Sri Lanka: End of India’s ‘Panchasheel’
Posted on November 15th, 2013

By Janaka Perera

‚ The level of Indian participation in this year-â„¢s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) reflects the deterioration of Indo-Lanka relations within a span of less than 40 years. ‚ When the last major international conference, the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, was held in Sri Lanka in 1976 the ties between the two countries were at their peak.‚  The Bandaranaike and Gandhi families were like relatives.‚ ‚ 

‚ Up to the end of the 1970s Sri Lanka was one of the very few South Asian countries which had the least problems with India both having maintained systems of parliamentary democracy despite many shortcomings. In 1976 when the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attended the NAM summit Sri Lanka-â„¢s PM Sirima Bandaranaike vacated her official residence -ËœTemple Trees-â„¢ for Gandhi to stay there for the duration of the conference.

‚ Two years before, in 1974, the two leaders signed a pact where they agreed to grant citizenship to the 150,000 Indian Tamils whose status was left resolved by the Sirima-Shastri Pact of 1964 under which 525,000 Indian Tamils were to be repatriated.‚  Another 300,000 would be offered Sri Lanka citizenship.

‚ Despite her close relations with Indian Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, Mrs. Bandaranaike held firm to Sri Lanka-â„¢s national interest.

‚ Not surprisingly Tamil extremists were highly critical of these agreements calling them Indian collusion with Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) against Tamils.‚  ‚ ‚ But that was the time Indian centre was strong and therefore its decisions could not been swayed by parochial politics. ‚ Earlier the centre under Prime Minister Nehru had dealt successfully with Tamil secessionism in South India.

‚ Those were the days when India under Nehru agreed to abide by Panchasheel – the‚ Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence -” a set of principles to govern relations between States.‚  The principles were:

1.‚ ‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

2.‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Mutual non-aggression.

3.‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

4.‚ ‚ ‚  Equality and mutual benefit.‚ 

5.‚ ‚ ‚ ‚  Peaceful co-existence.

‚ Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru emphasized these principles in a broadcast speech at the time of the Asian Prime Ministers Conference at Colombo, a few days after the Sino-Indian treaty was signed in Beijing.‚  The five principles were subsequently incorporated in modified form in a statement of 10 principles at the historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955.

‚ India-â„¢s first ignored the principles when she intervened in former East Pakistan, leading to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. By the 1980s India-â„¢s commitment to the same principles concerning Sri Lanka too began to decline rapidly. Also contributing to this state of affairs were the blunders the UNP Government committed after coming to power in 1977.‚ 

‚ The steps India took to halt SL-â„¢s successful anti-LTTE military offensive in 1987 heralded the beginning of the end of Delhi-â„¢s Panchsheel. ‚ Delhi-â„¢s scant regard for the five principles was epitomized by India-â„¢s then High Commissioner in Colombo J.N. Dixit -” better known as India-â„¢s -ËœViceroy-â„¢ in Sri Lanka for he apparently considered this country an Indian protectorate.

India-â„¢s Sri Lanka policy since the 1980s prompted a Sri Lankan writer Palitha Senanayake to state:‚ -If Sri Lanka is to solve the -ËœTamil problem-â„¢ once and for all, it has to physically drag the island away from its present location and locate it in a place away from the ambit of India.- (Chapter 19 in the book, Sri Lanka -” The War Fuelled by Peace)

‚ Today it goes without saying that the Indian Centre has become the virtual hostage of Tamil Nadu-â„¢s racist politics which are completely indifferent to the geopolitical realities of the region and India-â„¢s own long-term foreign policy interests. There is no better example of this than Indian PM Manmohan Singh-â„¢s failure to participate in the CHOGM.

‚ In an interview with the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, this week, India-â„¢s Janatha Party President Subramanian Swamy attributed Manmohan Singh-â„¢s non-participation to Sonia Gandhi and her Congress politics.

‚ 

12 Responses to “Sri Lanka: End of India’s ‘Panchasheel’”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Good analysis here by Janaka. Thank you, Janaka.

    Attempting to see the larger picture here :

    * Post-World Wars I&II, saw Indo/Lanka friendship flourish. PM Nehru & Panchaseela came about and also anti-Separatist Laws of India (PM Nehru). Post WW I&II saw some one and half Million Tamils brought in as Indentured Labor by colonists Britain and the Netherlands (Dutch) with the British ‘Divide & Rule’ principle giving Tamils prime positions in administration, politics & education.

    * Post Independence from Colonial Britain saw some conflicts develop between India & Sri Lanka, mainly due to Cold War and Tamil citizenship issues, India going with eastern bloc and Sri Lanka with the western bloc.

    Grass roots Sinhale, the JVP, were with the eastern bloc. The Tamil leaders enmeshed in Northern Caste Wars, saw possibilities toward ending their internal conflicts by running with the western bloc and throwing a mythical Eelam toward Tamil masses, both in Sri Lanka & Tamil Nadu. Hence pet Tigers wearing a pro-west Crosses (and cyanide capsules). Also seen to present date, pro-Tamil sympathetic stand and ignoring terrorism by ltte by most of the western countries.

    Prince Charles has called for ‘healing’. To date no Tamil leader has apologized for the shameful acts of killing and violence by the ltte. Past Pres. CBK has apologized to the Tamil people twice, for what reason I do not know.

    It appears that the world has foisted the Tamil Problem of Caste/poverty on GoSL & Sri Lankans. Is that fair and reasonable ? Do we accept the blame for Tamil Problems created in Tamil Nadu when Lanka had nothing to do with such problems and has, as a country, only helped Tamils with FREE Education & Health Care and went to war when Lanka could no longer bear the acts of terrorism by the ltte ?

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Read as “Saw during WW I&II some One and half Million Tamils brought in as Indentured Labor …… “

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Please note that ALL these leaders are talking about “Human Rights” and “Reconciliation” in SRI LANKA, not the other 52 countries in the CommonWealth!

    In other words, the CHOGM has DEGENERATED into a COORDINATED ATTACK FOCUSED on Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka alone! Everyone, including the UK, one of two chief war -mongering nations on Earth, is sitting in judgement on Sri Lanka!

    This is ONE REASON I had Opposed the Sri Lanka Hosting the CHOGM.

    The OTHER REASON is that Sri Lanka has paid a STEEP PRICE, empowering the Eelamists in the Northern Province suspending the REPEAL of the 13th Amendment and DISSOLUTION of the Provincial Council System.

    IF ANY GOOD comes out of this, it is that the GOSL, with the Indian-Pie plastering its face, will OUST India out of Sri Lanka UNCEREMONIOUSLY in all areas, REPEAL the 13th Amendment and DISMANTLE the Provincial Council System by leaf, branch, trunk and root.

    If that happens, I will be ECSTATIC and light celebratory FIRECRACKERS … just like on May 19, 2009!

  4. jayasiri Says:

    Thank you all.. Janaka,Frank Diaz & Ananada-USA. As long as I remember, we all have given our opinions about this DIVISIVE unacceptable ammendment 13, 13 A or any part of it.

    I for one, wanted CHOGM to be over, for us to concentrate on HOW WE SHOULD act & prod our leaders to DO AWAY with 13th ammendment in ANY FORM.

    WE MUST make it a POINT to NOT follow or carry out INDIA’s intrution back in the days of JRJ (our late President). Many people died & some political leaders KEPT away & yet JRJ was affraid about his life. I know when people, even POLITICAL LEADERS attain a certain age, THEY WILL WORRY about their lives.

    I blame squareley ON JVP & Southern politics, for having JRJ cornered in such a way, that he had TO GIVE In to Indian demands.

    NOW the road is clear, all people who are TRUE patriots of Motherlanka SHOULD INSIST upon HE President Rajapaksha to DO HIS DUTY & find a way out of THIS situation. JUST THE VERY REASON INDIA insists on it, WE SHOULD DEFY & treat INDIA as a cowardy nation. Other suitable language we use to describe India & Indians from the time we know, can be used after.

    Those sentiments we harbour for that fateful day, where INDIA should be treated the way she should be treated. I feel our legal minds & OUR ELDERS are educated & exoperienced ENOUGH to guide our President in the RIGHT DIRECTION this time.

    I hope others from Australia, UK & USA who contributeed to do away with 13th ammendment, can NOW get together and DEMAND it should go. THERE IS NO EXCUSE WHAT SO EVER to delay this process.

    Thank you all………Very glad to see that Lankans here & in Sri Lanka are concerned about our Motherland….J

  5. aloy Says:

    Panchasheel doesn’t work. The word they understand is MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Someone in this forum indicated that we already have that instrument. If that is true, it is the greatest achievement of this government and we can deal with India on equal footing.

  6. Nanda Says:

    Panchaseela ( Pali word) which existed in India even before Buddha ( which Buddha adopted as the discipline code of lay people). It has entirely different set of rules which will make a human being very gentle. Similarly the rules,

    1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
    2. Mutual non-aggression.
    3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
    4. Equality and mutual benefit.
    5. Peaceful co-existence.

    , if applied among countries, will make a country very gentle.

    However, starting from his own daughter, India did just the opposite.

    Even if you take the original principles,
    Indians killed Sri Lankans ( Prabha)
    India stole Sri Lanka of everthing
    India raped Sri lanka ( Rajiv + parippu + 13A)
    India Lie to Sri Lanka on daily basis
    India is intoxicated by Tamil race.

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    “Panchasheel doesn’t work. The word they understand is MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).”

    ABSOLUTELY!

    This is how the world works.

    UNLESS country A knows country B can and (if need be) will WHACK its interests, country A SHALL scrww country B. This is the default position.

    Yes. SL has the power to do so. It was actually put in place by JR, Gamini, Cyril and Lalith in August 1983 fearing an Endian invasion. Now the equipment has improved.

    SL NEED NOT attack Endia or have the capability to attck Endia to MAD deter Endia. Just have the capability to WIPE OUT the people Endia tries to protect in SL. That is sufficient.

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    Correction. Not August 1983 but 5th September 1983.

    “They are bringing an army from (sic) India. It will take 14 hours to come from (sic) India and camp in Sri Lanka. But it takes only 14 minutes to erase them who (sic) India want to protect. Who attacked them? Tamils. Who protected them? Sinhalese. It is we who can let you get attacked and protect you, not (sic) India.”

    How true!

  9. Ananda-USA Says:

    HERE is an IMMEDIATE OPPORTUNITY to convey to India’s Sri Lanka’s assessment of Man Mohan Singh’s decision on attending the CHOGM after Sri Lanka appeased him with the Northern PC Elections: DENY India’s ONGC the opportunity to submit a proposal to explore for Oil & Gas in Sri Lankan waters off Mannar!

    The GOSL should NOT give India any stake in these sensitive waters, already a bone of contention due to illegal poaching by Indian Fishermen. If we can’t even get India to leave our marine resources alone and control its Tamil Nadu based fishermen, how does the GOSL hope to get India to act honestly on joint petroleum resource exploitation? This is a marriage between incompatible partners sure to end in marital abuse and acrimonious divorce.

    I have been an Engineering Manager of Oil & Gas Production and Exploration R&D at Gulf Oil Corporation and at Chevron Oil Corporation for nearly a decade. I KNOW how easy it is to steal oil and gas across international boundaries from adjacent producing properties, because the flow of oil and gas through porous pathways continuous across these boundaries can be manipulated through pumping at production and injection wells. If the blocks on both the Indian and the Sri Lankan sides of the international border are operated by Indian companies, such as the ONGC, where is the INDEPENDENT OVERSIGHT to protect Sri Lanka’s oil resources? Which IDIOT would allow the Indian FOX to mind the Sri Lankan HEN HOUSE!

    Above and beyond the wisdom of joint ventures with India, it should be CLEAR now to the GOSL that Sri Lanka should END all diplomatic, economic, and military dependence and collaboration with India, because India cannot be a RELIABLE PARTNER for Sri Lanka as long as Tamil Nadu remains MUCH MORE IMPORTANT to India than Sri Lanka. That REALITY will NEVER CHANGE, and Sri Lanka should ESCAPE from the DEADLY SUFFOCATING EMBRACE of India before Sri Lanka loses her Sovereignty and her ability to survive and achieve our goal of becoming the New Wonder of Asia.

    My advice to the GOSL is: DO NOT enter into Oil and Gas exploration and Production with India. Instead, seek out other partners such as Vietnam which will not threaten India, failing that China, or even Israel!

    If GOSL wants the message to be sent gradually … then open the bidding on these blocks to all countries, specifically invite Vietnam and China to bid, and then award it to either Vietnam or China in the end.

    Send a MESSAGE NOW to India that Sri Lanka does not take kindly to the extension of Indian HEGEMONY over Sri Lanka and INTERFERENCE in our Sovereign nation, by turning down India’s bid for Oil & Gas exploitation in Sri Lankan waters.

    ………………………..
    ONGC seeks govt nod to bid for Lanka gas blocks

    Anupama Airy
    HindustanTimes.com
    New Delhi
    November 15, 2013

    Given the ongoing tensions with Sri Lanka and in the wake of the recent decision of Indian Prime Minister to cancel his trip to the neighbouring nation, state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has sought political clearance from the ministry of external affairs (MEA) to participate in Sri Lanka’s offshore bidding rounds that are open till November 29.

    The offshore area of Sri Lanka’s Cauvery and Mannar basins holds tremendous potential and has attracted several upstream companies due to gas discoveries in Mannar Basin. These blocks also hold immense strategic importance as they are located close to Indian shores.

    “India’s presence in Sri Lanka’s oil and gas sector assumes great strategic importance for us …however, given the ongoing situation with Sri Lanka, we need to seek political clearance before ONGC goes ahead and submits its bid …the decision rests with the MEA,” said a senior petroleum ministry official.

    Government sources also said that MEA was unlikely to hold back ONGC to bid for oil and gas blocks in Sri Lanka as New Delhi over the past few years has making all efforts to get a toehold in most oil and gas exploration blocks on borders with neighbours such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

    “Due to the strategic importance of these blocks, officials from both the petroleum and foreign ministries have been holding parleys with top officials of these countries to get allotment of these blocks on nomination basis,” the official added.

    Sri Lanka had launched the second offshore petroleum bidding round on March 7 and around 19 blocks have been offered. ONGC’s global arm — ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) has already qualified for participation in the bidding process.

    “OVL is keen to participate in the Sri Lanka Bid Round 2013 and after studying the data, may consider submission of bids for technically and commercially viable exploration blocks on or before November 29 …it is requested that the political clearance for OVL’s entry into Sri Lanka may please be obtained from MEA,” OVL wrote to the petroleum ministry.

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had recently conveyed his decision to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa over skipping the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) keeping in mind public sentiments in Tamil Nadu.

    However, foreign minister Salman Khurshid attended the Commonwealth summit on Friday despite demands from political parties in Tamil Nadu for a total boycott.

  10. Ananda-USA Says:

    Tamils here lead better life than those in TN, Basil tells foreign media.

    By Shamindra Ferdinando
    Island.lk
    November 15, 2013

    Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa has urged Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to stop worrying about Sri Lankan Tamils who, he says, enjoy far better living conditions than those living in her state.

    Minister Rajapaksa pointed out the absurdity in CM Jayalalithaa’s much repeated concerns as regards the Tamil speaking people here, whereas the vast majority of her people lived in abject poverty.

    The soft-spoken minister was reacting to a foreign journalist, who waylaid him at the media centre at the BMICH. The minister was accompanied by Media Secretary Charitha Herath.

    A smiling Rajapaksa said that Sri Lankan Tamils were economically strong and experiencing post-war developments, therefore TN politicians should look after their own. The minister challenged the media to compare the situation in the Northern Province and that of Tami Nadu. Having pointed out that the people had been provided with water, electricity and housing, he urged the media to visit Jaffna to see the ground situation for themselves.When the same journalist queried the minister about the ongoing protest campaign in the Valigamam, in the Jaffna peninsula, targeting the government, an angry Rajapaksa said the people had the freedom to protest in Jaffna or any other part of the country. Recalling recent attack on Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu, the minister said the media should visit both the southern Indian state as well as the Northern part of Sri Lanka to examine the ground situation.

    Minister Rajapaksa told The Island that a section of the media was working at the behest of those undermining post-war stability here. He said that an influential section of the British media was spearheading a costly operation targeting Sri Lanka. In spite of their efforts, the government development project was on track, the minister said, urging the media not to turn a blind eye to post-war developments. The minister alleged that the LTTE rump had hired an expensive international propaganda outfit to spearhead the campaign against Sri Lanka.

    He stressed that whatever the media said about Sri Lanka, the masses knew they were safe today, but some people couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over LTTE terrorism. Responding to a query, the Minister emphasized that India too, benefited from the eradication of the LTTE in May 2009. “The LTTE posed an immense threat to India, therefore the destruction of the LTTE was nothing but a necessity. We had the solid backing of many countries, including India and New Delhi knew what was happening. Tamil Nadu too, was aware of the campaign against the LTTE. The war was brought to an end a few days before parliamentary elections in India,” he said.

    The minister said that ongoing Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) would never have been a reality as long as the LTTE retained a conventional military capability. A gathering of over 50 heads of state or their representatives in Colombo was unthinkable a few years ago, the minister said, while recalling India positioning warships off Colombo during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 2008.

    Commenting on Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s decision to skip CHOGM 2013, Minister Rajapaksa it was a far bigger problem for India than Sri Lanka.

  11. Ananda-USA Says:

    Cameron was using SL visit to win UK Tamil concerns-MR

    DailyMirror.lk
    November 16, 2013

    President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ‘suggested’ that visiting UK Prime Minister David Cameron was using the visit to win favour with the Tamil community in the UK, the UK’s The Guardian reported.

    Downing Street sources conceded that Cameron made little headway with Rajapaksa during an hour-long meeting on Friday evening.

    They described the exchange as robust and animated, with Rajapaksa acknowledging problems in his country but arguing that they needed time to be sorted out.

    During the encounter, Cameron quoted Winston Churchill, urging the president to show “in victory, magnanimity”, and compared the path of reconciliation to the Northern Ireland peace process.

    He brought up attacks on Christians and Muslims, the murder of British national Khuram Shaikh, the killing of journalists and seizure of land.

    Cameron also mentioned a Channel 4 documentary about atrocities allegedly committed by state forces in the last months of the war, containing images verified by the UN.

    However, the president batted away the allegations and suggested that Cameron was using the visit to win favour with the Tamil community in the UK.

    Earlier, a Sri Lankan media minister had warned the prime minister he could not treat the country like a colony.

    Following his visit to Jaffna on Friday evening, Cameron told television reporters he believed the visit had been worthwhile to highlight the plight of many people suffering in Jaffna.

    “The pictures of journalists, shot and killed, on the walls, and hearing stories of journalists who have disappeared long after the war has ended – that will stay with me,” he said.

    “And the image, in this camp, of talking to a young woman who came here when she was very young – a child in this camp – and wants nothing more than to go to her own home.”

    Cameron also argued that the Commonwealth had helped bring about elections in the provinces and suggested that he would raise concerns about the situation in Sri Lanka in international forums including the G20 and EU.

    This could include pushing for an international investigation into human rights abuses, amid few signs the government will agree to hold an inquiry of its own that would satisfy observers as credible.

    He added: “These issues aren’t settled in one day or one visit.”

  12. Ananda-USA Says:

    Let Sri Lanka USE this “Indian Blunder” to KICK India OUT OF Sri Lanka, completely!

    India is an ENEMY of SRi Lanka’s National Interests!

    Individual Sri Lankan Citizens can play an part in divesting Sri Lanka of Indian influence, independently of the GOSL:

    BOYCOTT Indian Goods & Services! Don’t buy ANY Indian goods .. including Parippu! Don’t patronize ANY Indian Banks and Hospitals in Sri Lanka! Don’t visit India for ANY kind of tourism or business deals … go to China instead!

    ……………………………
    Indian blunder in Sri Lanka

    By Harsh V Pant

    November 11, 2013

    So finally the Indian government decided that partisan politics is far too important to be sacrificed at the altar of national interest and took the decision that external affairs minister Salman Khurshid will head the Indian delegation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Sri Lanka next week instead of prime minister Manmohan Singh. This decision was taken in view of the opposition by parties in Tamil Nadu as well as a section in Congress and further underscores the weakening of the authority of the PM. The external affairs ministry has justified the decision by suggesting that in 10 summit-level meetings since 1993, the PM represented India five times while on four occasions, ministers had headed the Indian delegation. But the decision which has been taken under pressure will have long-term consequences for Indian foreign policy which politicians in their attempt at political tokenism are failing to comprehend.

    This decision comes after India voted with 24 other states in May in favour of the controversial United Nation Human Rights Council resolution on human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The main aspect of Indian intervention was the need for the institution of a credible and independent investigation into alleged war crimes and human rights abuses. If last year, New Delhi had tried to amend the West-sponsored resolution to make it less intrusive, more balanced and more respectful of Sri Lankan sovereignty, this year it was trying to do the opposite: bring in amendments to make some words in the resolution stronger. It reportedly pushed for seven written amendments in six paragraphs of the resolution. But if this was aimed at the domestic political landscape, it clearly failed to have any impact as both the AIADMK and the DMK accused the UPA government of “diluting” the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC by not moving any amendment demanded by it.

    As a consequence of such domestic political posturing, India has not only marginalised itself in the affairs of Tamils in Sri Lanka but has also made sure one of its most important neighbours will move further into the arms of China. After repeatedly opposing country-specific resolutions at the UNHCR and other such bodies, India ended up setting a dangerous precedent that will come back to haunt it. India’s foreign policy stands bereft of principle and pragmatism.

    As it is Sri Lanka has been rapidly slipping out of India’s orbit. India failed to exert its leverage over the humanitarian troubles that the Tamils trapped in the fighting were facing. New Delhi’s attempts to end the war and avert humanitarian tragedy in north-east Sri Lanka proved futile.

    Colombo’s centrality between Aden and Singapore makes it extremely significant strategically for Indian power projection possibilities. After initially following India’s lead in international affairs, even demanding that the British leave from their naval base at Trincomalee air base and air base at Katunayake in 1957, Colombo gradually gravitated towards a more independent foreign policy posture. And it was India’s enthusiasm for China that made Sri Lanka take China seriously but after the Chinese victory in its 1962 war with India, Colombo started courting Beijing much more seriously.

    And now China has displaced Japan as Sri Lanka’s major aid donor with an annual package of $1 billion. Bilateral trade has doubled over the last five years with China emerging as the largest trading partner of Sri Lanka. China is now supplying over half of all the construction and development loans Sri Lanka is receiving.

    Chinese investment in the development of infrastructure and oil exploration projects in Sri Lanka has also gathered momentum. China is providing interest free loans and preferential loans at subsidised rates to Sri Lanka for the development of infrastructure. It is the first foreign nation to have an exclusive economic zone in Sri Lanka. China is involved in a range of infrastructure development projects in Sri Lanka — constructing power plants, modernising Lankan railway, providing financial and technical assistance in launching of communication satellites.

    China is financing over 85 per cent of the Hambantota Development Zone to be completed over the next decade. This will include an international container port, a bunkering system, an oil refinery, and international airport. The port, deeper than the one in Colombo, is to be used as a refuelling and docking station for its navy.

    Though the two sides claim that this is merely a commercial venture, its future utility as a strategic asset by China remains a real possibility to India’s consternation. For China, Hambantota will not only be an important transit for general cargo and oil but a presence in Hambantota also enhances China’s monitoring and intelligence gathering capabilities vis-à-vis India.

    India has expressed its displeasure about growing Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka on a number of occasions. In 2007, India’s national security adviser openly criticised Sri Lanka for attempting to purchase Chinese-built radar system on the grounds that it would “overreach” into the Indian air space. Yet Sri Lanka has emerged stronger and more stable after the military success in the Eelam war and the two elections at the national level. To counter Chinese influence, India has been forced to step up its diplomatic offensive and offer Colombo reconstruction aid. With the LTTE out of the picture, India has been hoping that it will have greater strategic space to manage bilateral ties.

    However, where New Delhi will have to continue to balance domestic sensitivities and strategic interests, Beijing faces no such constraint in developing even stronger ties with Colombo. As a result, India is struggling to make itself more relevant to Sri Lanka than China.

    Colombo matters because Indian Ocean matters. The “great game” of this century will be played on the waters of the Indian Ocean. Though India’s location gives it great operational advantages in the ocean, it is by no means certain that New Delhi is in a position to hold on to its geographic advantages. China is rapidly catching up and its ties with Sri Lanka are aimed at expanding its profile in this crucial part of the world.

    India’s decision to not attend the CHOGM summit at the prime ministerial level will not only make India even more marginal in Sri Lanka with some grave long-term damage to its vital interests but will also raise doubts about India’s ability to lead South Asia.

    The author is a reader in international relations, department of defence studies, King’s College, London.

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