Call it the expediency of coalition politics or a new pragmatism in foreign policy, but India defied its own history by voting in favor of a U.S.-sponsored resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council calling for Sri Lanka to investigate human rights violations during its civil war. The decision by India to pressure Sri Lanka’s government over its war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was the first time India has voted in favor of a country specific resolution at the United Nations.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already made India’s intentions clear. Last week, in a statement to parliament, the government demonstrated India’s “inclination” to back the resolution. But critics say that New Delhi’s unprecedented step has been dictated more by coalition politics, as one of the regional parties in Tamil Nadu, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a coalition partner of the ruling United Progressive Alliance government, has been pressuring the central government to vote against Sri Lanka. They note that no political party in Tamil Nadu can ignore the issue of the state’s fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka’s eastern and northern provinces.
Some commentators also argue that by going against its Asian neighbour and siding with the U.S-backed resolution, India is only pushing the island nation further into the arms of China, which voted against the resolution, and which over the years has become a strategic ally of Sri Lanka.
Yet by voting for the resolution, India is surely simply signaling a new found diplomatic determination and demonstrating that it has outgrown its misplaced fear of the increasing presence of China in its periphery.
The big question, though, is whether this resolution will have the intended impact on the Sri Lankan government and help foster reconciliation? After all, past experience suggests that Western-backed U.N. resolutions tend only to make the parties harden their positions, and have allowed the Rajapaksa government to whip up majority Sinhala chauvinism.
Either way, the latest resolution suggests the international community – including Sri Lanka’s large neighbor to the north – is no longer going to be held hostage by Colombo’s political posturing and empty promises to look into the grievances of the Tamil minority and the gross human rights violations that took place as the war came to a bloody conclusion in 2009.
India’s changed stance is unlikely to be simply about domestic political pressure. Political observers note that New Delhi is frustrated by the Rajapaksa government’s failure to devolve power in keeping with the 13th amendment of its 1987 Constitution. Also, India supported Sri Lanka in its war against the LTTE, but its generous assistance was offered in the hope that the island nation would in turn be generous and try to help the minority secure their constitutional rights.
It’s baffling to outsiders why the government in Colombo has allowed the opportunity for reconciliation and nation building to slip away. The country has seen the bloody consequences of alienating its 13 percent Tamil minority, so you you’d think that sense would prevail and that the majority Sinhala would try to integrate the minority to ensure a more peaceful future. Almost three decades of war should have offered a lesson that alienation and ignorance of the demands and genuine concerns of the Tamils will only lead to endless conflict and the destabilization of the economy and the country.
The LTTE has been defeated, but the cause that prompted its creation is still alive. The U.N. resolution shouldn’t be seen as a reprimand of Sri Lanka, rather a reminder to the island about its duties to its own people.