India is the only country in the world which has a permanent interest in Sri Lanka because of our situation and also because our relations extend over a period of two thousand years or more. It is therefore most appropriate that our new President’s first overseas visit should be to India.
India’s record in their relations with us in the post independence era has had many “ups and downs”, it is indeed time we revisited the issue once again. We have no over-expectations of India. It would not be impertinent to state that we understand that India has a policy that determines her relations with her neighbours which takes full account of her own security; our security, unity and territorial integrity is of foremost concern to us at this time, in this regard we are reminded of the words of both former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral and former Indian Defence Minister Fernandes who stated that “the unity of India and Sri Lanka are the same; the security, unity and territorial integrity of the two countries is indivisible we are twins”
Yes, President Sirisena’s first official visit to a foreign country is appropriately to India, as stated earlier our relations with India stretch back to two thousand years, our relationship is in fact a blood relationship.
Since our countries received Independence from Britain it has had its ups and downs, perhaps the worst period was when Indira Gandhi, who was very supportive of Sri Lanka during Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s time as PM turned against us after JR became President for she thought that we were moving close to the US (how much our world has changed today) and she armed and trained Tamil militants (please read Shekar Gupta’s report on the training camps in India in the India Today magazine of March 1984; if anyone has any doubts about this) and let loose a horrible terrorist insurrection which lasted three decades. India even permitted the LTTE to receive no less than 28 shiploads of arms to enable them to continue their war against this country. India dictated policy in 1987 made us stop the Vadamaarachi operation and forced us into entering into the Indo-Lanka Accord and had us subsequently adopt the 13th Amendment to our Constitution to find a solution to the Tamil ethnic problem. That problem yet remains with us and India, because of the centre having to appease Tamil Nadu, continues to be more than a player in what is our internal problem which is our responsibility to resolve in our own interest..
We who have followed India’s recent record in their relations with us have no over-expectations of India. As stated earlier we only hope that India has a policy that determines her relations with her neighbours which respects our independence and takes full account of our security, unity and territorial integrity which are of foremost concern to us. There is today a total acceptance that our destinies are as bound together as would be the destinies of Siamese twins. If harm comes to one the other would suffer too; India has to be India and Sri Lanka has to be Sri Lanka.
Relations between our two countries significantly improved after Mrs. Kumaratunge assumed office as President. In her own words “India is our immediate neighbour, with whom we have been inextricably linked by ties the origins of which have long been lost in the mist of time. We have with India the broadest and deepest interaction that we as a nation could have with another state. India therefore possesses the capacity, given her vastly disparate strength and influence, to help or hinder to a great extent. In a word the India factor is crucial to the existence of our nation. Forging and sustaining a mutually trusting and supportive friendship with India must therefore be for us, not just a conscious and soundly judged policy, it is a natural and vital ingredient for our national well being.”
President Chandrika Kumaratunge and the late Minister Kadirgamar reached out and mended fences and restored the relationship to what it almost was during the tenure of Mrs. Bandaranaike as Prime Minister; after that Ranil Wickremesinghe as leader of the Opposition and Milinda Moragoda cultivated close personal relations with the BJP leadership when they were in the opposition. They also cultivated senior politicians of the party assiduously. Subsequent to assuming office as Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe introduced a whole new vision to the relationship. He and Minister Milinda Moragoda were responsible for developing the relationship to unprecedented levels. There was indeed a quantum leap in Indo-Lanka relations. Let us put the relationship back to where it belongs and let us cement it with a new Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation which is comprehensive and covers political, economic and defence co-operation. I would suggest that India establish a regional naval training centre in Hambantota to make up for the fact that she turned down an offer to develop a harbour in Hambantota which was later developed by the Chinese.
The level of economic co-operation has in recent years reached unprecedented levels, we have moved towards a comprehensive partnership agreement covering Economic Co-operation, which has run into some difficulties but Indian investment in this country has tripled and there was at one time mention of an exclusive Export Processing Zone in Trincomalee for Indian investors. The Indian Oil Corporation a ‘Fortune Five Hundred’ company was to invest millions of dollars to develop the Oil Tank farm in Trincomalee. The Corporation has entered into the petroleum distribution business, taking over one hundred Service stations around the country. An IT park was also under consideration, let us make it a reality.
But whilst all this is indeed good, India, which seeks a permanent seat in the UN Security Council to safeguard international peace and security has to ensure peace and stability in its own backyard and to safeguard its own interests but not at our expense of course. There is yet another factor which was absent previously, which should augur well for securing a sustainable and just peace in this country, it is the new US-India axis. Today that relationship has become quite special to both parties for they have entered into a strategic relationship. The security of the Indian Ocean is vital to safeguard India’s national interest and it is also vital to the US because of her interests in the region. This augurs well for our country too. We must now call for a new treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation between our two countries and dump the Indo-Lanka Agreement of 1987 which is not relevant any more.
In conclusion, since India maintains an abiding interest in the security of Sri Lanka and remains committed to our unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, we do hope that our President’s expectations will be fulfilled and our relationship put on a new and firm footing with a new Treaty of Peace Friendship and Co-operation which reflects the Gujral principles of non reciprocity.
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