26 November 2013

Getting India 'right'

Now that the CHOGM circus is done, along with frills, clowns and performing monkeys, we can return to the man and country that had teased and taunted but in the end was hardly missed. That’s Manmohan Singh and India.

India cannot wish away Sri Lanka and neither can Sri Lanka wish away India. That’s geography. That’s political reality.  India snubbed Sri Lanka when Manmohan Singh chose to privilege domestic electoral compulsions.  CHOGM came and went, but the significance of snub remains. 

Perhaps it is an indication that Delhi is in damage-control mode that we now here ‘tut-tut’ noises emanating from India about David Cameron’s CHOGM antics, but then again as the proverb goes no cat that defecates on rock can do cover-up with sand, however hard the scratching is. 
India’s last-minute support for Sri Lanka’s military putsch on the LTTE was understandably covert, but that change of heart was less about love for Sri Lanka’s political stability or territorial integrity as it was about necessity to put to rest a Delhi-spawned monster that had got out of control.  No illusions there. 

Now there were those who didn’t want Sri Lanka to be awarded CHOGM 2013.  Once awarded, they agitated for venue change.  When that didn’t happen, they lobbied for boycotts.  When Manmohan decided at the last minute to send someone else in his place, they cheered. They were thrilled when Harper said ‘no can do’.  They were upset when Cameron said ‘I will go’.  They were consoled when he said ‘I will talk tough’.  They were happy when he fielded friendly questions and fired shots at Sri Lanka from a veritable no-fire zone.  They cling to Cameron’s ultimatums and do not question his moral right to talk about human rights, freedom of expression and such given his own and his country’s horrendous track records on these matters.

Most of the above was predictable.  Sri Lanka would do well to take stock of Delhi’s snub and use it to good effect.

It is no secret that India has never been Sri Lanka’s friend and certainly was not a friend-in-need.  India need not be either, for in international relations only ‘interests’ matter, ‘love’ being a mere rhetorical tool, a sweetener to help a bitter thing go down.  The political significance of the snub means, however, that India has conceded the diplomatic right to sweet-talk Sri Lanka. From now on, India has to engage in the raw; no more beating around the bush, no more love talk, no more big-brother.  From now on, if at all, it has to be big-thug-talk.  And that may very well be the biggest (unintended) gift that India has offered Sri Lanka in well over three decades.

From now on India cannot pretend that it is trying to help Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka can now move on or more correctly move away from aberrations celebrated or suffered in silence in the name of ‘friendly bilateral relations’ such as the 13th Amendment.  If Delhi objects, it will have to say, ‘we object because we want you to inhabit our version of your reality.’  And Sri Lanka can say ‘Really?’ 

Sri Lanka has multiple tasks to handle.  First there is a post-conflict reconciliation process where the Government is supposed to clap with one hand.  Then there’s the matter of fending off pressure from the biggest perpetrators of crimes against humanity.  Sri Lanka has to find ways of opening the eyes of those who pretend to be asleep or who, if one is generous, just cannot understand that terrorism can be eliminated without resorting to the methods of dealing with enemies that these criminals have used for so long that they know no other way. 

Things have to begin at home of course and there’s a lot to be done, even though  a lot has already been done.  The ‘beyond home’ part of it begins with India. 

The island of Sri Lanka will not unmoor itself somehow and float away towards, let’s say, Australia.  Sri Lanka will have to live with a bad-tempered bully as neighbor.  This does not mean that Sri Lanka has to capitulate to Indian hegemony in its affairs.  The world and its processes are not reducible to the prerogatives of simple geographical proximities.  They are more complex.  In navigating the options afforded by these complexities one thing is of paramount import: accurate reading of factors.  Right now there’s an easy ‘truth’ that must be accepted and factored into all calculations when it comes to policy formulation: India is not friend.