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We're missing the big picture

india Updated: Mar 22, 2012 23:28 IST

Hindustan Times
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Most Indians are happy to think about the status accruing to United Nations Security Council membership. The past few days have been a reminder of the increased responsibilities that go with a greater global profile. New Delhi has seen a non-binding resolution by a dull international panel regarding one of its smaller neighbours affect its own Parliament and split its foreign policy establishment. To be fair, events in Sri Lanka are important to India. This is not only because India is the Tamil homeland, but more importantly because it is essential that India ensure stability on its periphery before it can consider a global role. But the sight of the Indian system tying itself up in knots about a United Nations Human Rights Commission resolution regarding Sri Lanka's policy towards its Tamil minority during and after the civil war is not reassuring for India's aspirations.

Putting the resolution vote aside, there is one simple fact: the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has done little to address the basic political demands of Sri Lanka's Tamils over the past two years. No one expects the wounds of the civil war to heal quickly. Yet given the enormous popularity he commands, the expectation was that Mr Rajapaksa would easily become a healing leader of a reunited Sri Lanka. Colombo has done well rebuilding the physical infrastructure of its war-ravaged northeast and can claim success in refugee rehabilitation. But it has avoided the crux of the issue which is political engagement. Mr Rajapaksa argues this will take time. He has a 300,000-strong armed force that cannot be demobilised overnight. His own political constituency is fiercely nationalistic. And it cannot be said that the Tamil Tiger threat is wholly extinguished. However, Colombo can, at least, implement some of the proposals made by the government's reconciliation bodies and councils - recommendations Mr Rajapaksa has endorsed.

India's response to the resolution vote - suspicion, mild support, prevarication and then final support - reflects its own divided role. On the one hand it has traditionally been wary of international intervention in the affairs of South Asia and believes subcontinental matters are best settled in New Delhi. However, as its membership in the Security Council testifies, it has aspirations to be part of the global mainstream. Being the world's largest democracy, it is under the pressure of expectations to promote liberalism close by and democracy further field. In this case, given Mr Rajapaksa's stubbornness, New Delhi has reluctantly accepted that the resolution is a mild way to pressure Colombo to be more constructive, even if some clauses like that on war crimes are objectionable. It would have been more effective if India had declared its support for the resolution before the protests of the Tamil parliamentarians. The sense that this was a decision not of calculation but of local emotions is exactly what being a credible global player is not about.