Colombo reneging repeatedly on an undertaking given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in full

mahinda-and-singh1Narendra Damodardas Modi, India’s new Prime Minister, has a reputation as a no- nonsense politician and a tough decision-maker. As much as he is touted for his pro business policies, Modi is identified with his allegiance to masculine Hindu nationalism of the BJP and its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right wing paramilitary Hindu nationalist group. His vision is shaped by India’s national defence, the Indian world view and the Indian civilization – one of the oldest, which along with China claimed for half of the world production in the 17th century. Both great civilizations declined by the early ninetieth century, due to internal chaos and foreign invasions. Modi is now on a mission to steer India to its rightful place in the world.
The outgoing Congress Government in New Delhi had in short supply both an economic and a foreign policy vision for India. It had been vacillating on both fronts, and its crushing defeat, at the hands of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, suggest that the Indian voters have rejected its policy inertia.
Nonetheless, close observers of Indo-Sri Lanka relations would tell you that the very foreign policy paralysis in the Indian centre gave the incumbent government in Colombo a breathing space.
It also saw the government in Colombo reneging repeatedly on an undertaking given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in full. Those commitments were made at the height of the war and since then, the government has shown little interest to deliver on those promises.
Indian foreign policy under the Congress Government lacked a strategic vision and had largely been dictated by the foreign policy czars, and shaped by their own likening, allegiance and world view. That is however not the way world powers conduct their international relations. External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid who was Prof G.L. Peiris’ peer at Oxford, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and his predecessor M.K. Narayanan and a host of foreign secretaries were willing to give Sri Lanka a leeway.
However, whether a BJP Government in New Delhi would follow suit is highly unlikely. Modi is known to get things done. He is strict and in the eyes of some, is even authoritarian. Whether he would stomach procrastination by Colombo is open to question. Therefore, it is always better for the government in Colombo to be on the safe side and not to push the envelope too far.
Contemporary India had in fact been a sleeping giant, which had been awakened from its deep slumber by the pro business and nationalist leadership of Modi, who would soon embark on a mission to regain India’s rightful place. As much as humility, hubris and arrogance would soon manifest in India’s foreign policy.
In the context of those inevitable changes taking place in New Delhi, Colombo should rethink its way of dealing with its mighty neighbour. Such a strategy should be put in place as a matter of precaution, mindful of the heavy price the country had to pay due to its shortsighted foreign policy in the early 1980s under the J.R. Jayawardene administration.
However, those minor hiccups would be dwarfed by the enormous opportunity that lies before Sri Lanka. Modi’s rising India, which has all the potential to grow at near double digit growth rates, reminiscent to that of his home State Gujarat, would offer a host of unparallel economic opportunities to its neighbours. Sri Lanka should strive to become the gateway to rising India, like Hong Kong and Singapore, which had been a window to East Asia and South East Asia, respectively. This is in consonance with the Rajapaksa administration’s vision to develop Sri Lanka as a global hub of aviation, shipping and banking.
India’s growing middle class, estimated to be 300 million strong and expanding in size and prosperity is a lucrative market for Sri Lankan products. They are also an expanding source for tourist arrivals. Also Indian investments and technological transfers to local industries would increase as their fortunes back home get better. Sri Lanka cannot be happier. However, it should lose no time and leave no stone unturned to have a bigger bite from ever growing Indian pie of ‘Modified’ India.