The Asian Age has in its Editorial under the title ‘ New Chapter in India – Lanka ties’ urged Indian government to persuade Colombo to address the concerns of Sri Lankan Tamils through devolution and respect for human rights.
It is gratifying that Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena made New Delhi his first port of call after being elected about a month ago, and that within weeks Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to be in Colombo in mid-March. This is a true marker of the desire on both sides not just to refurbish relations but to build and advance ties in qualitatively new ways that would be noticed all round.
This speaks of the energised quality of the engagement between the two countries which have ancient ties, although in the time of Mr Sirisena’s predecessor the relationship had come to show signs of stress with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa actively courting the Chinese even in sensitive areas such as defence and security, raising valid concerns in this country.
The most eye-catching of the agreements signed on Monday was on civil nuclear cooperation, testifying to the change in gears in our bilateral understanding and the new level of trust that has been engendered. The cooperation in the nuclear field would involve transfer of Indian expertise, sharing of resources, capacity building and training of Sri Lankan personnel in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including use of radioisotopes, and safety measures associated with nuclear technology. This is a vast area that requires years of close political cooperation.
Close cooperation in the defence and maritime security fields is also being envisaged, and the same is true of economic and commercial partnerships that would include enhanced Indian investments and the fostering of greater Sri Lankan exports to India, redressing the trade balance. In sum, the two countries are looking at a strategic partnership. It is this which underlines the newness of India-Sri Lanka relations.
Of course, both sides need to be aware, and at all times mindful, that the blooming of ties to the envisaged degree will critically depend on Colombo addressing the concerns of its Tamil north. This primarily means devolution of powers, and implementing the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution in right earnest, and in the current context looking at the question of human rights abuses in the last phase of the Eelam war.
Indian diplomacy could help smoothen Sri Lanka’s path in international forums if Colombo takes up the cause of devolution of powers to the Tamils in a non-prejudicial fashion. That will set up a landmark for ethnic relations and regional amity.
The civilisational ties between India and Sri Lanka need to be nurtured in a variety of ways. People of different ethnicities on both sides have benefited from broad-spectrum intercourse for millennia. There is no reason why the two governments should not endeavour to deepen and enrich relations between their peoples in every way possible.