Resetting Indo Lankan ties
Inseparable neighbours India and Sri Lanka are poised to usher in “a new beginning”, as the buzz word goes, with visiting Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena engaging with the Indian leadership.
Both Modi and Sirisena have the goodwill of Tamils on both sides. The Indian PM has taken care to consult with Tamil Nadu’s political leadership, while not allowing it to be overawed
Inseparable neighbours India and Sri Lanka are poised to usher in “a new beginning”, as the buzz word goes, with visiting Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena engaging with the Indian leadership. It is a given that on top of the agenda is the discussion on the welfare of the Tamils, greater political devolution and their socio-economic well-being.
The ‘change’ is possible after Sirisena ended the decade of Mahinda Rajapaksa in a surprise poll victory that was made possible by rallying of various forces against the family rule, widespread corruption, attacks on democracy, suppression of judiciary and a persistent denial mode adopted by that administration with regard to aspirations of the Tamil and Muslim minorities.
It is time for change and both sides must grab this golden opportunity. That both Modi and Sirisena are almost the same age and came to power with similar agendas, among them fighting corruption and economic development, should help. Also of help is that neither leader carries a past burden. Although a minister in the Rajapaksa administration, Sirisena had no hand in formulating policy towards the Tamil minorities. So, he can start on a clean slate. Both Modi and Sirisena have the goodwill of Tamils on both sides.
The Indian PM has taken care to consult with Tamil Nadu’s political leadership, while not allowing it to be overawed. However, there is need for caution. The strident resolution passed by Sri Lanka’s Northern Council describing what happened during and after the campaign against LTTE as ‘genocide’ and demanding an international probe does not help. Indeed, it ties down Sirisena’s hands. He has wisely sought time and urged patience.
Since it is Sri Lanka’s internal matter, India cannot comment. At the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, where Sri Lanka could face another resolution on alleged war crimes, India can in tandem with the US work to put it off. Lanka needs time to apply the soothing balm on the Tamils and under Sirisena.
Sirisena will have to move gradually and with caution on the contentious issue of devolution of powers to the Northern Province according to the 13th amendment to the Constitution relating to reconciliation and reconstruction in Sri Lanka. Among the nuts and bolts-issues of immediate importance, both sides will need to sort out the repatriation of more than 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees from Tamil Nadu.
India can assist in the construction of 20,000 houses for workers in the plantation sector, who are Sri Lankan Tamils of recent Indian origin, in the Central Province. Sirisena has already promised to release swathes of land in north and east that had army establishments for long. They can be returned to their original Tamil owners and put to use for farming and other productive activities. This would help the rehabilitation of the internally displaced people.