03 December 2011

On the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of Indo-Lanka relations

[This article first appeared in 'The Nation', on November 28, 2010] 

In a thoughtful piece titled ‘For a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation with India’ in The Island of Saturday, November 27, 2010, former ambassador, K. Godage has laid out the basis on which Indo-Lanka relations should be developed.  He has considered the history, the geopolitical realities, the today-factors and outlined the ‘ought to be’ in cogent terms.

Godage refers to the ‘Gujral Doctrine’ and suggests that India should revert to that progressive and far-thinking document when considering for relations with other South Asian countries.  He has pointed out that there is a complete trust-breakdown at present between India and other South Asian countries and this is true. 

India has not been the good-hearted neighbour at all times and even when it helps out (as some claim it did during the last stages of the war), such largesse has been considerably outweighed by India’s pernicious history of fermenting division and orchestrating destabilization, not to mention the natural and legitimate moves to secure economic benefit in overall engagements with Sri Lanka.  The Gujral Doctrine insists that India gives and accommodates without demanding reciprocity.  That’s a nice wish.  The reality is the opposite and indeed one where there is little ‘giving’ or ‘accommodating’. This is not surprising because one really cannot expect much from a nation that cannot ‘give’ anything to nor ‘accommodate’ the vast majority of people in Kashmir and indeed has limited its giving to maiming and killing. 

Godage says that Sri Lanka should not anger or cause concern in India by appearing to undermine India’s strategic regional interests.  This is sensible advice.  We do not live in a flat world and we must keep in mind that we don’t have the military might to back us in a self-righteous shouting match with India, even though India, after the IPKF fiasco must know that a military adventure in Sri Lanka will cost it dearly (India, we note, is hard pressed to keep her own terrorists at bay and ‘Kashmir’ ought to have taught the regional thug that an irate citizenry will harass an invader to the point of tears and beyond).  We need to keep things in perspective, yes. 

Bilateral relations, however, is a two-way street even between parties of unequal strength.  India’s non-Gujral ways of operation can push Sri Lanka to seek non-intruding help from other sources.  There is no help that comes without strings, of course, but there are strings and there are strings. Some come with the tag ‘reasonable price’ and some with the ugly sticker ‘blackmail’.  Relations with India, sadly, appear to be more of the latter type whereas the China and Iran strings seem more palatable. 

There is a reason why Sri Lankans are wary of India and this is not just because of Indira Gandhi breast-feeding Eelamism and terrorism and her son Rajiv playing J.R.Jayewardene every which way he could.  There is a reason why Pakistan is seen as a friendly country.  There’s a reason why the Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris has to say ‘we haven’t taken devolution off the agenda’ when his Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna says ‘Sri Lanka must not sort out her outstanding issues including finding a political solution for the Tamil people’, even though devolution was not mentioned in the ‘friendly’ observation.  I can’t imagine G.L. Peiris responding in this manner if for example Makhdoom Shah Mahmoon Qureshi, the Pakistani Foreign Minister said ‘it would be nice if Sri Lanka sorts out all outstanding issues pertaining to grievances and aspirations articulated by the Tamil people’.   

It will take statesmanship of a far superior kind and one which necessarily includes a high degree of humility on the part of India to come anywhere close to the Gujral Doctrine.  As of now, India has got the rhetoric right and that’s such an easy and such a tiny part of the deal. 

Godage was a diplomat and this shows in the tone of his writings. He says, ‘Please allow us to sort out our problem and do not seek to impose external solutions to problems we understand best and need to sort out in our national interest.’  Yes, India wants us to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Even when they kick us in our national gut.  Until a time comes when civility and respect underline all bilateral relations between India and her neighbours, niceties will be surface-made and will not have any depth in political, economic or any other reality. 

I doubt if S.M. Krishna will hear Mr. Godage.  I am not hopeful he will hear me.  That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it Mr. Godage.  We need dialogue and we beg for it.  India wants monologue.