India – Sri Lanka Relations

India – Sri Lanka Relations

Historical ties between India and Sri Lanka:

India and Sri Lanka have a long and complex history of cultural, economic, and political ties dating back over 2,500 years. 

  • Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Emperor Ashoka’s son Mahinda in the 3rd century BCE. This led to the establishment of a strong cultural and religious connection between the two countries.
  • In the 10th century CE, the Chola dynasty of South India conquered Sri Lanka several times. However, the Cholas also left a lasting cultural impact on Sri Lanka, influencing art, architecture, and language.
  • India and Sri Lanka gained independence from British rule in 1947 and 1948, respectively. India played an important role in helping Sri Lanka establish its democratic institutions.
  • Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was formed in 1976 and it was involved in an armed conflict with Sri Lankan armed forces from 1983 to 2009.
  • During the Tamil conflict, India and Sri Lanka signed the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Agreement to enact the 13th amendment and send the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka.
  • The assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 further changed India’s attitude towards the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
  • The Civil War in Sri Lanka ended through a military operation in 2009.

What is the significance of Sri Lanka to India? 

  • Strategic location: Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean region makes it a strategically important hub for India’s security interests.
  • Military significance: Sri Lanka is strategically important to India’s navy, as the switching of naval fleets from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea and vice versa have to take a round of Sri Lanka.
  • Economic ties: India is one of Sri Lanka’s key trading partners and both countries have strong economic ties. In 2020, India was Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest trading partner, with the bilateral merchandise trade amounting to about USD 3.6 billion.
  • Geopolitical importance: Sri Lanka’s location makes it important for India’s Indian Ocean strategy and for networking with partners for its aim of establishing an Indian Ocean Rim Community.
  • China’s presence: India is also concerned about China’s increasing presence in Sri Lanka through investments in ports, which could potentially be used for military purposes.

How is India engaging with Sri Lanka in various fields?

 Economic cooperation

  • India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) in 2000 contributed significantly towards the expansion of trade between the two countries.
  • Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners among the SAARC countries. India, in turn, is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally.

Cultural relations

  • Buddhism is one of the strong pillars connecting both nations. Both countries jointly commemorated the 2600th year of Buddha’s enlightenment.
  • The Cultural Cooperation Agreement signed (1977) forms the basis for periodic Cultural Exchange Programmes between the two countries.
  • Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo actively promotes awareness of Indian culture by offering classes in Indian music, dance, and Hindi. It also organizes the International Yoga Day event annually.
  • India-Sri Lanka Foundation was set up in 1998 to enhance scientific, technical, educational, and cultural cooperation through civil society exchanges

Development cooperation

  • Sri Lanka is a major recipient of development assistance from the Government of India. India’s overall commitment stands close to US$ 3 billion, out of which around US$ 560 million is purely in grants.
  • Indian Housing Project, commitment to build 50,000 houses for the war-affected as well as the estate workers in the plantation areas. In 2017, PM signed an agreement to commence construction of 10,000 additional houses. The aid package includes funding for electricity power projects and north-south railway development.
  • India continues to assist in a large number of High Impact Community Development Projects In areas of education, ambulance services all over the island, small and medium enterprise development, and training.

Defence and security cooperation

  • Since 2012, India has participated in the Indo-Sri Lankan Defence Dialogue. This platform helps to review security and defense cooperation issues.
  • Defense exercises: India and Sri Lanka conduct joint Military (Mitra Shakti) and Naval exercises (SLINEX).

Infrastructure development

  • In 2022, India signed an agreement to set up hybrid power projects on northern Sri Lankan islands.
  • Various development projects have been started by India at Kankesanthurai port on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, very close to India, and at Trincomalee port on its northeastern coast.

Multilateral cooperation

  • Both are members of organizations such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
  • Both are part of international organizations such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, etc.

What are the existing challenges in India-Sri Lanka ties?

India and Sri Lanka generally have good relations, although there were some areas of tension and conflict.

  • Strategic issues due to increased Chinese presence: As part of the Maritime Silk Route (MSR) policy, China built the Colombo and Hambantota ports. China has also collaborated in satellite launching activities with Supreme SAT (Pvt.), Sri Lanka’s only satellite operator.
  • Fisherman problem: Sri Lanka has long expressed concerns about illegal fishing by Indian fishermen within its territorial waters across the Palk Strait. There have been regular arrests of Indian fishermen for crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
  • Katchatheevu Island: India recognized Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over the island under the Katchatheevu Island Pact in 1974. However, Tamil Nadu claimed that Katchatheevu falls under Indian territory.
  • Issues to Tamilian interests: India hopes that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, and respect would be realized and that the devolution of powers according to the 13th amendment would be taken forward. However, Colombo has not committed to this.
  • Political instability: Sri Lanka has witnessed political instability in recent years, with frequent changes in government and leadership. This has affected the country’s ability to engage with India and implement policies that promote economic cooperation and regional stability.

Related Links:

India – Nepal RelationsIndia-Maldives Relation
India -Bangladesh RelationsIndia – US Technology Partnership