As attacks continue on Sri Lankans and Sri Lankan institutions mainly in Tamil Nadu and large-scale poaching by Indian fishermen in our territorial waters go on unabated, the Rajapaksa regime needs to reflect on the importance of having friendly ties with India.
Former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was well advised by top diplomats and she maintained a deep and productive relationship with India -- the Sirima-Shasthri pact and her agreements with Premier Indira Gandhi were milestones. At that stage the main opposition UNP led by J.R. Jayewardene insulted Ms. Gandhi and her sons by describing them as ‘the cow and calves’.
When Mr. Jayewardene swept to office in 1977, the ties with India were strained. When the Jayewardene government swallowed the globalised capitalist market economic policy, the ties with India took a plunge because India was closely aligned to the Soviet Union, with which it had a friendship treaty. India is known to have trained and armed Tamil militant groups including the LTTE. With ties strained, one crisis led to another – the July 1983 holocaust and the Indo-Sri Lanka treaty, which led to the intervention by the Indian peace-keeping forces. This resulted in a 30-year ethnic war with President Premadasa in 1990 ordering the Indian troops to leave Sri Lanka. India is known to have openly supported the North-Eastern insurrection by the LTTE until a suicide bomber killed the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
In the last five years of the war, India is known to have provided political and even military support to Sri Lanka until the LTTE was eliminated in May 2009. With the LTTE out of the way -- though the Tamil Diaspora is still strong and Government leaders are expressing concern over the resurgence of terrorism --ties with India have taken a turn for the worse. The two main reasons, as Indian policy experts say, are the failure by the Rajapaksa regime to find a political solution to the ethnic crisis and the strategic partnership with China. There is no cold war now, only a cyber war and a cold peace. India is now working closely with the United States which obviously wants India to become the regional super-power and counter China’s growing influence in the Asian region. While President Barak Obama has said US defence interests would focus on Asia, China is also vying to be Asia’s super power. The Rajapaksa regime has signed multi-million dollar agreement after agreement with China, including the Rajapaksa International Harbour in Hambantota and the Rajapaksa International Airport in Mattala. As a result of the big loans taken at commercial interest rates, the debt burden has reached billions of dollars with every Sri Lankan being Rs.400,000 in debt. Worse still, the close ties with China have clearly disturbed India and what it would do next could be something like what happened in 1986, because Tamil Nadu is putting the Indian Government under growing pressure to act against Sri Lanka with a General Strike being called today in the Southern state.