The Indian Centre for South Asian Studies was formally launched on June 18 at the Hotel Savera, just before the commencement of a two-day seminar titled ‘Deepening Political Crisis in Sri Lanka’. Speaking at the inaugural, Prof. V. Suryanarayan, who founded the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, said that the idea of starting the Indian Centre was to sensitise people about the unfolding scenario in the neighbourhood. Many such organisations do not broaden their base, trying to convince the same people who are already convinced, he said, adding that the Indian Centre would be different – it would spread its reach and focus more on the youth and student community. Knowledge is power, he reiterated; those who control knowledge will control the world.
“Countries close to us have become intellectually distant from India. The division of Asia into South and Southeast took place in Chicago after World War II. How many know that the distance from Phuket (Thailand) and Indira Point (southern most tip of India) is less than the distance between Chennai and Madurai?” he asked. “Our foreign policy is reactive. There are no efforts to study emerging trends in the region. Many in the IFS are not sensitive to happenings in the neighbourhood,” he said.
Prof. Suryanarayan referred to Romesh Bhandari, former Indian foreign secretary, who did not know happenings on the ground, and his “menumental ignorance” about Tamil names and aspirations. There was the feeling during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime that the Tigers (LTTE) could be neutralized within two weeks. However, it was wrong, totally wrong, the reason why the IPKF adventure failed badly. “Dynamic and vibrant think tanks are needed to provide meaningful inputs to Indian foreign policy. But we are content with our jobs and research priorities,” he pointed out.
Former Indian Ambassador N.N. Jha referred to the sharp deterioration in inter-community relations in Sri Lanka, of ethnically two groups of Indian origin who like India but keep quarreling. He recounted his experience with a Sri Lankan he had met during his first innings in the island nation, in 1958, the Sri Lankan had donated land for the setting up a branch of the Viswa Bharati, and had also contributed magnanimously to the renovation of old temples.
So, what is the solution to the Sri Lankan crisis? Is a military solution an answer? Jha did not think so. But he had no concrete suggestions either.
It was Sukumar Nambiar, a national executive member of the BJP, who took the initiative to establish the Indian Centre for South Asian Studies and to organise the seminar. Whether it will prove effective in moulding public opinion and become a reference point for issues connected to the neighbourhood, we will have to wait and see.