Succumbing to pressure from Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, the defence ministry is planning to shift out the Sri Lankan officers undergoing the almost year-long course at the prestigious Defence Services Staff College at Wellington.
“The issue is being discussed … the final decision is yet to be taken,” said a defence ministry official, contacted on Friday evening. But sources said India has already told Sri Lanka that its officers – Wing Commander M S Bandara Dassanayake and Major C S Harishchandra Hettiarachchige – could be shifted to the “technical staff officers course” at the Military Institute of Technology in Pune.
“But the Sri Lankans have turned the proposal down. Now, the prospect of shifting the two officers to the `higher defence management course’ at the College of Defence Management at Secunderabad is being considered,” said a source.
If this happens, it will be the third time within a year that the Union government will buckle under pressure from political parties in Tamil Nadu. Last July, 27 Sri Lankan military personnel being trained at the Tambaram airbase near Chennai had to be abruptly shifted to Karnataka after the Tamilian political parties upped the ante. Then, in March, India had called off the defence secretary-level talks slated with Sri Lanka after the UPA government had come under severe pressure from its then ally DMK, which along with other Tamilian parties wanted India to take a strong stand against Lanka in the UNHRC.
This time, in a letter to PM Manmohan Singh on Sunday, Jayalalithaa expressed shock shock over the Union government’s “astounding insensitivity” in inviting the two Sri Lankan officers for the course at Wellington despite the “continuing atrocities” on civilian Tamils in the island nation.
Amid the strident anti-Lanka chorus, the Union government is trying to walk a tightrope. It has to keep larger strategic considerations in mind, with China making deep inroads into Sri Lanka. But the inflamed passions in Tamil Nadu over the continuing discrimination against Lankan Tamils by the majority Sinhalese in the island nation also have to be kept in mind.
India had cranked up military ties with Sri Lanka after it found that China had deftly stepped into the vacuum. While India trains soldiers from several countries, from the Maldives, Mauritius and Mongolia to Botswana, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the facilities extended to island nation are much more. India every year trains 800-900 Sri Lankan military personnel in its military establishments, as reported by TOI earlier.
India had even provided some military equipment like 24 L-70 guns, 24 battle-field surveillance radars, 11 USFM radars, four Indra-II radars and 10 mine-protected vehicles to the Sri Lankan forces when they were battling LTTE earlier. The two nations also cooperate in intelligence sharing and undertake `coordinated’ naval patrolling.