Recently1 the UK High Commissioner planned a visit to Gujarat. The aim is to strengthen economic ties for British companies. But the mission will be very limited in scope without meeting the Chief Minister of the State, Narendra Modi. The controversial leader is one of the most accredited candidate of the opposition to win the next national elections. The controversy has its origin in the 2002 communal riots, which took place in Gujarat. Thousands were killed, prevalently Muslims. Mr Modi is accused of slow reaction and of superficial investigation of the culprits. In fact his own party, the nationalistic BJP, is believed to be highly responsible and directly involved in the incidents. In the following years an implicit agreement amongst European diplomats effectively cut off any major relation with Mr Modi. Now, with Gujarat elections coming in less than a month, the move of the British High Commissioner is a clear message: the stop of the diplomatic embargo against Narendra Modi.
The comment is: what can you do? Can you really boycott the democratic will of a state? Can you seriously interfere with the internal political life of a foreign country? Of course not. A massacre happened, thousands were killed. Can we exercise more pressure to obtain justice for them? No. So let’s make a move and lobby for your companies. Better now on the minor stage of regional election than later on under national (and international) spotlight.
The other, implicit message is: we firmly stand against perpetrators of crimes and atrocities. But only up to a certain point. When the cost of principles is higher than the economic return, principles can go back to be a fight of intellectuals.
The British government tried the “impossible” in 2009, sending even Mr Milliband. He and Mr Kouchner fought for a couple of days with words, then they gave up. Verbally, the international community condemned the massacres of 40 000 (according to UN) (though it is likely to be more than double that, with the most dramatic estimates putting the figure at 140 000), but no action seriously concerns the Rajapaksa administration. Why?
First, you can say geopolitical reasons. China, India, the String of Pearls. So Europe was really toothless in that occasion. And after 3 years you have to decide: can you do justice to the victims. The answer of the British government has been a sound no. It’s too early to trial the government, it’s too late to save the victims. So let’s move on. There are alliances and businesses to attend.
This year Rajapaksa was invited for the Queen’s Jubilee and later on for the inauguration of the Olympics. Sri Lanka will also host the Commonwealth summit in 2013.
What is wrong is that the events of 2009 don’t have culprits. But everybody in the international community has enough information that clearly points at the president and at his administration. Maybe it’s too early for an international trial and it is definitely too late to save the victims. Nonetheless you are still in time to stand for justice and truth. Brutality and crime against humanity are always on the wrong side. Is there really a need to say it? It appears so, because the urge to do business, to come first for deals, can obscure even the most basic principles.
It is not always good diplomacy to confront a country; the USA made a mission to isolate Iran. Maybe the UK doesn’t have the power and the will to be so vocal against Sri Lanka.
But if you start now to have normalized relationships, it is an implicit admission of acceptance for what happened.
The message is: stand for principles till you can, then shake hands and sign contracts.