New Delhi: Three issues that have engaged and agitated public minds in the past few days underline the importance of India being fair but decisive in its domestic dealings and international politics. The issues are the continued persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka which makes a separate state of Eelam imperative; the second matter concerns the Supreme Court sentencing in the 1993 Bombay blasts’ tragedy as relating to Sanjay Dutt, the actor; and the last subject is the return of the Italian marines to face trial for the killing of two Indian fishermen. How India disposes these three separate but somewhere connected matters will impact on its self-image and self-determination as a serious state that is ready to play a bigger role in the world.

Tamil Eelam: Of immediate primary importance is the Sri Lankan Tamils’ issue, whose main features have been expounded in a previous commentary (“For Eelam”). Commentators have baulked at this writer’s suggestion of a separate Tamil state carved out of Sri Lanka, and their anxieties are understandable, given the record of the late Tamil Tigers’ leader, V.Prabhakaran. But the obduracy and chauvinism of the current president of Sri Lanka, who incarnates the island country’s majority community’s hatred for the Tamil minority makes no other solution possible.

For good or bad, the Tamil Tigers represented an opposition to Sinhala ultra-nationalism. The Sinhala side was swiftly and bloodily awarded a military victory against the Tamils by the overt and covert defence assistance provided by China and India, in which India pursed Chinese interests whilst sacrificing its own. Gaining that victory, the Sinhala have pushed the Tamils to a corner, their condition having become worse than during the years of the civil war. Recoiling from the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India turned its back on Tamils, but that goes contrary to the instincts of a great power. The nation is bigger than the individual. A just solution has to be obtained for the Tamils who face the rough approximate of ethnic cleansing.

How much ought Indian public opinion to influence Sri Lankan policy? Obviously, this is a sensitive area, but diplomacy does not operate in a vacuum, not certainly in a democracy. The venality of M.Karunanidhi and his clan cannot subtract from the suffering of Tamils, who have huge champions in the youth of Tamil Nadu and significantly Chennai. Necessarily, the first task is that India recognizes and understands that Sri Lanka is its problem, a vengeful teardrop of a nation that has to be brought to its senses. The United States and China do not seek world assistant in their spheres and China obsessively keeps all disputes bilateral. Why must India tie the fate of Sri Lankan Tamils to the blunt instrument called multilateralism?

The Sanjay Dutt affair: Next, the Supreme Court ruling in the 1993 blasts. The saddest but perhaps unexceptionable outcome is the conviction of Dutt, who faces the prospect of another three-and-a-half years in jail. Powerful voices seek that he be pardoned, but this is to be resisted. The law must not only be equal but be seen to be so.

Sanjay Dutt has always been soft in the head and undiscriminating in his friendships. The charge against him for coming into possession of an assault rifle in the surcharged atmosphere that built up to the 1993 serial blasts has nevertheless been taken very seriously by the Supreme Court when it sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment. It specially ignored his subsequent charity works. The judgment must be respected. Reports say hundreds of movie crores staked on him would be washed away in his absence, and so be it. His case bears no outward similarity to that of Afzal Guru, but there cannot be one kind of justice for the less-well-off, and another for the glitterati. Troublesome as it is, Sanjay Dutt must bear the consequences of his action, and his political connections must not be allowed to alter the course of justice.

The Italian marines’ case: Finally, to the return of the two servicemen who killed two Indian fishermen. The government is expectedly taking credit for this but it is an angry opposition, an incensed judiciary and livid public opinion that brought them back. How it worked was this. Left to it, the Manmohan Singh government would have made no serious attempt to corral them for the trial, hoping that other issues would come to occupy common concern. But the fact that the marines were Italian made it embarrassing for Sonia Gandhi who was born one, and the media, including this magazine in the forefront, made a pointed reference to it. With elections nearing, the Manmohan Singh government could not risk aggravated outrage over the marines’ decamp, and so Sonia had to intervene.

So what is the takeaway? India carries considerable heft in the international community, but it must present a united face to reap the fruits of it. Adverse public opinion turned Sonia Gandhi into a champion of Indian interests, and such pressure must be continuously applied. India counts in the world, and the country must accordingly think big and plan and act consonantly. The Sri Lankan Tamils’ issue, for one, is rapidly becoming India’s test case to prove its global worth.