Addressing a gathering at the Bucerius Summer School in Germany on Thursday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that he and his sister Priyanka Gandhi had forgiven Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, who ordered the assasination of his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991.
Why wasn’t Rahul Gandhi happy to see Prabhakaran’s slain body in 2009, after the Sri Lanka army defeated the Tamil separatist group in a civil war that lasted 25 years?
“The reason I wasn’t happy was because I saw myself in his children,” Gandhi said. “So I realised, him lying there actually means that there are kids like me who are crying.”
It was a moving address. To overcome the grief of losing one’s father to violence takes great courage and Gandhi must be commended for this. But what Gandhi has forgotten is that the active support of the Congress-led government in the final stages of the Eelam war to Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president at the time, led to thousands of Tamil children being orphaned. Gandhi’s large-hearted gesture of forgiveness came a bit too late for these children, including Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son Balachandran, who was allegedly shot at point-blank range.
This is what Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s secretary of defence during the final stages of the civil war, said in March: “We had a very good understanding with the Congress government in India, especially its bureaucrats. We were able to get their fullest support in defeating the LTTE.”
What did this support entail? To begin it, alleged active military support that gave tactical advantage to the Sri Lanka army against the LTTE rebels. But another kind of backing was more sinister, of looking away when international human rights organisations were crying for intervention to stop the genocide of ethnic Tamils in the north of the island nation.
Reports have estimated that between 40,000 to one lakh people were butchered by the Sri Lankan army in the final stages of the war. The United Progressive Alliance government did little to stop what was described by many as “ethnic cleansing” of the minority Tamils. In fact, in the guise of flushing out the last LTTE combatants, the Sri Lankan army bombarded even zones that it had declared safe to give a safe passage to civilians caught in the crossfire. The United Nations in its report on the final stages of the war accused both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE of gross human rights violations and said if the “credible evidence” against the army was confirmed, this would constitute serious war crimes.
In the face of these unimaginable human rights violations taking place next door, India seemed to show little forgiveness. The Congress-led United Progressive alliance government clearly turned a blind eye to war crimes in its eagerness to see the LTTE defeated and its chief Prabhakaran neutralised.
If this could be attributed to India’s security concerns in the Indian Ocean territory, there was no justification to how the UPA government responded to attempts by the international community to bring to book the Rajapaksas for their crimes. It took extraordinary pressure from political parties in Tamil Nadu in 2012 to get the government to vote in favour of a United States-sponsored resolution that censured Sri Lanka for rights violations. In 2014, the UPA government decided to abstain from voting on a resolution that sought international investigation into the war crimes. Such decisions suggested that India’s rhetoric about non-violence and justice was empty.
Thousands of children lost their fathers and grandmothers to violence in Sri Lanka. As Rahul Gandhi gracefully forgives the man who ordered the killing of his father and takes a moral high ground, will he also seek forgiveness for the failures of his party in helping the ethnic Tamils of Sri Lanka get justice?