Sri Lanka should continue to engage and help India to reassess its options.
India lost the moral high ground in Geneva on March 22. Exactly a week after the ides of March, thousands of years after the back-stabbing in Rome, India became the only country in Asia to have voted against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, prompting Sri Lankans to ask “You too India?”
From the Rig Vedic times through Upanishadic times and culminating in the teachings of Gautama the Buddha, India has been a beacon to the world, in promoting morality and righteousness. Continuing on from the Great Ashoka to Mahatma Gandhi, the great traditions of righteousness and moral integrity has been the bedrock on which the Indian civilization and statehood has been built. The brutish Empire, on which the sun was never expected to set, was unable to come to terms with the strength of the moral fibre and sinews of righteousness that the Independence movement of the Great Bharath Desh was endowed with under Gandhiji. The massacres perpetrated by British troops, including that of the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ were never used as excuses to veer from the great traditions of righteousness.
Independent India, under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru continued in the tradition of righteousness and moral integrity, symbolized by the ‘Dharma Chakra’ and the ‘Bhagavad Gita’. India continued to be the beacon to countries that were rising from the dehumanizing effects of imperialistic colonization perpetrated on a powerless people in Asia and Africa by England and some countries in Europe. Due to its historical role in supporting countries aspiring to escape from the yolk of colonialism and the practice of frank and upright diplomacy, India was naturally and spontaneously elevated to a leadership role within the Non-Aligned Movement.
It is true that the emergent post-cold war world order, globalization and the neo- liberal economic practices are creating tensions in the world, as countries attempt to redefine relationships with each other, sometimes based on expediency and opportunism. Asia would increasingly be the hub of the global economy in the 21st century. This is forecast by American researchers. India need not be a proxy of the West or hanker after cheap Western popularity to gain her rightful place in the 21st century economic order. The ‘Bharath Desh’, while acquiring new technology and developing innovations to achieve the goal of economic liberation for its people, should not abandon the principles of moral integrity and righteousness, which sustained its civilization and statehood from time immemorial. If India attempts to forge ahead to economic superiority, sacrificing these traditional and age-old strengths, it could earn riches at the cost of integrity.
In this regard it would be useful for Indian citizens to understand what is apparently happening at Goldman Sachs – the much talked about American investment bank. It was only a week before the Geneva vote that Greg Smith, an Executive Director resigned his position, after writing an open letter. The letter received wide publicity in the international media, including the New York Times and the Guardian (and some media in Sri Lanka). He wrote; “to put the problem in the simplest terms, the interest of clients continue to be side-lined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility and always doing right by its clients.” “Today, it is purely about how we can make the most possible money off them.” Smith links this weakness to a weakening of moral principles; “I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fibre represents the single most serious threat to its long run survival.”
Isn’t there some similarity between the alleged new decision-making principles at Goldman Sachs and the way the Indian government decided on how to vote on the US resolution? Many Indian citizens would have felt uncomfortable about India’s decision-making in Geneva, especially the motivations and compulsions that influenced the decision process. The appropriate question is: Did the Geneva decision process represent a decline in India’s moral fibre, in matters of governance and diplomacy?
India not only damaged Sri Lanka’s interests by voting for the resolution, but by widely publicizing its decision well ahead of the vote, which perhaps would have influenced some countries to abstain, or even them compelled to be pushed into the ‘yes’ group. India’s decision is tragic for two reasons; one, Sri Lanka had always stood firm in its support to India in all its international dealings and hence felt that it was stabbed in the back (The only exception occurred during the Jayewardene administration when, to the consternation and dismay of the majority of the Sri Lankan citizens, rude, unfair and undiplomatic comments were made about key Indian statesmen. The Indian response was quick and in hindsight disproportionate – the arming of a nascent terrorist movement which grew to be the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization – the LTTE). The second and the greater tragedy, I believe, is the effect of the Geneva vote on India itself. The type of compulsions and pressures brought on the Indian establishment, both externally and internally, culminated in India’s decision to oppose Sri Lanka on March 22. The decision would have been influenced by domestic political blackmail and the inability to handle pressure applied by a hard-lobbying, dominant world power. In this instance, ethics, morality and righteousness seem to have been put on the back-burner, (to borrow an American phrase). Many Sri Lankans believe this to be the case. Perhaps, many citizens in the 23 countries who abstained or voted against, despite enormous external pressure, would also hold a similar view. It is now up to Indian citizens, to debate whether India’s unprecedented stand against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC has undermined the moral integrity of state decision-making and diplomacy.
The ‘Bhagavad Gita’, which provided inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi, describes the importance of ‘Nishkam Karma’ (Selfless Action) in performing duties or ‘dharma’. I quote from the publication Harvard Classics, Vol. 45 Part 4 The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2-165:
“But thou, want not! Ask not! Find full reward of doing right in right! Let right deeds be thy motive, not the fruit which comes from them.”
However, let Sri Lankans be gracious and thankful to India for earlier assistance. For, we know that India stood firm in supporting Sri Lanka during the crucial phase of the humanitarian campaign waged against the most ruthless terrorist outfit, the LTTE. Let the Sri Lankan state and the people continue to engage India in a friendly, positive and constructive manner. Let there be no ill-founded and or insensitive rhetoric emanating from Sri Lankan government ranks, the Opposition, or its citizens. One aberration cannot and should not be allowed to negatively affect the warm bonds that span a period of over 2000 years.
It is certain that many enlightened Indian citizens will continue to debate and reflect upon the propriety of India’s official position in Geneva, against Sri Lanka. An India with a guilt-complex towards Sri Lanka, would be a much more useful ally, if engaged judiciously, strategically and intelligently, than a self-righteous and supremely confident India placed in a morally superior position. For it is apparent to many world citizens, including many open-minded westerners who are facing threats of terrorism, or whose countries are fighting terrorism, that differing and variable measures are being applied to assess responses against terrorism, from country to country, based mainly on political motivations.
Size, might and allegiance are factors that decide which country would be hauled up to answer apparent rights violations, and which country would be spared. It would not take much time or brain-power, for knowledgeable Indian citizens to find out that double standards have been applied to Sri Lanka, in singling her out for an unprecedented resolution at the UNHRC.
Therefore, any continuing justification by the Indian government of its role in Geneva will continue to drag it down the Himalayan slopes, in the mind’s eye of Asian public opinion. All Asians would want India to be the conscience of Asia, not a blind follower of the West nor of vociferous mono-ethnic lobbies. Already, one of the unrepentant ethnic lobbyists Karunanidhi, while thanking Manmohan Singh for voting in favour of the US resolution, boasted that “a Tamil Eelam” was his unrealized dream and that he would “fight for its realization.” (The Island March 24, 2012). Shouldn’t this be interpreted as an open call to resurrect terrorism in Sri Lanka to achieve Tamil Eelam?
The Asian community would wish India to be on the Himalayan heights of moral and principled action; not at its foothills as an ethnic or western proxy. India needs to realize that, other than herself, no other Asian country voted with the US resolution that aimed at devaluing international law regarding non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, when that country had initiated domestic action and had appealed for time to implement the three months old recommendations of the domestic mechanism.
Now that the Geneva deed is done, India should begin the damage control process. Sri Lanka, by its continuing and constructive engagement (with India), should assist India to reaffirm its position as an independent and conscientious leader representing the region in international affairs. India should re-embrace its roots that were born and fostered through thousands of years of moral learning and principled action and in that process, genuinely and comprehensively insulate Sri Lanka from the external interference that the Geneva vote seeks to subject its sovereign citizens to, unfairly. This is the sane option open to both of the countries. It is hoped that the wisdom distilled through thousands of years of civilization of both countries would come to the fore; neither emotion on the part of Sri Lanka, nor misplaced loyalty to a questionable decision, on the part of India. The hidden agendas of the ethnic lobbyists such as Karunanidhi, that is now beginning to break surface, should surely be an eye- opener to the Government of India.