India Sri Lanka Relations – Important Dimensions.

Political Crisis in Sri Lanka and India’s stand –

Sri Lanka recently went through a prolonged political crisis in which Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena withdrew support to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and swore in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place.

Even as the European Union and the United States expressed concern over the move India chose to maintain a studied silence.

Why India chose to be silent – It is likely that New Delhi has found that taking credit or being blamed for every political development in the neighbourhood is, over time, detrimental to the “Neighbourhood First” policy it espouses, with accusations of interference being made by parties in Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives. Playing a card either way during Sri Lanka’s current turmoil would not be seen as helpful to India’s long-term interests in the region. Moreover, the R&AW has been blamed by politicians in Sri Lanka of meddling in the elections.

Therefore, India has chosen to take a wait and watch approach.

Source: The Hindu

Delayed Projects –

A number of development projects between India and Sri Lanka have been delayed. The Prime Minister’s Office had expressed its concern over such delayed projects. These projects are being undertaken under the Indo-Sri Lanka joint development projects in accordance with the MoU signed between India and Sri Lanka in 2017.

The delay could also be attributed to the differences between leadership and political crisis that Sri Lanka is going through.

The pending projects include an LNG terminal in Kerawalapitiya near Colombo, a 50-100 MW solar power plant in Sampur, an oil tank farm in Trincomalee and a container terminal in the Colombo port.

The preferential trade treaty, Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement, still awaits clearances as it faces opposition from Sri Lankan business chambers.

Source: The Hindu

India-Sri Lanka-China triangle

Given the asymmetries in size and power, Sri Lanka finds itself overwhelmed by India’s presence. Hence, resisting India’s overtures for closer cooperation may be seen as part of Sri Lanka’s assertion of its independent identity.

From the Sri Lankan perspective, cultivating China as a counter to India makes strategic sense. The country needs huge capital for its development. China seems to be the only source willing to provide it, albeit on increasingly tougher terms.

Two major arguments are advanced for preference of China for infrastructural projects – one, for most projects Colombo had approached India initially and turned to China only later; two, ‘China delivers, while Indian bureaucracy delays’.

Changing identities – It appears Sri Lanka may be turning away from its identity as a South Asian nation to assert its role as an Indian Ocean country, imbued with an ambition to connect better with ASEAN and Japan. Discontent over the impasse in SAARC and challenges in strengthening the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation are behind this shift. Economic opportunities that could result from better international maritime connectivity and the potential of the blue economy are other motivations.

Future scope –

  • India and Sri Lanka can collaborate in their efforts to turn the Indian Ocean region into one of peace and harmony.
  • The trilateral maritime cooperation among India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives could be revived.
  • The Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement must be expedited. This will allay the fears of the Sri Lankan industry feared being flooded by Indian goods and professionals.

However, political stability is most important for enhanced economic relations between India and Sri Lanka.

Source: The Hindu

Palaly airport controversy –

In September 2018, Indian media reported that the Airport Authority of India had signed an agreement with the Ministry of External Affairs, to prepare a detailed project report for the development of the airport in Palaly, located some 20 km north of Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province. However, a senior Sri Lankan Minister, contradicting the statement by the Airports Authority of India has said that India is not involved in developing Sri Lanka’s northern airport.

Colombo and New Delhi have been keen on beginning commercial operations from this airport, with flights to south Indian cities.

Key takeaway – Flight operations would be beneficial for both the countries in cultural and commercial terms.

Residents of northern Sri Lanka, most of whom are Tamils, have strong cultural ties and familial connections with south India. In early 2014, the Northern Provincial Council passed a resolution calling for direct flights from Palaly and Trincomalee (in the eastern province) to India. Such a service is seen as an easier option for tourists, pilgrims, and refugees, currently living in India, who wish to return home. At present, those travelling from Jaffna travel about 400 km south to Colombo, by bus or private transport, for over seven hours, in order to board a flight bound north again, to India.

Source: The Hindu

Categories: POINT IAS

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