17 November 2014

Sampanthan’s non-aligned bluff

Former TNA leader and veteran politician R Sampanthan has raised important concerns that are shared by many outside his party’s constituency.  China.  He is worried that ‘Chinese influence on Sri Lanka has grown exponentially’.  This goes counter to a foreign policy that has ‘followed non-alignment for decades,’ he says.

Sampanthan is particularly upset that the Government has privileged China over India.  He gives it in numbers.  Chinese support is 98% loans and 2% grants, he argues, comparing it with ‘a more generous India’ that has 2:1 loan-grant ratio.  China’s support-share is almost twice that of India, he concedes, but nevertheless laments the Government’s ‘insensitivity to the concerns of its neighbor’.  He stresses that the Chinese loans would be turned into equity and points out that ‘it was a grave concern for many Lankans worried about its impact on the island’s independence and sovereignty’. 

Now first of all, Mr Sampanthan seems to have forgotten that non-alignment was effectively abandoned in 1977.  The UNP first danced to US-Japan tunes and then fell on knees before India.  Ranasinghe Premadasa tried to clear some independence-ground but at the cost of mollycoddling the LTTE.  He paid more than he bargained for.  Chandrika Kumaratunga went the JR-way for the most part.  Mahinda Rajapaksa, to his credit, smiled at everyone but did not harbor any illusions about stated friendship. 

It is heartening that Sampanthan gets hot under the collar about things such as independence and sovereignty, given a considerable track record of undermining both.  If this change of heart is real then the confusion over history and reality can certainly be forgiven.  The problem is that it is difficult to trust the man.  

Even as he bats for non-alignment, Sampanthan wants Sri Lanka to keep India happy.  He doesn’t want Sri Lanka ‘to undermine India’s interests’.  Well, Sri Lanka has to look after its own interests and if this upsets some other country, hard luck.  Sri Lanka can plead ‘non-alignment’ and ask Sampanthan to defend positions against all objections.  But Sampanthan can’t because he is not non-aligned.  

He believes that there’s a deliberate plan by the Government ‘to isolate India and thereby free itself from obligations made to India in the interests of reconciliation, peace and harmony’.  Why is this great champion of Sri Lanka’s independence and sovereignty not upset about obligations made to the people of this country in the first instance?  He knows, for example, that the 13th Amendment was a document JR had to sign while a pistol was held to his head, so to speak.  Recovering independence and sovereignty, therefore, must begin with an unceremonious burial of the same, surely? 

And why is he upset about India getting isolated?  If Sri Lanka can isolate India, then Sri Lanka must indeed be far more powerful than people believe it is.  Is India so weak that it can be isolated by Sri Lanka?  And even if that were possible why should this great and proud Sri Lankan who is so fixated with the island’s independence and sovereignty be upset about anyone else getting upset by Sri Lanka’s foreign policy? 

Finally, what moral right does Sampanthan have to indulge in independence-speak when he rushes to India every time he suffers political indigestion?  He has none.  He nails his own sovereignty-claim coffin when he says ‘The establishment of a maintenance facility in Trincomalee by China contravenes the Indo-Lanka Agreement’.  He’s seasoned enough to know that the true squandering of sovereignty took place the day JR signed that very agreement.  Transferring that which was robbed from India to China should not upset Sampanthan because what is key is sovereignty (or its loss) and not the identity of the sovereignty-robber. 

Yes, there are legitimate concerns about the Chinese footprint in Sri Lanka.  That China has not interfered in political processes or armed, funded and trained terrorists like how India did is not consolation enough for anyone who wants Sri Lanka to recover independence and sovereignty.  Sampanthan, however, has no right to complain.