India-Sri Lanka Relations
Recently, Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited India, this visit becomes important especially after the recent change of guard in Sri Lanka. The visit can significantly alter the future of the India-Sri-Lanka ties.
● India and Sri Lanka have ties more than 2500 years old, based on intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interaction.
● Both countries have contacts at all levels, there is growth in Trade and Investment with cooperation in the fields of infrastructure, development, education, culture and defence.
● There is significant improvement in the implementation of developmental assistance projects cementing the bonds of friendship between the two countries.
● India had also extended its support to Sri-Lanka in the latter fight against terrorist forces such as the LTTE. India consistently favored negotiated political settlement of Sri Lanka ethnic problems, which is acceptable to all communities within the framework of a united Sri Lanka and is consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights.
Different facets of India-Sri Lanka Relations
⮚ Ever since the civil war ended in Sri Lanka, the country is facing serious human rights allegations. This has created a new competition among the foreign powers for control over the island nation.
⮚ Sri Lanka is also a member of BIMSTEC and SAARC in which India plays a leading role. Also, it forms part of India's ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
⮚ However, in recent times Sri Lanka has moved closer to China and sidelined India’s concerns including over the rehabilitation of Tamils displaced by Civil-war.
⮚ Sri Lanka is one of the priority destinations for direct investments from India. Among the SAARC countries it is one of India’s largest trading partners. India is also the largest trade partner of Sri Lanka globally.
⮚ India-Sri Lanka signed a free trade agreement in March 2000, it addressed local socio-economic sensitivities, safeguarding domestic interest and revenue implications. In order to receive benefits of the agreement, there is need to comply with Rules of Origin criteria.
⮚ To further boost economic ties both countries should sign CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) at earliest. The agreement will impart renewed impetus and synergy to bilateral economic interaction.
⮚ Tourism is also an important sector of economic cooperation and India is the largest source market for Sri Lankan tourism. In tourism, India is the largest contributor with every fifth tourist being from India.
⮚ India has also taken proactive steps to wither the burgeoning trade deficit between two countries.
Defence and Security Cooperation
⮚ Both countries share a long history of security cooperation which has strengthened in recent times. India provides defence training to Sri Lankan forces.
⮚ India-Sri Lanka joint military exercise is known as Mitra Shakti while Naval exercise is SLINEX.
⮚ Both countries along with Maldives share a trilateral maritime security cooperation for surveillance, anti-piracy operations and for reducing maritime pollution in Indian Ocean Region.
⮚ Recently, both countries also signed an agreement on countering Drug and Human trafficking.
⮚ India also provided crucial intelligence to the Sri Lankan government about the Easter bombing, however it was not materialized by the Sri Lankans.
Cultural and Educational Relations
⮚ India and Sri Lanka have signed the Cultural Cooperation Agreement in 1977 which defines Cultural Exchange between the two countries.
⮚ Buddhism serves as a common link and both countries celebrated 2600th year of enlightenment by Lord Buddha
⮚ India offers about 290 scholarship slots annually to Sri Lankan students.
⮚ India provides e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme at concessional rate for Sri Lankan tourist.
Indian Diaspora and Indian Community
⮚ Sri Lanka has significant numbers of People of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Indian Origin Tamil (IOTs). PIOs are both economically prosperous and are well placed in comparison with the IOTs.
⮚ IOTs are mostly employed in either tea or rubber plantations in Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces.
⮚ According to Government census figures (2011), the population of IOTs is about 1.6 million.
Irritants in the India-Sri Lanka Relations
o Thirteenth amendment is the part of the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and provides for political solution to the vexatious ethnic issue. It calls for the setting up of provincial councils as part of devolution of powers, particularly for Tamil minorities.
o In recent times, India reduced its reference to the issue from Tamil aspirations to expectations, Sri Lanka is yet to implement it completely.
o The present government has already decided to look for other alternatives as it believes that certain areas of 13th amendment of the constitution cannot be implemented.
❑ China Factor:
o In recent times, China had strengthened its strategic depth in the island through its Cheque-book diplomacy.
o Sri-Lanka had leased the strategic port of Hambantota (to be a part of the belt and road initiative) to Chinese for 99 years after it struck in China's debt trap.
o Before China took up the Hambantota port work on a construction-cum-concession basis, successive Governments in Colombo had offered the same to India, to no avail.
o China invested sufficiently in the infrastructure of Sri Lanka, which included building of Colombo international container terminal by China Harbor Corporation.
o Sri Lanka has promised that the Hambantota port will not be used for military purposes. Sri Lankan government has decided to retain its oversight of security operations.
o India on the other hand signed civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Sri Lanka which is its first nuclear partnership with any country.
o India is also investing into Sri Lanka’s infrastructure in the Northern and Eastern provinces. India is also planning to build Trincomalee Port to counterweight the Chinese developments at Hambantota Port.
❑ Fishermen issue:
o Proximity of territorial water of both countries, particularly in the Palk Straits and the gulf of Mannar, incidents of straying of fishermen are common.
o To counter the conflict both countries signed treaties to demarcate International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). However, these treaties failed to address the concerns of fishermen who were restricted to limited fishing areas.
o The main conflict is around the small islet of Katchatheevu which Sri Lankan fisherman lost to the other side of the IMBL. Fishermen risk their lives and cross the IMBL leading to conflict with the Sri Lankan Navy.
o Both sides decided to deal with the issue of bona fide fishermen of either side crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line. These agreements helped in the detention of fishermen in a humane manner.
o India and Sri Lanka have agreed to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries between the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare of India and Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development of Sri Lanka as the mechanism to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issue.
India-Going Forward in Sri Lanka
● Sri-Lanka is a unique country politically in a sense that it has both President and Prime Minister being elected directly therefore they can belong to two different political parties. This situation affects the political coherence. But the present situation is now expected to change this situation.
● The new government has offered to neutrality when it comes to India-China power struggle. This must be acceptable to India as it has no need to develop either a military base in Sri Lanka or deploy its forces in an island that is physically so close to peninsular India. But India, certainly can’t accept a situation where Sri Lanka lets the People's Liberation Army turn the Emerald Island into an aircraft carrier for China, or for any other power.
● Sri Lanka is looking for investments from major countries including India, Japan, Singapore and the US to invest in Sri Lanka. Therefore, there is considerable room for creative Indian policy for economic engagement with Sri Lanka under new government.
● Further, India should learn from its military intervention in Sri Lanka that its ability to shape its neighbour’s domestic politics is limited. India must realize that it can’t make its entire relationship hostage to the question of Tamil minority rights. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s opinion on Tamil is similar to India's stance on Kashmir.
● Mutually reinforcing steps along different axes could hopefully expand the possibilities not just for India and Sri Lanka but also resolve Tamil issues. These steps could include Sri Lanka’s confidence building measures with the Tamils and greater cross-border economic cooperation between northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
● India must be seen as a friend of all the communities in Sri Lanka that can offer its good offices to resolve problems between themselves. Sri Lanka too will find that incremental progress on the Tamil question will rapidly widen its space in regional and global affairs and create better conditions for a much-needed economic renewal.
● Rather than focusing on building the case against China, India must step up its efforts to show what it is for. India can never match China’s economic wherewithal to make a difference to Colombo’s developmental requirements. But it can carve out a niche role in some areas and also partner smartly with like minded strategic partners like Japan to make an economic and strategic difference in Sri Lanka.
Sri-Lankan Civil War
Sri Lanka has been mired in ethnic strife since its independence from British rule in 1948.
Majority of Sri-Lankan population consist of Sinhalese (82%), Tamil (9.4%) and Sri Lanka Moor (7.9%).
The root of ethnic conflict was the mistrust between the Sinhalese and Tamil, as the former resented British favoritism towards the Tamil migrant plantation workers from India.
Sinhalese majority made significant changes such as they changed country name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, made Buddhism as primary religion and Sinhala was made official language.
In 1976, ethnic tensions boiled to its maximum when under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran began campaign for independent homeland for Tamil in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
In 1983, a full-scale civil war erupted between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese majority. India took an active role as it is home to more than 60 million Tamils also India and Sri Lanka are separated by narrow the Palk Strait (40 km).
India signed a peace accord also known as Indo-Sri Lankan Accord in 1987 to provide a political solution to the conflict.
Under the accord, India called for:
Establishment of provincial council system and devolution of power for nine provinces in Sri Lanka (the thirteenth amendment).
Under operation Pawan, Indian deployed peace keeping force (IPKF) to disarm militant group. Later IPKF was withdrawn as violence escalated.
In 2009, the violence in the Island finally ended with the destruction of LTTE. India has agreed to reconstruct the war-torn areas.
India voted against Sri Lanka in 2009, 2012 and 2013 at the US-sponsored UNHRC resolution to investigate alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Why Sri-Lanka is important?
Sri-Lanka location in Indian Ocean Region makes its significant geopolitically for several major powers. For eg-
It served as main base for Eastern Fleet and British Royal Navy during world war II.
It had Defence and External Affairs Agreement with Britain and Maritime Agreement with USSR of 1962.
In 1980s it gathered intelligence for USA in the Indian ocean.
Sri Lanka has a list of highly strategic ports located among busiest sea lanes of communication.
It has natural deep-water harbor at Trincomalee which is the fifth largest natural harbor in the world.
Sri Lanka is important in regard with the “Neighborhood First” approach and the “Sagar” doctrine, therefore India attaches “a special priority” to its relations with Sri Lanka.
PEPPER IT WITH
String of Pearls, Katchatheevu island, Fishermen Issue