Monday, 16 March 2015 00:24
After almost three decades, Sri Lanka saw the visit of an Indian Head of State last week when newly-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to the island on a two-day visit. Following the numerous efforts of previous administrations to host Indian Heads of State, this visit came as a victory for the new Government under President Maithripala Sirisena and may prove to be a fresh chapter in Indo-Lankan relations.
The relationship between the two countries has endured tough times during the past three decades. Under the previous regime, Sri Lanka’s rapport with India was fractured. India’s abstention from voting against a UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka was seen as betrayal by some quarters of the previous government and former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s decision not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Colombo marked a low point in recent affairs between the two nations. Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s flourishing relationship with China also contributed in sidelining its regional partner.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit offered up a great opportunity to bolster ties between the two countries. Modi addressed the business community, held talks with the President, delivered a historic speech in Parliament and also embarked on a monumental visit to the northern region.
The Indian Premier assured the business community of India’s support to Sri Lanka in order to ensure domestic as well as regional development. Emphasis was put on boosting economic relations between India and Sri Lanka while existing trade ties are to be strengthened. Agreements for a $ 318 million Indian line of credit to develop Lankan railways and a $ 1.5 billion currency swap were also undertaken during the visit. On arrival visas for Sri Lankans visiting India will also help improve personal relationships between the two nations.
However, issues pertaining to the fishing communities of the two countries were not an area that the Prime Minister touched upon greatly. Although assurances of future discussions were made, both countries were looking forward to significant steps being taken to end the feud in the seas. Matters concerning encroachment, bottom trawling and the continuous incarceration of fisher folk are issues that both nations need to address swiftly.
Perhaps the most telling part of his visit was his tour of the north, during which he stressed the importance of the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, going further to find a political solution and his belief in the cooperative federal system. Modi, in a meeting with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), even requested the Tamils of the country to have patience with the new Government, which suggests he believes the right initial moves are being made towards reconciliation. Reports revealed that he called upon Tamil leaders to change their approach of engaging the Government while urging them to aid the process of change instead of derailing it.
The statements made by Modi contrast greatly with the ultimatum set by British PM David Cameron upon his visit to the north in 2013. Though Cameron’s tone has changed significantly following President Sirisena’s visit to the UK, Modi’s sincere show of faith in the new Government will come as a massive seal of temporary approval and will no doubt encourage the powers in place to stick to their assurances regarding issues of power devolution and reconciliation.
His visit signals a shift in Sri Lanka’s focus as we turn towards our closest neighbour in the hopes of renewed regional relationships. Together with strengthened bilateral ties, the Government seems to have the backing of India on its reconciliation process, which will instil faith within the people concerned that change is possible.