As India celebrated its independence anniversary last week, the Indian High Commissioner to Colombo Y. K. Sinha noted that India remains committed to assist Sri Lanka in its endeavours of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation. Speaking Exclusively toThe Sunday Leader, Sinha said that the need for national reconciliation through a political settlement has been reiterated by India at the highest levels and India’s consistent position is in favour of a negotiated political settlement, which is acceptable to all communities within the framework of a united Sri Lanka and which is consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights.
By Easwaran Rutnam
Q: There was a lot of negative publicity given when Mr. Modi won the elections with many claiming that ties between India and Sri Lanka will turn sour under a BJP government. However so far that does not seem to be the case. Where do you see India’s relations with Sri Lanka heading over the next year or so?
A: Shri Narendra Modi, who galvanised the nation on the promise of change, good governance and development, has been sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of India. The Government, even while assuming office, sent a clear signal to the South Asian region and the world, by inviting for the first time in independent India, leaders of all SAARC countries and Mauritius to the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers on May 26. We are grateful to His Excellency, the President of Sri Lanka, for accepting the invitation at short notice. India is committed to work towards building a peaceful, stable and economically inter-linked neighbourhood, which is essential for the collective development and prosperity of the South Asian Region. The recent statement by Prime Minister, suggesting that the Indian Space Research Organisation develop a SAARC satellite and to “dedicate this satellite to our neighbourhood as India’s gift,” underlines this intention.
The India-Sri Lanka relationship is unique, from time immemorial. It is a relationship which is marked by close contacts at the highest political level, growing trade and investment, burgeoning infrastructural linkages, cooperation in the fields of development, education, culture and defence, as well as a broad understanding on major issues of international interest. It is of great satisfaction that high-level bilateral interaction with the new Indian Government has already commenced with the successful visit in July to India by the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka, Prof. G. L. Peiris.
This augurs well for the future, and I am sure our partnership will progress in the spirit of being the closest of neighbours whose destinies are interlinked. The bilateral engagement is poised to scale even greater heights.
A: Sri Lanka has always occupied a special place in Indian hearts. The bilateral relationship is too large and multi-dimensional to be affected by any single issue, since it is firmly anchored on the bedrock of civilisation ties and close people-to-people contacts.
India has followed a principled approach towards the situation in Sri Lanka, especially in respect of implementation of the LLRC recommendations, devolution of powers and progress towards a meaningful political settlement. It is our hope that the opportunity provided by the end to armed conflict in Sri Lanka, and subsequent positive developments such as the holding of elections to the Northern Provincial Council, can be utilised to ensure reconciliation and lasting peace and prosperity. This in turn will not only enhance the bilateral relationship but also promote peace, justice, equality and self-respect for all minorities, including the Tamil people, in Sri Lanka.
The need for national reconciliation through a political settlement has been reiterated by India at the highest levels. India’s consistent position is in favour of a negotiated political settlement, which is acceptable to all communities within the framework of a united Sri Lanka and which is consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights.
Q: Is Sri Lanka’s growing relationship with China a concern for India?
A: I would not like to comment on Sri Lanka’s relations with any third country. It is not a zero sum game. India’s relationship with Sri Lanka is sui generis. All major communities in Sri Lanka trace their origins to India, depending on how far back you go in time. Sri Lanka’s religions, language, culture and philosophy derive from the larger Indian cultural tapestry.
These shared historic affinities have been assiduously nurtured to create interlinks in every sphere of life, including beneficial economic ties that would enhance the well being and prosperity of our people. These ties will be further strengthened through India’s focus on the 5 Ts – Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology, enunciated by our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
A: Following the end of the military conflict in Sri Lanka, India has emphasised the importance of national reconciliation through a negotiated political settlement, acceptable to all the communities in the island, including the Tamils. India has urged all stakeholders to engage constructively, in a spirit of partnership and mutual accommodation. This will ensure that the needs of all Sri Lankans, particularly those most affected by decades of conflict, are addressed with a sense of urgency and purpose. Only a cooperative approach will pave the way for genuine reconciliation amongst the communities involved, by building trust and confidence on all sides. India is ready to offer its support to all stakeholders in a spirit of partnership and cooperation.
Q: What is your opinion on the post war developments in the North and is India looking at providing further assistance in that regard?
A: After the end of a 30 year long internecine conflict, Sri Lanka is now ready to reap the peace dividend. India welcomed the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections. India has urged Government of Sri Lanka and the TNA to engage constructively, in a spirit of partnership and mutual accommodation; building on the positive statements of intent and the symbolic gestures made by both sides after the Northern Provincial Council was constituted.
India’s assistance in post-conflict recovery commenced in 2008 even before the armed conflict came to an end, and has developed as per the priorities set by the Government and people of Sri Lanka. It is guided and inspired by the rationale of South-South Cooperation and focuses especially on capacity-building, human resources development as well as infrastructure development. India’s portfolio of development projects now encompasses virtually all major sectors of the economy, and is estimated at US$ 1.3 billion.
The High Commission has recently published a brochure titled “India & Sri Lanka: A Partnership That Transcends Time”, which was released by the Minister of Economic Development of the Government of Sri Lanka, Basil Rajapaksa. The brochure seeks to provide a glimpse into the extensive and multi-sectoral Development Cooperation Partnership between India and Sri Lanka, which has expanded significantly since the end of the armed conflict in 2009. It is available on our website and can be accessed to obtain details of ongoing and planned development projects.
Q: Do you see more investment opportunities for Indian companies in Sri Lanka and if so in what areas can Indians invest more?
A: The election of a new government in India with a clear mandate has also provided an excellent opportunity for further deepening our bilateral trade and investment linkages. The new government is committed to closer economic cooperation and consolidation of the SAARC region.
The India Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISLFTA), which aims to exploit the synergies and complementarities that exist between the two countries, remains the cornerstone of our economic and commercial ties. The benefits that have accrued from this 14 year-old Agreement are well documented.
Premier Indian companies have shown great interest in Sri Lanka, investing in the country across sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, services, and construction. Many other companies from India in sectors like water management, hydrocarbons, renewable energy, and manufacturing are looking for opportunities in Sri Lanka.
The cumulative FDI approvals for Indian investments amount to almost US$ 1 billion since 2003, with investment inflows of US$ 50.5 million in 2013 and much more in the pipeline.
You may be aware that the Indian CEO Forum in Sri Lanka was launched in 2013 and is a professional body of Indian corporate leaders in Sri Lanka across all industries who wish to use their collective experience to attract further Indian investment to the country, as well as ease the investment process for potential investors.
This dynamic economic relationship is set for further expansion. Both sides have decided to take several key steps to further deepen trade and investment relations, by focusing on increasing Sri Lanka’s export capacity and tapping the vast potential of the services sector, thereby achieving a special economic partnership.
India is also the largest source of tourists to Sri Lanka. Last year Indian tourists constituted 16.38% of the total tourist inflows into Sri Lanka.
In recent months, the two countries have continued discussions to take the economic and commercial engagement