers Pakistan, Iran and Eastern African continent and Madagascar in the West, the Malayan Peninsula, Myanmar and Thailand to the East and Maldives to the south. In fact it is only the islands of Sri Lanka and Maldives that have this Ocean surrounding all of it. And under the provisions of the Law of the Sea, the Ocean surrounding 8 times the size of Sri Lanka including parts of the sea between her and India too belongs to her. That includes a part of the southern Bay of Bengal.

During this long period of history of over two millennia, neither country depended on each other for their security. Of course whenever the Portuguese were about be thrown out of this country by Rajasinghe the Great in his campaigns, the embattled Portuguese were rescued by their re-enforcements that came from Goa. During the 1915 riots too the British brought down Marati troops to quell the same. Much later, during the 1971 JVP rebellion India sent a troop of Gurkha Regiment followed by a stock of ammunition for Sri Lanka government to meet the emergency, on request. This was due to the excellent relationship that Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike had with the Nehrus and later with the Gandhi family who were family friends. It was based on mutual respect. This relationship was so intimate that when Indira Gandhi came here to attend the Non-aligned Nations’ Conference in 1976, she resided nowhere but at Temple Trees itself. Similarly, Mrs. Bandaranaike maintained a close relationship with Gen. Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, Gen. Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt and Chou en Lai, the Chinese PM and also Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia among others . These friendships had been so close that the Late Stanley Jayaweera once told me that Mrs. B. was in the habit of sending a sack of mangoes from the first pluck in her Horagolle estate to Gen. Zia-ul-Haq by Air Ceylon.

Pursuant to the same kind of healthy relationships Mrs. Bandaranaike was able to obtain from the then Indian leaders a satisfactory agreement of sharing the stateless Indian Plantation workers left behind by the British and also on the ownership of the Kacchathivu Island. This did not mean that Mrs. Bandaranaike compromised her independence regarding the security of Sri Lanka vis-à-vis India when it came to her stand during the Indo-Pakistan war over East Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, even after India had supported her to face the JVP insurrection. When a request was made of her by Pakistan for re-fueling facility for her war planes on their way to East Pakistan because they could not fly across India, she permitted Pakistani war planes to land in Katunayake for refueling. Whether she consulted India before doing so is not known, but this gesture on the part of Mrs. B is a significant to the pointer to the independent position Sri Lanka enjoyed and exercised especially against the latest claim that the security of Sri Lanka and India was ‘indivisible’. This would show that historically and even in modern times it was not so. She did not stop at that. If my memory is correct, she proceeded to act as a third party intervener to get the two warring parties to talk to each other, to usher peace between them. Subsequently she went on to declare Sri Lankan ports a War Free Zone by denying entry to war ships carrying nuclear weapons. This, it would be seen as quite in contrast to the short sighted indiscretion on the part of Mahinda Rajapaksa to permit entry of Chinese submarines to the Colombo Port.

This beautiful relationship despite the minor ups and downs, were maintained in a lively spirit till the end of the Bandaranaike era and to the accession of J.R. Jayewardene. He quite unnecessarily is alleged to have made some disparaging remarks on Indira Gandhi and her son Late Sanjay,that naturally irritated Indira. Then JR took a more pro-America stand as against India which then was more pro-Soviet Union. JR went on a further irritant step of acceding some land for the communication base for Voice of America (VOA). India became restive with the suspicion that this step may give a facility to the US to monitor Indian communication systems. This behaviour on the part of JRJ gave rise to the suspicion to India that Sri Lanka might afford the use of Trincomalee Harbour by the US.

It was probably then that India sought to destabilize Sri Lanka by encouraging Tamil separatism and later Terrorism, providing training, succor and money, since late 70s. In hindsight it is now suspected in some quarters, that the ’83 Riots were triggered by remote control by the RAW in instigating the young and up and coming LTTE to set off the successful land mine on the army patrol at Thirunavelly that incensed the Sinhalese. For, till the widespread violence that it sparked off set the Tamils against the Sinhalese per say, as till then, the support of the Tamils,especially in Colombo and other areas was lukewarm for the Terrorist project. It also now again the brain child of RAW who was not satisfied with the response of the Sinhalese into violence, by challenging their religious susceptibility. Their strategy in all probability was to really set the Tamils and Sinhalese against each other, irreversibly. In that sense both the Sinhalese and Tamils fell victim to the RAW’s sinister strategy.Now India had created a playing field to justifiably and continuously interfere in Sri Lanka.

(To be concluded tomorrow)

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