India and Sri Lanka have a rich history of intellectual, cultural, religious, and linguistic exchanges that span over 2500 years. Their relationship goes beyond trade and investment, encompassing cooperation in various fields such as development, education, culture, and defense. These two countries share a common understanding on international issues and have collaborated closely on projects to assist internally displaced persons and disadvantaged sections of the Sri Lankan population. Moreover, India has been a strong supporter of Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism while advocating for the protection of civilian rights and welfare.
The political relations between India and Sri Lanka have been characterized by high-level visits and exchanges on a regular basis. In September 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a Virtual Bilateral Summit with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the first such engagement by the Indian Prime Minister with a neighboring country. During the summit, a joint statement titled ‘Mitratva Maga’ was issued, covering all areas of bilateral cooperation. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also visited India in November 2019, marking his first overseas trip as President, and held discussions with Indian leaders. These visits and meetings highlight the importance both countries place on strengthening their bilateral ties.
The economic and commercial partnership between India and Sri Lanka has witnessed significant growth over the years. The India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA), which came into force in 2000, has played a crucial role in expanding trade between the two countries. In 2021, India was Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner, with bilateral merchandise trade reaching US$ 5.45 billion. Notably, Sri Lankan exports to India have increased significantly since the implementation of the ISFTA, while India’s exports to Sri Lanka remain competitive in the Sri Lankan market. India is also one of the largest contributors to Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka, with investments in sectors such as petroleum retail, tourism, manufacturing, real estate, telecommunications, and banking.
India has been a major development partner for Sri Lanka, with a commitment of over USD 3.5 billion. The development cooperation between the two countries covers various sectors, including education, health, livelihood, housing, and infrastructure. One of the flagship grant projects is the Indian Housing Project, which aims to build houses for war-affected areas and estate workers. Another notable project is the country-wide 1990 Emergency Ambulance Service, which has provided close to 300 ambulances to Sri Lanka. Additionally, there are several ongoing grant projects in sectors such as culture, infrastructure, and healthcare. The Lines of Credit extended by India have facilitated projects in areas like railways, defense, transportation, and solar energy.
India and Sri Lanka share a strong cultural bond that dates back more than 2,500 years. Buddhism has played a significant role in connecting the two nations, with historical links such as Emperor Ashoka sending his children to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha in Sri Lanka. In recent years, efforts have been made to promote Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka, including the exhibition of venerated relics and the construction and renovation of Buddhist monasteries. The declaration of the Kushinagar Airport in India as an international airport has further facilitated Buddhist pilgrimage from Sri Lanka and other countries.
People-to-people ties between India and Sri Lanka have been strengthened through various initiatives, including pilgrimage visits, cultural exchanges, and educational programs. The Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC) has been instrumental in promoting Indian culture and organizing events to enhance cultural understanding. The India-Sri Lanka Foundation, established in 1998, aims to enhance scientific, technical, educational, and cultural cooperation through civil society exchanges. Tourism also plays a vital role in connecting the two countries, with India being the largest source market for tourists visiting Sri Lanka.
The relationship between India and Sri Lanka is multi-faceted and dynamic, encompassing political, economic, cultural, and people-to-people interactions. Both countries have worked together to strengthen their ties and promote mutual understanding and cooperation. Through various initiatives and projects, they have fostered a strong partnership based on shared values and interests. As the relationship between India and Sri Lanka continues to evolve, it is expected to bring further prosperity and mutual benefits for both nations.
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