Posted on May 20th, 2017


It is best to start this essay on Sri Lanka and India, by going all the way back to pre-history. The Indian peninsula and the island of Sri Lanka are next to each other, not because Sri Lanka is part of India, but because both countries are a part of Gondwanaland. Millions of years ago, Africa, Australia, India, Madagascar and Sri Lanka     were part of a large continent named by researchers as Gondwanaland. This Gondwanaland then broke up. Africa moved to the left, Australia moved to the right, the rest went upwards. Mozambique broke off and India with Sri Lanka attached went up and up and hit Asia, creating the Himalayas.

Sri Lanka was originally on the western side of India. Geologists have found that the Western Ghats of southwestern India and the highlands of southwestern Sri Lanka, separated by 400 kilometers, are strikingly similar in their geology, climate and evolutionary history.     (http://www.cepf.net/resources/hotspots/Asia-Pacific/Pages/Western-Ghats-and-Sri-Lanka.aspx}   Sri Lanka therefore was originally attached to western India. It has broken off and swung to the right, ending up below Tamilnadu.  This means that there is no natural link between Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu and the placement of Sri Lanka beside Tamilnadu means nothing.

The sovereign state of India   was created only in 1947. The Indian states are difficult to control and India is a very unstable state.  India will eventually ‘Balkanize’ into multiple sovereign states, despite the anti-secession clause in the Indian constitution.  It will be a messy break up. States will fight over boundaries and rivers.  Landlocked states will try to get access to the sea.  India is like a jigsaw puzzle, observers said. If you shake it hard, it will break up into its component pieces.

The British when they were ruling India concocted the myth that in ancient times everything had originated in India and then spread to the rest of Asia.  British and French scholars spoke of the   ‘Indianised states of Asia.’ Modern Indians swallowed this and started to write books on the ‘Wonder that was India’ and the ‘Discovery of India’.  Due to this, India initially was very arrogant and aggressive when it came to international relations. India considered itself the successor to the British when it came to dominating the Bay of Bengal.  Nehru had tended to dominate the Asian Relations Conference, New Delhi, 1947, by his interjections.

India thought that its great size would automatically make it the dominant power in South Asia. Instead India is heartily disliked by its neighbors.  India’s haughty, aggressive policy only succeeded in angering India’s neighbors. Because of its bullying tactics, India has been described as ‘a regional thug ‘and ‘regional bully’.

Nepal and Bhutan, it is alleged, have become totally dependent on India due to the binding agreements the two countries have signed with India in the last 65 years.  Indian firms are the biggest investors in Nepal. In November 2014, when Modi visited Nepal, he was to have addressed two public meetings but these were cancelled due to opposition from government   and opposition parties. In 2016, Nepali students protested over ‘Indian intervention in the constitution.’ They charged that India was forcing Nepal to amend its constitution.

India fought Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka, but was unable to force them into submission. There were major Indo-Pakistan wars in 1966, 1971 and 1999.  India is still ‘fighting’ Pakistan over border disputes. India fought China in 1962 with brief skirmishes in 1967 and 1987. India was given a drubbing by China in 1962. China attacked simultaneously in all three areas, Tawang, Walong and Ladakh. The operations were clearly prepared well in advance. China annexed the entire north-east and reached as far as Kolkata, then announced a unilateral ceasefire and retreated. There is an ongoing border dispute between India and China which China is not interested in settling. China knows it holds all the aces, said retired Major General Karkar. The Sino Indian border remains China’s only undefined land border. It is one of the longest interstate boundaries in the world and it is becoming heavily militarized.

India was also humiliated by Sri Lanka when it interfered in the Eelam issue. India started by providing a safe haven for the LTTE and trained them. India also gave money to LTTE to buy arms. It is doubtful if the LTTE would have launched its attacks without India to run to.  India sent in their army, and lost 3843 soldiers with nothing to show for it. China and Pakistan have now joined forces, in opposition to India. India does not have enough planes to fight a simultaneous two front war with Pakistan and China.  Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China could gang up against India in the future, said observers.

However, India’s admirers say India is the world’s largest democracy, home to the second-largest English-speaking population in the world and boasting a diversified and rapidly growing economy  India grew fastest among major economies worldwide, at over 7.5 per cent in 2016   and is expected to become the world    third largest economy by 2028 with China as first. India has the largest refinery in the world, in Jamnagar (Gujarat), with a capacity of refining 1.24 million barrels a day. The world’s largest solar power plant with an installed capacity of 648MW will be located at Kamudhi, Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu

India launched its nuclear-capable Agni V missile in 2017. Agni V  is launcher-based, it can be moved, deployed and then re-employed, Chinese nuclear missiles, on the other hand, are silo-based, hence immobile and can be engaged, prior to launch. Agni V has an expected range of over 5,000 kilometers. All major cities of China are now within Indian missile range.

In 2011, India had the world’s sixth largest navy, with 155 vessels and 56 000 personnel on active duty in 2011. In 2017, India’s military rank had     dropped to 7th place. The rank order is US, Russia, China, Japan, UK, France, then India. India has naval bases in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Currently about 3000 Indian soldiers trained in amphibious warfare are deployed at Andaman and Nicobar Island. India has several landing craft ships. The latest ones can carry 10 armored vehicles, 11 armored personnel carriers and more than 500 troops.

India is ranked as sixth in a list of eight great powers for the year 2017 by ‘a leading American foreign policy magazine’. The rank order they gave was US, China, Japan, Russia, Germany and India. India is often overlooked in lists of the world’s great powers, but it occupies a rare and enviable position on the world stage,  said India’s admirers. India dominates south Asian region physically and economically   and India’s geographic location enables it to be a dominant power in the Indian Ocean region.

There are two views in Sri Lanka about India. Some feel that Sri Lanka must prostrate itself humbly before India since India is ‘our powerful neighbor’.  They say that Sri Lanka should follow the policy of Finland, which makes it a point not to antagonize its neighbor, Russia. They point out that when Sri Lanka looks upwards all it sees is India towering above.

K.Godage, a career diplomat, pointed out that Sri Lanka‘s closest link is with India. It is essential to get on with and please India, he observed. The Indian factor is crucial to our existence. India can either help or hinder. We need to be always mindful of India’s sensitivities. India’s policy towards us has not been consistent but ‘that is a luxury they can afford’.  India seeks to expand its influence in Sri Lanka domestic policies. She also wishes to be a significant partner in our economic development. We should also develop close relations with southern states of India and its leaders as well, Godage concluded. (Island 3.8.09 p 8).

Lynn Ockersz said that Sri Lanka needs to consider that absolutely nothing could be done about her geographical position in the region. She is ‘destined’ to be India’s close neighbor, whether she likes it or not. Accordingly, she must follow a good neighbor policy.  India has generally been an amicable neighbor.

India has been a friend for thousands of years, said Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka. ‘It is incomprehensible to me, that India would want to be seen as a predatory power, causing civil strife. It is a ‘thoughtful state’, concerned about its relationships with its neighbors.  India has the intellectual and imaginative capacity for creative, consensual solutions to the problem of balance of power in the Indian Ocean region’.

Pathfinder Foundation, a recently set up think tank (date of origin not available) said India is our closest neighbor and it is best not to antagonize it. Maintaining good relations with India can pay rich dividends.   It is important to realize geographical realties, continued Pathfinder. India will intervene if it thinks its geopolitical interests are threatened.  India is very sensitive to developments in the south where Sri Lanka is, because India’s defenses and nuclear progamme are located in India’s own south

Not everybody agrees. When it was pointed out that India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor, one reader stated that ‘personally my wish is that we were not 20 but 200 miles away from the sub continent’. Others were equally contemptuous towards India.  Sri Lanka’s strategic location and lack of ‘any land border’, makes it more independent than most other SAARC countries, observed Samantha Kumarasinghe.   Sri Lanka has always valued and guarded its separate and distinct identity from its much bigger neighbor. Despite its size and location this island has always asserted its independent space to decide its own destiny said Dayan Jayatilleke.

Sri Lanka has been strongly anti-India from the time of independence. There is suspicion, dislike and distrust. Sri Lanka sees India as its enemy. India voted against Sri Lanka repeatedly during several UNHRC sessions and India supported the Tamil Separatist movement in the Eelam War.  The parippu drop, violating Sri Lanka air space and the Indo-Lanka Accord are not forgotten. India has forfeited the respect and confidence of Sri Lanka, said critics. China gave the Conference hall, Japan gave Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital but India has not given anything similar.

Sri Lanka is neither frightened of India nor impressed by India’s might. India holds its International Indian Film academy awards in different capitals, as an attention getting device. India pays the expenses.  When the Awards were held in Colombo in 2010 the host country, Sri Lanka had put up the money, and there were protests.

Sri Lanka is ahead of India in certain sectors. Sri Lanka doctors do not think highly of India’s health service or medical education. India’s health system was behind those of the west as well as Singapore, they said.

Sri Lanka eradicated polio years ago but cannot get a certificate because neighboring Tamilnadu had frequent polio epidemics and there is interregional travel. Indian pharmaceuticals that have flooded our markets are substandard and of   low efficacy. Tablet manufacture is a cottage industry in India.  This writer   once selected an Indian drug which was much cheaper than its western equivalent and was told that the Indian drug lacked a vital ingredient found in the western pill.

Sri Lankan doctors maintain that Sri Lankan   medical expertise was far better than anything that India can offer. Sri Lanka  could be proud of its health achievements,  low maternal mortality, high life expectancy, successful elimination of malaria and free availability of healthcare to all citizens all this has been achieved at the mere cost of only 1% of National GDP due to the skill and dedication of our health care professionals. Sri Lanka medical training is uniform and invariably excellent. In some of the best research hospitals of the world, a Sri Lanka specialist can be found, they said. Sri Lanka doctors are not sent for training to India as the standards are not satisfactory. India’s medical education was highly variable and Sri Lankans who study there do not do well at the Act 16 exam in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka   has   one important economic advantage over India. Sri Lanka’s ports are superior to the ports of India. Indian ports do not have adequate depth and India does not have any ports which can compete with Sri Lanka. The deepest Indian port is Gangavaram in Andhra Pradesh with 21 meters depth. Colombo port enjoys a better reputation in international shipping than the ports in South India. The turn over time for ships in Colombo is much less than in the ports of south India.

India is heavily dependent on Sri Lanka ports. More Indian goods are transshipped through Colombo than through Indian ports. 70% of the volume handled by the Colombo port is transshipment of goods imported by India. Colombo is India’s no 1 container transshipment port. Some 80% of India’s container traffic is shipped through Colombo. Jawaharlal Nehru port, Bombay, India‘s most modern container terminal only handles a maximum of 10 containers per ship/ hr, Colombo does 30.

The list of complaints against India is very long. Here are some of them. India never offers loans without a hidden agenda, critics observed. In 1968 India offered a loan of Rs 100 million for purchase of equipment used in government departments.  The items had to be of Indian manufacture.  The Department of electrical Undertakings prepared a shopping list which was of international standard. The Indians refuse to provide these they instead offered items which they could not sell in the international market. The Telecommunications switchboard in the head office of the DGEU went out of order within a short period of installation. Several of the railways engines supplied by India have failed to operate after a few years, and the large extent of the railway line laid by India contractors have been damaged including concrete sleepers.

China offered 3D radar to Sri Lanka in 2007.  New Delhi strongly opposed China’s offer because they wanted to prevent the deployment of state of the art Chinese radar across the Palk Strait   and instead installed 2D radar. This radar failed to detect the LTTE attack at Katunayake. BIA radar did the alerting just before LTTE struck. Eventually Colombo acquired the Chinese equipment.

Three days a week, ten months a year, Sri Lanka   fishermen were forced off the sea in Sri Lanka‘s north western waters by  a swathe of hefty Indian trawlers for which their fiberglass boats were no match. The Indians cross by night fall, haul their net over the seas and leave before dawn.  They come in huge numbers from Rameshwaram and Nagapattinam. Sri Lanka fishermen’s boats, engines and nets are damaged by the large Indian vessels, so they keep away. The sheer size of the Indian operation is daunting.  The boats have suddenly become even bigger.

The vast majority of previous detection has been in the northern waters, but Sri Lanka Navy has also seized two Indian fishing vessels poaching in Sri Lanka waters off the east coast. India is not interested in settling this issue of South Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lanka’s Northern waters. This is seen as part of Indian high handedness when dealing with Sri Lanka. There is a clear maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka, in the Palk Strait.

When Sri Lanka fishermen are arrested by Indian coast guards, they are treated harshly.   One set arrested after straying into Indian waters in February 2016, were ordered to kneel on a heavy iron plate which had heated due to the sun. These persons told the media, ‘We were beaten up by the coast guards and offered rice with dhal and were forced to pick the worms off the plates of rice before we ate. There were more worms than rice. We were kept in prison in Hyderabad for two and half months and were released only after paying Rs 75,000 each.

We did not receive any support from the government and had to manage our affairs on our own. But in contrast Indian fishermen are seen poaching in our water freely and when they are arrested they are provided with the best possible treatment and released a few weeks later. When we overpowered some Indian fisherman and handed them over to the authorities they were released, without any punishment.’

In Sri Lanka, India has diplomatic representations in Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Hambantota besides numerous cultural centers.  Consulates are established to look after their nationals.  How many Indian nationals are there in Jaffna and Hambantota? The consulates in Jaffna and Hambantota are viewed as RAW stations.  The Jaffna one is there to monitor what is going and to foment trouble in Jaffna. The Hambantota one is there to act as a watch post. In UK, India has only three offices in London, Birmingham and Edinburgh, despite an Indian community in excess of 1 million living in UK.  Sri Lanka, it was pointed out, had a high commission in New Delhi, a Deputy high commission in Chennai, Consulate general in Mumbai and Honorary consul in Kolkata.

However, there are some positive aspects too. Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies, University of Colombo (CCIS) was established in 2012, for research on contemporary India, and provide an intellectual forum for those working in the field of contemporary Indian studies. The Centre has a journal, a library, guest lecture series and visiting scholars. Knowledge of contemporary India is lacking in Sri Lanka and this is not to our interest, noted K.Godage.

Pathfinder Foundation is especially interested in strengthening indo-Lanka ties. Pathfinder Foundation launched the Center for Indo Lanka Initiatives in 2016. it had signed a memorandum of intent with Indian think tank, Vivekananda international foundation in 2014. The Foundation says it plays a catalytic role in changing attitude of legislators, government officials, civil society groups and public.   Pathfinder Foundation’s list of completed projects includes those with ADB, USAID, Norway and India. It says its main partners are US, India and China.

An India Gallery was set up in 2013 at the Buddhist Museum at Dalada Maligawa. It consist of eight major sections, the origin of Buddhism in India, pilgrimage sites in India, symbolic representation of Buddha  in Buddhist  art in India, anthropomorphic representations, secondary events in the Buddha’s life,  mudras, Buddhist architecture in India, spread of Buddhism  from India. In 2016 India and Sri Lanka signed MOU to establish a training school for Dalada Maligawa at Pallekele, Kandy to provide training in Kandyan dance and drums, costumes, ornaments and musical instruments, lacquer painting, mahout training and sculpturing. (continued)

2 Responses to “YAHAPALANA AND INDIA Part 1”

  1. Christie Says:

    India rank the 4th after US, Russia and China as the most militarized nation.

    සින්හල හමුදාව සටන්කලේ ඉන්දියානු අදිරද හමුදාවට එරෙහිවයි. උසස් කුලයේ ඉන්දියානු ත්‍රස්තයන් මරා දැමීම ගැන ඉන්දියානු අදිරදය සින්හලයාට සමාවක් දෙන්නේ නැත, ව්සක් කියා ආපු ඉන්දියානු අදිරදයාගේ කතාවලින් මෙය පැහැදිලිය

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    A fine analysis by Kamalika Pieris for which we are very grateful.


    As much as PM Modi said that India’s Security Issues are the most important to India, Lanka’s Security Issues are most important to Lanka too.

    Suggestion : To achieve this much desired goal toward mutual Security, shouldn’t both countries sign an MoU with the UN Security Council to ensure Security for both countries ?

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