Engagement, Not Boycott, for Lanka
It is welcome that Narendra Modi has chosen to override the protest from his newfound allies in Tamil Nadu, apart from the main Tamil parties, to go ahead with his invitation to Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa to his swearing-in ceremony. It is also welcome that Rajapaksa has demonstrated his willingness to reciprocate this show of goodwill by releasing fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who often stray beyond India’s own territorial waters, who had been jailed in Sri Lanka. This show of mutual goodwill does not substitute for substantive constitutional reform in Sri Lanka, to give the country’s beleaguered Tamil minority a modicum of political empowerment and agency after a long, bitter history of oppression, revolt and defeat. New Delhi has to be guided not so much by the posturing and politicking in Tamil Nadu in the name of Lankan Tamils, but by what will benefit the Tamil minority of our southern neighbour. And there is little gainsaying that engagement with the Rajapaksa government is the only way to influence that government’s policies in a manner that is favourable to the Tamil minority. India’s role as the largest power of South Asia cannot be leveraged in any productive fashion by New Delhi going into a sulk. At the same time, the Centre cannot afford to wish away the reality that five years after the brutal war that wiped out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and subsequent consolidation of power by the Rajapaksa clan, there has been little sign of Colombo living up to its promise to devolve political power to the Tamils. Nor can New Delhi ignore the impact this has on sentiment in Tamil Nadu. So, once the ceremonial bonhomie of the inauguration is over, proactive measures are in order to make Colombo do the right thing by its Tamil minority.