A great deal of suspense hangs over India’s possible stand on Sri Lanka in the forthcoming United Nations human rights council meet. The prime minister and the external affairs minister have both tried to clear the air by pointedly arguing against any intrusion into the internal affairs of a neighbouring country. But pro-Tamil politicians soldier on. They have staged walkouts in Parliament and resorted to long marches and hunger strikes down South to whip up public passions already teased out by recent disclosures on Sri Lanka’s alleged wartime atrocities. The reason why the ministers’ logic has failed to defuse the enthusiasm of parliamentarians from Tamil Nadu is because this logic, never clearly explained, has also been found to be susceptible to pressure. Last year, the protests in Parliament were seen to have succeeded in forcing the Indian delegation to Geneva to revise its stand at the last minute. In spite of arguing against country-specific resolutions, India ended up voting against Sri Lanka at the meet. The precedent set by this move has led to greater expectations this year that India can be elbowed into siding with the United States of America, which wants a mechanism — preferably manned by international monitors — to speed up reconciliation efforts and make Sri Lanka admit to war crimes.
Reconciliation is also something India wants, but not at gun point. If events since last year have been any indication, this policy has proved to be counter-productive, making Sri Lanka move further away from reconciliation besides driving a permanent wedge into its relationship with India. India’s vote against Sri Lanka at Geneva, portrayed as a great betrayal in the island, has made it more difficult for India to influence the country’s policy towards the minority Tamil population. Also, given that the Indian Ocean region is of vast significance to India’s strategic concerns, India’s loosening hold over affairs in Sri Lanka is an ominous development. Unfortunately, for a government held at gun point by its regional allies, dissemination of these arguments is not easy, especially since it has scarcely made any effort to rescue its foreign policy from regional politics. So, as before, the United Progressive Alliance government will walk the fine line at the Geneva meet, trying to balance its political strategy with its concern for Sri Lankan Tamils and India’s strategic interests, and perhaps do justice to none of these.