2014 year of reckoning for Rajapaksa and Sri Lanka
Colombo, Dec 22: Sri Lanka made global headlines in 2014 with few positives as it faced censure from the UN for its human rights record while President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered snap presidential polls seeking a record a third term amid efforts to address the vexed fishermen issue with India.
If the UNHRC resolution was a disaster, the silver lining came in the form of India’s abstention at the crucial vote in Geneva. Rajapaksa was elated as India had backed both previous resolutions by siding with the US. Colombo was quick to grab the opportunity– with the Indian general election and the emergence of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
Rajapaksa immediately ordered the release of 98 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture after the UN vote. Rajapaksa also did not waste any time in accepting the invitation to attend Modi’s inauguration and has met the Indian premier twice more thereafter.
His pardoning of five Indian fishermen sentenced to death in Sri Lanka for alleged drug trafficking came in his own words due to “good foreign policy” of the Modi government. However, Rajapaksa’s over reliance on China as his major development partner kept policymakers concerned in New Delhi.
They remain far from being convinced about the bona fides of growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. “Keeping Pakistan aside, Indian concerns about the excessive Chinese economic presence and influence in the immediate South Asian neighborhood relates possibly to the kind of political influence that China could bring to bear on those nations at a time and occasion of its choosing,” said N Sathiya Moorthi, a New Delhi-based regional expert.
India officially protested to Sri Lanka over frequent port calls by Chinese naval vessels, including submarines, at Colombo. Sri Lanka has maintained that during the armed conflict the safety reasons did not permit naval support visits from friendly nations. With the civil war with the LTTE over, such naval visits are now possible and New Delhi should not be reading too much into them reassuring that it would not entertain any unfriendly acts on its soil or waters against Indian interests.
India also pitched for an early reconciliation process to meet the aspirations of Tamil community in Sri Lanka and discussed other key issues including fishermen. Indian infrastructure assistance, particularly the restoration of the railway link to northern Jaffna town after 24 years, is also a major step towards addressing concerns of the Sri Lankan Tamils.