06 August 2012

That Nuclear Plant in Sampur

There’s something strange about the mainstream Indian media, or else the Indian political establishment. Recently, after a high-ranking personality from Delhi visited Sri Lanka, all kinds of claims were made about what the individual had told the high-ranking Sri Lankans he had met. Maybe it has to do with demand and supply: what the public (or political interests) demand and tailoring appropriately that which is to be supplied. It smacks of the worst kind of patriotism though. 
Perhaps Indians want to feel good and if this requires politicians and the media to give the impression that India is Regional Boss.  Perhaps it is the political arithmetic of staying in or securing power that makes Indian politicians give the Indian press the impression that Sri Lanka was ‘told off’. Supplied thus, the Indian press diligently transcribes for an equally ‘demanding Indian public, perhaps.  There has been enough of dire pronouncement, carrot-stick, veiled (and no so veiled) threats and dhal-drops (literally and metaphorically) for anyone in his/her right might to be innocent about India and India’s interest in Sri Lanka.  

The latest is a barrage of speculation-based rants in the Indian press about a nuclear power plant in Trincomalee.  The worry is that Pakistan is involved in what is essentially a fiction.  Minister of Power and Energey, Patali Champika Ranawaka has stated that not only are there no discussions with Pakistan, but there are no plans to build a nuclear power plant in Trincomalee either.    

Now it is up to India to assess the worth, political or otherwise, of whipping public hysteria about some ‘grand design’ of its friendly neighbor Pakistan to increase influence in Sri Lanka.  Conjuring some kind of mysterious alliance where China gets Pakistan to get Sri Lanka to do what it wants is also the prerogative of the Indian press.  They can also up the ante of jingoism if   it serves some ‘national’ purpose. 

The bottom line, though, is that just as India does what is best for India, the Indian press must understand that Sri Lanka will do its best to do what is best for Sri Lanka.  If this involves building a nuclear power plant with the assistance of Pakistan, China or Mozambique, that’s Sri Lanka’s business. 

If nuclear power is good for India, then India can’t complain about Sri Lanka wanting some goodies too.  It is up to Sri Lanka to decide if nuclear power is needed, whose help ought to be solicited and so on, factoring in the pros and cons of the policy options.  If anyone should object it’s the Sri Lankan citizenry.  By the same token, when Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma says ‘India will help establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to manufacture auto components in Trincomalee’, Pakistan can’t complain. 

Sri Lankan can ask questions though.  Indeed, one might even say ‘Sri Lankans must question’ given what India’s ‘help’ over the years has amounted to, going back to the early 1980’s when the late Indira Gandhi ‘helped’ Sri Lanka sort out its ‘ethnic’ tumours by funding, training and arming terrorists. 

It is good when neighbours are also good friends.  When neighbours have not been exactly friendly, extra effort is needed to re-establish bona fides.  Perception has a way of shaping relations.  Media is about perception-shaping.  It is good to stick to facts.  It is good to dial down the anxieties.  The Indian press is not helping.  Perhaps they think they (and India) can afford to be cavalier about it.  There are costs, though, and these costs are hard to calculate or predict.  If anyone has doubts, it would be useful to reflect on a four-letter acronym that was read as a four-letter word: IPKF.

['The Nation' Editorial, Augsut 5, 2012]



Shaik Ahamath said...

I cannot recall us raising even a murmur when India (and Pakistan) at our doorstep, developed nuclear power for its defence. Ironically, we have the world (I mean the West)screaming at Iran developing nuclear energy for its energy.