Mahinda and Modi
By Mahinda Pathirana, University of Sabaragamuwa
In the wake of Narendra Modi’s BJP powering into the ‘head office’ of India, Dr. Dayan Jayathilake comes out as usual with a warning to Mahinda Rajapakse. Writing to the ‘The Island’ on 15th May 2014, he says; "Mahinda is caught between a rock and hard place," the rock referring to Narendra Modi and the hard place being Mahinda Rajapaksa’s very Ministry of Defence, which according to some, runs beyond Mahinda’s control. He further forecasts that Sri Lanka, unless this government takes note of, could become India’s Crimea or Bangladesh. The solution he prescribes is an alleged King Dewanampiyatissa type of submission to Modi’s India. A similar line of thought had been expressed by opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as well. This school of thinking has now gone international and the danger is whether these ‘expert opinion’ would drag Mr. Modi into the same frame of reference, while making his Sri Lanka policy.
A timely warning has to be appreciated, for that will persuade the Rajapaksas to do homework on impending dangers. The opinion piece reveals a hidden desire of using Mr. Modi to teach a lesson to Mahinda Rajapaksa, besides instilling unfounded fears into the Sri Lanka psyche.
True that the full time Hindutva hardliner is a rock to be reckoned with. He allegedly participated in the ill-famous Gujarat riots which saw the killing of some thousands of Muslims. In his blood runs none other than the RSS ideology to which he has served since a very young age. Mr Modi’s BJP victory is the culmination of RSS, VHP and many other Hindutva movements in India. But Mr Modi is supposed to emerge a different leader with regard to Sri Lanka, contrary to popular belief.
Jayathilake’s point that the Tamil question has to be properly and adequately addressed is nothing new. It lessens the pressure not only on India, but the rest of the world. But his question, he needs Rajapaksa to ask himself what if Dewanampiyatissa had declined or delayed in converting to the doctrine of the neighbouring metropolis carries the smell of full surrender to India. According to him, Mahinda should willingly or unwillingly be submitting to Modi’s India without delay, as King Dewanampiyatissa allegedly did to Asoka, or face the consequences. This proposal, I think, does not come out of strategic handling of external affairs of a sovereign nation.
Apart from selling the dignity of the country wholesale to India,"converting to the doctrine of India," in the manner Rajapaksa is expected to, endangers our relations with our long time strategic partners in the region, namely China and Pakistan. It was these two countries that threw and is still throwing their full weight behind us in all international forums, including the UNHRC. Hastily compromising and realigning our course of diplomatic action in tune with a personality of a neighbouring leader makes Sri Lanka less trustworthy, unreliable and even ungrateful.
Dr Jayathilake’s argument that a BJP India will feel closer to Hindu Tamils than to the Sinhalese Buddhist doesn’t hold water too. The BJP is deeply rooted in RSS, an originally Brahmin led volunteer organization with a Hindu nationalist agenda. But BJP/RSS Hindu ideology should not be confused with the Hindu religion alone. Religion matters there. But they are more concerned with Hindus as an ethnicity. Dravidians in the southern part of the country do not fit into that frame. It is this ideological condition that keeps the BJP away from Dravidian politics. The BJP/RSS are well aware of the fact that Tamil Nadu is the home for various anti-Hindu-anti Brahmanism in India. The underlying theme of these campaigns was secession and independence from the northerners. Both Dravidar Munnetra Kazhagam parties i. e. the DMK and the AIADMK emerged out of anti-Brahmin movements. Have we ever seen any sympathy for the LTTE or protests against alleged human rights abuses by Sri Lanka outside the Tamil belt in southern India? The latest example of an ideological gap between Tamils and Hindus is the controversy surrounding the release of Rajiv Gandhi killers. All political parties in Tamil Nadu demand their release from prison on the simple basis that they are Tamils.
Again, Dr Dayan tries to make Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue an inherent part of Mr Modi’s Hindutva by quoting Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilization’. Sri Lanka’s problem has never been perceived in Sri Lanka or elsewhere as a clash of civilization between Hindus and Buddhist as claimed by Huntington. This is one of the many places where Prof Samuel Huntington flawed in his thesis. His fallacy lies in the simple fact that he first made his theory and then tried to frame evidences around it. Having seen two different civilizations behind the two main stakeholders i.e. Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka, he conveniently forgot the dynamic of ethnicity in the conflict, so as to service his premeditated theory. Had it not been so, the entirety of Hindu civilization in India and elsewhere would have waged war in Sri Lanka, which was not the case.
By now, it is clear that Modi has been given an unprecedented mandate in the Lok Sabha, after decades of hung parliaments. In this, he can decide his own national and international policies without being unjustifiably driven by the fear of being pulled down. In the recent past, we know, except at the last UN Human Rights Council vote, which reveals the real Indian policy towards Sri Lanka, all the other major external policies regarding Sri Lanka were unfortunately influenced by Tamil Nadu politicians.
In sharp contrast to what Dr Dayan Jayathileke and others see, we have to take a fresh look at India and contemplate the new dynamic. The Indian centre has never been unfriendly towards Sri Lanka since independence from the British, except during JRJ’s times. That would never have happened, had we followed the non-aligned path of Sirimavo. But it is history now. Both India and Sri Lanka have already paid for those emotional politics. I think, having taken this difficult period as a lesson, Modi and Mahinda should go back to pre-Rajiv times to re-discover the lost soul of warm and cordial politics. On our part, Mr Modi, we must understand, is an opportunity awarded to Sri Lanka, given his anti-imperialist, anti-western mind set. Judging by the body language of Mr Modi’s thinking and action, he may not seek his friends in the west, despite a visa ban to Washington now being lifted. He may not get himself stuck in the American policies of divide and profit politics. Mr Modi may turn to Russia and why not China! The time has come in Asia for an Asian political agenda. Mahinda, Modi, Putin and XI know this better than we!