Video Summary

[RSTV The Big Picture] India – Sri Lanka Relations

Mahinda Rajapaksha will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The leaders are expected to prioritisedefence and maritime security ties as the neighbours play a crucial role in the US-led Indo-Pacific initiative, seen largely as an attempt tocounter China.
By IT's Video Summary Team
February 22, 2020


  • Introduction
  • Key areas to be discussed in meeting
  • Status of the Indo-Sri Lanka Relationship
  • How important is Sri Lanka for India?
  • India, Sri Lanka and Maldives furthering their interest
  • India and Sri Lanka’s expectation from this visit
  • Different aspect of bilateral connections
  • The Fisherman and Tamil issue between both the countries
  • How can India push this relationship to next level?

India – Sri Lanka Relations

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  • Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is on a four-day state visit to India. The visit which is beginning on 7 February, will be the Rajapaksa senior’s first overseas visit since his brother Gotabaya was elected President in last November.

Key areas to be discussed in meeting

  • Mahinda Rajapksha will hold talks on a number of key areas including trade, defence and maritime security cooperation.
  • The visiting dignitary hopes to finalise the implementation of the $ 450 million line of credit pledged by Prime Minister Modi to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his visit to New Delhi in November.

Status of the Indo-Sri Lanka Relationship

  • Sri Lanka is a part of Indian Mythology. Its relationship goes back 2500 years. Its location is at very strategic geography i.e. at the Peninsular tip of India.
  • All these things have translated into strong people-to-people, defence, economic and political relations.
  • There have challenges in the relationship too which has the high chance of occurring due to close proximity of the two countries. It speaks of the maturity of the both countries to not only sort out the differences but steadily build the relationship.
  • The visit of Mahinda Rajapaksa to India is such an effort. It is a hope that this visit will further strengthen the old age relationship of India with Sri Lanka.

How important is Sri Lanka for India?

  • The close neighbours do have ups and downs in their relationship and in different areas. Both the countries understand and recognize that the strategic interest of any country includes the interest of their own and then any other country. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s economic relationship with China should not make India feel concerned about its security in Indian Ocean.
  • India has clearly, on a number of times, said that India develop its relationship based on India’s strategic interest.
  • Both countries have been very frank to each other. The armed forces of both countries enjoy a close relationship, most of the Sri Lankan army training is being done in India.
  • This does not mean that Sri Lanka has lesser relationship with China or other countries but Indo-Sri Lanka relationship is more based on bilateral relations.
  • Recently, in a conference a Sri Lankan minister gave a statement saying that if China is their friend then India is their Brother and Sri Lanka would not do anything to jeopardize the Indian security.

India, Sri Lanka and Maldives furthering their interest

  • Indian Ocean Rim countries is a very interesting region from the perspective of all three countries but their relationship goes much beyond this region.
  • Firstly, they all are lying by and large on a similar type of continental shelve which means that the fishing resources and the continental shelves domain goes on to prerogative of all three of these countries.
  • As far as maritime security of this region is concerned, one side has Malacca Strait and another side has Socotra. These both regions are the biggest line of communication between the three nations and if something goes wrong with this region all three nations will be concerned.
  • Any satellite that will be on equatorial plain over the Indian Ocean will be able to monitor and able to have surveillance over the entire region which can breach on the security of all three nations.
  • The external threats could be possible due to blue water navy regime of China and such type of threats will be affecting not only India but all the three nations.
  • Most of the sea-line of communication will be passing through Maldives, Sri Lanka till the Malacca Straut touching Andaman and Nicobar.
  • With respect to all of the above pints and possibilities India, Maldives and Sri Lanka will be a part of aspects/threats. They can’t be separated on these issues. Anything adverse happening in the Indian Ocean region will affect all the three nations simultaneously.

India and Sri Lanka’s expectation from this visit

  • The present government has been much more proactive when it comes to internal or external aspects and the very first visit of Gotabaya Rajapaksha happen to India after his election. 
  • Sri Lanka expects that India being the largest country in the region open up its doors for close economic ties, cultural, defence and security ties despite the fact that per capita income of Sri Lanka is twice that of India.
  • India is the largest country in the region as well as technologically advanced country and it has extended more than $300 bn worth of assistance over the years to Sri Lanka and that will continue.
  • India’s determination is to be faster in implementation of its project in Sri Lanka.  India in setting up High Impact Community Development project which is well taken care of and which should continue.
  • India has also sizable section of Indian Origin Tamilianswhich is 10% of Sri Lankan population.
  • India has the largest tourists section visiting Sri Lanka, it is one of the largest investor there and Sri Lanka’s export is growing for India. In short, India –Sri Lanka has a very broad relationship and it is a sensitive relationship.

Different aspect of bilateral connections

  • The other three important areas which can bring Sri Lanks much closer to India are Act East Policy in which BIMSTEC has become very important agenda of the government, Neighborhood First Policy and the third aspect is Connectivity.
  • India can give Cabotage relaxation to Sri Lanka on similar terms like Bangladesh. India also have such agreements with Bangladesh where it can use the inward riverine trade routes. It cannot happen with Sri Lanka because it has a different geography but in the Maritime connectivity, in the Neighbourhood First Policy and BIMSTEC, in the lines of SAGAR, the Sri Lanka could be brought on the table with India.

The Fisherman and Tamil issue between both the countries

  • Unless both the issues are addressed, there is no way that India can go on to think about normalizing this relationship.
  • India must go on to be in the heart and minds of the Sri Lankan people to develop a better bilateral relationship tie.
  • The Indian fishermen have better technology and better equipment which makes them catch large quantity of fish. The Sri Lankan fishermen are not equally equipped with such technologies. Because of all these, Indian fishermen tends to enter into maritime boundaries.
  • India can do many things to reduce such cross boundary entering by fishermen through many ways such as:
  • India must institutionalize such type of fishery activity by having a joint domain. There must be a certain type of a protocol that India and Sri Lanka both have to follow.
  • Developing both countries fishery activity. India has to develop some downstream units so that the value addition with Indian fishery will go very high. Sri Lanka has to develop their Inland fishery such as ponds so that they do not have to depend entirely on sea fishery.
  • If India do not help Sri Lanka with modern fishery equipment, then China will supply all that modern equipment to Sri Lanka. The modern equipment such as trollers and mechanized speed boats could have chips that can do surveillance on Indian region.
  • The India should take on the institutional development on Sri Lankan side. These two countries should merge their fisheries sources in such a manner that they don’t go into spoil the ecosystem of the region.

Tamil Issue

  • India had been able to sacrifice this issue. For example, India abstained from Genevaresolution (it focused on targeting the Sri Lankans for torturing Tamilians).
  • India chose to maintain Indo- Sri Lanka relationship which it thought far more important in the light of threat from China.
  • This is a very good gesture that Indians have shown and Sri Lankans have to reciprocate to it.

How can India push this relationship to next level?

  • Both countries have invested a lot of capital, time and effort in building their relationship. PM of India had visited Sri Lanka in 2015, 2017 and 2019. The both countries are maintaining a high level exchanges.
  • Now it is important to make it sustainable and India should reach out in an asymmetric fashion and India needs to stay engaged, have regular dialogues and forward looking outlooks so that this relationship could become stronger and multifaceted.
  • Sri Lanka understand the importance of India in Intelligence sharing. As for example, in the Easter Bomb blast, the intelligence input went back from India. The religious history and connection between India and Sri Lanka through King Ashoka’s contributionand teachingsalso makes a strong point of connection.
  • Another strong point of relationship is the scientific development related to scientific observation of the monsoon, studying of the continental shelves and the port of Call. Both countries can collaborate on these issues and make their relationship stronger and healthier.