(MENAFN- Colombo Gazette)
With both India and Sri Lanka celebrating 75 years of bilateral relations, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar's recent visit to Sri Lanka bears the utmost significance.
It could be regarded as a prelude to deepening the existing healthy ties and taking them to another level on the occasion of Sri Lanka's 75th anniversary of independence.
It is also the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka, a memorable moment for both countries.
Dr Jaishankar's visit is not only to commemorate this milestone but also to strengthen the friendship between the two countries to further benefit both India and Sri Lanka.
To this end, both countries have agreed to focus on cooperation in areas such as the economy, trade, investment, culture, and food security. This will provide mutual benefits for both Sri Lanka and India. It will also help build stronger diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Dr Jaishankar made friendly but firm overtures to the Sri Lankan political leadership during the visit. He asked Sri Lanka to make a firm commitment to hold the delayed provincial council elections at the earliest possible date. This is with the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution came into operation as a direct result of the Indo-Lanka Agreement signed in July 1987.
In addition, Ranil Wickremesinghe promised to hold provincial council elections and fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution symmetrically for all provinces. People will remember that President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced his desire to grant 13+ during one of his visits to India while he was President.
Apparently, except for the North and the East, other provinces too have also asked for enhanced autonomy and increased powers that had been hitherto withheld by the political leadership owing to pressures emanating from the more nationalist elements who had laid a roadblock to the strengthening of ethnic harmony between the ethnic communities living in Sri Lanka, especially the Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims.
The Indian Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, told his Sri Lankan counterpart that India did not wait for other bilateral creditors but did“what is right” for Sri Lanka's economic recovery.
Following talks with Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Dr. Jaishankar said,“We felt strongly that Sri Lanka's creditors must take proactive steps to facilitate its recovery.” India decided not to wait for others but to do what we believe is right. We extended financing assurances to the IMF to clear the way for Sri Lanka to move forward.
On January 16, India sent written financing assurances to the IMF. This is the first bilateral creditor of the island nation to officially support its crucial debt restructuring programme after last year's economic meltdown. The Fund's provisional $2.9 billion package will be cleared only after Sri Lanka's official creditors-China, Japan, and India-have provided adequate financing assurances.
The decision, Mr Jaishankar said, was a reassertion of India's belief in the principles of“neighbourhood first” and“not leaving a partner to fend for themselves,” which also drove the nearly $4 billion in assistance extended last year by way of credits and rollovers. India is“a reliable neighbour, a trustworthy partner, one who is prepared to walk the extra mile when Sri Lanka feels the need,” he said, extending Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to Mr Wickremesinghe to visit India at an“early date.”
Speaking at the joint media briefing, where President Wickremesinghe was also present, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Ali Sabry expressed“profound gratitude” for India's“enormous support” last year that“helped Sri Lanka tide over a crisis situation and regain some measure of economic and financial stability.”
Going forward, India will encourage even more investments in the Sri Lankan economy, especially in“core areas like energy, tourism, and infrastructure,” Mr Jaishankar said, pointing to energy security as one of Sri Lanka's“most serious challenges.”
The two countries have,“in principle,” agreed on a renewable energy framework.
Mr Jaishankar also said he shared India's“considered view that the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and the early conduct of provincial elections is critical” in regard to political devolution.
Recently, Mr Wickremesinghe pledged full implementation of the 13th Amendment, a long-pending demand of Sri Lankan Tamils for equality and self-determination.
In an editorial, The Hindu said that New Delhi's review of its options on Sri Lanka had reaped dividends in public goodwill in Sri Lanka for India. This was in comparison to other partners, such as China, that have only provided humanitarian aid and not much else.
Given its proximity to the island nation, India taking the lead in providing credit lines and essential items and giving financial assurances to the IMF for Sri Lanka's debt restructuring program becomes an increasingly significant story.
Meanwhile, Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay told the Indian media that External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar's recent visit to Colombo sent out a clear and strong message to Sri Lanka and to the world at a time when the island nation is reeling under a severe economic crisis.
Sri Lanka has already approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package, but for that to happen, all bilateral creditors of Sri Lanka will have to give financing assurances to the IMF.
Last week, India became the first major creditor to give this assurance in writing to the IMF. Demonstrating its Neighbor First policy, India decided not to wait for others but to be the first responder that it has been to help Sri Lanka.“And Dr. Jaishankar's visit to Colombo sent out the message that India stands with the people of Sri Lanka,” High Commissioner Baglay told StratNews Global Editor-in-Chief, Nitin A. Gokhale.
He also spoke about how India is keen on facilitating investment in Sri Lanka. This is in sectors such as ports and shipping, renewable energy, manufacturing in pharma and automobiles, agriculture, and dairy. One requirement is that all creditors have to give financing assurances to the IMF. Sri Lanka is in talks with the IMF to secure a $2.9 billion bridge loan.
As part of that process, Colombo is negotiating to obtain financial assurances from its major creditors-China, Japan, and India-which are required for it to obtain a bailout package.
The High Commission of India in Colombo celebrated India's 74th Republic Day in Colombo on January 26, 2023. It may be recalled that it was on January 26, 1950, that the Indian Constitution-the world's largest written constitution-entered into force. The Preamble to the Constitution declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. This is the first Republic Day celebration after India became the fifth-largest economy in the world in September 2022.
After paying tribute to the fallen heroes of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) at the IPKF memorial, High Commissioner Gopal Baglay unfurled India's national flag at India House, the residence of the High Commissioner of India, and inspected the Guard of Honour.
The High Commissioner also read excerpts of the President of India's Republic Day address. A special video message by Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, was also played on the occasion.
The event featured songs by the Sri Lanka Navy band and a cultural program organized by the High Commission's cultural arm, the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Center.
Members of the Indian community attended the ceremony in their hundreds. This year's Republic Day celebrations took place less than two weeks after India became Sri Lanka's first bilateral creditor to give written financing assurances to the IMF. This was for an Extended Fund Facility program.
This support, which is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's“Neighborhood First” policy, is a continuation of the unprecedented USD 4 billion of economic, financial, and humanitarian support given to the people of Sri Lanka in 2022.
Further, this year's Republic Day celebrations coincide with the commemoration of 75 years of independence by both India and Sri Lanka. Also, the two friendly neighbours will celebrate 75 years of diplomatic ties this year.