Why India abstained from voting against Sri Lanka in UNHRC

India’s abstinence from the resolution demanding an independent international investigation against the alleged war crimes and human rights excesses in Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Thursday is not surprising because it gains nothing domestically for a vote in favour.

In the process - by not voting against Sri Lanka - it has gained some geo-political mileage with the island nation.

India said that it had abstained from the vote against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC unlike the resolutions in 2009, 2012 and 2013, this resolution imposes an international investigative mechanism.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had recommended that the 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva authorise an investigation, saying Sri Lanka has made "little progress" toward ensuring accountability for alleged atrocities.

Sri Lanka has been opposing the international probe into the allegations. AP

Sri Lanka has been opposing the international probe into the allegations. AP

This was the third successive resolution for Sri Lanka at the UN rights body which called for an international criminal probe into alleged war crimes committed during the country's decades long civil war against the LTTE.

India’s only domestic worry about the UNHRC vote has been the backlash from Tamil Nadu. On both the occasions in the past, when US-led resolutions were passed against the island nation, India voted in its favour for fear of a backlash from Tamil Nadu after being publicly indecisive till the last minute.

Tamil Nadu witnessed widespread protests and rallies demanding India to vote in favour of the resolution. All the political parties in the state wanted India to support the resolution, with the Tamil Nadu assembly even unanimously asking for it. A popular Sinhala majority perception in Sri Lanka was that UNHRC did not have the mandate to set up an international probe.

But now that the Congress has nothing to gain in Tamil Nadu for the Lok Sabha polls with the DMK deserting it, the party couldn't care less. The party is not even a contender in the polls in the state with most of its frontline leaders refusing to contest the elections. With this vote it also doesn't lose anything.

On the other hand, by abstaining, it can better its relations - which have been somewhat strained over the last two years - with Sri Lanka. New Delhi has been concerned by its curtailed geopolitical leverage with Sri Lanka, with the island nation apparently favouring China over India. China has taken up some big buck infrastructure projects in the island over the last few years, one of which is a strategic port.

The Congress and the UPA will certainly come under criticism from the political parties in Tamil Nadu. But with no stakes in the state, they will mean nothing for the national party. The BJP might attack the Congress for some political brownie points in the state, forgetting the fact that it too had not honoured Tamil Nadu’s sentiments in the past.

Updated Date: Mar 27, 2014 19:01 PM

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