The war has ended but Sri Lanka’s Tamils are caught between a hard place and a harder place. Whichever way the forthcoming presidential elections pan out, the choice is between two people, neither of whom have too much love lost for the island’s Tamil ethnic minority. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now the undisputed strongman of Sri Lanka after his army crushed the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) and with it ended the 25-year-long civil war, faces challenger and former army chief Sarath Fonseka, himself a staunch Sinhala nationalist. It is difficult to see the hawkish Mr Fonseka either trim presidential powers or, indeed, come to a political settlement with the Tamils any more than Mr Rajapaksa will. Flush with success after the killing of the LTTE’s once dreaded supremo V. Prabhakaran, Mr Rajapaksa had proclaimed that he would be the saviour of the Tamils. The 13th amendment that would devolve powers to the Tamils in the areas where they are in a majority has been quietly put on the backburner. Mr Fonseka vaguely talks of equal rights, but there is nothing in his record that suggests that he will be any better for the Tamils than Mr Rajapaksa.
The military conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians most of whom continue to live in hellish conditions in camps. Their rehabilitation seems a forgotten issue. The only power that can effectively put pressure on whoever wins the election seems to be India. But New Delhi has maintained a deafening silence on the issue. However, it would be shortsighted to hope that the Tamil problem will go away.
With their ethnic ties to mainland India, the issue of refugees, even a regrouping of militant forces, are very much threats that India has to factor in into any Sri Lanka policy. Caught between a murderous LTTE and a rampaging Sri Lankan army, the island’s Tamils today find that they have no credible leader to speak on their behalf. While New Delhi should not be seen to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal matters, it can urge a political resolution of the Tamil problem since India is also affected by its fallout. Both Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Fonseka have put relations with India up in the arc lights. Post-elections, India must become a bit more proactive and try and bring a closure to a painful chapter in the history of both India and Sri Lanka by helping the Tamils rebuild their shattered lives.