27 January 2014

The Indian Consul General in Jaffna furnishes subtext

[In a parallel universe, of course...]

Not many people know me. I am V. Mahalingam.  I have over 20 years of experience in the field of diplomacy. I am the first Consul General of India in Jaffna since the inception of the Consulate in November 2010.  I have also worked in Indian missions in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Zagreb and also in various capacities in the Ministry of External Affairs particularly twice as Regional Passport Officer in Chennai and Delhi.

I think I made some pertinent remarks in Jaffna on January 17, 2014 at the inauguration of the 5th Jaffna International Trade Fair.  I talked about the economy.  I said that bilateral commercial interaction had benefitted from the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement. I gave the numbers.  I didn’t make the comparison though.  I doubt anyone would, so here goes.  India’s imports from Sri Lanka went up by almost 45% to cross US$ 720 million.  Overall trade crossed US$ 5 billion.  So India has gained by a ratio larger than 1 to 4. 

I spoke about Indian companies.  I gave the numbers with respect to Foreign Direct Investment approvals for Indian investments.  I said ‘two-way’, but didn’t give the corresponding numbers for the ‘other way’, i.e. FDI figures for Sri Lankan investments.   I spoke of spheres: goods and services, tourism, infrastructure, education, science, housing, technology and agriculture.  I spoke of ‘assistance’ to develop various sectors.  It all comes to 18 billion. Rupees, not US dollars.  That’s to keep it ‘big’.  Sleight of hand. I should have been consistent, sticking to US dollars or else going just with the Sri Lankan rupee. No one noticed, I think.

I spoke of ‘air connectivity’ and bragged that almost one-fifth of ‘tourist arrivals’ in Sri Lanka is from India.  Of course I didn’t deconstruct ‘tourist’ here, after all if Sri Lanka is happy to call any Indian coming to Sri Lanka for business, employment, espionage or whatever a ‘tourist’ why on earth should I object?

I am Consul General and this is about trade.  I was not required to talk about other areas of ‘cooperation’.  If I had to do that I would have been pretty uncomfortable, considering all the unfriendly moves made by India, especially in Geneva, not to mention meddling in Sri Lankan affairs in a way that would seem we want Sri Lankans to inhabit our version of their reality.
I slipped in something that I think no one took notice of.  Here’s what I said.

‘Two more important links which could improve people-to-people contacts as well as in turn substantially improve trade and economic relations are direct air link between India and Jaffna and Ferry service between Talaimannar and Rameswaram.  We look forward to these two happening at an early date which will give a great boost to economic development of Northern Sri Lanka.’

Since it was couched in a trade-related speech and since I kept the politics out, I am pretty sure that no one caught on the real threat to Sri Lanka’s national security, embedded here.  Knowing Tamil Nadu politics, knowing our need to destabilize Sri Lanka, knowing the long history of using and abusing Sri Lankan Tamils to further our own national interest prerogatives, one or both these projects along with keen and relentless oversight on the part of my office would be a lovely way to buttress our status as the Spoiler of the Subcontinent!

I didn’t say all that of course.  Instead I said ‘India will continue to be a trusted partner with Sri Lanka in the years ahead and I am sure the existing relations will further get strengthened.’  I think I am pretty cute and have earned my January salary!