This article deals with ‘India-Sri Lanka Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here
Issues with Sri Lanka
LTTE + Tamil Issue
China influence vs Indian Interests
Issue 1: Tamil Issue
India – Sri Lanka relation has generally been cordial , although there have been some tensions mainly caused because of ethnic conflict between people of Indian Origin – mainly Tamils- living in Sri Lanka & Sinhalese (majority constituting 70% of Lankan population)
What Tamils were doing there
There are two types of Tamils in Sri Lanka
Whose forefathers had gone to Sri Lanka centuries ago
Their population is estimated to be 1million
Concentrated in Jaffna and northern & eastern coast
Whose forefathers were taken by Britishers as plantation workers
Population ~ 1 million
Concentrated in districts of Colombo, Kandy & Trincomalee in traditional tea garden areas
Reason for Sinhalese Anti Tamil feeling
Reason for this is colonial. Tamils were in minority but Britishers favoured Tamils over Sinhalese in all opportunities
When Britishers went back
Sinhalese majority started to capture every property and post fromTamils
Sinhalese Only Act was passed & Tamil lost official language status .
Even took right to vote from them
After that, state backed pogrom of Tamils started in which Tamils were massacred & their houses burnt
Various agreements were signed like
Nehru – Kotelawala Agreement, 1953
Shastri – Sirimavo Agreement, 1964
Indira – Sirimavo Agreement, 1974
These Agreements were to decide the fate of Tamils and give Indian citizenship to some Tamils . But Sri Lanka never implemented them in letter and spirit
1983 : Ethnic Explosion happened and large number of Tamils were massacred .
Autonomous unit consisting of areas where Tamils are concentrated would be constituted
Tamil, Sinhalese & English would be official languages of Sri Lanka
Deployment of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to end hostilities between Lankan army & Tamil militants
Agreement was vehemently opposed by both Tamil & Sinhalese extremists
XIII Amendment: Direct outcome of Accord of 1987
Divide entire Sri Lanka into provinces and Federal System to be adopted
Remove Sinhalese Only Language Act and give equal status to Tamil as well
Land should be provincial subject
Police should be under state /province
What was rationale
Federalism to give some power to Tamils
Division of states have been done but rest of provisions arent implemented
Later Supreme Court of Sri Lanka declared this Accord to be unconstitutional saying that Land and Police being Union subject is fundamental feature of Sri Lankan Constitution .
Indian Peace Keeping Force posting in Sri Lanka was utter failure
Crores of ₹ were spend on troops trying to restore order
Hundreds of troops killed in clashes with Tamils
Even ethnic conflict wasn’t brought under control
Operations of IPKF changed ethnic violence into civil war , which Sri Lanka was forced to continue even when Indian forces left in 1990
Led to large number of political killings of both Indian and Sri Lanka top leaders
1991: Death of Rajiv Gandhi
1993: Death of Premdasa who got IPKF removed
2009: End of LTTE
Side Topic – Sri Lanka vs LTTE: Timeline of Events
LTTE started Civil War between Tamil Insurgents and Sinhali Sri Lankan Army
1976 – 2009
Civil War continued
Large scale violence and human rights violations observed
LTTE-Sri Lanka Civil war ends.
More than 1 lakh died in the civil war
What are the immediate and longer-term grievances of the Tamils of the north and east in Sri Lanka? How are these grievances met by the Sri Lankan governments?
Formation of government in Tamil province (which since long was under Military Rule) was with TNA (Tamil National Alliance) coming to power
Replacement of the military governor by a civilian
Rehabilitation process of civil war ravaged province
However some issues that are still in the hanging include:-
Excessive military presence in Jaffna
Passing XIII amendment => Transfer Policing and Land to State List
Justice for human right violation and genocide is yet to happen.
Issue 2: Fishermen Issue
Fishing happening in this region since Sangam period without any issue
Indian fishermen venture into Sri Lankan waters => Fired upon by Lankan Navy or caught
Unscientific Fishing by Indian Fishermen :
Indian fishermen use grill & synthetic nets => Bad for overall ecology || Lankan Fishermen use ordinary nets
Indian fishermen use Trawlers (and not boats) and venture into Lankan waters. These trawlers are the main cause behind overexploitation
Tamil Fishermen still argue that they have sovereign right over Katchathevu Island and go near the island to catch fish. In process, Sri Lankan Navy arrest them .
Trawlers are not fitted with GPS
Argument by scholars => Sri Lankan government wants to aggravate this issue because biggest sympathisers of Sri-Lankan Tamils are Indian Tamils .
Tamil Nadu fishermen are not allowed to venture into coastal waters of Andhra . If Indian fishermen normally observe such territorial limitations , there is no reason why they should not do so with north Lanka
Palk Bay Authority => Fishermen of both side should have dialogue and arrive at solution =>initiative from below
Solving Trawler Issue as Trawlers & Synthetic nets are the main culprit
Government could offer a voluntary buy-back scheme for trawlers + offer a rehabilitation package
Equip Indian boats with GPS
Generate other jobs to end overdependence on Fishing
End Word : Palk Strait has always been a bridge between India and SL since times immemorial leading to exchange of ideas and knowledge . Let it be a bridge and not a barrier between Indian and Sri Lanka
Issue 3 : China Angle in India-Sri Lanka Relations
Sri Lanka is important part of Maritime Silk Road (MSR) and most important pearl in so called Pearl of String Theory
$ 4 billion Chinese investments have happened in Sri Lanka
Port : Hambantota Port developed => wasn’t able to service debt => given on lease for 99 years
China following Debt Trap Diplomacy.
Changing Balance of Power in Indian Ocean=> Impacts India’s position as Net Security Provider in the Indian Ocean Region.
Chinese don’t allow to develop auxiliary industry => cement, steel , labour etc imported from China => no jobs created
Projects turning out to be White Elephants (Hambantota given on 99 year lease)
What India is doing to counter this
India to develop Trincomalee as Petroleum Hub and build infrastructure around it.
India is developing Kankesuthai and Trincomalee as port.
Most important : development of the Eastern Terminal at Colombo port along with Japan
2018 : India to lease and manage the Mattala airport in Hambantota. (emptiest airport of world)
$ 300 million Line of Credit to upgrade SL Railways
Indo – Sri Lanka Nuclear Cooperation Agreement Signed (first such deal signed by SL with any country)
Post LTTE aid of ₹ 5 billion in 2009
India can never match Chinese in terms of Economic Muscle . India should also focus on People to People Contact and also use Buddhism and Buddhist Tourism Circuit to gain goodwill in Sri Lanka.
Issues with Indian Projects in SL
Delay in their completion and implementation.
Many of these projects, like Mattala airport, are not seen as profitable for India.
Indian ventures are seen as reactive to the increasing Chinese influence in the country.
Over-concentration of Indian development funding to Tamil areas
Issue 4: Areas of cooperation
Trade & investment
FTA signed (in 1998) & CEPA on the cards
India = 2nd largest FDI in Srilanka
Ramayana trail in Sri Lanka and
Buddhist circuit in India (Sinhalese = Buddhist).
Rabindranth Tagore Auditorium in Rahana University. Tagore had influenced Sri Lanka’s national anthem – “Sri Lanka Matha” (we salute mother Sri Lanka).
Members of Same Multilateral Forums
Both are members of
South Asian Economic Union
This article dealt with India-Sri Lanka relations. For entire series on International Relations, click on following link