Home Contact Us  
   

India - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5310, 28 June 2017
 

Three Years of the Modi Government

India-Sri Lanka: Reorienting the Relationship?
Husanjot Chahal
Programme Director, SEARP, IPCS
E-mail: husanjot.chahal@ipcs.org
 

In May 2014, the newly elected Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi kickstarted his tenure by inviting the heads of all SAARC countries for his swearing-in ceremony, suggesting that contacts with neighbours should be made a matter of routine than treated as exception. This has held true most aptly for Sri Lanka, with seven bilateral state visits on record between the two sides in three years. Inheriting an unfortunate legacy of three difficult decades of mistrust between India and Sri Lanka, PM Modi’s commitment to restructure ties with its island neighbour deserves credit. A closer look at specific deliverables on four key issues of deliberation between the two sides will give a fuller picture.

The Tamil Question: Moving Beyond
Before the 2014 Indian general election, a common perception in Sri Lanka, mostly of the Sinhala community, was that India’s policy toward the island nation is largely dictated by Tamil Nadu politics. A perceived Indian intrusiveness, riding on concerns of the Tamil question, had been a significant itch that overshadowed most Sri Lankan debates on India. With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) securing an absolute majority and the subsequent turn of events, including arrests of political leaders from Tamil Nadu (some were even BJP allies) while protesting former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s New Delhi visit, the perception among most sections of the Sinhala nationalists has gradually been recalibrated.

The same events, on the other hand, caused the Sri Lankan Tamils to worry about loss of leverage vis-à-vis Tamil Nadu. The Modi government, however, carefully addressed this concern early on through discussions with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation and gave assurances to relevant stakeholders that India and Tamil Nadu will not be at variance with regard to their political needs.

What PM Modi has achieved is sort of a careful balance in assuaging the Tamils’ concerns while lowering the Sinhala nationalists’ criticism. He clearly stated India’s supports for a “united” Sri Lanka, but also stressed the need to go beyond the Thirteenth Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution for the political empowerment of the Tamil minority; while New Delhi backed the UNHRC Resolutions that give Sri Lanka more time to protect Tamil interests, PM Modi made a symbolic visit to the Tamil-dominated Jaffna stressing ethnic reconciliation and rehabilitation. 

The implications of these moves on the Tamil problem aside, by establishing this balance, PM Modi has been successful in moving India-Sri Lanka relations away from the prism of the Tamil question. 

Cultural diplomacy: Renewed Focus
The Sri Lankan outreach provides an immediate and clearest example of Modi's use of cultural diplomacy as the regional trump card.  Moving past the baggage of Tamil politics, PM Modi has perpetually sought to place India-Sri Lanka relations within the ambit of cultural unity – a move that was initiated by the predecessor, the UPA government, but got a personal push from Modi.

From cooperation in development of the "Ramayana Trail" in Sri Lanka and the "Buddhist Circuit" in India to the unveiling of the statue of Anagarika Dharmapala in Sanchi by incumbent Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, almost every state visit between India and Sri Lanka since 2014 has prominently featured an emphasis on cultural ties. At the height of this trend was PM Modi's May 2017 visit to Sri Lanka earmarked solely to attend the 'Vesak' Day celebrations with no formal talks.

Political commentators view this as Modi government’s strategy to counter China's growing imprint in the island. Notwithstanding this motivation, cultural diplomacy has undoubtedly become a crucial part of India’s engagement in Sri Lanka. 

Economic Engagement: All Talk No Action
The single most important agenda that has spanned most political engagements between India and Sri Lanka in the past three years is economic cooperation. The two countries have discussed ways to promote Indian investments, proposed ambitious economic partnerships such as the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) and the South India-Sri Lanka sub-regional cooperation, and have listed a range of opportunities to work together, albeit very little has been achieved on ground.

Indian investments in Sri Lanka dipped significantly in 2016-17 compared to the previous two years. The ETCA appears far from being finalised, despite Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s announcement that it would be signed by end of 2016. In fact, both sides are yet to resolve issues related to the Free Trade Agreement that was operationalised in 2000. Cumulatively, the only significant economic arrangement realised by India and Sri Lanka in the past three years is the 'Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation in economic projects' signed during PM Wickremesinghe's April 2017 visit. The significantly delayed MoU is essentially a "roadmap for the future" that outlines a few broader agendas and agreements, which are unlikely to materialise given, for instance, the present trust deficit and resistance to Indian presence on the island.

Fishermen Issue: Awaiting Results
Another issue that clouds India-Sri Lanka bilateral ties is the long-festering problem of fishermen straying into each other’s territorial waters. Renewed calls from the Modi and Sirisena governments to find a permanent solution to this issue of "highest importance" has ensured sustained diplomatic negotiations and engagement of fishermen communities on both sides. In particular, 2016 saw the establishment of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries and a hotline between the Indo-Lanka Coast Guards. The JWG is expected to meet every three months while the Ministers of Fisheries on both sides would meet every six months beginning January 2017 along with the Coast Guard and naval representative to discuss the protracted issue. 

The proposed meetings have ensued, but the setup has failed to achieve much. Only two months after the first meeting of the JWG, tension escalated after the Sri Lankan Navy allegedly shot at six Indian fishermen near the Katchatheevu islet resulting in one death. The incident snowballed into a diplomatic row after the Indian Coast Guard arrested ten Sri Lankan fishermen one day later. While high-level discussions managed to bring down tension, the fact remains that many fishermen continue to be arrested and the measures so far have not been able to address this problem. Perhaps one positive development that has come about pertains to the practice of bottom trawling, which New Delhi now officially acknowledges as an environmentally harmful practice that needs to end. However, without actual time-bound measures and healthy alternatives, status quo would remain.

In sum, the Modi government warrants merit for taking India-Sri Lanka relations away from a discourse dominated by Tamil politics, placing it in the ambit of cultural engagement and orienting it toward questions of economic development. However, the government's implementation front is severely lacking, as is their determination to strike effectively at the core of contentious issues like the fishermen dispute.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
 
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Indo-Pacific
Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Indus-tan
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within


OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


 

Browse by Publications

Commentaries 
Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 
China 
Myanmar 
Afghanistan 
Iran 
Pakistan 
India 
J&K  

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Indo-Pak 
Military 
Terrorism 
Naxalite Violence 
Nuclear 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
India-Sri Lanka: A Grim Tale of Economic Cooperation

Evaluating Sri Lanka’s Regional Priorities

India’s ‘Soft’ Counter-Terrorism: Lessons from Singapore

Ansar ul-Tawhid: Evolution and Operational Dynamics

India and the IS: Lessons from Telangana’s LWE Experience

ADD TO:
Blink
Del.icio.us
Digg
Furl
Google
Simpy
Spurl
Y! MyWeb
Facebook
 
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2017
 January  February  March  April  May  June  July
 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
 2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
 2000  1999  1998  1997
 
 

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

 
Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2017, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.