Changing Neutrality

India has long had a non-interference philosophy similar to that of the ASEAN group of nations.

“Don’t see, Don’t tell” !

When it comes to its neighbours, India has avoided interference into their affairs, be it political or economic or in the very sensitive area of human rights.

In today’s world, that is not a good philosophy.

Humans are the same whether they live in Country X or Country Y. If X and Y are neighbours, it does not mean that X cannot comment adversely on Y, or Y cannot mention anything negative against X, when it comes to matters of human persecution.

India has assiduously avoided even commenting on the affairs of distant nations, Syria for example.

So, when it came to the vote on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council last week on a resolution sponsored by the U.S. against the atrocities committed by Sri Lankan armed forces against the Tamil population in the Northern part of Sri Lanka, it was widely expected that India would vote against the resolution and join the likes of Pakistan, Maldives and China. It was a natural expectation, as India has never liked country-specific resolutions at the UN in the past, and most importantly, Sri Lanka is one of India’s closest neighbours.

And the same party – the Congress – is still the main party ruling at the national level in India, and it is known for not ruffling feathers of neighbours or powerful countries internationally. However, this time India voted for the resolution (its vote went against Sri Lanka).

This is a rather new development. Sri Lanka is sitting at the South East corner of the Indian peninsula, and has been aggressively wooed by China and Pakistan as a counter balance against Indian interests. India has big investments in Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka rightfully expected India to vote against the resolution and support the Sri Lankan government’s position.

But now, India is a world power, or is going to be a world power soon. Not militarily, but as a “soft” power with immense influence in world affairs. And, is slowly realizing that it ought to take a “principled stand” in international affairs.

If it cannot stand up for the cause of human justice anywhere in the world, then it should not aspire for the position of a world power. That is simply the fact. India cannot close its eyes on atrocities committed against any people in any country – be it Syria, be it Myanmar (Burma), Tibet (China) or Sri Lanka. It has a right to demand that people killings should stop. While it might have been OK to eliminate armed guerrillas who killed Sri Lankan soldiers, it is absolutely unconscionable for an elected Democratic Government in Sri Lanka to massacre unarmed and harmless civilians. They could not have been painted with the same brush as the guerrillas.

I believe that India has now truly arrived at the cross roads of international justice – states who are members of the UN cannot and should not be allowed to commit crimes against humanity in their own or other countries. And, any country which turns a blind eye against such atrocities cannot be a responsible world power. If it does so, then we would be taken back to the times of Nazi Germany which was not challenged by responsible world powers for a long time.

The decision on whether to vote for or against cannot be based on geopolitical or economic considerations – it has to be based on the principle of natural justice.

And only responsible countries will ignore geopolitics and other imperatives and vote based on their conscience. The United States has done that for a long time, but it is the world’s biggest military power and no country could challenge its military dominance (so far). India was not, and so it has taken a long while. The decision now is not based on India’s military power but on its power as one of the largest emerging economies of the world, and its aspiration to be a member of the UN Security Council.

Think about how India is changing – it is worth thinking about it !


Vijay Srinivasan
24th March 2012


One thought on “Changing Neutrality

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