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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 107

Sri Lanka: End of India’s ‘Panchasheel’

By Janaka Perera

The level of Indian participation in this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) reflects the deterioration of Indo-Lanka relations within a span of less than 40 years. When the last major international conference, the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, was held in Sri Lanka in 1976 the ties between the two countries were at their peak. The Bandaranaike and Gandhi families were like relatives.

Up to the end of the 1970s Sri Lanka was one of the very few South Asian countries which had the least problems with India both having maintained systems of parliamentary democracy despite many shortcomings. In 1976 when the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attended the NAM summit Sri Lanka’s PM Sirima Bandaranaike vacated her official residence ‘Temple Trees’ for Gandhi to stay there for the duration of the conference.

Two years before, in 1974, the two leaders signed a pact where they agreed to grant citizenship to the 150,000 Indian Tamils whose status was left resolved by the Sirima-Shastri Pact of 1964 under which 525,000 Indian Tamils were to be repatriated. Another 300,000 would be offered Sri Lanka citizenship.

Despite her close relations with Indian Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, Mrs. Bandaranaike held firm to Sri Lanka’s national interest.

Not surprisingly Tamil extremists were highly critical of these agreements calling them Indian collusion with Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) against Tamils. But that was the time Indian centre was strong and therefore its decisions could not been swayed by parochial politics. Earlier the centre under Prime Minister Nehru had dealt successfully withTamil secessionism in South India.

Those were the days when India under Nehru agreed to abide by Panchasheel - the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence – a set of principles to govern relations between States. The principles were:

1. Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

2. Mutual non-aggression.

3. Mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs.

4. Equality and mutual benefit.

5. Peaceful co-existence.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru emphasized these principles in a broadcast speech at the time of the Asian Prime Ministers Conference at Colombo, a few days after the Sino-Indian treaty was signed in Beijing. The five principles were subsequently incorporated in modified form in a statement of 10 principles at the historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955.

India’s first ignored the principles when she intervened in former East Pakistan, leading to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. By the 1980s India’s commitment to the same principles concerning Sri Lanka too began to decline rapidly. Also contributing to this state of affairs were the blunders the UNP Government committed after coming to power in 1977.

The steps India took to halt SL’s successful anti-LTTE military offensive in 1987 heralded the beginning of the end of Delhi’s Panchsheel. Delhi’s scant regard for the five principles was epitomized by India’s then High Commissioner in Colombo J.N. Dixit – better known as India’s ‘Viceroy’ in Sri Lanka for he apparently considered this country an Indian protectorate.

India’s Sri Lanka policy since the 1980s prompted a Sri Lankan writer Palitha Senanayake to state: “If Sri Lanka is to solve the ‘Tamil problem’ once and for all, it has to physically drag the island away from its present location and locate it in a place away from the ambit of India.” (Chapter 19 in the book, Sri Lanka – The War Fuelled by Peace)

Today it goes without saying that the Indian Centre has become the virtual hostage of Tamil Nadu’s racist politics which are completely indifferent to the geopolitical realities of the region and India’s own long-term foreign policy interests. There is no better example of this than Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s failure to participate in the CHOGM.

In an interview with the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, this week, India’s Janatha Party President Subramanian Swamy attributed Manmohan Singh’s non-participation to Sonia Gandhi and her Congress politics.

- Asian Tribune -

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