by Kuldip Nayar
SRI Lanka is going the wrong way in solving its ethnic problem. The Tamils nourish a grievance that they do not get their due in their own country. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, representing the Sinhalese, the majority community of Sri Lanka, should have at least after an overwhelming victory at the polls, looked into what has come to be the Tamil question. But he has discontinued the singing of National Anthem in Tamil, a practice followed for years to give the Tamils a feeling of equality. This will only confirm their belief that they are second-class citizens.
The Tamils, living mostly in the northern part of the country, were critical of what the LTTE did and its chief Prabhakaran was not their hero because he brought them misery and indignities which the Sinhalese government heaped on them. Yet as long as long as he lived and the LTTE held aloft the standard of resistance from Jaffna and the places in the North, the Tamils believed that Colombo would give them a better deal under pressure.
Most of Tamils kept away from Prabhakaran lest the government should wreak its vengeance on them. Still it did. However, the fact remains that the fear of LTTE on the one hand and the pressure of Tamils outside Sri Lanka on the other made the Sinhalese government go slow in their plan to have one nation, one flag and one anthem. The steps Colombo has taken after vanquishing the LTTE do not hold much promise for the Tamils. They feel too lonely, too neglected.
India, towards which they look, sent Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao early this year to persuade the Rajapaksa government to decentralise power and allow the North to have a say in their own affairs. Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna has also visited Sri Lanka and hopeful that the Sinhalese government would take measures whereby Tamils feel safe and secure. He still hopes that the Tamils, who constitute nearly one fifth of the country’s population, would not be ignored. But the deletion of national anthem in Tamil has made India somewhat despondent.
New Delhi has also allocated a large sum of money for rehabilitating the Tamils who have suffered during the war. Still 300,000 Tamils are languishing in camps or living in the open although the war ended more than a year ago. And there is no dilution of the situation that the Tamils continue to be discriminated. A democracy, which Sri Lanka claims to be one, has to treat all citizens equally. The Sinhalese are in a majority and Tamils in a minority. Yet, together, they constitute the nation.
New Delhi, which enjoys good relations with Colombo, has been under pressure from Tamil Nadu in the Southern India, to get a better deal for the Tamils. A federal structure is what is needed in Sri Lanka so that North has a feeling that it is as much part by the country as other areas are.
But, to spite New Delhi, the Rajapaksa government has begun building close relations with Pakistan and China, the two countries which are in conflict with India. Sri Lanka has, in fact, given the two facilities to China for building the Trincomalee harbour and to Pakistan for training the new entrants to the Lankan army. However irritating, they do not change New Delhi’s policy of befriending Sri Lanka and helping the country to have a system where the Tamils can participate politically. This is in Colomboown interest.
Otherwise, the alienated Tamils will once again organise themselves into a force to harass or even fight the government. New Delhi may also be faced to stand by them because of domestic political compulsions. The DMK-run Tamil Nadu is crucial in the survival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government.
The late Rajiv Gandhi had tried to persuade Sri Lanka to include Annexure C to its constitution that ensured decentralisation so that the Tamils would also enjoy power. He even sent Indian Peace Keeping Force when the Sri Lankan government was in trouble. Sri Lanka can overlook New Delhi’s efforts to effect understanding at its own peril.
I recall when I was India’s high commissioner at London, a senior official, Ratnakar Rao, telling me that the LTTE leader, Sadasivam Krishna Kumar, better known at Kittu, wanted to meet me. I had spent several hours with him in Chennai many years earlier, when he was present during my interview with the LTTE mentor, Anton Balasingham. I refused to meet Kittu.
New Delhi commended my ‘decision.’ It did not want any contact with anyone from the LTTE at any level, we were told in the message which followed my refusal to meet Kittu. India did not want to be misunderstood by the Sri Lankan government. But if Colombo continues to encourage China and Pakistan, India would have to do something to safeguard its interests.