India-Sri Lanka

Context: Recently, Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe visited Delhi for an official visit.  
PYQ: Q. India is an age-old friend of Sri Lanka.’ Discuss India’s role in the recent crisis in Sri Lanka in the light of the preceding statement. (2022)
 Major Pillars of India-Sri Lanka Relations:
  • Historical Relations: India and Sri Lanka have a long history of cultural, religious, and trade ties dating back to ancient times.
  • There are strong cultural ties between the two countries, with many Sri Lankans tracing their heritage to India. Buddhism, which originated in India, is also an important religion in Sri Lanka.
  • Economic Cooperation: India is Sri Lanka’s third largest export destination, after the US and UK. More than 60% of Sri Lanka’s exports enjoy the benefits of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement.
  • India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner with a share of 16 percent in Sri Lanka’s total trade with the world.
  • Defense Cooperation: India and Sri Lanka conduct joint Military (Mitra Shakti) and Naval exercise (SLINEX).
  • Development Cooperation: The Indian Housing Project, with an initial commitment to build 50,000 houses in war affected areas and estate workers in the plantation areas, is Government of India (GoI)’s flagship grant project in Sri Lanka.
  • Regional cooperation: India and Sri Lanka are both members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and are actively involved in regional initiatives aimed at improving economic and social conditions in South Asia.
  • Tourism: The Government of India formally launched the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme for Sri Lankan tourists in 2015.
  • To enhance connectivity between the two nations India and Sri Lanka entered into an Open Sky Agreement in 2016 enabling Sri Lankan Airlines to operate an unlimited number of flights to India.
  • Human Resource Development: India offers about 710 scholarship slots annually to Sri Lankan students.
  • Indian institutes under ‘Study in India’ Program provide technical expertise across a diverse range of courses, and include programs in niche disciplines such as Ayurveda, Yoga, and Buddhist Studies. 
Challenges in India-Sri Lanka Relations:
  • Tamil ethnic issue: The Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted till 2009, had a significant impact on India-Sri Lanka relations.
  • Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority, which shares cultural and linguistic ties with Tamil Nadu, has been a concern for India. The treatment of the Tamil population during the conflict and the aftermath have at times strained relations between the two countries.
  • Terrorism: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a militant organization that emerged in the northern region of Sri Lanka which sought to establish an independent state called Tamil Eelam for the ethnic Tamil minority in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.
  • It assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi which led to a significant deterioration in India-Sri Lanka relations.
  • Maritime Boundary Dispute: Katchatheevu is a small uninhabited island in Palk Strait, that connects the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea.
  • It is a disputed territory between Sri Lanka and India, claimed until 1976 by India, and administered by Sri Lanka at the moment.
  • Fisheries Dispute: India and Sri Lanka have been facing a long-standing dispute over fishing rights in the Palk Bay.
  • China’s Growing Influence: China’s increasing influence in Sri Lanka, through investment and infrastructure projects, has been a source of concern for India and has put pressure on the relationship.
  • For Example: Cumulative Chinese investments account for 18 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 2021 GDP and 10.8 percent of the country’s foreign debt. This allows China special access to Sri Lanka — and its waters.
  • Recently, the Chinese ship, Yuang Wang 5 was docked at Hambantota port which possessed sensors that could track India’s ballistic missiles if they are tested.
  • Political Instability: Political instability in Sri Lanka has also had an impact on the relationship, with changes in government leading to shifts in foreign policy.
  • India’s Support to 13th Amendment of Sri Lanka’s Constitution Implementation: In the aftermath of the civil war, there have been discussions on the devolution of power to the provinces in Sri Lanka, particularly in the Northern and Eastern regions.
  • India has shown interest in a lasting political solution that accommodates the aspirations of the Tamil minority.
Importance of Sri Lanka to India:
  • Geopolitical Location: Sri Lanka is situated in a strategically significant location in the Indian Ocean region, very close to India’s southern tip. Its proximity makes it a critical neighbor for India in terms of security and regional stability.
  • Maritime Security: Sri Lanka’s position in the Indian Ocean and the presence of crucial maritime chokepoints like the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar give it importance in maintaining India’s maritime security interests.
  • Cultural and Historical links: India and Sri Lanka have deep-rooted cultural and historical connections dating back centuries. These ties provide a strong foundation for diplomatic relations and people-to-people contacts.
  • Energy security: Sri Lanka’s location makes it significant for India’s energy security, as it is a potential partner for regional energy projects, including those involving renewable energy and power connectivity.
  • Regional influence: Both India and Sri Lanka play essential roles in the dynamics of South Asia. Their collaboration and coordination can significantly impact regional affairs and contribute to peace and stability in the broader South Asian region.
India’s Role in Recent Sri Lanka Economic Crisis:
  • India extended emergency financial support of about $4 billion, providing relief at a time when citizens struggled amid critical shortages of essentials.
  • India played a key role in helping Sri Lanka secure a nearly $3-billion package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • India is also part of an official creditor’s committee, with Japan and other Paris Club members, and is currently negotiating a debt treatment plan with Sri Lanka.
Way Forward: 
  • Sustained Engagement and Collaboration: The way forward in India-Sri Lanka relations involves sustained engagement and collaboration, based on mutual respect and understanding, to enhance the well-being of their peoples and the stability of the region.
  • Decoupling from Tamil Nadu Politics: India’s Sri Lanka policy should not be guided by Tamil Nadu. This must be avoided if India has to make effective course correction in Sri Lanka. India playing into its domestic coalition politics calculation has meant that it has lost the strategic field to China to a great extent.
  • Diversifying Engagement in Sri Lanka: While bringing ethnic Tamils to the national mainstream and peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka are important goals, India should not be pursuing a Tamils-only agenda in its outreach to Sri Lanka. India must create different constituencies in Sri Lanka that will ensure a level playing field for India.
  • Managing China’s Influence: Engaging in constructive dialogue with Sri Lanka about its relations with other countries, including China, to avoid misunderstandings and suspicions.
  • Offering competitive alternatives to Sri Lanka in terms of infrastructure development and investments to mitigate over-reliance on a single partner.
  • Non-Reciprocal Engagement with Sri Lanka: India must engage, understand, and assist Sri Lanka in a non-reciprocal manner, but it has to ensure that it is not taken for granted under any circumstance.
  • India should not be complacent with the policy announcement from Colombo and must insist that India’s concerns and interests should be taken due care of.
Key Highlights of Visit:
  • India and Sri Lanka adopted a ‘vision document’ for a deeper economic partnership based on five pillars: 
  • Maritime Connectivity: It outlines cooperation in development of ports and logistics at Colombo, Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai, with an aim to consolidate regional logistics and shipping.
  • Air Connectivity: It mentions expansion of flights between Chennai and Colombo, besides exploring connectivity between Chennai and Trincomalee
  • Energy and Power connectivity: To “establish a high-capacity power grid interconnection with an aim to enable bidirectional electricity trade between Sri Lanka and other regional countries, including those of the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) initiative.
  • Trade, economic and financial connectivity: Both sides agreed to operationalise “UPI-based digital payments for further enhancing trade and transactions between businesses and common people”.
  •  People-to-People connectivity: The two countries also plan “to promote awareness and popularize India’s Buddhist circuit, and Ramayana trail as well as ancient places of Buddhist, Hindu and other religious worship in Sri Lanka for enhancing tourism”,
  • India conveyed to Sri Lanka about the expectations on fulfilling the aspirations of the Tamil community living in Sri Lanka
 News Source: The Hindu
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