It’s vital for India to keep Lanka on its side
Posted on October 22nd, 2018

Courtesy THE ASIAN AGE.

The importance of mutual ties may have been made obvious in the long meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Ranil Wickremasinghe.

In the space of one dramatic week, India-Sri Lanka ties, seemingly ready to implode, were patched up again. The importance of mutual ties may have been made obvious in the long meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Ranil Wickremasinghe. As a neighbouring nation of consequence, India has to continue to view the island as a desirable strategic partner even if Sri Lanka may have tended to lean towards China, but at considerable economic cost in infrastructure projects, as it found out in its struggles to service even the interest payments. Sri Lanka had to give away control of the Hambantota port for 99 years in lieu of the debt, which is when it may have realised the economic benefits of partnering with India on a wide range of infra projects, besides buying Indian cars and white goods that are still effectively priced because of lesser transportation costs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe ahead of a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. (Photo: Sondeep Shankar)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe ahead of a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. (Photo: Sondeep Shankar)

A leaked Cabinet confidence last week about an assassination plot against President Maithripala Sirisena had deliberately spread misinformation about it being the Indian spy agency RAW’s handiwork. The President rang Mr Modi and spoke at length to clarify the position. Mr Sirisena’s colleague Rajitha Senaratne also clarified his President had said to the Cabinet that attempts were being made to implicate RAW in the alleged plot in order to create a wedge between the two nations. The feeling that there may be differences between Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremasinghe about collaborating on projects vis-à-vis China and India had also caused a few furrows in New Delhi. Going by the list of projects India has been asked to help out with on the island, it does appear that Mr Wickremasinghe’s pro-India stance may have prevailed in wide ranging talks he held with the defence and home ministers, besides meeting his counterpart.

There are two views of Sri Lanka — the first in New Delhi of an important neighbour to be kept on our side to check China’s increasing influence and economic clout and the other in Chennai of the country across the Palk Strait that keeps persecuting Indian fishermen for crossing the international maritime border. Just last week, Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami wrote to the PM to apprise him of the illegal” actions of the Sri Lankan judiciary in sanctioning fishermen from the state and detaining them for not paying the hefty fine. It does appear New Delhi is far less inclined to bring up the subject of fishermen’s livelihoods and other related issues seriously enough to make any difference to the situation on the seas. The capital view tends to favour friendly relations despite Sri Lanka’s island mindset” in order to serve the larger South Asian objective at a time when Maldives may also swing a bit away from China’s influence when the Abdulla Yameen regime ends next month.

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