Much ado about nothing

Thursday, 26 April 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Few statements can sum up the recent Indian Parliamentary delegation visit better than the famous quote from the bard. When the dust had settled from the flurry of meetings and statements from both sides, it really did seem as though the whole event was “much ado about nothing”.

The Indian Parliamentary delegation hit the headlines for two reasons. One was the cooling of relations between the Sri Lankan Government and India after the latter’s decision to vote for the US resolution on Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March. The other was the hope that at this delegation would be able to build on the discussions and pledges made when Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visited Sri Lanka and help bring more clarity to the question of power devolution.

Pessimists may say that this goal was doomed from the start given the Government stance but contradictory reports emerged during the tour to hint that perhaps the Sri Lankan Government had touched upon the 13 Plus Amendment but this was later dismissed or denied by other ministers.

The smoke and mirrors tactic is made worse by the fact that no clear statement was released on how far discussions on power devolution had progressed between the delegation and the Government. The refusal of Tamil Nadu politicians to join the delegation also caused it to lack inclusivity back in India and bring the real sticking points of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Government standoff into the limelight.

Acting Cabinet Spokesman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa last week echoed the official Government stance that the TNA could voice their views by becoming part of the Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to discuss power devolution. This made the TNA recede to its original platform of insisting that a basic agreement should be reached through one-on-one discussions with the Government before the Parliamentary Committee could even be considered.

All this took place in the midst of much chatter from top Government players including Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa who said that if Tamil politicians wanted Eelam, they could form it in South India since Sri Lanka’s neighbour had more Tamil people. However, despite these tense undercurrents, Indian Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj who led the delegation summarised the tour as “satisfactory”. On her return she had debriefed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and according to Indian media reports insists that the 13th Amendment and power devolution was discussed.

Yet is seems that there was no commitment on a way forward from the Sri Lankan Government. On the positive side the Indian delegation was pleased with the rehabilitation efforts and praised the Government’s investment in these tasks. It was clear that Swaraj had raised the issue of military withdrawal in the north, which is also among the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), but the Government remains reluctant to make a commitment to this and other issues.

Therefore, the main issues of power devolution, withdrawal of military and removal of High Security Zones and division of land and Police powers all remain unresolved. The Government and TNA stance remains the same and at best the only thing Swaraj and her fellow delegates can lay claim to is that they reverted Sri Lankan and Indian relations to the pre-UNHRC time.