Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Sri Lanka was the first official visit of an Indian Prime Minister for the last 28 years. It was presented as a diplomatic victory of the present government. However, the unpleasant incident that took place 28 years ago along with the message hidden in statements made by Modi in Sri Lanka justifies the absence of Indian Prime Ministers for the last 28 years.
Rajiv Gandhi was the last Indian Prime Minister to make an official visit to Sri Lanka. He visited Sri Lanka in July 1987 to sign Indo-Lanka Accord. Protests triggered by his visit caused the deaths of 67,000 youths along with destroying government property and killing government officers. Before his return, Rajiv Gandhi was attacked by a sailor of the Sri Lanka Navy.
The Indo–Lanka Accord was quite similar to the Kandyan Convention signed in 1815 surrendering our sovereignty to the British Empire. Sri Lanka has surrendered its sovereignty to India by this Accord. Nobody feels it is a surrendering document when it is perused. Its real repercussions can be understood when it is read with the letters exchanged by President of Sri Lanka and the Prime Minister of India along with the accord. The contents of the letters were so shameful that the leaders of both nations agreed not to include those in the agreement. That is why they were forced to exchange letters soon after signing the accord. Although it was an exchange of letters, what really happened was accepting conditions mentioned in the letter sent by the Prime Minister of India, by President of Sri Lanka.
Hiding arrogance in refined language
India had attempted its best to hide its arrogance in a refined diplomatic language. According to the letter, Sri Lanka should not obtain services of military forces and intelligence services disliked by India. Accordingly, Sri Lanka was forced to discontinue the training given to Special Forces by the Green Berets of the US Army and to intelligence services by Mossad of Israel. Further, foreign war ships should not obtain any port service in Sri Lanka without the consent of India. Accordingly, if a foreign war ship enters into a Sri Lankan port to obtain fuel or other supplies, it should receive the nod from India. Recently, India protested to a Chinese war ship docked at Colombo Port relying on this provision in Indo–Lanka Accord.
Thirdly, India and Sri Lanka should establish a partnership to repair and operate strategically important massive oil tanks in Trincomalee. Because of this clause, these tanks cannot be used by any other country to refuel military ships and planes during a war.
Fourthly, Sri Lanka should review its agreements with foreign radio services to ensure that services are not misused by foreign intelligence services. There was a broadcasting station of Voice of America at Iranawila, Puttlam at that time. India was suspicious that the USA was using this station to spy on India. The real intention of this clause was to discontinue the functioning of this station.
Grossly violated SL sovereignty
India has grossly violated the sovereignty of Sri Lanka by forcing it to honour the above four conditions. India was smart enough to decorate the ugly cake with a lot of icing on it. In order to cover the above conditions, India repeated a clause of the Indo–Lanka Accord in that letter by promising to expel Sri Lankan terrorists from India in addition to providing military training to Sri Lankan forces.
The subjects contained in the Indo–Lanka Accord were not bilateral issues but internal issues of Sri Lanka. It says that the North and the East of Sri Lanka are historical habitats of Tamil speaking people. It further states that a single Provincial Council should be established for the Northern and the Eastern provinces. It specified the extent to which power should be devolved to Provincial Councils. Tamil was granted official language status as a result of this accord. Sri Lanka agreed to hold the first Provincial Council election for the North and the East and the referendum mentioned in the Accord, under the supervision of India. India has ensured the security of all communities who live in the North and the East of Sri Lanka. All the above items are internal issues that should be dealt with independently by a sovereign nation.
According to Section 2.16 of the Accord, Sri Lankan obligations are conditional to fulfilling Indian obligations. India would fulfil five obligations, if Tamil separatists failed to surrender weapons within 120 hours. As all of us know, the LTTE did not surrender weapons as agreed. Hence, India was duty bound to fulfil its obligations.
Firstly, it undertook to ensure that Indian territory would not be used by Tamil separatists against Sri Lanka. Secondly, India agreed to conduct joint patrolling by Sri Lankan and Indian Navies. Thirdly, India undertook to provide military assistance to Sri Lanka as and when requested by Sri Lankan government. Fourthly, India promised to expedite dispatching Indian citizens in Sri Lanka to India. Fifthly, India ensured safety of all communities who live in the North and the East. I have explained in detail how India breached all these obligations, in this column dated 30 June 2013.
Devolution of power
Sri Lanka should fulfil its obligations such as devolution of power to Provincial Councils and establishing a single Provincial Council for the North and the East, only if India has fulfilled its obligations. As India failed to fulfil any of its obligations, Sri Lanka has no bilateral obligation to implement the Accord. It is now a discretionary matter for Sri Lanka to decide.
Indo–Lanka relations reached the lowest level after forcing the Indo–Lanka Accord on Sri Lanka. Whenever a Sri Lankan leader visited India or an Indian Foreign Minister visited Sri Lanka, India reminded Sri Lanka to devolve powers to the Provincial Councils in terms of the Accord. Further, India emphasized that Sri Lanka should devolve power beyond the 13th Amendment. However, India conveniently forgot the fact that India failed to fulfill its obligations which are a pre-requisite for Sri Lanka to fulfil its obligations. India openly supported Tamil separatists both domestically and internationally. As long as India behaves like an enemy, Sri Lanka had no reason to invite Indian Prime Minister to make an official visit to Sri Lanka.
Premier Modi behaved in Sri Lanka as if he was not in a friendly nation but in an Indian colony. He advised Sri Lanka to treat all communities alike. He went on to advise not only to implement the 13th Amendment in full but also to go beyond it. His behaviour reflected that of a strict big brother who advises a mischievous younger brother.
Premier Modi focused on internal matters of Sri Lanka instead of bilateral issues in his speeches. His hidden message was that the Sri Lankan government should govern the country as wished and directed by India. In other words, he used his visit to remind us that Sri Lanka became a semi-colony of India after Indo–Lanka Accord. We do not need Indian Prime Minister -visits to remind us of bad memories.