India’s Past Errors and Present Mistakes
By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
Mohan Kumar from India in communication with this writer noted the following points that warrant further discussion. He was responding to the article, The Plot Thickens as Sri Lanka Loses the UNHRC Resolution, published on 29 March 2021.
“Indian Army too suffered heavy casualties inflicted by the LTTE. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) lost several thousand brave soldiers supporting neighbouring country.”
He thus requests from this writer to refrain from criticising the Indian intervention.
It is true the IPKF lost over 1,500 officers and men and suffered over 3,000 casualties. It is also true the Indian intervention was an invasion in all but name.
Sri Lanka never invited the Indian military on Sri Lankan soil nor requested any help from India to resolve the raging terrorism in Sri Lanka. The Indian intervention came at a crucial point where the Sri Lankan military had cornered the terrorists and were about the free the country from terrorism. With that defeat, India would have lost its grip to churn trouble in the country and keep Sri Lanka destabilised.
It is not possible to discuss the precipitation of the Indian invasion without understanding the background. It is often said the Tamil criminal gangs in the North won India’s sympathy and support because the Sri Lankan Government of JR Jayewardene forged closer links with the USA. At the time, India was in an alliance with the then USSR and together they saw the US as their enemy. The situation was then not dissimilar to the present scenario where the US and India have banded against China. Therefore, it has been alleged that the JR Government leaning towards the US led India to support terrorism in Sri Lanka.
The truth is actually quite the opposite. India under Indira Gandhi’s Government began supporting terrorism in Sri Lanka long before the Jayewardene Administration came to power in 1977. LTTE’s first assassination was the Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah, who was a Tamil by ethnicity. He was assassinated in 1975, when Sirima Bandaranaike was in power and two years before the Jayewardene Government. Sirima Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi enjoyed a strong comradeship. Yet, it did not stop Indira Gandhi from supporting the Sri Lankan terrorists and allowing them sanctuary on Indian soil.
India’s terrorist support
This growing support towards criminal and terrorist activities in Sri Lanka by India was one of the main reasons for President Jayewardene to forge closer links with the US. Therefore, it was not Sri Lanka’s foreign policy that led India to fund and train the terrorists but India’s own tunnel vision.
Having strengthened the criminal gangs India was very confident that the small Island, one sixtieth of its land mass, was within its control. Hence India’s alarm when the Sri Lankan military was at the verge of annihilating terrorism from the country in 1987.
India’s response was to invade our airspace and threaten the Sri Lankan Government to halt its military operations. Intimidated as expected the then Sri Lankan Government did as pressurised and confined our military to the barracks as ordered by India. This was one of the darkest moments in our contemporary history and this episode cannot be fully understood without feeling the humiliation India forced upon us.
India was however in for a nasty surprise as they did not realise until then that the situation was already out of their control. Perhaps they never anticipated the dumbest looking youth in their support circle to be the most manipulative and the deadliest psychopaths.
Rejecting Indian PC system
Prabakaran had been cunning enough to forge relationships with other terrorist organisations, especially in the Middle East. He was thus able to take on the Indian military and reject India’s proposed power devolution package. Resolutely refusing the Provincial Council system that India was insisting upon, the LTTE fought fiercely against the IPKF.
One of the main reasons that the IPKF could not contain the LTTE was the Indian Government’s own cockiness. The Indian Government continued to underestimate the LTTE’s strength and thus forced the IPKF to fight with a deadly element without proper arms or information. For two years the IPKF battled with the LTTE without even a proper understanding of the terrain.
The other reason accountable for the IPKF’s failure was the lack of public support. When the IPKF landed in the Island, the Tamils in North welcomed them with garlands. However, in its efforts to bring the LTTE under India’s control, the IPKF lashed out indiscriminately. Among the scars, the IPKF left behind was a shocking record of human rights violations.
Even after 32 years India does not wish to acknowledge this episode where they unceremoniously barged into their neighbour’s affairs. Sir Lanka on the other hand graciously overlooks the events that led to the failed Indian intervention but recognises the fallen Indian officers and men in Sri Lankan soil. As such, Sri Lanka has built two memorials in their memory. The memorial in Kotte has all the names of the Indian troops that died inscribed on the black marble. It was constructed in 2008 but it was not until 2010 that the then Indian High Commissioner Shri Ashok Kantha laid a wreath to honour the dead and held the first official memorial service. The second memorial is in Jaffna, which was declared open in 2015.
Indira Gandhi, who was losing popularity, supported the Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka in a bid to gain electoral support from Tamil Nadu. Since then, Tamil Nadu politics had dominated India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka. Once the IPKF ended fighting with the Tamils (and not with the Sinhalese), the Indian Government did not dare acknowledge the effort and sacrifice of its own military. Therefore, while Sri Lanka has built and maintained two memorials for those Indian military personnel who died here, India is yet to dedicate even an inch in their memory.
It is also noteworthy that Sri Lanka chooses to remember the IPKF only as a force that fought with the terrorists whilst discounting the disturbing fact that withdrawing the IPKF deliberately allowed satellite military camps to be overrun by the LTTE. As a result the successive Sri Lankan Governments had to invest in its military to win these camps back into its control at great cost in terms of both human and other resources.
Using HR as a geopolitical tool
“Had Sri Lanka not sold / mortgaged / leased her ports / lands to China, several countries including India and Japan would have voted in favour [at the UNHRC.]”
Anyone with even an ounce of decency should not ever justify using human rights as a geopolitical tool. Yet this is the sad fate that has befallen the UNHRC. This Council is no longer about human Rights and it is not even disguising the role it is playing in geopolitics.
It must be noted that India was first invited to invest in the Hambantota Port. Despite months of negotiations India just sat on the project. China on the other hand jumped on the opportunity and quickly provided the necessary funds to get the project going.
Contrary to propaganda, the Hambantota Port is a viable project. Within few years, it began to generate its own income and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority that was financing the project remained profitable. In fact, the project was able to complete its second phase as well.
However, the Yahapalana Government that came into power after India’s ally – US succeeded in the regime change operation – claimed that it was no longer possible to service the Port’s loans. Having thus claimed, all standard procedures were violated and the Port was leased to China for 99 years. Interestingly, the Yahapalana Government entertained only the two proposals from China and accepted the least favourable. Throughout this process both US and India remained stoically silent.
This was later twisted as an example how China forces Governments to hand over strategic assets in lieu of payment. The facts however tell another story. The question before Indian people are was the Yahapalana Government - a lackey of the US - compelled to handover the Port to China so as to make the Chinese threat seems that much closer and imminent.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited India within days of assuming power. During this visit, he outlined his plans to take the Hambantota Port back into Government control. Even when China pointed out that the Port had been leased as a commercial agreement and thus the terms cannot be changed, the Gotabaya Administration began to immediately work on ensuring the security aspects of the Port are within Government control and only the commercial aspects are open for China’s management. These are not easy negotiations, especially for a small country with an unreliable neighbuor. Yet, it was done.
Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage drew flak from nationalists when he declared that Sri Lanka will maintain an “India’s Security First” policy. He meant that Sri Lanka will not engage in anything that will threaten India’s security.
However, India does not believe Sri Lanka needs big investments and has even protested over the Port City project - the largest investment of our time, promising to generate millions of job opportunities. India’s protests over these investments come in the name of India’s security. Despite this history, the pledge that Sri Lanka will not allow India’s security to be harmed was made.
It is in this background that India decided to allow Western powers bully Sri Lanka over unfounded allegations. It is important to understand that the Resolution before Sri Lanka, to establish a mechanism to investigate into alleged war crimes and human rights violations is only a precedence. India will only be safe from this kind of manipulation until India remains useful to the Western bloc. It would be in India’s interest to study the relationship US had with Pakistan and its current status of affairs.
Abstaining from voting
India’s decision to abstain from voting only proved one point. India is not the leader of the region. As a leader it was China that stood up to the bullies and voted in support of Sri Lanka. Even smaller countries like Philippines had the strength to support Sri Lanka. Therefore, India’s conduct at the UNHRC only weakened its standing in the region. Just as the Indian intervention in 1987, this would be the beginning of India’s next debacle.
“It is not good to call a seasoned politician like R. A. Sampanthan, a puppet of India. In Sri Lanka, every citizen is loyal towards his / her country and thinks for the betterment of the country. Sampathan is no exception.”
This writer did not refer to Sampanthan as a puppet of India, but noted that he runs to India like a pet poodle to its owner. This remark was thus made because Sampanthan for every matter turns to India to intervene.
A case in point would be Sampanthan’s conduct during the Yahapalana Government. Sampanthan was made the Opposition Leader despite only representing 16 seats from two of the nine provinces. The Joint Opposition that held over 55 seats, representing eight provinces was ignored. During this period, neither India nor the TNA worried over the Provincial Councils that lay defunct because the Yahapalana Government postponed Elections indefinitely. Instead of working to revive the Provincial Councils, which were established to ensure political equity to Tamils, Sampanthan made the unusual request from India to protect that Government, which was rapidly becoming unpopular, from falling. This must be the first time in democratic history that an Opposition Leader worried over the fate of the Government in power.
Sampanthan as the leader of the TNA was also the one time political proxy of the LTTE. He thus remained silent as the LTTE intimidated, extorted, terrorised and forcibly conscripted Tamil civilians and their children. Having thus stayed silent, his spokesman M. A. Sumanthiran appreciated the UNHRC Resolution against Sri Lanka.
As Mohan Kumar noted in his communication, “Sri Lanka was tried in UNHRC for defending her own country. But other countries are not tried because they are too big to be tried and are white skinned countries. USA was never tried for their role in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Korea and so on. Presently killing is going on in Afghanistan and America has kept US Army in Afghanistan in the name of restoring democracy.”
A person or a group that supports an entity that embarrasses or harms ones own country for petty politics cannot be treated as a patriot. Therefore, Sampanthan’s conduct as a citizen and a politician must also be viewed from this perspective.
In summary, India has not played fair by Sri Lanka. It is most unfortunate that politicians like R. Sampanthan had bandwagoned with India’s wrong policies for their own gains. India should have stepped up as a regional leader and not allowed its neighbour to be harassed at the UNHRC. After all, just like UK, India too holds vital evidence that nullifies the unfounded allegations against Sri Lanka. If India does not learn the lessons from its past errors, then India must be prepared to experience its mistakes again. Last time, India lost their Premier hopeful Rajiv Gandhi. Next time, India may lose much more.