India-Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa’s productive visit

June 13, 2010 - 0:0

The visit by Sri Lanka's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has reaffirmed the country's close ties with India and provided both sides the opportunity to signal a readiness to take the bilateral relationship to a new level.

This was reflected in the joint statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Rajapaksa, and the host of agreements to strengthen and expand bilateral cooperation. It was the first time in a quarter century that New Delhi played host to a Sri Lankan head of state who arrived without the burden of a raging ethnic conflict back home. Mr. Rajapaksa, whose political stock following his presidential and parliamentary election triumphs is unmatched among leaders in the region, did not have to seek support for his government nor assistance in a devastating civil war. For three decades, the Tamil question, and unease with the way successive Sri Lankan governments handled it, dominated ties between the two neighbors. With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam eliminated as a military entity, the Sri Lankan leader clearly wants to reformulate the bilateral relationship. That he is prepared to go the extra mile for this is evident from his agreement to an Indian consulate in the southern city of Hambantota where China is assisting in building a modern port, in addition to the already agreed diplomatic outpost in Jaffna.
India too is eager to look at its relations with Sri Lanka through a post-LTTE lens. In this, the immediate issue has been the resettlement of all the Tamils displaced during the final stage of the military operations against the Tigers. In addition to the grant of Rs. 500 crore for the humanitarian relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement of internally displaced persons, the infrastructure development, and other assistance being provided by India for projects in Northern Sri Lanka, New Delhi's decision to assist in the building of 50,000 houses is a timely initiative. But as a good neighbor, India must make a much bigger, and qualitatively more significant contribution, to the development of the war-ravaged North, and the rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts for the Tamils.
While the assurances given by President Rajapaksa give rise to the hope that the longstanding political grievances of the Tamil people will be addressed in a just manner, it is no surprise that the joint statement reveals differences over how to go about resolving this question. New Delhi expects “a meaningful devolution, building upon the 13th Amendment…(to) create the necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement,” in other words implementation of the 13th Amendment with significant enhancements. Mr. Rajapaksa, on the other hand, has recorded “his determination to evolve a political settlement acceptable to all communities that would act as a catalyst to create the necessary conditions in which all the people of Sri Lanka could lead their lives in an atmosphere of peace, justice and dignity, consistent with democracy, pluralism, equal opportunity and respect for human rights.” Expressing his resolve “to continue to implement in particular the relevant provisions of the Constitution designed to strengthen national amity and reconciliation through empowerment,” he shared with Dr. Singh his ideas on “conducting a broad dialogue with all parties involved.”