01 July 2012

Unpacking the Menon visit

Visiting Indian Defence Advisor, Shivshanker Menon is reported to have insisted that Sri Lanka should sort its own problems, with India ready to help if requested.  Although we know that diplomacy is about saying the palatable and doing the distasteful on the sly, India being India especially, it is prudent for the Government to be mindful of sensitivities. 
This envoy of the Indian Government has also urged the Tamil National Alliance to join the Parliamentary Select Committee, thereby effectively snubbing that party for attempting to use India as an instrument to arm-twist the Sri Lankan Government into submitting to their (the TNA’s) proposals.  This too, is good, subject to the cautionary footnote, ‘too much should not be made out of appearances’.  For example, the TNA can ‘concede’ by accepting the PSC and the Government could thereafter get the PSC to come up with ’13 Plus a la India’s preferences’.  It’s good to be alert. 
A Tamil daily newspaper has quoted TNA leader R. Sampanthan saying that Menon had expressed India’s losing patience about a solution not materializing.  Now if it is Sri Lanka’s internal matter, then the timeframe should be Sri Lanka’s and not India’s concern.  However, to the extent that the Sri Lankan Government accepts that there is a problem, then foot-dragging is something that cannot be condoned, either on the part of the Government or the main articulator of grievance, the TNA.  The TNA is yet to articulate substantiated grievance and the Government is yet to ask the TNA to do so.  Both parties have opted for the convenience of barb-exchange.  That’s good politics, but bad statesmanship. 

As for India’s ‘impatience’, quite apart from the fact that it smacks of interference, regional political realities should not be pooh-poohed by the Government.  India has legitimate concerns insofar as the so-called ‘Tamil problem’ plays a role in Indian power configurations.  Indian politics demands those in power and those aspiring for power to use and abuse the ‘Tamil Issue’ as a political football.  This is how Sri Lanka (and of course Tamils in Sri Lanka) gets factored into the Indian political equation.  Diplomatic niceties notwithstanding, it is prudent for the Government to be mindful of these realities and play its cards without compromising its own political interest and more importantly the overall aspirations of all Sri Lankans. 
To this end, firm steps should be taken to overcome the current impasse, and these should include calling the TNA’s bluff by demanding a full statement on grievances, investigating their true dimensions and resolving for the same, with or without the TNA’s involvement.    

Perhaps what’s really telling is Menon’s claim that India stands for a ‘United Sri Lanka’.  What it most important about the word ‘united’ is that it refers to something that is impossible to obtain through legislation. The word is often used by the TNA and other federalists in post-LTTE Sri Lanka when referring to a ‘solution’, for example, ‘A solution within a united Sri Lanka’. 
‘Unity’ can be obtained in all kinds of political and constitutional formations.  People can be united in a unitary state and they can be united under a federal constitution.  There is nothing to say that either ‘unitary’ or ‘federal’ automatically produces ‘unity’. 

The obtaining of unity then is dependent on acknowledgment of anomaly (and this is not limited to ethnic issues), an even greater focus on commonalities and a consistent privileging of reason over emotion, fact over myth, lived reality over communalist exaggeration of grievance and the political expedience of inflating aspiration. 
As for ‘solution’, the relevant parties should always keep in mind that all things have outcomes, and for this reason, the following are musts, a) the citizens should be kept informed, b) what the PSC (or any other deliberating forum) comes up with must be treated as ‘proposal’ and subject to public appraisal, c) the political fallout must be deliberated on and not something future generations are made to live with and die for.  The 13th Amendment, if anything, is a case in point where India’s arm-twisting and J.R. Jayewardene’s malleability produced a curse which wrecked political stability and produced a bloodbath.  

['The Nation' editorial of July 1, 2012.  Other editorial comments are available at www.nation.lk]


Dinu said...

The 13th Ammendment obviously has provincial pilfering and plundering advantages. This, I guess is the reason for political complicity and continuation.

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