It is time India corrects its Sri Lanka policy

It is impossible to believe that the forced withdrawal of two Sri Lankan army officers from the Defence Service Staff College in Wellington in Tamil Nadu will not affect ties between New Delhi and Colombo.

No self respecting nation likes it when its military officers sent for routine training are told to go home - due to the host country's domestic politics. Knowing the animosity in Tamil Nadu to the Sri Lankan military, New Delhi should have either not invited the two officers to Wellington or, having done so, should have stood by them until the training got over.

Yes, in a federal set up, the central government should listen to even conflicting issues from states. But no government can endlessly allow itself to be blackmailed into submission just because Tamil Nadu politicians who failed to drive sense into the LTTE when it was alive and kicking have now decided to avenge its defeat with a sweeping I-hate-Sri-Lanka policy.

The anti-Colombo sentiments in Tamil Nadu, fuelled by both the ruling and opposition parties, have led to attacks on innocent Sri Lankans who cannot be blamed for that country's military or foreign policy. This has fuelled anti-India feelings in Sri Lanka. If the situation continues without check, the time is not far when Indian interests in Sri Lanka could seriously get hurt.

The only winner in such an ugly situation will be the pro-LTTE political forces in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere who still cannot get over the fact that a militant group they thought could never lose has been vanquished.

There is no doubt that innumerable innocent Tamils got killed in the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. But the LTTE was primarily to blame for forcing thousands of Tamil civilians to move into the battle zone - in the hope that their presence would prevent its own doom.

Having crushed the LTTE in 2009, the Sri Lankan leadership must have gracefully admitted to the death of innocents and announced a generous compensation and rehabilitation policy. But having claimed that no innocents were targeted, Colombo has got caged in a situation from where there is no easy escape, leading to repeated unpleasant international censures.

But that is only one aspect of a larger - and complex - story.

On their part, Tamil Nadu leaders, who otherwise preside over the destiny of millions, made no effort to inject sense into the LTTE leadership to call off the war when there was time. In any case, the LTTE didn't care two hoots for Tamil Nadu politicians - except if they contributed to its war efforts. Forget sound advice, some in Tamil Nadu urged Velupillai Prabhakaran to fight on till the Congress gets ousted by the BJP in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. That didn't happen, and the LTTE crashed.

While the war was on, India turned down Sri Lankan requests to build the Palaly air base in Jaffna (by attaching conditions Colombo couldn't meet) and a port at Hambantota because the Congress-led government was wary of rubbing Tamil Nadu the wrong way. Now Sri Lankan military officers invited to Wellington have been told to leave - and not just once.

It is time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh takes a re-look at India's Sri Lanka policy. India can't have the cake and eat it too. If India wants to advice Sri Lanka on its ethnic policy, then basic courtesies will have to be extended to Colombo. India cannot view Sri Lanka solely from the Tamil Nadu prism.

If attacking innocent Sri Lankans or asking their military officers to go home is right because of what happened in the war, then India should be ready to face similar music when its military officers go abroad. After all, have there been no rights violations in places like Kashmir?

(M.R. Narayan Swamy is a long time Sri Lankan watcher. The views expressed here are personal. He can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)

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