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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2680

Relax Somawansa; Manmohan Singh will not do a Rajiv-type R2P

By G. Godabanda

"Terrorists are terrorists. I have been telling President Musharrafthat terrorism is a common enemy. If you don't check it...it can grow into a menacing evil."

-- Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh

I love Manmohan Singh and India. His predecessors of course constitute a different kettle of fish. They not only didn’t check terrorism but actually nurtured the menacing evil. Rajiv Gandhi paid with his life for the naiveté and, arguably, the arrogance.

That was a different time, a different world. True. That was a time where the rules were different; a time when electoral realities won over principle and integrity to stated political position, a time when double-standards did not come under scrutiny. Heck, there was no internet back then and information was not as accessible as it is now.

Not only was Rajiv Gandhi a wet-nurse to terrorism, he belligerently did an Indian version of R2P (Responsibility to Protect) when Prabhakaran was about to be captured, dumping parippu on all of us in Sri Lanka and thrusting his ‘writ’ down our collective throat by way of the 13th Amendment (the method of administering and not so much the medicine being unpalatable), leading to a bloodbath that took 60,000 lives and aggravating a human resource problem that we are still to recover from. There could have been better ways, but young Rajiv was unwise and untried. He had muscle, though. He made sure that the political commentators of that time in Sri Lanka learnt the term ‘geo-political realities’.

He was not stupid. He was a fast learner. The knowledge came late, however.

It’s been over 20 years since that (mis)adventure. Has the equation changed for Delhi? Yes and no. Manmohan Singh has to contend with domestic political realities and attendant equations. The sentiments of Tamil Nadu cannot be brushed aside in an era where regional loyalties can make or break governments. Economic interests override the ethical in these non-non-aligned times. There are no ‘countries’, only resources and markets. No people, just consumers and labour. For all the good-neighbour rhetoric, friendliness is essentially a surrogate for ‘interests’, mainly economic.

Yes, the ‘geo-political reality’ has not changed. The bhoo-deshapalana-yatharthaya is certainly a long shadow that can block out the sun of smaller nations, even if their per capita GNP, their Gini Coefficient and Happiness Index etc are far superior to that of Big Brother. There was a story doing the rounds in universities when the then Prime Minister, Ranasinghe Premadasa, was making anti-Indian noises which illustrates this fact which holds true twenty years later.

J.R.Jayewadena, the joke goes, responds wryly: ‘Our Army has 5000 soldiers, our Navy is made of 2500 men and are Air Force, 1500; we recently acquired some arms from Hitler’s armoury, considered junk by many: we will be able to fight India for about an hour.’

Small countries can harass big nations. The LTTE, a little more than a guerrilla outfit at the time, took a bite or two from the IPKF, we must not forget.

Superior fire power and manpower prevails in most cases however. If Rajiv bailed out Prabhakaran in 1987, Premadasa bailed him out in 1989. They were both thanked and we all know how. The key word of course is ‘bailing out’. Had that not happened, who knows where we would be right now, one must wonder.

The point however is that the equation has not changed for India. Manmohan Singh, our friend, cannot ignore out of hand the dictates of a political reality that directed Rajiv Gandhi and his successors.

Does this mean that Manmohan Singh will do an R2P in Sri Lanka as the JVP fears? I don’t think so.

To begin with, Manmohan Singh is clearly wiser than Rajiv. He knows how tough it is to deal with terrorists. He knows that in Kashmir, like in the North and East of Sri Lanka, he’s not dealing with an ‘ethnic’ or identity-based problem. He knows that neither is it a human rights or humanitarian problem. He knows what terrorism is all about and moreover that in legal terms what has to be dealt with is a criminal issue. He knows, as any Indian villager or any Indian who knows something of the village and villager does, that one does not ‘negotiate’ with vipers, one does not ‘play’ with vipers, one does not tickle vipers, that one does not capture a viper and release it out of ‘humanitarian concerns’; no, one smashes it on the head with a blunt instrument.

Manmohan Singh will not bail out Prabhakaran this time because he knows history and has been briefed by his advisors about the LTTE’s track-record not only as terrorists and common criminals but as spoilers who will obstruct any and all measures to bring respite to the long-suffering Tamil people and the addressing of grievances.

He knows that if Prabhakaran is taken out of the equation, an eventuality that is only months away, then anything is possible because the Sinhalese have proved time and again to be amenable to sharing (Note: Chelvanayagam’s famous thesis of ‘a little now more later’ being infinitely more rewarding than the 50-50 touting militancy of that other Tamil chauvinist and arch anti-Buddhist Catholic, G.G. Ponnambalam). He knows that if Prabhakaran remains in the equation nothing is possible. He knows that Gandhi-style R2P may help sort out the Tamil Nadu part of his political equation but will simultaneously precipitate a blood-bath that would make ‘88-89’ appear like a mere pin-prick induced blood-letting and that such an eventuality will mark him for all time,.

Although he doesn’t really need Sri Lanka’s friendship, Manmohan Singh most definitely does not want to look a fool in the eyes of an ever vigilant world, which is the fate that awaits him should he do an R2P now.

So Somawansa Amarasinghe and the JVP should relax and go easy on Manmohan Singh and India. These Indians, you see, have pride. They like to play the pundit and not the clown. They don’t want to act the giant and end up looking like midgets. And, let us repeat, Manmohan Singh is a wise man and wise men do not learn from their mistakes but from the mistakes of others. No, Manmohan Singh will not do a Rajiv Gandhi. He knows that terrorism is the common enemy. He has put it in black and white. He’s on our side, ok?

- Asian Tribune -

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