PM Modi should offer the very best of terms that Sri Lanka would be happy with so that there is mutual trust, confidence and create conditions to ensure our age-old traditional relations, which are above petty politics
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Sri Lanka on 13th and 14 March 2015, responding to the invitation of President Maithripala Sirisena, who made his first overseas visit to India to meet the Indian leaders. Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister, in 24 years, to visit this beautiful island nation. He is expected to make short visits to other two neighbours, Mauritius and Seychelles during this trip.
It may be recalled that President Sirisena visited to reaffirm Sri Lanka's desire to maintain close relations with India. His trip also tried to ensure that there are no misunderstandings that former President Mahindra Rajapaksa's tilt towards China may have caused in the minds of the Indian populace. President Sirisena is expected to visit China over the next few weeks and indications are that he would maintain cordial relations with them as well. Such a move will strengthen the relations with all concerned.
During his brief visit, there are chances that the Indian PM may be invited to address the Sri Lankan Parliament. If this is done, it is expected that PM Modi will offer India's hand of friendship in every conceivable way and offer all assistance that Sri Lanka may need in its development. Trade and investment are expected to be important issues that will be discussed in great detail.
PM Modi, in his tight schedule, will officially hand over some 20,000 homes built by India in the Northern Province. In doing so, he will be the first Indian prime minister to visit both Jaffna and Talaimannar, where he is expected to commission a railway line. He is scheduled to open a cultural centre at Jaffna also.
In the past, there has been speculation about Indian concerns with regard to the implementation of the 13th Amendment and rehabilitation of Tamil refugees in the bilateral talks with Sri Lankan leaders. It is best that PM Modi leaves this issue out of his agenda and treats it as a totally internal problem of the Sri Lankan Tamil population with their own elected government.
There have been talks of fishing rights and mishaps that involve fishermen from both sides violating each other’s fishing areas. These squabbles are left to the wisdom of the fishing folks themselves, instead of governments getting into the fray. All these issues can and should be resolved peacefully, and not by force, by any third party.
In so far as the attempt by China to secure business from Sri Lanka, this ought to be considered as a business attempt by an interested party, rather than making it an issue for political discussion. If anything, PM Modi should offer the very best of terms that Sri Lanka would be happy with so that there is mutual trust, confidence and create conditions that will ensure our age-old traditional relations, which are above petty politics. No doubt, President Sirisena will also be understanding and accommodative in dealing with such prickly issues. It is just as much in their interests to keep China at bay.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.