New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Tamil issue was discussed with an open mind with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was on his first visit outside the island nation after assuming office. Security and counter-terrorism dominated talks between India and Sri Lanka, as the Modi government hosted Rajapaksa even as India also asked Sri Lanka to expedite reconciliation process for Tamils in the north and northeast of the island.
The emphasis was significant given India’s stake in the welfare of the Tamil population, which has shared ethnic bonds across the Palk Strait in Tamil Nadu. In his statement, Modi said, “I am confident that the Government of Sri Lanka will realise the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and respect within a united Sri Lanka. For this, it will be necessary to carry forward the process of reconciliation with the implementation of the 13th amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka.”
In their talks, the two PMs deliberated on the entire expanse of bilateral ties and resolved to further deepen anti-terror cooperation and boost trade and investment ties. The two sides are working on faster exchange of intelligence on counter-terrorism. This comes in the context of the Easter Sunday terror attacks that shook Sri Lanka last year. India had provided detailed intelligence in advance of the attack, but the Sri Lanka security forces reportedly discounted the intelligence.
“We discussed furthering our cooperation against terrorism. I am happy that Sri Lankan police officers have started participating in anti-terrorism courses in India’s premier training institutes. We are also committed to further strengthening the contacts and cooperation between the agencies of the two countries,” said Modi.
India is wary of the new government, given the Rajapaksa brothers’ history of allowing China a strategic foothold in the country and therefore into the Indian Ocean region, so important for India’s security. To that extent, India has worked to show a mix of incentives as well as firmness in its dealings with this new government. The reference to Tamils is also intended to assure opinion in Tamil Nadu that the community remains a priority for India.
India also pushed the Sri Lankan side to expedite clearances for two big infrastructure projects that India is undertaking – the Mattala airport in Hambantota and the Eastern Container Terminal off Colombo which India is developing with Japan.