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3.4 India Sri Lanka Relations

Sri Lanka Demography politicsforindia
Sri Lankan Tamils11%
Sri Lankan Muslim9%
Indian Tamils4%

Why is Sri Lank important to India?

Security Concerns – Tamil separatist trend can spill over to India also as it happened in past.
Domestic Politics – Tamils in SL have ethnic relation with those in India.

History of Sri Lanka India ties

1948 – 1972 [Salsubary Constitution]

After independence, Sri Lank was constituted as a unitary state. In 1956 Official Language Policy adopted by the nation suggested only Sinhalese as the official language. There was also discrimination against Tamils in public employment, higher education etc. State sponsored Settlement Scheme was also to primarily to aid Sinhalese to settle in Northern and Eastern provinces of country. (To change the demography of the region). It led to unrest and riots by Tamil minority.

In 1960s, Sri Lanka started saying that India should take back its 8 lack Tamils. PM Nehru was reluctant to do so since it will set a bad precedent. [ During British times, Indians settled in many countries and they may also start demanding such actions. ]
During 1954 – 1964, India Sri Lanka signed an accord. It was agreed that India will accept portion of Tamils from SL and the rest will be given full citizenship in SL itself.
[ In 1971 war, SL helped Pakistan by allowing its military planes to refuel on its land. ]

1978 – New Constitution

Executive Presidency was constituted in Sri Lanka. Jayawardhane becomes President (rightist leader). Under his leadership Sri Lank adopted open market approach and moved closer to USA.
In 1981 and 1983, riots broke out. Around 2.5 lack Tamils came to India as refugees.  Sri Lanka also gave access to its Trincomalee port to USA (against India’s interest).

A militant organisation TULF [Tamil United Liberation Front], LTTE [Liberation of Tamil Tigers Elam] were formed to establish Tamil Elam (country). It is also alleged that India provided arms and assistance to these groups – to put pressure on Jayawardhane to reconsider Sri Lanka’s stand on 1) Tamil Settlement  2) USA’s presence on its ports.

India tried to facilitated talks between Sri Lankan government, Tamil Parties and Tamil militants. But Tamils were bent upon demand for independent country (Tamil Elam). Sri Lankan army was moved to Northern part of the country but India was not in favour of such move by SL.  In 1987, India entered Sri Lankan airspace, dropped foods and relief supply.

1987 – India Sri Lanka accord

  1. Upholding territorial integrity, Sri Lanka will adopt federal structure.
  2. India would not shelter Tamil insurgents.
  3. Sri Lanka would not allow naval presence to third parties.
  4. IPKF would be sent to Sri Lanka, and Sri Lankan army can enter barracks (they don’t have to do anything).
  5. LTTE would give up arms.
  6. IPKF would state till accord is fully implemented.

Sri Lank was supposed to bring 13th Amendment to implement the accord.  Though agreed on paper, Sri Lanka was not happy with it. Sinhalese in the country were also not happy since they saw it as infringement on their sovereignty. Further, LTTE was also reluctant to give up arms and rather gave a call that even Tamil Nadu should be included in Tamil Elam.

1987 – 1990

IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force] was sent to Sri Lanka under leadership of Rajiv Gandhi. More than 1100 Indian soldiers were killed. It was a huge blunder from Indian foreign policy viewpoint caused by naivety of Rajiv Gandhi. Indian soldiers were fighting the battle on Sri Lankan soils, against Indians who were fighting for their rights.

VP Singh withdrew the forces in 1990. Sri Lanka then took strong action against Tamils. Provincial government was dissolved and Sri Lankan army moved in the region.

In 1991, LTTE carried out assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. It lost all the sympathy from India. LTTE was declared as a ‘terrorist organization’ and even the sentiments in Tamil Nadu went against LTTE.

1991 – 2000

LTTE activities increased. Sri Lankan army moved in more firmly. Sri Lankan government made three offers but to no avail. During 2001-2005 Norway tried to mediate talks but LTTE walked out of it.  There was split in LTTE in 2005.  In 2006, there was an attempt to assassinate Defense Minister Gotabe Rajapaksha (brother of Mahinda Rajapaksha). There was also similar attempt to assassinate chief of Sri Lankan army. In 2009, Prabhakaran (leader of LTTE) commits suicide. His entire family (including and infant) was assassinated by Sri Lankan army.

13th Amendment is not yet implemented.

Since then

India Sri Lanka issues are centered around 1) Human Rights violation by Sri Lanka (treatment of war criminals)  2) Implementation of 13th Amendment by Sri Lanka.  In 2010, Rajapaksa wins election, gives more powers to president, lifted two term limit on president. Chinese presence in Sri Lanka increased significantly during his term.

2011 – 12

India supported country specific resolution against Sri Lanka for human rights violation. An unprecedented step from Indian side. There were even talks of economic sanctions on Sri Lanka. LLRC [Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission] was established  #### purpose###. China, Pakistan openly supported Sri Lanka.

For Now,

Militancy has come to an end by use of force. Political solution is yet to be fully implemented. Sri Lankan army is still occupying 30% of North Eastern land. India is providing assistance for rehabilitation in the region. Situation is still fragile and resentment among Sri Lankan Tamils persists. It is not clear how long the present peace will continue.

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The issues of contention between India Sri Lanka

1] China factor

China has emerged as the biggest concern for India while dealing with its neighbours. According to SD Muni, ‘China has perfected the art of buying elites in smaller countries.’ In the reign of Rajapaksa, China was given Colombo city project, Mathala airport.
The airport was constructed by Chinese companies but has become a ghost (inoperative) airport.

Colombo City Project

A $50 billion project. A hugely ambitious and expensive ($50 billion) project. It seeks to reclaim the land from the ocean as well. At present, the project has been cancelled by Sirisena government, but there are concerns of debt trap by China.

Hambantota port

Built with $ 1.1 billion LoC by China, government has said that it does not have money to repay China. The debt have been converted to equity and Chinese company now enjoys 49% ownership of the port.  Further, the operational control of the port was also handled to China for 99 years.  However, due to concerns of India, it has also been explicitly agreed that Chinese naval vessels will not be allowed entry on the port. It remains to be seen if Sri Lanka stands to its commitment in times of crisis.

India Sri Lanka trade

India Sri Lank is having FTA (Free Trade Agreement) since 2000. The trade has increased to $ 7-8 billion since then. Both nations are also looking for FTA in services.  Sri Lanka also receives large number of its tourists from India.  India is also looking for AAGC [Asia Africa Growth Corridor] along with Japan and Australia.

Fishermen issues [Tamil Nadu]

Small Indian fishermen often stray in Lankan waters sometimes. At other times, mechanised trollers, having exhausted fish reservoirs on Indian side, cross the international boundary. Sometimes it also happens the other way round (Sri Lankan fishermen entering Indian waters). However there is an agreement that force will not be used against them.

There is also an dispute over Katchatheevu island. India has already ceased its claim on it. But sometimes local fishermen cross the boundary. They claim it to be part of India and it leads to conflict.

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Views of Scholars

Gopalswami Parthsarathy

India should remain engaged with Sri Lanka and must be cautious of China and Pakistan, especially in naval arena.  Pakistan has offered J-17 aircraft to Sri Lanka and China is involved in Hambantota and Colombo port projects.

AAGC (Asia Africa Growth Corridor) is important and we shall look to finance sustainable infrastructure in Sri Lanka. BIMSTEC can be used to engage with Sri Lanka since SAARC has become redundant.

Over years, India has given huge developmental aid to Northern Sri Lanka with 50,000+ houses, Triconmalee port development, roads and railways projects etc.

Shivshankar Menan

Though insurgency issues is solved, India is concerned about political commitment of Sri Lanka in implementing 13th amendment. If it does not happen, it may lead to insurgency and pose security threat to India and Sri Lanka both.

Hardeep Puri

Indian neighbours have habit of playing China card. India did right thing by voting against Sri Lanka in UNHRC resolution. India should realized that silent democracy has not worked till now and should take more such active steps. India must engage with Sri Lanka and not be deterred when it plays China card.

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Subhajit Das

Update the note with present Srilanka Crisis

Madhav Kaushal

Kindly convert this into text.