Since the recent presidential elections in Sri Lanka, the equations of India Sri Lanka relations have been changing rapidly. It is noteworthy that in the elections held in Sri Lanka this month, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the seventh President of Sri Lanka, after which Gautabaya went on the first Sri Lankan visit of his term to congratulate Rajapaksa. His visit was considered very important from India’s point of view and now after his visit, newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has visited India. The significance of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to India can be understood from the fact that this is his first foreign trip after taking office. In such a situation, it has to be seen whether the changing equations between the two countries will be able to give a new dimension to their relationship.
India Sri Lanka Relations – A Look
- It is noteworthy that the relationship between India and Sri Lanka is more than 2500 years old. Both countries have significant intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic heritage.
- In the last few years, both countries have made efforts to improve their relations at almost every level. Trade and investment between the two countries has seen an increase and both are cooperating in the development of infrastructure, education, culture and defense.
- At the same time, significant progress in the implementation of development assistance projects has further strengthened the bonds of friendship between the two countries.
- The nearly three-decade long armed conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE ended in 2009, in which India supported the Sri Lankan government’s authority to take action against terrorist forces.
- Sri Lanka has been an important place for Indian FDI for a long time.
- It is important to note that Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners in SAARC. India is also Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner globally.
- After the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement entered into force in March 2000, trade between the two countries has grown significantly.
- India’s exports to Sri Lanka during the year 2015-2017 were $ 5.3 billion, while India’s imports from Sri Lanka were about $ 743 million.
- Also, India is among the top four investors in Sri Lanka with a total investment of over US $ 1 billion since 2003.
- Indian investors have been investing in various sectors of Sri Lanka such as petroleum, IT (IT), financial services, real estate, telecom, tourism, banking, metals industry and infrastructure development (railways) etc.
- Indian tourists have an important place in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, according to a study, one in every five Sri Lankan tourists is Indian.
Cultural and Educational Relations
- The Cultural Cooperation Agreement signed on November 29, 1977 serves as the basis for cultural exchange programs from time to time between the two countries.
- The Indian Cultural Center located in Colombo actively raises awareness about Indian culture through classes in Indian music, dance, Hindi and Yoga.
- Shortly before, India and Sri Lanka celebrated the 2600th birth anniversary of the attainment of enlightenment by Lord Buddha through joint activities. Apart from this, the governments of both countries also celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Buddhist monk Anagarik Dharmapala in the year 2014.
- Apart from this, the Indo-Sri Lanka Foundation was established in December 1998 as an inter-governmental initiative aimed at scientific, technical, educational and cultural cooperation between the citizens of both countries and enhancing the interaction between the younger generation of the two countries.
- There is a long history of defense cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. In recent years, both countries have made considerable efforts to strengthen their military ties.
- Significantly, joint military (Allied Power) and naval exercises (SLINEX) are also conducted between the two countries (India and Sri Lanka).
- Defense training is also provided by India to the Sri Lankan army.
- In April 2019, India and Sri Lanka also entered into an agreement on combating drug and human trafficking.
- Relationship differences
- The differences in the relations between India and Sri Lanka date back to the civil war of Sri Lanka. While Sri Lankan Tamils feel that India has betrayed them, Sinhalese Buddhists feel threatened by India.
- It is known that Mahinda Rajapaksa, the brother of newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost the presidential election in 2015, after the defeat many supporters of the Rajapaksa regime blamed India for their unexpected and surprising defeat.
- Apart from this, the attraction of Rajapaksa rule towards China is also a matter of concern for India. Even during his election campaign, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had openly stated that if he comes to power, more emphasis will be laid on strengthening relations with China.
- It is also true that the rise of Chinese influence in Sri Lanka was parallel to the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was during Rajapaksa’s tenure that Sri Lanka signed a multi-billion dollar infrastructure agreement with China.
- The above facts reflect the continued increasing influence of China in Sri Lanka, which is not at all favorable from India’s point of view.
Sri lankan civil war
- Sri Lanka or the erstwhile Ceylon had been facing ethnic conflicts since becoming independent from British rule in 1948.
- According to the 2001 government census, the main ethnic population of Sri Lanka includes Sinhalese (82%), Tamil (9.4%) and Sri Lankan Moors (7.9%).
- It is known that the Sinhalese opposed British partiality towards Tamils during the colonial period and in the years after independence they displaced Tamil migrant plantation workers from the country and made Sinhala the official language.
- In 1972, the Sinhalese changed the name of the country from ‘Ceylon’ to Sri Lanka and Buddhism was declared the primary religion of the nation.
- LTTE (LTTE) was formed under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1976 after ethnic tensions and conflicts between Tamils and Sinhalese grew and it led to ‘a Tamil homeland’ in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, where most of the Tamils resided. Started promoting.
- In 1983, the LTTE attacked a contingent of Sri Lankan forces, killing 13 soldiers. It is known that this incident sparked riots in Sri Lanka in which around 2,500 Tamil people were killed.
- Subsequently, a direct war between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the majority Sinhalese began. It is important that India played an active role in this Sri Lankan civil war and signed the India-Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987 to provide a political solution to the Sri Lankan conflict.
- India deployed the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka to end LTTE under Operation Pawan. However, the IPKF was removed only 3 years after the violence escalated.
- The year 2009 is considered an important time for the Sri Lankan civil war, as the Sri Lankan army overthrew the LTTE in the same year. It may be noted that this was the time when Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was the President of Sri Lanka and Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself was acting as the Defense Secretary of Sri Lanka.
China’s increasing influence on Sri Lanka
- In recent years, China has loaned billions of dollars to the Government of Sri Lanka for new infrastructure projects, which is not good from India’s point of view in the Indian Ocean region.
- According to statistics, between 2008 and 2012, 60 percent of Sri Lankan foreign borrowing came from China.
- Sri Lanka has also handed over its Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease. It is believed that this port can play an important role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- To reduce the workload of Colombo Port, China developed the Hambantota Port of Sri Lanka at a cost of about one billion dollars.
- It is worth mentioning that this investment was given as a loan to Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka could not get any special benefit from this port, due to which it was burdened with Chinese borrowing.
- Many experts often refer to Sri Lanka as a country that has fallen into a debt trap as a result of China-funded public investment projects.
- According to statistics, currently Sri Lanka’s total foreign borrowing is around $ 55 billion, of which China accounts for about 10 percent.
Sri Lanka’s importance to India
- Located at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka is strategically important to India.
- It is known that the island is located in all the major maritime communication corridors from Europe to East Asia and between major oil exporters and oil importing countries, which makes it very important in geo-political terms.
- Given the strategic importance of Sri Lanka, many believe that any differences in relations with Sri Lanka can affect the geopolitical situation of the country.
- Given the geographical and strategic location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, India has given Sri Lanka a special place in its Indian Ocean Relations Strategy.
- Significantly, the British also considered Sri Lanka to be strategically important for the protection of British India and the Indian Ocean and they also developed a major naval base at Trincomalee on the east coast of Sri Lanka.
- India has always been a main economic partner of Sri Lanka and the two countries share very strong cultural and historical ties.
- Addressing a Sri Lankan delegation recently, President Ram Nath Kovind said that Sri Lanka is very important for Neighborhood First policy.
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Implications of recent travel
- India and Sri Lanka’s relations, which have been facing deep tension for the past few years, will get a new direction from the first official visit of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
- It is known that during his first term, Prime Minister Modi made several attempts to normalize relations with Sri Lanka, but due to the political crisis of Sri Lanka, its prospects were greatly limited.
- During his visit to Colombo last week, Foreign Minister S.K. Jaishankar also indicated that India and Sri Lanka are ready to start their relationship afresh.
- At the same time, Gotabaya also confirmed that Colombo would not take any action that would harm the interests of Delhi. At the same time, he also hopes that Delhi will respect Sri Lanka’s independence in conducting foreign and domestic policies.
Gotabaya has repeatedly confirmed that Sri Lanka does not want to get into a rivalry between the major powers and hence it will follow a policy of neutrality. This major political change of Sri Lanka can prove to be a good opportunity for India to improve its relations with Sri Lanka. It is necessary that the representatives of the two countries try to resolve all differences through bilateral negotiations so that this opportunity can be taken advantage of.
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