India absolutely clueless about what real stakes in Sri Lanka are: Pant

‘State-managed crisis’ by India hides Vadra, AugustaWestland issues, says international relations expert.

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By Bhadra Sree

NEW DELHI: The Indian government’s breakup with its former ally DMK following support of the contentious US-sponsored UNHRC resolution condemning Sri Lanka, in Geneva, is more of a “political power play” and a “state-managed crisis” which helps the government hide other crises that arose for its credibility, like the Robert Vadra issue and the AugustaWestland deal, among others, says Pushpesh Pant, a leading authority on international relations.

Pant, who retired as a Professor of International Relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, designed and developed the basic course on Indian foreign policy for the IFS Institute in 2001. Author of several books, he has a passion for writing on food also, and his book, India: The Cookbook (2011) was named by The New York Times as one of the best cookbooks of the year.

In an interview to The American Bazaar, Pant speaks of the importance of keeping close bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, and hopes that Sri Lanka takes a “charitable view” of the “dithering” diplomacy of the Indian government.

Excerpts from the interview:

Will the ruling UPA coalition be affected in the future after the DMK pull out? Is there an internal crisis surfacing in the Indian government?

The ruling coalition isn’t going to be seriously affected by DMK withdrawing from the government. It can survive, albeit tensely, with SP and BSP support. I don’t think that the CBI raids in the DMK leader Karunanidhi’s son Stalin makes any material difference to the situation. They only expose once again the crude bungling manipulation of the agency by this government.

Are the recent protests in Tamil Nadu against the UNHRC resolution going to effect the upcoming elections in India?

Not really. Except in Tamil Nadu that has been ‘lost’ to the Congress for almost four decades! Caste, communal strife, bread and butter issues will dominate the discourse in the heartland where the center of gravity rests. The UNHRC vote is already forgotten.

A “diluted” and “useless” resolution. That’s how DMK described the UNHRC resolution. DMK Chief M Karunanidhi justified his party’s decision to withdraw support to UPA government on the Sri Lankan- Tamil issue but at the same time refused to term the Centre’s stand as a “betrayal”. Do you think there is a double standard in his statement?

The US Resolution did in the end turn out to be damp squib; a dud that succeeded only in destroying the credibility of India’s foreign policy pronouncements. The Indian government allowed itself to be blackmailed by a coalition partner and tied itself in knots. No useful purpose is served now by analyzing the text or earlier drafts. India stands isolated from rest of Asian nations that matter.

Amnesty International as well as Human Rights Watch noted that the new UN resolution did a good job of highlighting past and ongoing human rights violations in Sri Lanka, but regrettably failed to establish an “independent and international investigation” into alleged crimes. How do you justify their statements in the Indian context?

To my mind neither the Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch have any significance in contemporary international relations. Their impotence in the context of US violations in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. is glaring. They aren’t even a blip on average Indian’s mind.

Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy said, “In an oblique way, the US draft is a victory for Sri Lanka since no one has called the human rights violation as state-sponsored”. Do you think it would have been a better option for India, had they taken a firm stand by opposing the resolution? If so what would have been the implication?

I find myself in total agreement with Dr. Swamy.

What is your opinion regarding the Trinamool Congress’ stand on this issue? Mamta Banerjee withdrew her support quite earlier but this time she seemed to be a bit softened in her approach to the government, saying that ‘external affairs are exclusively a decision of the government’. How do you evaluate this new attitude of TMC?

TMC’s stand is consistent with Mamta’s unpredictable swings. It was an opportunist moment to ingratiate herself with DMK and project her image as a people’s leader with Pan-India appeal. People are more interested in the challenge she has thrown to the Election Commission on local bodies’ re-election than this posturing.

What do think will be the future of India-Sri Lanka relations with the back drop of a strong Tamil sentiment on the issue?

One can only hope that Sri Lanka takes a charitable view of the coalition constraints of a directionless Indian government’s dithering diplomacy and don’t react or retaliate in a manner that damages bilateral relations. Difficult road ahead. Our government is absolutely clueless about what our real stakes in Sri Lanka are. With survival endangered, its vision is blurred irreparably.

India cannot afford to stake the bilateral relations with Sri Lanka as we are the largest trading partners with them. India is quite worried about China and Pakistan stepping into an area which is of vital significance to us. Only Tamil Nadu has a disagreement with Sri Lankans, while the rest of the country supports the bilateral trade and economic relations with Sri Lanka. We have a substantial interest in maintaining good bilateral relations with Sri Lanka. There is a need for national reconciliation through political settlement.

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