Sri Lanka has suddenly shown a keen interest to strengthen ties with India with both Government representatives and members of the opposition meeting up with Premier Narendra Modi, in New Delhi recently.
India was lagging behind China, one of Sri Lanka’s main partners helping build the island nation’s infrastructure like ports and highways. But with the topic of elections emerging in Sri Lanka, India knows that it can make some influence in the little island. This is the reason for Sri Lanka’s obvious shift in focus towards India these days.
Right now the Government of India is being pushed by the Tamil Nadu Government to move sanctions against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. This is regarding unresolved post war issues in the island. If India shows interest in meddling in the affairs of Sri Lanka’s national question, it is because of the disgruntled Tamil community in South India, the place where all Sri Lanka Tamils have their roots.
From the two entourages that travelled to India, it’s the one led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa that received much media attention. Many believe that the ex-Sri Lankan president is the person to lead the country once again, even by playing a role from the backstage. And it seems that India has picked up this signal quite early. But Premier Modi also entertained an entourage representing the Government of Sri Lanka which was led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.
The focus of discussion with the representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka revolved around regional matters, bilateral trade agreements, the proposed new Constitution for Sri Lanka and problems arising from the 13th Amendment among others. Modi like Rajapaksa, too knows his onions when it comes to doing a balancing act and handled both entourages from Sri Lanka without a hitch.
The best news coming from India for Rajapaksa fans is that if there was any misunderstanding between Modi and the former Sri Lankan president, relationships between the two have now turned healthy.
There was much talk about India influencing Tamil voters during the last Presidential Elections. But what is clearer from the perspective of the Sri Lankan Tamils is that this community voted against Rajapaksa because the latter had little regard for the minorities.
India was silent during the final stages of the Sri Lanka ethnic conflict and didn’t interfere in the activities of the security forces. It’s a known fact that much that belonged to the Tamils like houses, schools and places of religious worship were destroyed during the fighting between the LTTE and Government troops.
This could be one reason, perhaps due to guilt, that the Government of India is trying to make amends by spending much money to build houses in the North, East and the Central Provinces on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils.
The Government of India is planning to build as many as 60,000 houses over here with Sri Lanka’s neighbour dolling out US $ 350 million as pure grant assistance.
The latest about India in terms of involvement in the island is that they are expected to make input in developing the Palaly Airport. The project will be handled by the Airport Authority of India and it is working closely with the External Affairs Ministry of Sri Lanka. Right now both parties are awaiting a project report relating to this venture.
Though Sri Lanka has approached China much in terms of building its ports, the islanders know that India too is important given that the Indian Ocean Region is set to define the destiny of the planet in the 21st Century.
Modi’s housing projects here might not cost as much as the projects which the representatives of the Chinese Government have initiated. But Modi, in terms of an individual, has more value to Sri Lanka than any Chinese diplomat. This is because Modi can defuse tensions in Tamil Nadu, which is a simmering volcano from the perspective of the Tamil community living over there.