Regional diplomacy

Following his arrival in New Delhi on Monday, visiting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said that there exists a very strong relationship between the island nation and India. By choosing India as his first destination for a state visit, Sirisena has, according to foreign policy hawks, sent a resounding message to China. It is no secret that New Delhi had grown extremely wary of former incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa’s closeness to Beijing. Last year India’s suspicions had reached fever pitch when Rajapaksa allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Sri Lanka without informing New Delhi. The move, reportedly, was not in accordance with a maritime security pact between both the countries. Sirisena’s greater affinity to New Delhi has been on display ever since he took office. In fact he had gone as far as reiterating that India is the “first, main concern” of his foreign policy.

Maithripala Sirisena’s spectacular triumph in the recent Sri Lankan presidential elections over former incumbent and colleague Mahinda Rajapaksa had caught the wider international diplomatic community’s attention. With news reports on Sri Lanka having expelled the Colombo station chief of India’s premier spy agency RAW in the run up to this month’s presidential elections for allegedly helping garner support for Maithripala Sirisena, these talks signify a larger shift in New Delhi’s geo-political stance. It must be added, however, that such claims have not been confirmed by either side. 

A key element in talks between Sirisena and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, besides key nuclear agreement, is the condition of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. Sirisena’s choice of India as his first foreign destination comes in light of the moves he has made towards fairer treatment of minority Tamils and Muslims. These policy moves can only be sustained if New Delhi lays down the right diplomatic incentives and coaxes him to liberalise Sri Lanka’s top-down, Sinhala Buddhist-led social order.


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