INDIA’S RELATION WITH ITS SOUTHERN NEIGHBOR: SRI LANKA

Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
Directorate of Distance Education
Dibrugarh University, Assam, India

Abstract
India has a unique relationship with the island nation Sri Lanka. As both the nation has shared a common history, Belief, ethnicity and geography which makes the two nation close to each other. But the relation between two nations has also gone through both ups and down and has had a roller-coaster sort of side. The strategic location of Sri Lanka is also important for India to have a close bilateral relation with this island nation. The growing Chinese influence over Sri Lanka, recent presidential result and the exchange of visits by the head of the Government of both the nation again makes the relation between both the countries a significant one. It is in this context the study of the paper is based on the recent trend of India’s relation with Sri Lanka.
 
Key Words: Southern neighbor, Strategic location, Chinese influence
 
1.Introduction
The makers of India’s foreign policy have always given importance to building a peaceful and friendly relation with its neighbor. India is generally sharing a cordial relation with its southern neighbor i.e Srilanka though there have been tensions caused mainly because of ethnic conflict between the people of Indian origin mainly Tamils and Sinhalese. But despite of this rift India is always trying to maintain a good relation with Srilanka and India has never sought to impose its will on Srilanka.

2.Objectives of the Paper
i)The objective of the paper is to study the trend of Indo-Srilanka relation.
ii)Secondly to discuss the Chinese influence over the relation between India and Srilanka.
3.Methodology
The present paper has adopted analytical and descriptive method of study. The paper is based on secondary sources as the data are collected from various books, newspapers and e-articles.
4.Results and Discussion
India and Srilanka have shared a common history, geography,belief,religion and ethnicity. The bilateral relation between India and Srilanka have been most of the time cordial but there have been tensions caused mainly because of ethnic conflict. Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is mainly caused between the people of Indian origin basically Tamils those who are living in Srilanka and the Sinhalese.Inspite of ethnic conflict of Srilanka, India has always shown a positive approach towards the Srilanka.

Tamils of Srilanka are belong to two categories.The Ceylon Tamils whose forefathers had gone to Srilanka centuries ago. The second categories is of Indian Tamils whose forefathers were taken by the Britishers for plantation work in the nineteenth century.(V.N.Khana2012)It is the fear of Srilanka towards the Tamil domination in various aspects including trade, profession, administrative structure is the main reason behind the conflicts. As after the independence of Srilanka, tensions began between the Sinhalese and Tamils and Tamils became the minority section in Srilanka and a huge number of Tamils in Srilanka faced discrimination in various aspects including education, job, settlement and most importantly in terms of getting citizenship. India as a neighbouring nation have made a serious efforts for finding a solution to the ethnic problem. Signing of different agreements in different in different phase of time like Neheru-Kotelawala agreement of 1953, Shastri-Srimavo agreement of 1964,which were sought to provide a peaceful solution to the issue of  STATELESS Persons in Srilanka. Inspite of that the ethnic problem of Srilanka was not solved and as a  result it lead to the formation of militant organisation like LTTE(Liberation of Tigers of Tami Eel am)whose basic demand was to create a separate homeland for Tamils,(the Tamil Eelam )The violence during 1938-86 in Srilanka has the serious effect not only in the life and property of the state but also the bilateral relation between India and Srilanka was also suffered.Infact several steps were initiated by both the government to restore normalcacy. A serious attempt was also made by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to help Srilanka to find a solution to the ethnic violence. Signing of Rajiv –Jayewardene Agreement ,1987 to provide for India Peace Keeping (IPKF) to restore normalcy in trouble torn areas of Srilanka is considered to be the India 's one   of bold step towards its neighbour. The sending of IPKF proved to be very costly for India. As India  not only lost its several solders in Srilanka but the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was allegedly the result of a conspiracy by certain elements involved in the Srilankan ethnic conflict.(V.N.Khanna2012)The separatist movement in Srilanka had an adverse effect on India-Srilankan relation although India had taken all positive steps to maintain a cordial relation and a few number of development also took place to reduce the tensions in the relationship in due course of time. The nearly three decade long armed conflict between Srilankan forces and the LTTE which came to an end in May 2009.During these phase of conflict India has supported Srilankan government to act against terrorist forces.  
 
4.1Towards the new beginning
 
Nevertheless India-Sri Lanka relations have entered a new era with the changing political scenario of both the nation. Again the on going political transition in Sri Lanka has generated a hope in India about the prospects of an improved bilateral relationships. The recent visit of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena to India have not just reinforced the relation but it also give a new direction and momentum to the Indo-Sri Lanka relation. Because it was first foreign visit of Sirisena after becoming the Sri Lankan President, which reflect the importance of India for Sri Lanka. With Rajapaksa’s defeat in the Presidential elections held earlier this year, the new leadership in Sri Lanka has demonstrated the willingness to work with India in more positive and friendly way. The visit of Sri Lanka to India is also important because it is an important breakthrough considering the uneasy relation between the two nations because of Pro-China policy of former Sri Lankan president Rajapaksa. The four agreements signed between India and Sri Lanka during the visit of Sirisena is also important to give a boost to the relation between both the nations. Here the agreements include cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, cultural cooperation between Sri Lanka and India for 2015-2018, an MOU on the establishment of Nalanda University enabling Sri Lanka to participate in the Nalanda University Project and a work plan for 2014-2015 under the MOU on cooperation in the field of agriculture between India and Sri Lanka, and among these the most important is the civil nuclear agreement. (Shibdas bhattacharya,2015) .As Sri Lanka has wanted to utilize nuclear energy in industrial application as well as in the fields such as medicine and agricultural since 2010.Nevertheless India welcomes the Sirisena moves towards improving the relation and it is the reflection that Sri Lanka wants to roll back the earlier pro-China policies pursued by the previous Government.

Recognizing India the first foreign destination for Sri Lankan President will always be acknowledged as significant for India. And, the larger implication of these agreement is certainly the message that it gives to China and the rest of the world countries like China and Pakistan need to recalibrate their Sri Lankan strategy.

The recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka has again brought a new thrust in Indo-Sri Lanka ties. It is significant for Sri Lanka too. Because the visit of Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka, the first by an Indian head of government in 28 years, seems extremely positive and path breaking for both the nation.  The Indian prime minister has emphasized to invoke the ancient ethnic, linguistic and religious ties with Sri Lanka that bind the two nation together. He is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the war torn Northern Province Jaffna which clearly struck a chord with the Sri Lankan Tamil community there. Mr. Modi has also shown interest to go beyond the thirteenth Amendment in terms of political empowerment of the Tamil minority. (Suhasini Haider,2015).Making a strong ties with Sri Lanka also beneficial for India to straighten India’s positive approach towards reducing the tension with Sri Lanka and limiting the Chinese String of Pearls policy also popularly known as Encirclement Policy. Therefore Modi’s visit has started a new chapter in Indo-Sri Lanka relations.

4.2Influence of China over Indo-Srilanka relation
 
China has emerged as one of the important factor in India-Sri Lanka relation. Though the Sino-Sri Lanka relationship has always been cordial but it touched a new heights during the days of Sri Lanka former President Mahindra Rajapakasa. China has able to make a strong foothold in Sri Lanka’s process of economic development. Sri Lanka owes China substantial amounts on account of Chinese aid and assistance for its development projects, including the Hambantota and Colombo ports.  It is the China which provided military, economic and diplomatic support to Colombo in the final battle against LTTE. Again China also extended a huge financial aid and assistance to Sri Lanka in post war period. Sri Lanka is not just one of the big markets for China but it also has a strategic importance for China. As India believe that China’s interest in Sri Lanka and its growing foot print there is part of an encirclement strategy to contain India and to secure military presence in Sri Lanka. But with a new India-friendly government in power in Sri Lanka, there is the room for increased cooperation between both countries. Though the amount of investment and loans China has extended to Sri Lanka is simply too large for India to watch, but there is also equal and unique opportunity for India to build stronger regional alliance with its southern neighbor Sri Lanka.    Regionally,India and Srilanka both participate in several multilateral organization such as SAARC,BIMSTEC.SOUTH ASIA ECONOMIC UNION,INDIAN OCEAN RIM ASSOCIATIONiIOR-ARC)etc all these organization aim to enhance their commerce.Presently India is the fourth largest investor in srilanka with an investment of about US$160 million. Nevertheless Indian policy towards Srilanka had three central components.Firstly India stood for the unity and intergrity of srilanka and secondly India also favoured a substantial degree of autonomy for the Tamil majority areas and a life of respect and dignity for the Tamils in Srilanka.Thirdly India was also opposed to any foreign intervention in Srilanka under any grab.This approach has remained constant,no matter which party or coalition ruled India.(V.P.Dutta2010)

5.Conclusion
 
Therefore, Indian policy towards Sri Lanka all through the period and subsequently under different governments in India has the basic component that India always stood for the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. The further course of the relation between both the nations in based on mutual cooperation. Again India must encourage Sri Lanka’s new government to address the issue of ethnic reconciliation and safeguarding the interest of Tamil minority.
 
References
  • S. Bhattacharjee (2015). “India’s Visit- A Game Changer”. The Assam Tribune, Feb 15, p.4.
  • S. Haider, (2015). “Knitting the India- Sri Lanka Relation Closer”. The Hindu, March 13, p. 6.
  • V.N. Khanna. Foreign Policy of India, Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 2012, p. 167, 173.
  • V.P. Dutt. India’s Foreign Policy in a Changing World, Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 2010, p. 158.
 

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