by N. Sathiyamoorthy
Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne told Parliament that the LTTE had three ‘secret camps’ across the Palk Strait, in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu.
Independent of Jayaratne’s subsequent withdrawal, the damage had been done, particularly to the mutual trust between the two nations that was missing in between but was carefully re-built, brick by brick, in recent years. The credit for this on the Sri Lankan side should go to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who handled the India relations, personally, and at the highest levels of the second rung, otherwise.
If the Prime Minister were to rely on unverified media reports, as he has since claimed, and not on his intelligence agencies, something seems to be really amiss in the State of Sri Lanka. Worse still, Jayaratne, on parliamentary record, had attributed his information to intelligence agencies.
It is a serious lapse of responsibility, considering the fragile nature of bilateral relations with an immediate neighbour, which has serious consequences for both in more ways than one. If the Prime Minister and the Government of Sri Lanka are serious about the rebuttal since, the record could be set right, if at all, only if it is stated in Parliament.
It is sad that on matters of bilateral relations, particularly with the Indian neighbour but including the rest of the international community, too, flippant comments of the kind have come to be made by responsible – or, not so responsible -- individuals holding high offices in Government, from time to time.
Such instances takes away the seriousness of governance from the Government, and thus challenges the credibility, though not the legitimacy, of the institutions that such individuals have come to represent in the Sri Lankan State scheme. To comment in haste and rebut at leisure is not what diplomacy is about. Instead, it is about weighing the words and presenting it with care. Prime Minister Jayaratne would only have to ask his External Affairs Ministry, and they would tell him what diplomacy and parliamentary statements on bilateral relations are all about.
It is nobody’s case that the Sri Lankan political class should not make statements, based on newspaper reports on sensitive issues that involve the nation’s security. Nor can anyone deny them the luxury when their counterparts in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu have been making rash statements of the kind, based on unverified reports, often palmed off by pro-LTTE segments of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. It is a habit that does not die that easily. It is also fine for provincial politicians, most of whom are not even a part of the Government in Tamil Nadu. It is a different matter when the Prime Minister of a country to come up with such observations.
What makes Jayaratne’s observations flippant on the one hand, and a serious concern for bilateral relations is the fact that it involves the LTTE. Sri Lankans are not tired of reminding India, how it had armed and trained the LTTE in the past, in camps on Indian soil. In the immediate context, the Prime Minister’s statement contests the claims of his own Government that the LTTE had been routed completely. Ground reports since the conclusion of the ethnic war too have stood testimony to the Government’s original claim.
If nothing else, it begs the question why Jayaratne did not have his intelligence agencies verify the news reports before going to Parliament -- rather than go to Parliament first, and then have the media reports verified for their veracity. This is not how Governments act, and not in relation to the nation’s Parliament. Nor do they do so with the immediate neighbour, whom his President is not tired of reiterating was a ‘relation’, an elder sister, and not just a friend.
A predecessor of Jayaratne and UNP Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was not wide off the mark when he contested the Prime Minister’s parliamentary claim. Despite the rebuttal, Jayaratne’s statement has the potential to stir up the political scene in Tamil Nadu, during the current run-up to the Assembly polls in the south Indian State. In the land of ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination’, LTTE is a bad word still, despite what anti-India hard-liners in Sri Lanka may want to believe. Those sympathetic to the LTTE still in Tamil Nadu are individuals. The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka is an institution.