Indians at Lanka play
by Susantha Goonatilake
The two speakers were M.R. Narayanaswamy and
M.K.Tikku, both journalists; the Chairman was Major
General Ashok Mehta who had been with the IPKF. In the
audience were Varadaraja Perumal, the erstwhile Indian
puppet Chief Minister of the Northern and Eastern
Provinces, Kalkat an Indian general who had been a
commander of the Indian occupation in the late 1980s, and
two Sri Lankan diplomats sitting stiffly behind like stuffed
penguins. They were speaking last week on "Sri Lanka on
the Edge" at the Delhi India International Centre (IIC), on
Geneva and its aftermath. And there, was another example
of our continued belittlement.
Over the years, I myself had spoken at the Centre several
times, thrice as a participant in different conferences and
once as sole speaker. This time I was giving two theoretical
papers at a conference on anthropology of the South Asian
region, when I accidentally saw the Sri Lanka talk being
billed as an event. I broke ranks from my own conference
just as a very efficient Indian bureaucrat was holding forth
with quite intellectual ease on topics of cultural interactions.
For the umpteenth time in my life, I sighed at the different
levels of discourse between the bureaucrats and academia
of India and those of Sri Lanka respectively.
This seminar on Sri Lanka was Indians playing at indirect
rule of Sri Lanka.
The chairman Mehta said that in some of his meetings on
Sri Lanka there, were more speakers than listeners. This
time around, there was around 30. Mehta added he was
convener of a group aimed at "track two" diplomacy on Sri
Lanka, behind-the-scene discussions by informal actors
while the formal actors got about their official negotiations.
Let us be explicit. Such track two diplomacy does not
operate for the United States when it decides to bomb Iraq
or Afghanistan or for that matter when India decides to deal
with an internal separatist movement like it did in Punjab
through massive military means. There was no track-two
diplomacy when the IPKF of which Mehta was a member did
its unpleasant task.
Neither would India name discussions with an internal
rebellious group as an act of diplomacy which usually occurs
only between two sovereign countries. There was no track
one or track two as far as India was concerned in its internal
conflicts, of which there were very many as I found out in my
other conference at the same venue.
I wanted to observe the Indians at this Lanka play. So, I kept
silent throughout. In his introduction, Mehta mentioned that
the killing of Kadirgamar, the sinking of the navy ship and
other transgressions were indeed all acts of war by the
LTTE. The government had not responded to these. All the
speakers used the word "hard-line" to describe the JVP and
the JHU influence on the government. This new Sri Lankan
dispensation had changed the goalposts from federal to
unitary. One speaker however said that soon after being
elected, the government had changed its earlier "hard-line
stance" and had softened, implying that the government had
dropped its electoral promises.
Narayanaswamy was introduced as the person who had
been invited by the Sri Lankan government to train the Sri
Lankan Geneva delegation as Narayanaswamy was the best
informed on the LTTE and Prabhakaran. Narayanaswamy
quickly demurred, dismissing such notions saying that he
was not a special expert on the LTTE and that he had not
got an invitation from Sri Lanka. This in fact went against the
printed schedule of the training session for our Geneva
negotiators where his name had indeed been prominently
From his information and from his own logical inference,
Narayanaswamy said, the Sri Lankan armed forces would
certainly have been co-operating with the Karuna faction. In
the final communique at Geneva however, Sri Lanka had
agreed to disarm Karuna. Tellingly, he mentioned that the
LTTE had not moved from its goal of a separate state.
Narayanaswamy however appeared at least sympathetic to
Sri Lanka. He pointed out that there were differences
between Jaffna Tamils, Eastern Tamils and those of Indian
origin - the last two considered by Jaffna Tamils as
second-class and third class. This was a reason for the
Tikku was no friend of Sri Lanka. Here he was apologising
for the LTTE saying that during the last election, the Tamils
had not voted for either of the two major parties forgetting
that it was the LTTE ban that prevented voting and that in
areas like Wellawatte, Tamils had indeed voted in significant
numbers. He also claimed that the P-TOMS rejection had
been a denial by the Supreme Court of aid to Tamils.
In Sri Lanka he added profoundly, one must go against the
constitution saying that the Indian Accord had gone against
the Constitution. This sage further added that today Sri
Lanka was back to the 1956 period of "Sinhala only". All
these were false.
Tamils had been denied their voting by the LTTE, tsunami
aid to Tamils continued and the Thirteenth Amendment
legitimizing the Indian Accord had only come through an
amendment to the Constitution. Huge changes had taken
place since 1956 with today Tamil as an equal official
language as opposed to only the regional language it was
accorded during that period 50 years ago. It was apparent
that Tikku would be the type of foreign journalist who
deliberately distorts who would be debarred by the Indians
from their own conflicts such as Kashmir or earlier - Punjab.
At the end of the two listed speakers, Kalkat and Perumal
were asked for their opinions. Kalkat recalled, how he
prevented Jaffna being made the capital of the merged
Northern and Eastern provinces and instead had pushed for
Trincomalee. His underlying message was that with Jaffna
as capital, separatism would have increased.
On the Geneva final communique, he notes that thankfully
the two provinces still remained merged. He adds there was
no mention of "federal" in the communique. He also said: the
LTTE would not give up on its goal of a separate state. The
Indian puppet Perumal had once been Chief Minister, - one
of his ministers then was Dayan Jayatilleke - and had made
a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Perumal had in
the meantime got very fat. The way Ashok Mehta greeted
him; he still was an Indian darling (perhaps being groomed
to be a puppet again?). Perumal now bemoaned that the
LTTE could not be trusted and that one of these days the
LTTE would declare Independence! He forgot to mention
that he had himself once declared Independence.
Mehta remarked that in his track two work, he had been
bringing various Sri Lankan stakeholders in contact with
each other. He implied this included various factions among
the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Back in Sri Lanka, I
checked whether in fact the JVP and JHU had joined the
Major General's circus. They had not, and it reminded me of
a seminar which WAPS organised in Oslo where the
reluctant emissary from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry
falsely said that all factions in Sri Lanka were co-operating
with the Norwegians, going out of the way to mention the
falsehood that the JVP was talking with the Norwegians.
The tone here was generals trying to be governors and
journalists trying to be generals, although one must add that
Narayanswamy was a reluctant imperialist.
Mehta mentioned that behind the scenes, the good present
Indian Ambassador in Sri Lanka was trying to bring our
factions together. This, one should add, was in good
imperial tradition, the ambassador slipping from her earlier
charm offensive to that of that obnoxious meddler Dixit. After
seeing the quasi imperious body language and demeanour
of Mehta as he conducted the meeting, I walked up to him
and asked what his track two organisation was. He gave a
grandiose wavy hand and said to the effect that they had
done much work. I said with mock deference that he looked
the role of Governor of Sri Lanka.
I added that his moustache gave him a special imperial
bearing. The remarks went over his head. Either he was
thick-skinned or imbued with military gruffness, few words
and few thoughts. One should encourage other individuals
or other countries to discuss Sri Lanka. But not with the tone
of condescending interference in this meeting. In
intellectually developed countries like India and the West,
journalists' pronouncements depend on academics' work. In
Sri Lanka, virtually no academics had written serious
material from a Sri Lankan perspective. In Sri Lanka, I had
also been told that journalists rarely even ask questions at
Here Indian journalists and generals were making grand,
often simplistic pronouncements.
All the speakers here generally tended to agree that the
Geneva communique was largely a fudge; hiding the true
realities on the ground. The government delegation had
accepted the ceasefire's conditionalities (which were
objected to by the two parties that had brought them to
power the JVP, JHU). Yet the government would not disarm
the Karuna faction as they promised.
The time in-between the next meeting in April would be time
for both the government and the LTTE to prepare them for
an inevitable next round of war. All tended to agree that Sri
Lanka was still on the edge.
Yet, in all this talk of maintaining the ceasefire, there was no
mention that the continuing status quo of the faulty
ceasefire would result in a Cyprus type situation in Sri
Lanka. Within our nominally sovereign state, an illegal entity
would continue to be tolerated and therefore legitimated.
Neither in government nor in opposition circles had the
Cyprus scenario entered their thick skulls.
Here were Indians at Sri Lanka play. When I privately asked
the two Sri Lankan diplomats who were at the meeting for
their comments, they made some silly remarks. Later, back
home, I met a senior official of the Foreign Ministry. He
moaned that Sri Lanka's sovereignty had indeed been
eroded - he did not mention India. He detailed games
Norway was playing to erode Sri Lankan sovereignty. And
so did, he point out, the so-called co chairs and various
international agencies erode Sri Lankan sovereignty. I would
also add to this list foreign funded NGOs of the "Traitors Inc"
variety. The senior official's tone was one of resignation. He
added he was trying hard, his best.
If that was the despairing attitude of my friend, I wondered
how we had come to this end.
This leaky Sri Lanka boat was being eroded at several
points. If it were Indian officials, would they display this
resignation or in contrast, real musculature? Would the
media? Would the ruling politicians? I doubt it. They would
have all taken an obvious self-respecting line, distorted in
our case as "hard-line" by the country's enemies. And that is
why India today is self confident, like say Malaysia. Not the
cringing cry baby that we have become. [SundayObserver]