Essay on the relations between India and Sri Lanka

Indian involvement in Sri Lanka has rather been strange. It is said that India sent IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force] to Sri Lanka on the request of President Jayawardene. The things do not seem so simple.

Culturally Sri Lanka is nearest to India among the SAARC countries. Pakistan and Bangladesh are Islamic countries. Maladives is a predominantly Muslim country, Nepal, of course, has a culture akin to that of India as the movement between India and Nepal has always been unrestricted. Nepal apart, we have a close contact with the people of Sri Lanka for many centuries.

Majority of the people of that country have their origin in this country. There was huge influx of Buddhist monks and their followers in that country from India in and after the sixth century. Although Sinhalese population was thin at that time it grew strong as the Indians adopted Sinhalese culture influencing it both in number and spirit. It became one ethnic group.

Another mass migration of population started from India to the island a little before the advent of the Britishers. A large number of Hindu Tamilians settled in the uninhabited North. As the roads were constructed and railway lines extended to this area during British regime there was an assimilation of Tamilians and Sinhalese.

The religious and ethnic differences did not affect this assimilation. Tamilians being more educated influenced the life of the Sinhalese. They gave a push to the education, administration, police services and business not simply in the North but in the South too. This involvement of India in Sri Lanka was a healthy one as administratively Ceylon, as it was formerly known, was a unit of British administration in India.

Unfortunately Indian leaders accepted partition of the country before the Britishers left. It also meant formation of two more countries Ceylon and Burma. Indian leadership was in a hurry. Instead of fighting for a united India it accepted the British design of sowing the seeds of disintegration. It did not insist even on something like a confederation. It brought havoc in Sri Lanka.

Tamilians were apparently close to India as they had blood relations with people in India. They were predominantly in the northern region which was very close to Tamil Nadu. But for all purposes they were Sri Lankan citizens living there for many centuries. Still the ethnic differences and their dominance in many fields became an eye sore for the Sinhalese. It gave rise to bloody fight in 1983 and thereafter.

Instead of demanding a confederation of the North and the South Tamilians started a demand for Tamil Eelam. Indian leaders could not play a healthy part in this struggle. The pact between President Jayawardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was one of the blunders committed by the Indian leader. It was an immature decision to send Indian army to the island as Indian Peace Keeping Force—peace between or among whom! Tamilians were not a united force. They had more than half a dozen militant groups. The most important were LTTE and EPRLF. What was the purpose of sending IPKF ? Was it to bring Tamilians to surrender or was it to force Sri Lankan government to let the Tamilians have their due?

The issues were mainly between LTTE which had a sway over the North and the Sri Lankan Government. If we had to make any efforts they ought to have been in the direction of bringing a settlement between the two. But our forces were compelled to do strange things. First they were asked not to shoot. The Indian intelligence had no knowledge about the political equations there. Instead of bringing peace between LTTE and the Sri Lankan government the Indian army was at war with LTTE. LTTE had earlier the sympathy of India. Now they were our enemies; and who was our friend in the island. Sri Lankan government enjoyed Indians killing the people of Indian origin and being killed.

Indian army was instrumental in bringing EPRLF to power in the North Eastern Region through elections. How long could this remain in power? As soon as IPKF withdrew which, ultimately, it had to do LTTE again become strong. EPRLF had no grassroots work. With six more Tamil militant organizations the Tamils were a divided house. What did India gain by this so called legal infiltration of army on the soil of another country? We were not liked by the Tamilians. We are not liked by the Sri Lankan government. We were hated by JVM, the militant Sinhalese organization. We have lost credibility in South Asia besides losing some 1,200 soldiers. The cost of this three years experiment was borne by the Indian tax payer for the follies of the people high up on the political ladder. We received back our brave soldiers, more than 2,500 wounded—a large number badly crippled. They fought not for their country but for the whims of politicians who manage many a thing simply to save their chairs. What an irony of fate the Ex-Prime Minister of India had to pay for his immaturity with his blood at the hands of a member of an extremist Sri Lankan Tamilian Outfit in Tamil Nadu itself. The change of government on both sides of the Palk Straits has not made much difference.

Tamil Nadu government has to be cautious of the LTTE pockets in Tamil Nadu. With all the ethnic kinship they may strike anywhere in the Southern peninsula as they feel that neither the centre (Delhi) nor the State (TN) are interested in burning their figures in Sri Lankan politics.

Relations between India and Sri Lanka depend upon how we can help the formation of a loose type of federal structure in Sri Lanka. As the political situation in both countries is fluid Sri Lankan President Premdasa having been killed as was Rajiv Gandhi the new President although well settled but India passing through a long period of coalition governments—our mutual relations still delude us.