A day ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s crucial round of talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, Indian officials are irked by what they term the Sri Lankan government’s “intransigent” attitude towards the country’s ethnic problem. Having urged Colombo to come up with a concrete devolution formula and outline a specific roadmap to grant maximum autonomy to the ethnic Tamil minority in the north and east of Sri Lanka, New Delhi is finding its advice increasingly ignored.
India has been telling everyone who will listen that both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE need to get back to the table. It was not only important to maintain the ceasefire (in place since February 2002 and now all but abandoned), but also to seek a just and federal solution within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said. LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s statement on Monday, seeking independence from Colombo, has not helped matters, officials said. But, according to a former Indian envoy to Sri Lanka, ever since the Rajapakse government came to power a year ago, the path they have chosen has been “one of confrontation with LTTE,” not conciliation with the ethnic minority.
President Rajapakse is on record saying the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) does not represent the will of the Tamil population of Sri Lanka. But his government’s policy has been to “militarily resolve the problem,” an official said, creating a humanitarian crisis in the island nation. The bombardments and counter-attacks along the blocked A-9 highway (the lifeline to Jaffna in the north) have created massive shortages of basic commodities and caught a large population of Sri Lankan Tamil citizens in the cross-fire, most of whom have fled to India for refuge.
With the DMK government in Chennai a close ally, pressure on the UPA government in New Delhi are rising. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, whose husband Rajiv Gandhi the LTTE is accused of killing, met Rajapakse as he began his political tete-a-tete with Indian leaders.
Political entities in Tamil Nadu are adamant India should not enter any defence pact or any agreement on joint patrolling of the Palk Straits, mooted by Colombo and have urged Singh to be firm with Rajapakse.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee called on Rajapakse and held discussions on bilateral relations as well as the peace process in Lanka. Mukherjee, who held delegation-level talks with Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, hoped "there would be early progress in the peace process so that all ethnic communities in Sri Lanka can live harmoniously and are able to achieve their aspirations," MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna said.
Email Nilova Roy Chaudhury: nilova @hindustantimes.com