The more pertinent and intriguing question doing its rounds among political circles today is the visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Sri Lanka besides revelations by the Pandora Papers about Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husbandThirukumar Nadesan. The foreign secretary’s visit bears much significance since it is a matter of interest for all Sri Lankans.

The questions posed are simple.  Can the foreign secretary of a big country such as India spare time to visit Sri Lanka when it is facing so many more intricate and demanding issues on other fronts?

The Chinese intrusions into Arunachal Pradesh and matters concerning Afghanistan and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD)operations are of concern to India. The country has foiled Chinese attempts, but it may lead to a diplomatic row between the two.

In these circumstances, Sri Lankan front line political circles are concerned about the visit of the foreign secretary to Sri Lanka. What are the underlying objectives of the visit to Sri Lanka which had all the hallmarks of an unscheduled visit? Was it a more politically significant tour to ensure that Indian interests are intact within the shores of Sri Lanka?

The political barometer Shingrala used to scan Indian interests in Sri Lanka is the 13th Amendment to the constitution and the holding of the delayed provincial councils election. India is singularly worried about the stance of Sri Lanka towards China in the long run to secure more financial benefits.  It is something that India cannot offer.



During his visit the foreign secretary had a series of meetings with key Sri Lankan government officials.  He met with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa last Monday.  The intention was to iron out residual issues and strengthen strained Indo -Lanka relations.  He called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday for a one to one discussion. The focuswas on matters relating to the Indo-Pacific strategic construct and the QUAD. He also met with Finance Minister Basil Rajapakse.

India is exceedingly worried about the growing influence of China in the region and is unrelentingly obsessed with Sri Lankas increasing tilt towards China.

India knows very well that the Sri Lankan stance is counterproductive for New Delhi.  One of the main reasons for the visit of Shringla to Sri Lanka this time is to assess the primary reasons behind stalling several projects sponsored by India. The bone of contention is that Sri Lanka has given priority to the projects carried forward under the aegis of China to run smoothly. Besides, the foreign secretary also took up the Tamil cause with the Sri Lankan prime minister and discussed the need for urgent implementation of the 13th Amendment.

The 13th Amendment is part and parcel of the constitution following the implementation of the Indo -Lanka Accord in 1987. It proposes the setting up of the provincial council system and devolution of power to the nine provinces in Sri Lanka. Successive governments in Sri Lanka however have not fulfilled the obligations under the Accord. The provisions to devolve police and land powers to the provinces were conveniently forgotten by successive governments fearing reprisals by the majority community and the Buddhist clergy. It was not long before the 2015 defeat of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa that he committed to devise a new formula described as 13+. What he meant by it was obvious.  He was harping on a solution beyond the 13A.

Shringla also made it a point to discuss with representatives from local Tamil political parties, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Tamil Progressive Alliance and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the pressing problems faced by the Tamil community.

During the meeting the foreign secretary stressed India’s commitment  to protect the rights of Tamils through full implementation of the 13th Amendment and the early convening of the provincial council elections. Achieving reconciliation and establishing connectivity with India was also high on the discussion agenda. India has repeatedly urged Sri Lanka to hold elections to its provincial councils without further delay.

The Indian foreign secretary had also said in no uncertain terms that it does not appreciate any third party presence in the Tamil-majority north and east, an indirect reference to some Chinese projects in the north.

The foreign secretary had conveyed to the TNA delegation the views he had expressed to the Sri Lankan leadership.

TNA spokesman and Jaffna legislator M.A. Sumanthiran told the Indian media that holding provincial polls along with full implementation of the 13th Amendment is priority. He was part of the delegation led by veteran Tamil leader R. Sampanthan that met with Mr Shringla.

The government had raised some legal challenges as an impediment to hold the provincial councils election. Nevertheless, this was pooh-poohed by the TNA delegation which had stated that even the Attorney General had cleared the holding of polls with a simple amendment.

Sumanthiran had also told Indian media that the foreign secretary had reiterated India’s continued support for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it to achieve meaningful devolution, referring to the only constitutional guarantee thus far on a measure of power devolution to the provinces.

The decision by several key ministers to abolish the 13A and provincial councils system came up for discussion but the matter was not given sufficient weight.

The discussion with Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa centred around economic and commercial ties between India and Sri Lanka and on projects of mutual benefit.

In September 2020, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a virtual summit with Prime Minister Rajapaksa, the latter had sought to defer the debt the island nation owes to India. Though India is walking a tight rope financially owing to various reasons, India was generous enough to reschedule the debts as far as Sri Lanka is concerned.

India has already provided a $400 million currency swap facility to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to assist the country with economic recovery and is cushioning the Covid-19- related disruptions.

On Monday, Shringla inaugurated four projects in Colombo in the housing and education sectors.

They included handing over 1,235 houses to beneficiaries under the Indian Housing Project (IHP) Phase III where India is constructing 50,000 housing units at a cost of Rs 1,372 crore across various districts in Sri Lanka. Another housing project which became a reality is one in the Vavuniya district under which India is assisting Sri Lanka to construct 600 houses in 25 districts.

Apart from these housing projects, Shringla also inaugurated two colleges in the Kandy district and in Vadamarachchi in the northern province. Vada Central Ladies College in Vadamarachchiis one of 27 schools that was earmarked for renovation and was handed over during this visit. The projects were lagging behind schedule most of the time which drew India’s attention to them. It was also a part of India’s strategy to register an Indian presence to counter that of China.

As far as Nirupama Rajapaksa’s alleged involvement in the Pandora Papers scandal is concerned, the matter was adequately discussed and debated within the portals of parliament. It is yet another occasion where the people’s trusthas been betrayed for the benefit of a few.

JVP leader Anura kumara Dissanayake dealt a blow to the government when he alluded to how funds allocated to the GinNilwala river diversion project found its way to finance the political campaign of a prominent politician. All this happened through money transfers to and from a Chinese company, creating a public outcry.

Corruption to date remains the main reason for the economic downturn of the country.Dissanayake told parliament last week how corruption in itself, is the start of some projects. Who can reverse this unhealthy trend in this country is a matter to ponder. ALAKESWARA


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