India Intelligence Report
 

India Wants “Southern Consensus” in Lanka

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told former Sri Lankan Prime Minister and current Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that Lanka needs a “southern consensus” between the two major parties to deal with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramunna (JVP) are at odds on how to proceed with their dealings with the LTTE. 

The SLFP wants to negotiate a settlement with the LTTE while the JVP is opposed to any negotiations and is against the current peace processes facilitated by the Norway. The SLFP won major victories in local elections leading analysts to believe that people have voted for peace. The “southern consensus” concept refers to the unity of the two parties in the fundamental approach to dealing with the LTTE.

Wickremesinghe’s visit coincides with Rajapakse’s visit to Pakistan where Lanka and Pakistan signed three minor agreements and promised to fight terror together. Wickremesinghe is seen as a major peace-dove that had the support of LTTE in previous elections. However, in the last elections, the LTTE did not endorse him leading to his loss. 

 

Analysts have speculated on reasons for the lack of LTTE endorsement of Wickremesinghe. Some say that the LTTE wanted more from Lanka and punished Wickremesinghe for not delivering enough—referring to the stalled peace process. Most others believe that the LTTE wanted to escalate the situation by getting a non-peace process politician into power so they can pick a fight and continue the civil war. Many accuse the LTTE of not really desiring peace.

The LTTE says that it desires peace but at respectable terms. They accuse the Lankan Government of lack of goodwill negotiations, encouraging militia to kill their cadre, and inciting the Tamil Muslims  to fight them. The Lanka Government rejects this charge. 

However, the lack of unity or political consensus among both the Government and the Tamil leadership is creating a stalemate situation. That is what Singh was asking Wickremesinghe to do.

An obviously unimpressed Wickremesinghe said that while India has been talking about this “southern consensus” for a while, he encouraged the country to be more transparent. India has repeatedly insisted that it wants a unified Sri Lanka and for the promotion of a pluralism in Lanka. However, Wickremesinghe wants more but acknowledges that India is doing its “best” and India is unable to give more. 

The reasons are multi-faceted. Firstly, India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu shares ethnic, history, language, and culture with Lankan Tamils and will not accept any deal that will marginalize them. Secondly, it is now widely acknowledged that the Lankan Tamils have been systematically oppressed, discriminated against, and denied development and further denial of rights and growth is not acceptable in India. Thirdly, India has banned the LTTE and blames it for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi but also recognizes that it has large support in Sri Lanka and hence the conclusion that it cannot be ignored in any settlement. Fourthly, India’s failed military experiment with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the 80s has made it shy of taking any military position on this conflict. Fifthly, since Lanka itself is not clear how to proceed, it is impractical for India to advocate a path.