How not to conduct foreign relations…

jayalalitha-winsWe might be deluded into thinking all politics is local, but a tactless article published in the Ministry of Defence website, has proved otherwise and has served to prod home Newton’s Third Law of Motion in no uncertain terms, with the equal and opposite reaction continuing to reverberate in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi. The Sri Lankan Government might consider itself invincible in the home front courtesy a non-existent Opposition, the over-extended euphoria of defeating a terror outfit and ending a thirty-year war, and the many post war developments, not just on the economic front. However, its Achilles heel continues to be exposed in its serial foreign relations faux pas. 

The latest fiasco is the ‘derogatory’ article in the official website of the Ministry of Defence, which has not only brought immense disrepute to the government, but also made an arrogant protagonist literally eat humble pie! The uproar caused by the article titled ‘How meaningful are Jayalalithaa’s love letters to Narendra Modi?’ which appeared with a graphic portrayal of the Indian Prime Minister and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, forced the Ministry of Defence to remove all traces of the article from its website and for the Rajapaksa Government to tender an “unqualified apology” to both parties. However, the apology came with a rider claiming that the article was published “without proper authorization and didn’t reflect the government’s official position,” both denting the sincerity of the expression of regret and revealing how out of control things have become. For, if what is published in a Government Ministry’s website has no proper authorization, then something, as they say, is very rotten in the scheme of things. 

What is even more ironical, if not amusing, is that a ministry that has gone out of its way to ban certain websites for alleged publication of material that are deemed defamatory of the Sri Lankan Government and the top members of the hierarchy has allowed its own website to be abused by some local writers who may have their own private agendas.

Taken in the context of the very volatile nature of the relations between the Indian Southern State of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, it is unpardonable that such a serious mishap was tolerated in the highest echelons of the administration. A swift apology was warranted and it was made with no delay. At least on that count the government must be commended. But it might prove insufficient if the continuing clamour for strong action not only in Tamil Nadu but in New Delhi as well, is anything to go by.

The article has helped crank up the emotional Richter in Tamil Nadu bringing back to focus the unresolved issues and giving Jayalalithaa another extended moment in the limelight. The uproar in the India Parliament not only saw the Rajya Sabha forced into two adjournments on Monday during the question hour with AIADMK members trooping near the Chairman’s podium to protest, but also the new Sri Lankan High Commissioner being summoned by the External Affairs Ministry on Tuesday and conveyed the “anger and concerns” among the Indian parliamentarians on the issue in the strongest possible words.

Playing politics to the local voters may seem quite simple and easy. Yet when decision-makers sit down to conduct foreign relations, it requires a higher set of standards and it demands that diplomatic protocol is maintained at all times with no room left for any mishap, perceived or otherwise, that might jeopardize relations between two neighbouring countries.

One could express censorious views against a neighbouring country and her government in a media organ, mainstream or new. But an official website of a ministry is no such tool for vested interests to abuse and manipulate. What is at stake is more than another opinion regarding a neighbour. Foreign relations should not be conducted according to the whims and fancies of individuals. It should be done on a more professional and diplomatic level.

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