Long term relationship
Already the two nations enjoy close political relations at international level and their relations in trade, investment, infrastructural linkages and defence cooperation are improving. There is a general, broad-based improvement across all facets.
India has taken a number of initiatives to further cement India-Sri Lanka relations in the long term. This has a strong security aspect; building military to military relations, particularly between the two navies and the Indian Coast Guard is expected to remain a key vector. This was evident when the Indian army and naval chiefs visited Sri Lanka recently. The Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, made an eight-day official visit to India commencing in October 2010.
During his visit he observed a fleet exercise in the Indian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command at Vishakapatnam. Four ships of the training squadron of the Indian Navy including INS Tir, INS Shardul, INS Tarangini and Coast Guard vessel Varuna visited Sri Lanka in October. About 150 Sri Lanka Navy personnel were provided an opportunity to train onboard Indian ships. These activities would indicate the sustained effort at building bonds between the two navies.
India has continued to maintain vigilance in ensuring that it does not become a cockpit of either revival of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or the take off point for escaping LTTE fellow travellers seeking refuge in Canada and Australia. The arrest of four persons including Sakthivel, the Pondichery DMK municipal Councilor and Logu Ayyappan, Puduchery Periyar Dravida Kazhagam President during the month in a ring for illegally transporting Sri Lankan refugees from Pondicherry coast to Australia is a case in point.
Apart from Indian participation in infrastructure projects, India is involved in the proposed Indian aided coal-fired power plant at Sampur, an ambitious project to build 50,000 housing units at a cost of $ 300 million with Indian grant for the war displaced families. Already an Indian project to provide 55 buses to local bodies, schools and other institutions at a cost of SL Rs. 92.95 million has been launched. The visiting Indian external affairs will be launching a pilot project to build 1,000 housing units in Vanni on November 25; this is part of the mega housing project being undertaken in the region. These are some of the significant Indian steps to broaden its relevance to Sri Lanka while building a close relationship.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political consolidation and the growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka have circumscribed India’s current political leverages in the Island. At the same time, historical and geographical realities of the Indian Ocean region and India’s strategic strength dictate that in its own interest Sri Lanka should sustain its friendly relations with India. India also appears to have realised the need to build a more positive relationship with its island neighbour for the same reasons in mutual interests.
The growth of a win-win relationship can be affected under three circumstances: (1) if the Sri Lanka’s actions are perceived as affecting India’s national security, (2) the public mood in Tamil Nadu becomes strident if and when Sri Lankan Tamils become restive once again over their long pending grievances, and (c) Chinese and Pakistani influence over Sri Lanka grows at India’s expense. In the near term this appears remote. So given the political and public goodwill existing in both countries the relations are poised for further growth despite occasional hiccups over specific issues.