I continue surprised, though I should not be, given our infinite capacity for self delusion, at the virulence of attacks on India with regard to the several crises we brought upon ourselves. It is claimed that India was gratuitously nasty in supporting terrorists, and that it acted outrageously in 1987 in imposing the Indo-Lankan Accord upon us.
I think India was wrong both in supporting terrorists and in the final form the settlement of 1987 took, but in both instances there was nothing gratuitous about what was done, given our own conduct. It is claimed that India cannot claim to be a friend because she supported terrorism, but that is to ignore that countries will naturally act in their own defence, and we as it were started the problem by abandoning our traditional friendship with India and pursuing Western gods.
The appendix to the Indo-Lankan Accord says it all, in noting the decisions we had made which seemed to threaten India, the shenanigans with regard to the Trincomalee oil tanks, the agreement to allow the Voice of America a virtual self-governing enclave at a time when such entities were a significant part of Cold War armoury, and indeed what seemed efforts to flog Trincomalee to the Americans. This last is particularly ironic since I suspect the Americans – though their capacity to insure themselves against all eventualities, real and imagined, is infinite – did not really want the place since the British had flogged Diego Garcia to them and obligingly got rid of its inhabitants.
In 1987, President Jayewardene had consistently lied to India, which had necessarily got involved in our internal affairs given that the entire opposition – not just the TULF but also the SLFP led by Mrs Bandaranaike – had seen India as the only force that could bring some sanity to President Jayewardene. But commitments, regarding both devolution and the restoration of Mrs Bandaranaike’s Civic Rights, were repeatedly flouted. At the time I remember writing that Jayewardene had alienated three vital players in Sri Lanka, the Sinhala opposition, the Tamil opposition and India. When he finally realized he could not continue in this fashion, he made peace only with India – which sadly did not take the opportunity to insist that a solution for the problems that beset us were better found through restoration of the democratic process rather than through imposition.
So the Accord was necessarily flawed. But this was not because it introduced Provincial Councils, given that devolution was essential since the majoritarian use of our existing Constitutions had deprived all remote areas of the country of both development and dignity. I would have preferred devolution to smaller units, but the only other that had capacity at the time, the District, had been tried in 1981 and had failed because Jayewardene deliberately stymied the process.
In a still relevant statement on the Accord, Chanaka Amaratunga, while pointing out the need for devolution, noted the negative aspects of the Accord. Chief amongst these was both the idea of a merger of two Provinces, and the arbitrary and manner in which it was done. Both the TNA and India should realize that this is the greatest stumbling block to effective devolution based on needs rather than ambitions, and to harp upon it, even if only to claim that it is a bargaining counter, will spell disaster.
With regard to the actual intervention in 1987, though Indian actions were high-handed, we provided them with a handle in failing to ensure adequate humanitarian support to the population even as we were battling the Tigers. The contrast with what happened in 2009, when we kept providing food and shelter and medical supplies to those the Tigers held hostage, and then ensured swift recovery for those we rescued, is marked. Though we have failed to tell our story satisfactorily, those such as India which supported us to destroy terrorism have never asserted anything to the contrary. That is why I find it astonishing that attacks on India go on, and those who have been condemning us unfairly for our conduct of the war are treated with kid gloves.
In 1987, even leaving aside our folly in supporting Margaret Thatcher in her Falklands adventure and thus precipitating condemnation in the UN Human Rights Committee, we laid ourselves open to charges of failing to supply the areas we had freed from the Tigers. Unfortunately, when India tried to send supplies, we were intransigent, which led to them violating our airspace – at which point, it will be remembered, those we had thought our steadfast allies stayed mum.
That lesson still has not been learnt. Those who think we can ignore India completely think there are others on whom we can rely. Some believe China will support us in the event of conflict with India, even though China, which has been a reliable and faithful friend, has made it clear that we should not alienate India. Then there are others, such as those in the Ministry of External Affairs who expressed triumph at the vote in Geneva in 2012 and claimed it had brought us to our senses with regard to the need to work closely with the West, who seem to think that the West will guard our sovereignty if only roll over and submit to them.
On the contrary we should consider how, because India refused to jump on the bandwagon that the Candians were preparing regarding the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, others stood firm. Indeed I suspect – though the current sensible British High Commissioner also has something to do with it – Britain too has finally realized that the way to achieve stated as well as unstated objectives is through discussion rather than threats.
Whether this will last I do not know. That rather depends on us fulfilling our commitments, which we should do on our terms, not those of other countries. Past experience suggests that, basics achieved, India supports such an approach.