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KULDIP NAYAR
LEADERS & MISLEADERS

Kuldip Nayar is a senior journalist, human rights activist and author.

Lanka must prove it is a democracy

do not know why Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa does not present his case to Indian society. If he does, it can bring about a difference in the way he is perceived. At present, he is not seen in a good light. There is hardly any Indian who supports the division of Sri Lanka. Still, he needs to have something like a press conference in Delhi to interact with the media. A frank discussion with experts or think-tanks will help him more than the usual meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, etc.

Indian society did not support the fascist tactics of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran. But they want the minority Tamils to be treated as they would be in a democratic polity. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which went to Sri Lanka at the Lankan government's request, is a forgotten chapter, which should not come in the way of the two countries.

But the excesses committed during the war against the LTTE are fresh on the minds of the Tamils and other Indians. Indian society is upset with the recent revelations, for example, of the cold-blooded murder of Prabhakaran's son. The government in Colombo has never taken Indians into confidence or sent an Indian team to visit the affected areas to assess things for themselves. This has given birth to doubts and suspicions.

A leading Lankan Sunday newspaper, which describes itself as liberal, was so annoyed with me because of my reference to the reported excesses that it stopped me from writing. Yet, Sri Lanka cannot wash its hands of the responsibility by not facing facts.

The reaction in Tamil Nadu has been hostile because of ethnic considerations. But New Delhi has been mature enough to view the situation more objectively. Yet this has given the impression that the Manmohan Singh government is indifferent. That may explain why the DMK has moved amendments to the President's address relating to Sri Lanka and has urged the government to back a US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka over human rights violations.

Those who follow the events in Sri Lanka are worried about the influx of refugees from that country. Colombo is going the wrong way in solving its ethnic problem. The Tamils feel that they do not get their due in their own country. Rajapaksa, who represents the majority Sinhalese, should have, after an overwhelming victory at the polls, looked into the Tamil question. But he will not even let them sing the national anthem in Tamil, a practice that was followed for years. This only confirms their belief that they are second-class citizens.

The Tamils, who mostly live in the northern parts of the country, were critical of what the LTTE did. Prabhakaran was not their hero as it was because of him that Colombo heaped on them misery and indignities. Yet, as long as the LTTE held aloft the standard of resistance, the Tamils believed that Colombo, under pressure, would give them a better deal. The fact remains that the fear of the LTTE on the one hand and pressure from Tamils outside Sri Lanka on the other, slowed down the Sinhalese government's plans to have one nation, one flag and one anthem. But the steps that Colombo has taken after vanquishing the LTTE do not hold much promise for the Tamils.

resident Rajapaksa continues to oppose the decentralisation of power even within a unitary government. This is injurious to the Sri Lankan government's health. A disgruntled Tamil community within and outside its borders may give rise to extremism once again. Colombo does not have to change Rajapaksa, but must put pressure on him to change his style of governance, which is dynastic and dictatorial.

New Delhi has allocated a large sum of money for rehabilitating the Tamils who have suffered during the war. Still, 300,000 Tamils are languishing in camps or living in the open although the war ended more than a year ago. The Tamils in Lanka continue to be discriminated against. A democracy has to treat all citizens equally. The Sinhalese are in a majority and the Tamils a minority. Together, they constitute the nation.

New Delhi, which enjoys good relations with Colombo, has been under pressure from Tamil Nadu to get a better deal for the Tamils. Sri Lanka needs a federal structure so that the North feels that it is a part of the country.

But to spite New Delhi the Rajapaksa government has started building close relations with Pakistan and China, India's rivals. However irritating, this does not change New Delhi's policy of befriending Sri Lanka and helping it get a system where Tamils have political participation. This is in Colombo's own interest.

 
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