Rebuilding a bridge

Rebuilding a bridge

Sri Lankan PM’s visit marks a welcome rewrite of bilateral engagement between the two neighbours.

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Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. (Source: AP photo)

From the effusive welcome to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, India has made it clear that it sees him and President Maithripala Sirisena as more mindful of New Delhi’s security, strategic and economic concerns than the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It also views the new regime as more sensitive to the need for resolving the Tamil question.

Wickremesinghe’s meetings were an indication of the direction in which both sides want bilateral relations to go — significantly, apart from discussions with PM Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, he also met the ministers for transport, power, railways and finance. Wickremesinghe appears to have a clear vision of his country’s economic ties with India, going beyond exclusively relying on Chinese investments. He has never needed to be convinced on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement or CEPA with India; he has also been pushing for a land bridge from Tamil Nadu.

The rest of Sri Lanka is another matter. Accusations of an economic sellout by Wickremesinghe had begun even before he left the island’s shores. In deference to these political realities, there was no mention of the CEPA in any pronouncements during his visit. Modi, too, made a guarded reference to discussions on “bilateral arrangements” for trade and investments, and to the offer of Indian support for “increasing connectivity” between the countries.

Nor was there any reference to the other red rag to Colombo, the 13th Amendment for devolution of power to the Tamil minority, seen by nationalist Sinhalese as an Indian imposition. Instead, both sides appear to have moved to a new formulation that looks “at how power-sharing takes place within the constitution”.


India would ideally want Sri Lanka to make quick progress on a constitutional package on devolution, as well as take speedy steps to address the unsettled issues from the war against the LTTE before the Tamil Nadu elections next year. The importance of the timing was underlined by Wednesday’s Tamil Nadu assembly resolution demanding an international inquiry into the alleged war crimes.

The report of the investigation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights speaks of “horrific level of violations and abuses” between 2002-11, but does not name individuals, and lays some blame on the LTTE too. Its recommendation of a “special hybrid court” is not the purely domestic inquiry that Sri Lanka wants, but it isn’t the international inquiry that it had feared. This should also satisfy the Tamil National Alliance.