New Delhi: The continuation of ongoing Indian projects and cooperation on counter-terrorism mechanism will be on the cards as newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
Sources said Modi is keen to ensure that India’s projects continue under the newly elected regime.
“Among the things the two leaders will discuss is the continuation of Indian projects in Sri Lanka. These includes housing projects, work on oil tankers and a railway line,” a source in the Ministry of External Affairs told News18.
India had undertaken the construction of a massive housing project in northern Lanka, along with several other projects like supplying passenger coaches to Sri Lankan railways and building solar projects.
India and Sri Lanka in 2015 had also decided to partner a strategic oil storage facility in Trincomalee. This was collaboration between Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Sri Lankan unit of Indian Oil Corp.
Most of these projects were started in partnership with the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime. With the Rajapaksa brothers, Gotabaya and his elder brother Mahinda, back in power, sources indicated that the Modi regime is keen to ensure that India’s projects in Lanka continue and India’s interests in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) are secured.
The source added, “There is also the likelihood of some new projects or new lines of credit from India to Sri Lanka being announced by both sides.”
Issues of counter-terrorism are also going to be high on the agenda, with Sri Lanka recovering from the deadly Easter attacks this year. Gotabaya based most of his campaign rhetoric on national security following the Easter Attack and, in his manifesto, even promised greater cooperation with India on the security front.
During the Sri Lankan civil war, Gotabaya became synonymous with alleged war crimes and a phenomenon known as “white van disappearances”. The two brothers are hailed as strongmen by the country's Sinhala majority but minorities have been anxious at their rise to power.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka's primary Tamil party, had even endorsed his opponent Sajith Premadasa. Naturally, Gotabaya's history as the former defence secretary under his brother will mean India's Dravidian parties have a deep distrust of him and his brother, who is effectively seen as having the remote control of the newly elected government.
Reports say External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had expressed India’s desire to see reconciliation towards the Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. When asked if Modi will also raise the concerns of Sri Lankan Tamils with Gotabaya, a source did not rule out the possibility. The source, however, added that it was “up to the Prime Minster” and that India’s relationship with Sri Lanka was “larger than a single issue”.
Regional issues, such as cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific region, will also be discussed. This is particularly important given Rajapaksa’s closeness to China.
During the decade-long rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka had a decisive pro-China tilt. While the Sirisena-Wickremesingh government had tried to balance relations with both Asian giants and correct the tilt, a Rajapaksa presidency threatens to disrupt that balance. After all, China is said to have financed Mahinda’s last campaign. With China invested in Sri Lanka's electrons, India does have reason to worry.
After Sri Lanka failed to repay a Chinese loan, the island nation had to lease the Hambantota port for 99 years. India has raised concerns of China engaging in this kind of debt-trap diplomacy in its neighbourhood. With India becoming the first country to be visited by Gotabaya as president, it presents New Delhi with a golden opportunity to maintain that balance of power between the two Asian giants.
Gotabaya arrived in New Delhi on Thursday evening. At 9:45 am on Friday, he will meet with Jaishankar. At 11 am, he will be given a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, following which he will make his way to Rajghat to lay a wreath on Mahatma Gandhi’s Samadhi. At noon, he will meet Prime Minister Modi at Hyderabad House. At 7:30 pm, he will meet President Ramnath Kovind.