Millennium Post

Paradigm shift

Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka, the first by an Indian prime minister after 28 years, hopes to establish new maritime security architecture for its island neighbours and stem the flow of Chinese influence in the region.  Despite visits to the Maldives and Seychelles, it is Sri Lanka that holds the key for New Delhi. Soon after his arrival at Colombo, Modi and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisea inked four agreements, including one on cooperation in customs. Beyond signing customary agreements, however, Modi’s visit to the Tamil-dominated northern region of Jaffana, reiteration of New Delhi’s commitment to assist Sri Lanka in infrastructure projects and the resolution of the fishermen issue, will form the bedrock of his diplomatic visit.

“India stands with Sri Lanka in new peace mission, equality for all including Sri Lankan Tamils, implementation of 13th Amendment (greater devolution of powers to provinces in the Tamil-dominate North) and something beyond,” Modi said. In a moment of astute diplomacy, though, Modi urged leaders from the Tamil National Alliance to focus on their future within the island nation, as opposed to the interests of Tamilians outside it.  Modi’s plans to hand over 20,000 homes to formerly displaced residents in the North, however, might run into some rough weather on the lines of his proposed rally through Janakpur in Nepal.

On the fishermen issue, New Delhi will have to engage in some tough, yet careful, diplomacy. Days before Modi’s visit, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe’s commented that his nation has the “right to shoot” Tamil Nadu fishermen like intruders, besides accusing India of double standards on the Italian marines’ issue. New Delhi, though, has sought additional time to resolve the issue since it pertains to “livelihood and humanitarian dimensions” to fishermen on both sides of the divide.

To stem China’s influence in the region New Delhi has vowed to assist the island nation in constructing its infrastructure projects. Sri Lankan Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, however, had some rather unkind words for New Delhi, days before Modi’s visit. The minister was rather unanimous in his belief that New Delhi cannot dictate Colombo’s policy towards Beijing. In addition to the above comments, Ranawaka, in an interview this week, complained about Indian commitment to infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. Modi and his delegation will, therefore, have to tread these waters rather carefully.


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