The Sri Lankan government has reportedly prepared a roadmap to repair its ties with India, which came under significant strain over multiple issues, including the growing proximity of the island nation to China. Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner-designate to India, Milinda Moragoda, is tasked to set the roadmap in motion to address the growing “trust deficit” between the countries, according to a report in The Hindu.
The roadmap, which was presented to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, included resolving the protracted issue of fishermen, building connectivity trade and investment, promoting cultural links.
The ties between Sri Lanka and New Delhi suffered a blow when the former, in February this year, scrapped the East Container Terminal (ECT) Project, a tripartite agreement signed by India, Japan, and Sri Lanka in 2019 for the development of the strategic ECT of Colombo port.
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New Delhi further grew wary of Colombo’s intentions when the Rajapaksa-led government went on to award crucial infrastructure projects-from expressway projects to energy projects in close proximity of India’s southern tip- to China, ignoring New Delhi’s sensitivity in the region. On the other hand, India ignored several requests from Sri Lanka, which has been going through a deep economic crisis for more than two years now, seeking assistance, including a debt repayment waiver and a currency swap deal, for $ 1 billion. Several of these requests, communicated directly to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Rajapaksa brothers, went without any response.
Colombo later signed a currency swap deal for $1.6 billion with China but the balance of payment crisis continued.
With a new envoy on his way to New Delhi and a deepening economic crisis, Sri Lanka hopes to reset ties with India. Significantly, the Sri Lankan mission in New Delhi has been without a high commissioner for over seven months now.
“In recent years, the Indo-Sri Lanka bilateral relationship has been increasingly dominated by a transactional approach. This is a consequence of the changes in the geopolitical equilibrium in the region, that has resulted in a growing trust deficit,” the vision document was quoted by The Hindu as saying.
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The roadmap also suggested the speeding up of the West Container Terminal (WCT) Port project in Colombo Port-taken up by India’s Adani Group – and the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm.
In February this year, a controversy erupted over the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm-the Sri Lankan government had leased out 99 oil tanks to India for 35 years in an agreement signed in 2003 – when Sri Lanka Energy Minister Udaya Gammapila unilaterally announced taking back the oil tanks. However, he later retracted his statement and said both countries would jointly own these oil tanks.
The roadmap also emphasized leveraging historical-cultural linkages and joint heritage between the two countries. It also proposed handing over the “Sita temple stone” to India for its proposed Grand Ram Temple in the northern city of Ayodhya.
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Calling Buddhism “most precious gift that India has bestowed upon [Sri Lanka]”, the document said, “Against this backdrop, any setbacks to our relationship however intractable they may appear to be at any given point in time, can only be temporary.”
Days after the Sri Lanka parliament cleared the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill- which many says was to facilitate Chinese investment in the city-India said it had been following recent developments regarding the port city bill from its “security perspective” and reminded the island nation to be “mindful” of its ties with India.
Among other issues, the document also suggests engaging with Indian authorities both in New Delhi and Tamil Nadu and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to bring back over 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees living in camps in the southern state.