India wishes that the ongoing transition in Sri Lanka will not only be “smooth,” it will also help the island nation stage an “early and effective” economic recovery, Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay told The Indian Express Monday.
To that effect, India, which has helped Sri Lanka with almost $4 billion in aid would, “going forward,” like to bring in “more investment” to help the country build capacities to respond to the economic challenges, Baglay said.
His remarks come in an exclusive interview, his first after the July 9 protests and the resignation of Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and ahead of Parliament’s voting Wednesday to elect a new President.
On his meeting Sri Lankan Parliament’s Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena:
We have spoken in favour of finding a solution to the current situation within (the) framework of democracy through democratically established institutions and within the Constitutional framework. Sri Lanka is passing through a very crucial phase. They have to elect, in terms of their own Constitutional provisions, a new President to serve the remainder of the term. On Saturday, the House was to be convened to begin that process formally. So as the High Commissioner of a fellow democracy, of a close and neighbouring country, it was my duty and responsibility to go across and convey the support for democracy to the Speaker in-person and reiterate to him the support that India has provided to the people of Sri Lanka in their difficult times.
India’s assistance to Sri Lanka:
India has always given priority to our relations with Sri Lanka in our neighbourhood-first priority policy. Of course, our ties are civilizational, based on very close relations and cultural similarities between the people.
But in current times we devote a lot of attention to strengthening the economic partnership and it has been a matter of great professional satisfaction, personally for me, to see some of those initiatives taken and moving forward…We have extended $3.8-billion worth of total support in the six months of this year – close to $4 billion. The idea is to respond to Sri Lanka’s requests for enabling them to meet their foreign exchange crisis. That’s important because essential items like fuel, fertilizer, food, and medicines need to be imported.
Going forward, we would like to continue to bring more investment into Sri Lanka because that will help create medium and long-term capacity to respond within the Sri Lankan economy.
On the protests and the economic situation:
It’s not my area to comment on internal protests in Sri Lanka. Generally, there is some level of expression of people’s sentiments. On the larger economic difficulties and the impact of the pandemic, not only tourism as an industry was badly hit, but also exports, and remittances coming into Sri Lanka. A combined effect of all of this created difficulties which perhaps could not be foreseen two years ago.
There is a change in the regime, a transition which is taking place right now. And as a close and friendly country of Sri Lanka, we do wish the Sri Lankan people well and we do wish that this transition will not only be smooth but will help Sri Lanka stage an early and effective economic recovery, help ameliorate the difficulties which the people of Sri Lanka are facing.
On India’s strategic interests:
Sri Lanka is an important member of the Indian Ocean Region Rim Association (IORA). It is an important member of BIMSTEC. It was, as you know, until recently, the chairman of BIMSTEC. Our maritime ties with Sri Lanka are very important…(But) it’s not merely India’s security. The Easter Sunday attack took place here in 2019…there has been good cooperation within the region and between India and Sri Lanka to ensure we continue to address, cooperatively, the challenges which affect all of us in the region.
It’s very important that Sri Lanka continues to play an important role in maritime vigilance. Because a number of drugs consignments are interdicted with cooperation between India and Sri Lanka and other countries in the region, such as Maldives. This affects the security of all of us, it’s important we continue to cooperate and maintain the level of our cooperation…In April, there was an exercise of the Coast Guard in which the Sri Lankan Coast Guard also participated. It’s very important that bilateral as well as multilateral initiatives for maintaining and enhancing collective security, regional security, be promoted, encouraged.
On aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils and possible conversation with the new President:
We will have to talk to the new President when he is there. But in terms of the aspirations of the Tamil people and aspirations of the citizens of Sri Lanka, there is a clear stipulation in the Sri Lankan Constitution. It has been our consistent position that there has to be negotiated devolution of power in terms of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. And we have encouraged the government of Sri Lanka in the past as well as the political parties to engage in a direct conversation with each other and to find a way forward.
When the new government is in place, it could be time again for various stakeholders to pick up the threads and engage in a forward-looking dialogue in this matter to resolve these questions.
From our side, we have remained very closely engaged with the development cooperation work not only in the North, but also in the East. And in the Indian-origin Tamil community areas, their state sector, plantation workers — that has been one of the hallmarks of our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka in the recent past. We continue to devote great attention to the development cooperation in the north and the east, but also in the rest of Sri Lanka also.