India has done more for Sri Lanka than the IMF — S. Jaishankar, Union Minister for External Affairs–Indian Express.
China will stand for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, economic development — Visiting Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Sun Weidong, when he called on Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena last week.
These two statements by representatives of the two Asian giants taken at face value–prima facie as lawyers say — should make our people joyful and relaxed but in terms of realpolitik, should it be so?
The statement of Jaishankar was followed by the Indian High Commission the next day that following a request by Sri Lanka, the State Bank of India had extended the tenure of USD 1 billion credit facility till next year.
Lankans should indeed thank India for their continuing support but a significant difference between the statements of the two powers we noticed was the Chinese government giving priority in their statement for support of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty,
Jaishankar’s statement as reported said: The Modi government is working on developing an extended neighbourhood that involves the islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries, and nations in South-East Asia.
“What we are trying to do is for a bigger, influential and ambitious India. We are trying to expand what should be our neighbourhood. We look at what this extended neighbourhood should be. It could be islands in the Indian Ocean, nations in South East Asia and Central Asia or Gulf countries. The relationship with the UAE and Saudi Arabia has undergone an enormous transformation.”
From traditionally a much more constricted view of our neighbourhood, we have undertaken something much more ambitious, he had said in his speech at Anant’s National University in Delhi.
“If you are the biggest in the neighbourhood, then it is in our interest that our other neighbours have a share in our prosperity, happiness and are linked to us, he had declared in a burst of Indian altruism, not ever witnessed before Lanka’s financial debacle and “gone forward in a way, we ourselves have never done for Sri Lanka” and added that it “is bigger than what the IMF has done for Sri Lanka”.
Jaishankar is indeed correct. Although friendship with its neighbours was supposed to be the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy, commencing with Congress governments, despite Lanka faithfully following the tilted Non-Aligned policy of the Gandhis towards the Soviet Union, massive assistance on the scale given by the Modi government — or any significant assistance — did not come Lanka’s way.
Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in Lanka and the Indo-Lanka Agreement which the then president J.R. Jayewardene had no option but to accept (Remember his plea: ‘What could I do with no foreign power lifting a finger to help me’) and with the Modi government still calling for its full implementation, any reference by New Delhi to Sri Lankan sovereignty will sound hollow.
Narendra Modi has visions of making India a world power and becoming a world leader and in these endeavours he is bound to suffer setbacks such as in the diplomatic rapprochement brought about recently between Saudi Arabia and Iran by Chinese diplomacy, which is what Jaishankar is talking about when he refers to the relationship with the “UAE having undergone an enormous transformation”.
But we in Lanka are not concerned with all that but only about the Modi government working on “developing an extended neighbourhood” that involves islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries and nations in South-East Asia. How would this “extended neighbourhood” apply to South Asian countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives which have had long-standing contentious relationships with their giant neighbour resulting in the paralysis of SAARC?
Sri Lankans while appreciating the munificence of the Modi government have noticed that some massive Indian investment projects involve Lanka’s national security concerns. They include the construction of seaports, the Trinco Oil Tank Farm, the use of the Trinco port itself, and energy projects in projects in the Palk Strait. Many agreements have been signed with India by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government when Basil Rajapaksa was the Finance Minister and also after the Ranil-Rajapaksa regime took office. These agreements have not been presented to parliament for ratification making some doubt, especially the trade unions, whether national security has been bartered away for loans which have to be repaid.
Narendra Modi is in an ebullient mood having won two consecutive general elections and going for a third term driving his juggernaut of Hindutva through the Indian electorate, singling out minorities particularly India’s Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in the world. Most Indian opposition parties despite their myriad differences in religion, race, and caste are attempting to form a united opposition to defeat him at the next parliamentary elections. He is defying democratic practices, traditions and even constitutional provisions at the cost to his fellow Indians and for fair and democratic judgments to be expected in his proposed “Extended neighbourhood” would be the height of optimism.
At a ceremony in New Delhi, on Sunday, Modi inaugurated a new parliament complex built at an estimated cost of $ 120 million and called it the ‘cradle of empowerment’ but the ceremony was boycotted by most opposition parties. He sidelined President Droupaadi Murmu who is the head of state and the highest constitutional authority and inaugurated the building himself.
It is an attempt to revamp the British colonial architecture including the former parliament building although some were of the view that the old parliament is more Indian than Modi’s creation.
Rahul Gandhi, the Indian Congress party leader was in the United States last week meeting Indian expatriates and American legislators accusing Modi’s BJP and RSS of attacking the constitution and attempting to divide the country on caste and religious lines ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit at the invitation of President Joe Biden.
What is so attractive about Narendra Modi to Western leaders like Joe Biden? Modi’s human rights record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat was condemned by the Western world. Is this real politics at play — Modi and the BJP being the biggest and the only countervailing force against the superpower, China?