New Delhi: India’s Sri Lanka policy is in a mess because in the dispute between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, it has chosen to go against the historical course which clearly favours a separate nation-state of Tamil Eelam. (This is an objective assessment and bears no link to this writer’s Tamilian background.) Eelam as and when it is formed will have no impact on the territorial integrity of India and must essentially be viewed in the same manner as the breakup of the Soviet Union after the Cold War.

Till Mrs Indira Gandhi was alive, she positioned India as a mediator in the ethnic dispute in the island nation. Her policy was crafted by the redoubtable diplomat and scholar, G.Parthasarthy, and it constituted some of the best forward diplomacy of its time, innovative, stirring and original. China had not risen to be India’s strategic competitor and encircler in the Indian Ocean as now but the United States was viewed with much suspicion and Pakistan remained inimical. The Cold War was at its peak.

Compelled to increment India’s involvement -- which is the downside of all mediation after a point -- Mrs Gandhi authorized the military training of the Tamil Tigers and other militant groups. Since she had succeeded by similarly training the Mukti Bahini to create Bangladesh and was overly indulgent to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to counter the Akalis in Punjab, she did not pause to consider the dangers of fanning the Tamil flames. She fell to Khalistani assassins and her son Rajiv by a quirk of fate to a Tamil suicide bomber.

Rather than cynically exploit the civil war in Sri Lanka, Mrs Gandhi should have pushed for a lasting solution, which can only be a separate Tamil state of Eelam. Granted such a decision was too early in the game, and Mrs Gandhi had genuine fears about a separate Tamil nation-state’s adverse impact on India and Tamil Nadu, which at least till the 1960s showed fissiparous tendencies. But how did she expect to control the Tamil groups she was militarily training or hope that they would follow her dictates and stop short of demanding a separate nation? They didn’t, as later events, and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, showed.

Rajiv Gandhi did not have the benefit of brilliance advisors like the old GP, as G.Parthasarthy was affectionately called in diplomatic circles; he had an army chief, General K.Sundarji, who thought in terms of obliterating the Tamil groups, which can’t have been India’s sensible intention; and there were the derring-do types in the foreign office, including the Indian high commissioner in Sri Lanka, J.N.Dixit, who spoke and acted irrationally most of the time. The result of all this was the second disastrous decision to deploy the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, which, contrary to its nomenclature, turned against one party in the dispute, namely the Tamils, who it was meant to protect in the first place.

When geography separates and splits one community, any shared loyalty cannot be taken as a given. It is not axiomatic, in this case, that the Tamils in Sri Lanka would or will support the Tamilians in Tamil Nadu and by extension the Indian state on every count. Even if a Tamil Eelam comes about in the future -- as this writer intuits -- it does not automatically follow that India will have a winning hand there forever and till eternity. International politics does not work that way. Seeing the context and keeping within it, one must work for small gains, and see dramatic breakthroughs as a bonanza, nothing more, nothing less.

India, unfortunately, did not approach the Sri Lanka crisis step-by-incremental-step, and the consequence is the mess today. The third blunder after the military training of militant groups and the Indian Peace Keeping Force’s deployment in the island was the decision to support Sri Lanka in its all-out war against the Tamil Tigers lead by V.Prabhakaran. China gave full war aid to the Sinhala military and India, led by non-thinkers in Delhi, pitched on the side of the Sinhalese and the Chinese against the Tamils. The Tamils are your insurance against the chauvinistic Sinhala state turning against you in alliance with China, and that insurance policy has been set on fire. Of course the Sinhala government did not stop at killing Prabhakaran; it butchered masses of Tamil non-combatants and murdered Prabhakaran’s young son. When Delhi forces its attention away from the distractions of domestic politics to reappraise its Sri Lanka policy, the Sinhalese government plays the China card, real or imaginary. This is no way to manage and conduct international politics.

Unfortunately, by its deviousness and venality, the United Progressive Alliance regime has destroyed domestic political consensus to a degree that India cannot take a united stand on foreign concerns. But that has to be overcome, and this is not a luxury that can await a functioning post-2014 non-United Progressive Alliance government. Tamil Nadu’s political parties, chiefly the AIADMK and the DMK, must be advised to temper their mutual competition on the Tamil issue, and assist the Centre in formulating a sensible and doable Sri Lanka policy. And this, to this writer’s mind, is accepting the inevitability and finality of an independent state of Tamil Eelam and doing all that is strategically necessary to bring it to fruition. Essentially, this must be an Indian project, because Sri Lanka lies in India’s backyard, and the world community could be involved later.

Tamil Eelam will be a pragmatic and just solution to the continuing ethnic tragedy in Sri Lanka.