The recent comment of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka on Modi winning absolute majority in the general elections of India indicates his relaxation that now DMK and AIADMK will be a force to reckon within India’s foreign policy with Sri Lanka. But little did he seem to think about the hidden message that his reluctance to investigate in Tamils atrocities is signifying through this.
This reluctance includes investigating into the 26 year long military campaign in the north of Jaffna where gross human rights violations have been done by both the sides. This long civil war ended with the death of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2009, but taking with it, the life of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister, the reputation of India Peace keeping Force (IPKF) and an estimated 100,000 lives as per the official figure. The issue of UN Committee for investigation in this dastardly affair has deteriorated the very fibre of two neighbours whose histories have been deeply connected socially and religiously as well. India voted in favour of resolution under Jayalalitha’s pressure first, then abstained second time and did not attend the last Commonwealth meeting held in Lanka, which was not less than the last nail in the coffin of India-Lanka relations, all under DMK and AIADMK’s pressure. But with the stable government back in the centre, these relations seem to be rejuvenated with the hope of India’s support toward Lanka.
LTTE and Tamil Nationalism
Throughout the nineteenth century there was little evidence of sharp political or nationalist trend but fears of Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus of proselytising efforts of Christian missionaries were creating a stir in this quite milieu of Buddhists and Hindus. Eventually by the end of nineteenth century there was a rise of the leaders of both of these communities essentially for constitutional reform. With the recommendations of Colebrooke-Cameron Commission, representatives of Sinhalese, Ceylon Tamil, Burgher and local European communities were elected on the behest of governor as an eyewash democratic process similar to Montagu Chelmsford reforms in India.
This representation of power equation initiated the conflict between these two ethnicities. For a matter of fact, this tension dates back to the time when Britons came to Sri Lanka and merged three sovereign states of Portuguese and Dutch forming one Ceylon, now Sri Lanka creating indifference between two communities which was visible in the attempt of Colebrooke reforms which was formulated to give Kandyan Sinhalese recognition in the state. As large provinces proved difficult to administer, Britons divided the country by demarcating a Northern Province and Northern Central Province, which further asserted the separate nature of Kandyan Sinhalese. The Grea Kandyan Rebellion of 1848 was the last attempt of Kandyan Sinhalese Chief to assert that separateness.
With the completion of unification of country, the last isolated area in north of Island inhabited mostly by Ceylon Tamils was linked through railway lines from Colombo to Jaffna and an attempt was made to establish communication between low country Sinhalese traders and Kandyan Sinhalese population. This interconnectivity led the Ceylon Tamil to Colombo in search of better jobs, opportunities and eventually the demand of proper representation of Executive Council. The divide among various ethnicities were there since beginning and the first instance of this divide was visible with the appointment of Poonambalam Arunachalam, a Tamilian as a representative of both Tamils and Sinhalese after Donoughmore Commission rejected the idea of communal representation and reformed legislative council.
British Governor William Manning is considered responsible for the formation of All India Ceylon Congress, a product of Tamil nationalism and many writers have quoted him responsible to this Tamil-Sinhala divide. But as the history suggests, this divide was always there alive. It was just the repression of British governance which initiated the feeling of nationalism. Where Nationalism for Sinhalese was a separate state, for Tamils it initiated through the ladder of political power struggle.
With such complex structure of ethnicity, political representation and other such issues of an underdeveloped country, British left India is 1948 and amid this turmoil came the controversial Citizenship Act of 1948 where anyone born in Ceylon had to prove that they are third generation immigrants which resulted in disqualification of 70,000 Tamils, about 11% of the population, which indeed was their actual representation.
The another factor which strengthened the feeling of Tamil Nationalism was Sinhala Only Act 1956 which made Sinhala the only official language of the country and Tamils who did not know Sinhala had to leave their jobs. This was not though the first attempt to introduce Sinhala as an official language, the first attempt being made by J.R Jayawardene in 1944 in State Council which was rejected due to proper representations of Europeans and Tamils in the Council.
In the backdrop of such discrimination occurred the first ethnic riots in 1956 named as Gal Oya riots where minority Tamils were massacred by a Sinhala mob led by a junior minister and 150 people lost their lives while protesting for the discriminatory policies of government. 1958 widespread riots on Tamils was the epitome of Tamil struggle in the country and soon afterwards the demand of Tamil Eelam (a separate nation of Tamil) started gaining momentum. Tamil parties called for regional autonomy and in 1975 all parties merged together to form Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Its first resolution adopted at Vaddukodai calling for “Free, Sovereign, Secular Socialist State of TAMIL EELAM” marked the official beginning of Tamil separatism.
TULF won 18 seats in 1977 elections in Tamil dominated districts of North and East making it the largest opposition party in Parliament. With a force to reckon with , the concept of District Development Council came forth in 1980 decentralising power but due to differences this scheme was scrapped off. In 1983 the Sixth Amendment was passed and required Tamil members of parliament and Tamils in public office to take the oath of allegiance to the unitary state of Sri Lanka. The Sixth Amendment forbade advocating a separate state even by peaceful means. Consequently, the TULF was expelled from the parliament for refusing to take the oath.
A outfit with hit and run tactic had started taking form outside these political circles under Vellupillai Prabahakaran,a student leader and this separatist campaign got its support from a former British employee named Anton Balasingham from London. Prabhakaran, together with Chetti Thanabalasingam, a well known criminal from Kalviyankadu, Jaffna formed the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) in 1972, their symbol being a Tiger. Another movement called Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) was formed in London and Manchester considered as the backbone of the Tamil struggle in Lanka. It became the basis of the Eelamist logistical organization, later taken over entirely by LTTE.
Outfit’s first major operation was the assassination of the mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah in 1975 by Prabhakaran which initiated a civil war that lasted 26 years and is still having an impact in the North of Sri Lanka.
The civil war was a product of British scheming of bringing together communities which never had a link just for the sake of ease of administration which worked as the seed of conflict, saw its growth with Policy Standardization Acts of Sinhala dominated government in the center which lead to the suppression of Tamils eventually culminating in one of the deadliest ethnic conflict of world history.
India’s Victory at the International Court of Justice is the World’s Challenge to the Status Quo
For the past week, both the Indian and British media have rigorously covered the story of the re-election of India’s justice Dalveer Bhandari to the bench of judges in the International Court of Justice on Tuesday, November 21. That the Indian judge retained his position on the bench was not the sole reason for the story’s extensive coverage; his reappointment combined with the fact that it happened at the expense of the United Kingdom’s spot on the bench is why the story is making so many rounds… and no, that many Indians may see it as some sort of a comeback against Britain’s 200 years of colonial rule over the country is not the reason why it matters. It matters because this is the first time since 1946 that the UK has no judge on the ICJ bench, and that signals possible changes in the way international bodies govern and are governed. So what does this mean for India, for the UK and for the world at large?
The International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice or the ICJ was established in 1945 by the United Nations as its principal judicial branch and is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Its job is to settle legal disputes between states that are submitted to it and give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it. The court comprises of a total of 15 judges that are elected to 9 year terms by way of voting from both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) separately. One third of the court is re-elected every three years, and no two judges of the same nationality may assume positions on the bench simultaneously. However, the rule that led to the deadlock between the candidates from India and UK is that a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC in order to be elected to the bench.
UN General Assembly vs UN Security Council: The Race in Numbers
On November 9 and November 13, in seven rounds of voting justice Bhandari secured between 110 and 121 votes from a total of 193 in the UNGA against figures between 68 and 79 secured by his British counterpart Sir Christopher Greenwood. However, among the UNSC, justice Bhandari lost out by 5 votes to 9 in favour of Sir Greenwood. In the face of uncertainty, the UK then pushed for a ‘joint conference’ under the rules of the court between the UNSC and the UNGA. Under the ‘joint conference’ three countries from each side then determine the name for the court. However, the rules do not mention the procedure to select these countries and understandably so, since the option was last invoked in 1921. Fearing not enough support from the council, criticism for invoking the charter, and harming its friendly as well as economic relations with India, the UK eventually chose to not follow through with the process and withdrew its candidature for the post. In the end, India secured the seat with a total of 183 votes out of 193 at the UNGA and all 15 at the UNSC.
There is More to the Victory than Meets the Eye
The result means different things for the parties involved and also for the balance of power and influence between countries. For the UK, there are hardly any positives to take away from this result amid already turbulent times. Many in the British media have viewed this loss as ‘a blow to British international prestige’ and the country’s acceptance of a diminishing role in global affairs. This was the UK’s second major defeat at the ICJ after it lost a vote by a margin of 94 to 15 countries in June when the UNGA voted in favour of referring the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the ICJ, which is currently under its control. Many within and outside the country have also been quick to blame Brexit for the situation in which they find themselves today, arguing that the other states, especially the ones within the European Union would have been less willing to snub the UK had the UK chosen not to leave the alliance. In the face of defeat, British diplomats have continued to maintain that they are happy that their close friend India has won, but have also not been shy of hiding their natural disappointment at their own loss.
For India, their victory in having a judge win the contest in getting elected to the ICJ bench against a permanent member of the UNSC is more symbolic than anything else. It reinforces India’s image at the highest stage as a major emerging global player and its ability to bring in greater reforms that push for more involvement from developing countries and emerging economies. Also, having a judge on the ICJ bench gives India an edge over Pakistan in the case involving former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on the charges of espionage. True, a judge on the ICJ does not represent his/her country or their interests. However, as suggested by repeated criticism the court receives for being biased in favour of the states who appoint the judges, having a judge on the panel is certainly an asset for any country, no matter what the rules dictate on paper.
The most important takeaway from the whole episode far exceeds the ambitions of just the two countries and a race for a seat at the ICJ. India’s victory at the court reinforces the belief that power does not necessarily reside or has to reside with the ‘few global elite’, a sentiment which was expressed clearly when most member states of the UNGA backed India’s justice Bhandari to be re-elected against the choice of the permanent members or P5 of the UNSC. There seems to be an acknowledgment among the member states of the UN of the beginning of a change which sees an increasing shift in the balance of power away from the traditional powers of the world or the P5 – Britain, China, United States, Russia, and France. Of these countries, China was the only member to not have a judge on the ICJ between 1967 and 1985 till the final decision last week, when they were joined by the UK in the list. Last year, Russia was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the 2016 elections, France lost out on securing a position in the International Law Commission. While diplomats at the UN continue to maintain that there are no winners and losers here, that it is all part of a bigger picture, these developments undoubtedly mark diplomatic victories for the Group of 77 or the G77, a coalition of developing nations at the UN that have constantly pushed for an enhanced negotiating capacity. What remains to be seen is just to what extent they bring about a change in the status quo.
Iran’s Chabahar Port: How India, Afghanistan, and Iran Gain From it
November 11, 2017 was a significant day diplomatically and geopolitically for Iran, India, and Afghanistan. A trilateral cooperation between the three countries saw Afghanistan receive its first shipment of wheat from India which was set in motion by India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj on October 29 along with her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani. The shipment was the first among a series as part of India’s commitment to supply 1.1 million tons of wheat to the people of the country suffering from decades of war and instability. At the center of this achievement lies Iran’s Chabahar port and the trilateral International Transport and Transit Corridor Agreement between the three countries.
The Iranian port in Chabahar: why it is so important
The Iranian port is located in the country’s southernmost city of Chabahar, and has periodically found itself making headlines especially as the Asian powerhouses in India and China compete for influence in the seas to establish trade relationships across Asia, Europe, and Africa. As China pumps more and more investment into its mammoth Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a modern take on the Silk Route to connect 60 countries across the three continents through land and sea routes, the port of Chabahar has over a period of time found its suitors in prime opponents of the BRI such as India and Japan with the former already investing around USD 500 million in the port. While the idea for the port’s development was first proposed in 1979, it is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2018.
It would be rather unrealistic to assume that the Chabahar port will challenge China’s BRI as a whole to a direct geopolitical contest. However, once fully operational, the port is expected to connect the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean with St. Petersburg in Russia and further ahead with Europe through the International North South Transport Corridor or the INSTC. India, Afghanistan, and Iran stand to gain in different ways both collectively and individually through this development in trade routes.
A win-win-win situation
The development of the Chabahar port presents the key for India to reforge an oil based relationship with Iran and to forge trade relations beyond Afghanistan with countries in Central Asia. Once the port is fully developed, it is expected to also carry a larger variety of cargo, including heavy engineering goods and electronics. With a much shorter route to Europe, the time taken to transport goods from ports in India to countries in Europe is expected to be reduced by more than half from the 45 days it currently takes for the cargo to reach its destination. It is also estimated the cost of the deliveries will be reduced by about 30-40%. Moreover, it seems extremely unlikely that India will be a part of the Chinese proposed BRI, given that an integral component of the initiative is the China Pakistan Economic Corrdior (CPEC) that runs through the Kashmir region whose ownership is hotly contested by both India and Pakistan. In that regard, the Chabahar port offers India the opportunity to challenge China at least in some capacity in their ever expanding contest for trade and influence across the globe, by connecting it to rail networks of different countries in Central Asia.
For a landlocked Afghanistan which has no direct access to the seas, the development of the Chabahar port and its agreement with India and Iran coming to fruition holds great significance. The port opens up the country to the world, and provides it with better access to trade, vastly reducing its dependency on its neighbour Pakistan and enabling it to forge even closer ties with India. Pakistan has in the past disallowed India to access the land route to Afghanistan for the provision of aid to the country. Now an alternate route through Chabahar allows for the same to reach the country first from the port to Zaranj, which is adjacent to Afghanistan’s border with Iran, and then further 218 km ahead into the country via the Zarang-Delaram highway.
For Iran, a fully functional seaport in Chabahar appears to be strategically important since it is located away from the historically contested waters of the Arabian Gulf. Recovering now from easing sanctions, Iran looks to climb the geopolitical ladder and reestablish itself in the coming decades. Amid worsening ties with the United States, it has caught the attention of China, Russia, and other countries in Europe and also looks to gain from its relation with India. The Chabahar port may just be the key to put an end to its economic isolation. Even with the United States and India recognising each other as allies, Iran has not yet found any opposition from the US against India’s cooperation with Iran on the port, and that is because the US recognises the benefit that Afghanistan is able to attain from India’s efforts through the Chabahar port.
India, Iran, and Afghanistan share historical civilisational ties and similarities and the same was referenced by Indian minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj. “This shows the convergence between the ancient civilisations of India, Afghanistan and Iran to spur unhindered flow of commerce and trade throughout the region,” said Swaraj as she flagged off the first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan on October 29.
A Choking City: What the Ongoing Toxic Week in Delhi Means for its People
A joke on the morbidity of New Delhi is circulating among Delhiites (people from Delhi) that while the lives of the citizens were disrupted in November last year due to ‘note-bandi’ (ban on currency), November of this year presents an even tougher test for the people with ‘saans-bandi’, a ban on breathing. The receding autumn or advent of winter was a once beloved season of a good number of people in the city who welcomed the change with a complete revamp of their wardrobes with colourful woollens. It is now characterized with bleak skies, an air of gloom and a little bit of grey in everything you see outside of your house.
For the past three days, I have been acutely aware of the air I am breathing, felt unproductive and apprehensive in spells for no good reason, and felt the need to confine myself to my house for as long as possible. These are some of the less apparent effects of the thick blanket of smog that has engulfed the national capital region. As a number of people donned with different types of masks on the roads and on Snapchat serve as a constant visual reminder of how the city is choking, a flurry of articles and news updates have presided over my feed. One of them included a horrifying viral video recording of vehicles ramming into each other due to poor visibility on the Noida-Agra Expressway as people scrambled to get themselves and their children out of the way, while some other articles argued about how currently breathing in Delhi for a day is the equivalent of smoking twenty cigarettes.
A sudden state of emergency
Less than two days ago, when the air quality in Delhi visibly worsened, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city to a ‘gas chamber’. The PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels in different parts of the capital have rocketed above the levels that are considered safe, and the Safar (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research) has declared the air quality as ‘severe’ for at least the next three days after which the level may drop to a not so safe either ‘very poor’ level. In some parts of the city, the AQI (air quality index) was detected on monitors at 999, the highest possible reading, which suggests that the level might be even higher. The visibility during the early hours has also dropped to very low levels. Among the different reasons for the observed level of pollution in Delhi, slow winds at this time of the year have been identified as the prime contributor along with stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Combined with the dust particles present in the air, omissions from vehicles that plague the roads in the region throughout the day, and those from factories and construction activities, these factors dictate a recipe for creating uninhabitable conditions.
Making amends: A scramble for order
The Indian Medical Association on 7th November declared Delhi to be in a state of public health emergency, urging the Delhi government and other bodies to take adequate steps to ensure minimum risk to citizens, especially young children and the elderly, who are most likely to suffer from the effects of pollution. After a worsening situation, the government has ordered all schools in the capital to remain shut till Sunday, and has rolled out plans to implement the odd-even scheme for vehicles in the city from next week. Parking fee throughout the city has also been increased fourfold and the prices for travel by the metro have been substantially reduced for the time being to promote the use of public transport. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also banned all construction and industrial activities till November 14 in a bid to provide the citizens of Delhi a breath of better quality air. Mr. Kejriwal has also approached his counterparts from Punjab and Haryana over the issue of stubble burning by the farmers but it remains to be seen how the move plays out in the coming days.
As the government battles against the situation, the public is taking measures to protect themselves in whatever way they can. An increasing number of doctors and specialists on the matter have advised people not to go out for morning walks or outdoor activities so as to not inhale excessive quantities of toxic pollutants. Some doctors have even advised their patients to leave the city for the time being if possible. Air purifiers for houses and masks for travelling outside have seen a huge rise in sales as nearly everyone has become an expert on the subject of filters and N95 and N99 have become trending words from pharmacies to WhatsApp conversations.
A year ago, while New Delhi wrestled with more or less the same conditions, UNICEF had called on the rest of the world to consider the situation as a wake up call. “It is a wake up call that very clearly tells us: unless decisive actions are taken to reduce air pollution, the events we are witnessing in Delhi over the past week are likely to be increasingly common”, it had said in a statement. If we are doing better than last year, it is still not enough, and all one needs is less than a minute in the open to be convinced of that. As the world battles with the effects of climate change, India’s bid to have a major global footprint in the coming decades is bound to take a serious hit if so many of its cities, and especially its capital follow a trend of being unlivable for a chunk of time at the end of every year.
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