After nearly three decades of fighting, a UN report had found that a close to 40,000 people may have been killed in the final phase of the war. But the Sri Lankan government had disputed those figures and stressed that it was unfair to investigate only the final phase of war and constantly called for a comprehensive investigation during the whole quarter-century war. Recently India has abstained from a vote sponsored by U.S on human rights issue in Sri Lanka. Prior to this vote India has voted twice against Sri Lanka on the human rights issue succumbing to pressure from regional parties. The recent vote for enquiry by international groups undermines the sovereignty of a nation and India did the right job by abstaining from the vote. The abstention from the recent vote is a voice louder than any other that India is against any foreign intervention that undermines the sovereignty of a nation. The abstention from the recent vote had been lauded by the government of Sri Lanka and the opposition alike.
The recent stand of India on the human rights issue in Sri Lanka has helped in easing the strained relations with Sri Lanka that resulted from the previous two votes. Sri Lanka is important to India strategically, culturally and economically. India's exports to Sri Lanka accounts for about $5 billion and India cannot undermine the volume of trade it does with Sri Lanka. No foreign policy matter of India can be discussed without mentioning Pakistan and China. China has got India strategically covered with its famous "String of Pearls" network and we are already playing second to China in Sri Lanka. In the past decade, Sri Lanka had moved closer to China and we started losing our hold on the island nation which has a considerable number of ethnic Indians. Pakistan not only rejected the vote but, even introduced a motion to remove the entire clause of international enquiry body. This is a move known to be favoring Sri Lanka which would help Pakistan to build strong relations with Sri Lanka. With both China and Pakistan gaining ground and considering the tense relations with both these nations, India cannot afford to lose another important ally in the Indian Ocean.
No independent nation would like to have any enquiries that would undermine its sovereignty. Had India supported this vote, this would have given separatist groups and other nations a chance to point a finger at our own backyard. With alleged human rights violations in Kashmir and North east, being a sovereign nation India will not allow any international inquiry, if at all there is any such vote against India. Thus India had done a commendable job by not supporting the vote there by protecting even its sovereignty. A strong foreign policy is necessary for India for its strategic and economic goals. With coalitions being norm of the day, the regional parties are having a strong say in the foreign policy matters of the nation. India's vote against Sri Lanka in previous two instances and Teestla issue with Bangladesh is an example of the influence of regional parties on national foreign policy. When it comes to foreign policy, the national interest should take preference over regional interests and India's recent stand on human rights issue in Sri Lanka have shown that India was not subdued under the influence of regional parties.
Also, the recent abstention from the vote was a resourceful move from India. Sri Lanka has ordered the release of all fishermen as a good will gesture for India's abstention from the vote. Though India did not support the vote, it has not rejected the vote either there by giving a subtle message that it opposed the violation of human rights, and simultaneously upheld that sovereignty of the country cannot be undermined. Thus, without giving in to pressure from countries like US and regional parties to support the vote, India has sent a strong message across the world that we play a key role as a regional power and our national foreign policy is clearly woven around our strategic and economic interests.
India cannot afford to be against the Tamils in Sri Lanka. With the three decade war ending, the only safeguard for Tamils in Sri Lanka is the delivery of promised devolution based on the 13th Amendment. The government has to make sure that the Tamils secure their rights. Though we upheld the sovereignty of the Sri Lanka by abstaining from the vote, we need to reach out to Colombo and drive home the point for delivery of justice on the alleged war crimes. The government has the responsibility to protect the ethic Indians not in Sri Lanka alone, but all across the globe.
V. Dileep Raghava