Saturday 5 October 2013

Manmohan should go to Colombo (PO)

MD Nalapat
Friday, October 04, 2013 - Gotebaya Rajapaksa is in charge of both the military as well as urban development. During the 2008-09 final battle against the LTTE, it was he (as Secretary Defense) who orchestrated the campaign against Velupillai Prabhakaran, a devout Christian who headed the Tamil Tigers. Although then army chief Sarath Fonseka attempted to grab the credit for the victory of the Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE, the fact remains that until political and administrative cover was provided to the military by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Secretary Defense Gotebaya Rajapaksa,the Sri Lankan Army could not succeed in overcoming the Tamil Tigers.

It was the efficient and determined prosecution of hostilities by the political leadership that made the difference, not Sarath Fonseka, who suffered from fear that he would be held to account for human rights violations by the troops under his command and began to attack the behaviour of the very men and women whom he had commanded in the final battle against Prabhakaran’s forces. Throughout 2008 and until the LTTE was finally eliminated by the middle of the next year, there was ceaseless pressure from countries big and small on President Rajapaksa to declare yet another cease fire with the LTTE. In the past, whenever the organisation got on the backfoot, it used to use its international contacts to get the Sri Lankan government to agree to a ceasefire which would give time and space for the LTTE to regroup itself and afterwards,enter the field of battle once again. This time around, President Rajapaksa made it clear that there would be no ceasefire, only war until final victory Conditioned by six centuries of European knowledge dominance over the rest of the globe and by three centuries when that small continent was the master of the earth, NATO members look askance on non-western countries acting the way they themselves do. Thus, while the hundreds of thousands of casualties caused by NATO sanctions and military action gets excused as “collateral damage”, the much lower civilian death toll from the Sri Lankan military’s operations against the Tamil Tigers has been used to seek to begin the trial of some Sri Lankan leaders and army officers for “war crimes”.

The NATO bloc dislikes strong leaders in countries which their members once ruled. They prefer mild, unassertive leaders who always listen to the advice meted out by Paris, London and Washington. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India is a particular favourite. During his recent meeting with US President Barack Obama, he forgot both Obama’s inattention to India as well as the perilous state of US finances to beg Obama for assistance to alleviate poverty in India. The body language between the two leaders was a contrast between a submissive,almost cringing, Manmohan Singh and a confident Barack Obama,aware that in the Singh-Sonia duo, India had a leadership that could be expected to obey Washington without question.

Months ago, while on a visit to London, this columnist had come to know from influential sources of a plan by “white” Commonwealth countries to have their Heads of Government boycott the mid-November Colombo conclave of the Commonweakth Heads of Government. Once this fact was brought to public notice via a report in the Sunday Guarsian, there was a strong reaction within the Commonwealth bloc about the manner in which the racist spirit of Winston Churchill was threatening to divide the Commonwealth - still a noble institituion, thanks significantly to the gracious leadership of Queen Elizabeth - into “white” and “non-white” through a CHOGM boycott.

After the report came out, wiser counsdel prevailed, and it is now clear that the UK, Australia and New Zealand will be represented not (as earlier thought) by their Foreign Ministers but by their Prime Ministers themselves. The only Churchillian left in the ring is Canada’s PM, Stephen Harper,who believes that his absence from the CHOGM conclave would create anything but a yawn. However, there is another Commonwealth leader who has been consistent in hewing to the Churchill doctrine that the “lesser orders” should listen to the “higher orders”.

Neither Manmohan Singh nor his country (India) would have been regarded by Winston Churchill as deserving of respect. The wartime PM of Britain was openly and continously contemptous of India and its people, which is why it is a surprise that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to be following the Churchillian rulebook in using criteria that NATO adopts not for itself but for others, to continue to snub Sri Lanka. Thus far, of all the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth, only Canada’s Harper and India’s Singh have yet to confirm their attendance at the Colombo summit. Clearly,Manmohan Singh is under pressure from Congress President Sonia Gandhi to please her coalition partner in Tamil Naxu,the DMK,by skipping the Colombo summit.

Less than six weeks from its inauguration, the absence of any confirmation that Manmohan Singh will join Prince Charles of the UK, Prime Minister Cameron, Prime Minister Abbot, Prime Minister Hasina, Prime Minister Sharif and other Heads of Government at Colombo will further damage relations between Sri Lanka and India, already not in the best state of repair. The Manmohan Singh government has allowed the West Bengal CM to ductate the pace of engagement with Bangla Desh and the DMK to affect India’s engagement with Sri Lanka. Unless the Prime Minister takes a stand which is in the overall national interest, rather than get swayed by sectional considerations, he will be doing India ill. It was not expected of Manmohan Singh that he would join in the attempted “white Commonwealth” boycott of the Colombo mid-November CHOGM when all these countries (barring Canada) have returned to the path of commonsense.

Hopefully, the lack of confirmation from the Ministry of External Affairs of Manmohan Singh’s participation at the 2013 CHOGM is due not to the “Follow Churchill” streak in the PM but because of the bureaucratic lethargy common within his government. Manmohan Singh needs to come to Colombo, and not just because Sri Lanka is a proud civilisation where two great traditions, the Tamil and the Sinhala, have flowered for millenia. The Indian Ocan is key to a considerable part of India’s strategic goals, and the location of Sri Lanka makes that country indispensable as a partner if India is to evolve and implement a workable Indian Ocean strategy. Manmohan Singh ought to have been the first to officially confirm that he would be attending the Colombo Summit. Now he will be the last, assuming of course that sane counsel prevails over those arguing for a boycott by India’s PM of the Colombo Summit.

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