New Delhi: India has
made it clear to Sri Lanka that its vote on the US-backed
resolution was aimed at speeding up the reconciliation process in
the island nation, but the move has sparked speculation whether it
was a strategic misstep that could drive Colombo closer to
Given strong domestic political sentiments in Tamil Nadu over
alleged atrocities against Tamils during Sri Lanka's war on Tamil
Tigers that ended in 2009, India's options on the resolution at
the UN Human Rights Council were severely circumscribed.
But there was more to India's vote than the oft-touted domestic
Informed sources point out that what led New Delhi to vote in
favour of the resolution was the slow pace of the reconciliation
process in Sri Lanka after decimating the LTTE and the lack of
progress in implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt
and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a panel set up by the Sri
Lankan government to investigate charges of human rights
In a detailed note explaining New Delhi's vote, India's external
affairs ministry reminded Colombo of implementing its own LLRC's
recommendations and stressed that "there is a window of
opportunity to forge a consensual way forward towards
reconciliation through a political settlement respecting all
ethnic and religious groups inhabiting the nation".
"It was not a vote against Sri Lanka. It was mainly a vote for
getting Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the LLRC,"
Varadaraja Perumal, former chief minister of Sri Lanka's
Tamil-majority North-Eastern Province, told IANS.
Under the circumstances, India, said the sources, did the best it
could. India got the US to accept two crucial amendments that made
the resolution "non-intrusive", with an emphasis on Colombo's
The Sri Lankan government has sought to put up a brave face,
saying they understood India's political compulsions and the vote
won't harm strong bilateral relations.
However, given the pattern of voting - China and Pakistan were
among those who voted against the resolution - there is an
unstated anxiety in New Delhi that the vote may have opened
strategic space for China to deepen ties with Sri Lanka.
Lt. Gen (retd). A.S. Kalkat, who led the Indian Peacekeeping Force
(IPKF) into Sri Lanka following the 1987 India-Sri Lanka accord,
has cautioned that India needs to proactively engage Sri Lanka to
ensure that the Chinese don't gain an upper hand there.
"There are strategic security concerns. We can't afford to let the
Chinese have an overwhelming presence in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is
critically important to the security of our maritime security,"
Kalkat told IANS.
Perumal is sceptical of the Chinese threat to India's interests in
Sri Lanka. "The Sri Lankans are not pro-Chinese. Sri Lanka
realises that they can't develop a relationship with China that
will harm New Delhi."
Kalkat feels that much will depend on how India mends fences with
Sri Lanka after the vote and at the same time encourages it to
deliver on key proposals of the 13th amendment for the devolution
of powers that formed the core of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka accord.
But, as of now, India will be closely watching the next steps
initiated by the UNHCR and ensure that Colombo's sovereignty is
not compromised in the process. At the same time, New Delhi will
also keep a sharp eye on Beijing's moves.
The stakes are high: China has emerged as the biggest lender ($1.2
billion) to Sri Lanka and has invested in airport, power plants,
roads and bridges. China is also building the $1 billion
Hambantota port, a showpiece project of President Mahinda
Rajapaksa is reported to have visited China at least five times
during his tenure. Chinese businessmen and tourists are going to
the country in increasingly larger numbers.
Three years ago, Sri Lanka opened a second consulate in China in
Chengdu where Pakistan already has a consulate. India is still Sri
Lanka's largest trading partner, but trade between China and Sri
Lanka is now more than $2 billion.
For now, despite the rivalry with China, India can take solace
from Rajapaksa's assurance.
"Our neighbours are Indians. I always say, Indians are our
relations," he has said famously. "From the time of Asoka, we have
had that culture, but that doesn't mean we won't get commercial
benefits from others; from China, or Japan, or whoever. They will
come here, they will build and they will go back. India comes
here, they will build and they will stay. This is the difference."
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)