Significance of Indo- Sri Lankan Bilateral Relations
• Geopolitical Significance: Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean region as an island State has been of strategic geopolitical relevance to India’s maritime interests in the region
• Cultural & Educational Relations: Both countries share long and historical cultural ties with Buddhism as the common link. Apart from this the cultural cooperation agreement1977 also serves as the basis for periodic cultural exchange programs.
• People-to-people ties: India’s principal interest in Sri Lanka arises out of the fact that Sinhala majority Sri Lanka has a substantial Tamil Population with close emotional, cultural and people-to-people ties with Tamils in India.
• Defence & Security Cooperation: Both countries regularly conduct joint Military exercises- MitraShakti and Join Naval exercises (SLINEX). This increases synergy between both militaries thus safeguarding the common interest of countries.
• Economic & Commercial ties: Sri Lanka has long been a priority destination for FDI and Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners among the SAARC countries.â¯India in turn is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally.
• For enhanced cooperation at multilateral forums: Sri Lanka and India both share the membership of multi-lateral regional groupings like BIMSTEC and SAARC etc.
• India’s ‘Neighborhood First Policy: Sri Lanka is at the core of our ‘Neighborhood First policy and SAGAR doctrine.
• Maritime interests: it is important for the coast guards of the two countries to establish the safety and security of the Indian Ocean region.
• Sri Lanka has long been a priority destination for direct investment from India. Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners in SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). Trade between the two countries grew particularly rapidly after the entry into force of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement in March 2000. According to Sri Lankan Customs, bilateral trade in 2018 amounted to US $ 4.93 billion.
• Exports from India to Sri Lanka in 2018 were US$ 4.16billion, while exports from Sri Lanka to India are US$ 767 million. The main items of exports from Sri Lanka to India are Base Oil, Poultry feeds, Areca nuts, (waste and scrap) paper or paperboard, Pepper, Ignition Wiring Sets, Copper wire, Marble, travertine and alabaster.
• Main items of Imports from India to Sri Lanka are Gas oil/ Diesel, Motorcycles, Pharmaceutical Products, Portland cement, Semi-finished products of Iron, Military weapons, Fuel oil, Rice, Cement clinkers, and Kerosene Type Jet Fuel.
• India is one of the largest investors in Sri Lanka with cumulative investments of around USD 1.239 billion.
• The investments are in diverse areas including petroleum retail, IT, financial services, real estate, telecommunication, hospitality & tourism, banking and food processing (tea & fruit juices), copper and other metal industries), tires, cement, glass manufacturing, and infrastructure development (railway, power, water supply).
- The People of Indian Origin (PIOs) comprise Sindhis, Gujaratis, Memons, Parsis, Malayalis and Telugu-speaking persons who have settled down in Sri Lanka and are engaged in various business ventures.
- Though their numbers (10,000 approx.) are much lesser as compared to Indian Origin Tamils (IOTs), they are economically prosperous and well-settled. Each of these communities has its own groups which organize festivals and cultural events.
- The Cultural Cooperation Agreement has been signed between both countries.
- The Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo actively promotes awareness of Indian culture by offering classes in Indian music, dance, Hindi, and Yoga. Every year, cultural troops from both countries exchange visits.
- Buddhism is a connecting link between India and Sri Lanka on religious lines.
- Education is another important area of cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. India offers scholarship slots annually to deserving Sri Lankan students.
- Tourism also forms an important link between India and Sri Lanka. India is the largest source of market for Sri Lankan tourism.
- Sri Lanka is India’s second-largest trading partner in SAARC.
- India and Sri Lanka signed FTA in 1998, which facilitated increased trade relations between the two countries.
- Sri Lanka has long been a priority destination for direct investment from India. India is among the top four investors in Sri Lanka with cumulative investments of over US$ 1 billion since 2003.
- Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA): The proposed ETCA between India and Sri Lanka would facilitate trade in services, investments and technological cooperation. With ETCA signed, Indian investments will flow into Sri Lanka to make the island’s production facilities part of the Indian and international value chain.
India’s efforts to counter China
- In 2014 India abstained from voting on a UNHRC resolution calling for a probe into alleged war crimes by Sri Lanka. And it helped to revamp the century-old relationship with Sri Lanka. (While Pakistan and China voted against the resolution)
- In a sign of a closer strategic partnership between Sri Lanka and India, they signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement which is Sri Lanka’s first nuclear partnership with any country.
- In the wake of China’s economic dominance on the island, India is also entering Sri Lanka’s mega project business in a big way by focusing on infrastructure development in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
- India is also planning to build Trincomalee Port. The port is envisioned as an Indian counterweight to Chinese developments at Hambantota Port.
Background of Sri Lanka and the History of the Civil War
- Tamils and Sinhalese are the two major ethnic groups In Sri Lanka. Sinhalese eternal conflict with Tamils for power had been gathering strength since before independence.
- Many Tamils attended English language schools which were the passport to higher education and better employment in the colonial period. And the Tamil-dominated Northern Province had comparatively better facilities in terms of education and employment.
- Post-independence Sinhalese nationalism sought to curb the Tamil presence in education and civil administration. In 1949 Indian Tamil plantation workers were disenfranchised, the start of a wave of Sinhalese nationalism which alienates the Tamil people in the region.
- The passing of the infamous “Sinhalese Only Bill” in 1956 was another attempt along the same lines.
- The constitutional provisions in the 1972 Constitution favouring the Sinhalese language and Buddhist religion, along with their educational policies convinced many Tamils that they had been perceived as a marginal community.
- As a result of open discrimination, in 1976 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was formed to fight for Tamil rights and in 1983 Civil war started.