Rajapaksa's games

The Sri Lankan president plans to take away from the local bodies the powers over land and police, as envisaged under the 13th Amendment.

The recent visit by the joint delegation of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Shiv Sena and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to Sri Lanka becomes a landmark event in the chronicle of the complex relationship between the two countries.

The Sinhalese nationalists and the Colombo establishment always drew a distinction between South and North India. Simply put, given their self-propagated myths regarding their pure Aryan origin, Sinhalese nationalists always fancied a kinship with the north Indians who, they believe, are also Aryans and, therefore, lack any real sense of involvement emotively with the Sri Lankan Tamils. They assiduously built up a rapport over the years with the elites in North India, hoping that would help mitigate Tamil Nadu’s interference in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

The Sinhalese elites are acute observers of the power dynamic in India and, unsurprisingly, they began sensing lately a window of opportunity to dabble in India’s ‘Hindutva’ politics. Suffice to say, they have been making overtures to the Sangh Parivar. The high-profile visit by president Mahinda Rajapaksa to Tirupati a few months ago (when Tamil Nadu was on the boil over Sri Lanka issue) was a brilliant move. Rajapaksa displayed a touching empathy with the Hindutva fraternity.

Meanwhile, he offered to the Sangh Parivar that he would revive the bonds dating back to the Ramayana epic between Lanka and India and, to this end, undertake renovation of Hindu places of worship and even construct new Hindu temples. Naturally enough, the Sangh Parivar feels thrilled and is feeling today a kinship with Rajapaksa, which they could never muster vis-à-vis the hopeless Tamil Nadu politicians weaned on the Dravida ideology that ruthlessly uprooted the established Hindu social order. The logical next step for Rajapaksa has been to propose to the RSS to depute a ‘Hindutva’ delegation to tour Sri Lanka.

Indeed, to whatever extent RSS and BJP can nurture the India-Sri Lanka cultural bonds, it will be a good thing for the bilateral relationship. Sri Lanka has hundreds of Hindu temples, which are in serious disrepair. The Sinhalese nationalists (including followers of Rajapaksa) and the security forces vandalised them through the period of the civil war. If RSS can get them renovated, the Tamils of Sri Lanka (who are predominantly Hindus) will take note that RSS cares for their spiritual welfare.

Again, whatever RSS can do via Narendra Modi to rein in the abrasive demands by Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha may help calm the waters across the Palk Straits. The fact remains that Jayalaitha has been raising the ante and her unrealistic demands today include unilateral abrogation by India of the Kachativu pact. Jayalaitha’s threats only help drive Colombo deeper and deeper into the Chinese embrace, which of course means the ‘string of pearls’ tightens relentlessly around India’s neck. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat never tires of reminding us about the danger posed by the ‘string of pearls.’

Flip side

Prima facie, it seems the RSS can do a lot to repair India-Sri Lanka relations, since it distanced itself from the UPA government’s move to support the resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Commission regarding the Rajapaksa government’s war crimes – and thereby endeared itself to the Sinhalese nationalists and the Colombo establishment. However, like all good things in life, there is always a flip side. How influential, for instance, is Modi to influence Jayalaitha not to succumb to the temptation of one-upmanship with M Karunanidhi over the Sri Lankan Tamil problem?

Again, it is one thing to repair or renovate the temples in Sri Lanka and to create new myths over the Ramayana tales but it is another thing that the Tamil aspirations are essentially speaking materialistic and not spiritual. The Sri Lankan Tamil is desperately seeking physical security, preservation of the Tamil homelands from Sinhalese ‘colonisation,’ and the right to live in dignity and self-respect without having to face prejudice and state discrimination.

What can Bhagwat do to help on this tangible front? Can he augment Delhi’s efforts? This is the big question. In fact, his aide Ram Madhav while visiting Sri Lanka in the recent ‘Hindutva’ delegation, would have heard at the embassy parties about the raging debate among the Sinhalese nationalists and within the ruling party itself in Colombo to dilute the provisions of the famous 13th Amendment of the constitution, which provides for devolution of powers to the provincial councils.

Suffice to say, Rajapaksa has come under compulsion to hold the provincial council elections in September, but on a parallel track he plans to render the local bodies ineffectual by not delegating to them powers over such vital issues as land and police, as envisaged under the 13th Amendment.

Surely, Madhav would comprehend that Rajapaksa is not quite the genial ‘Hindu-friendly’ man RSS thought he was. Rajapaksa knows how to give with one hand while taking away with the other. Now that Bhagwat too would have a fair idea of the Sri Lankan problem, RSS should come up with a solution, using its clout with Rajapaksa.

What emerges is that Rajapaksa is hoping to fragment the North Indian elites into the Hindutva and non-Hindutva camps by playing on the RSS’s passion for Hindu temples and Ramayana tales. This cannot but weaken further Delhi’s capacity to persuade Colombo to fulfill his commitments regarding 13th Amendment, which Rajiv Gandhi negotiated at the cost of his own life, as it finally turned out.

The Sinhalese nationalists openly scoff at the 13th amendment as the ‘droppings of a rogue elephant’ –something forced upon them by Rajiv Gandhi through the Research & Analysis Wing. But they know Delhi won’t allow the jettisoning of the 13th Amendment. Therefore, they are courting the BJP and RSS and extending lavish state hospitality to them, hoping to flatter them and to extract leverage out of the political antagonism that exists today between Congress and the BJP. The Sinhalese nationalists have always tried to exploit the plurality of opinion within India to their advantage.

(The writer is a former ambassador)    

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