Articles

A Sovereign Sri Lanka – India’s Headache by Dhanuka Dickwella

Summary

“Sri Lanka has no records of being complicit in attempting to harm India’s interest unless it is in the Game of Cricket. However we all know the role India played in the war Sri Lanka fought. An analysis of Indo Lanka relations with a reference to the Chinese naval ships port call to Sri Lanka.”

Living close to a big , powerful neighbor has its own implications. Around the globe we could find great examples for such realities. Armenia , Qatar , Israel , Cuba are some of the most notable such countries where the big neighbors had influenced, challenged the very existence of them. Sri Lanka has its own story with her closest big neighbor India.

Sri Lanka’s relations with India have always been a mixed experience. At times being amicable, warm & at times being very complicated & menacing. It is not a story of a couple of decades but a legendary history dating back to millenniums. Although commonly considered a legend , Ramayana written by an Indian is the oldest story of Sri Lanka’s relations with India where there was a war between the Indian Prince Rama & the powerful King Rawana in Lankapura . The essence of Ramayanaya is simply “The victor shall write the tale, and the vanquished become its villain! “ . Whatever the truth behind this , it implies the very fact that India has always questioned our right to be independent.

Lets forget the legends & look at the recorded history. When India was ruled by multiple Kingdoms but not one, Sri Lanka was subjected to multiple invasions retrospectively. When the Cholas were done with us then it was the turn for Pandiayans. Time & again Sri Lanka was invaded , the invaders culture was incorporated but eventually were defeated. This was a cycle of events that had long lasting effects on the indigenous arts, history , cuisine, culture , demographics , traditions & politics. The political marriages with India was common & it was used as a strategy to avoid any conflict but simultaneously giving up some kind of sovereignty. Such was the history between us & India in a nutshell although this is a topic for a series of books.

In the modern history after Independence both Sri Lanka & India wanted to have their own identities forged which were largely destroyed by the British colonials. During the cold war , Sri Lanka’s then administration tried to be independent & pro western. The result was a 30 years long gruesome war & ruined nations. It is no secret that India armed, funded & provided intelligence to the Tamil fighters who were responsible for that lost decades. Sri Lanka’s sea border & air borders were violated in broad daylight by India with no shame & consequences. Finally in the name of peace, an invading army was sent to Colombo as a peacekeeping force. This resulted in mass riots & destroying anything with an Indian identity. India paid a dear price with the assassination of Prime minister Gandhi at the hands of the very group they nurtured. This unwise decision by the INC or the Indian National Congress or the congress leadership pushed India’s relationship with Colombo to the lowest point in the history. To this date the generation that lost dreams due to India’s forceful intimidations do not see India as a positive political force. This was the darkest chapter of Indo Lanka history. But did India learn a lesson of burning bridges ? Looking at their current behavior we see otherwise.

Sri Lanka’s strategic location is both a blessing & a curse.

Sri Lanka’s strategic location is both a blessing & a curse. Being close to two global shipping lanes, the potential of being a maritime hub is enormous. Sri Lankas is a critical node to China’s ambitious Belt & Road Initiative. With proper investments, policies & strategy Sri Lanka has such a promised future becoming the maritime hub in Asia. Although largely ignored & underfunded Sri Lanka could also play a pivotal role as an Air transport hub. Sri Lanka is blessed with three harbors that could completely connect the countries in the East & the West of the Indian Ocean.

Other than the commercial aspect , Sri Lanka could play an unbelievably important role in a regional or a global war. This was one of the reasons why the Japanese made a number of bomb runs on the then Ceylon under British during the second world war. Just like Cyprus Island in the Mediterranean , Sri Lanka could work as an unsinkable Aircraft carrier providing enough coverage for modern aircrafts. Sri Lanka could also be a resupply point for any Naval skirmish between rival warring parties. If anyone wants to destabilize & make a wrecking havoc on the region Sri Lanka is undoubtedly the best launching platform in doing so. This is why even the slightest important geopolitical move in the Island nation could brew a small storm across the region.

There is a growing geopolitical competition between India & China for influence & control over the great Indian Ocean.

There is a growing geopolitical competition between India & China for influence & control over the great Indian Ocean. India uses QUADS & a number of other security groupings to undermine China’s growing power. This is the very reason why China’s strategic investments in Sri Lanka have become a cause of concern for India. Visits of powerful military, political figures as well as the Military vessels are a bone of contraction for Indo Sri Lanka relationship. The assumption that Sri Lanka will willingly allow its territory to be used as a launch pad to attack our closest neighbor is nothing but pure lunacy. It will be pure suicidal and will not bring any short-mid or long term benefit for the Island nation. If you look at the history of the region we have not sided with any party that fought India in its wars . Sri Lanka has never supported any secessionist movements in India either materialistically or ideologically. Sri Lanka has no records of being complicit in attempting to harm India’s interest unless it is in the Game of Cricket. However we all know the culpable role India played in the war Sri Lanka fought.

In a world where distance won’t play any role in espionage & sabotage , to imagine that China needs a spy vessel closer to Indian waters to spy on India is a laughing matter. As a sovereign state we must retain our sovereign rights to decide on our own matters. India must respect our right to decide on the fate of its water bodies, land masses & air. As much as the Indian sea, air land belongs to them & they decide what to do in those , so could we. India has the means to counter China on its own terms & Sri Lanka must be excluded to be a part of that power play.

For India the issue here is a vessel but for Sri Lanka it is all about its strategic sovereignty. The very essence of its statehood. If we heed to India’s demands on whatever the grounds it will set a terrible precedent. Simply the current administration will rather look to save face & an easy way out. But the consequences of what they are going to do will have to be dealt with by the future generations. Unless Sri Lanka preserves its sovereignty , India will make it an undeclared official policy. Today it could be a Chinese spy vessel & tomorrow it could be our immigration policy. India will not stop.

Sri Lanka has no illusion that a third country will fight on its behalf in case of any unfriendly military activity by India. We will be left for our own fate as has been the case in the past. India being aware of this fact & that we have never undermined India’s interest ,pushing us around the corner is evident for nothing but bullying. Sri Lanka does not need divine wisdom to understand a redline such as deploying military assets of another state against India. India should be able to differentiate between a port call of another states’ military vessel & building another states a military base. By undermining Sri Lanka’s sovereignty & bullying her , India is not doing anything pragmatic or practical. India’s arrogance will be not taken kindly by the younger generations that will be ruling the country in times to come. By burning bridges they will create a hostile population with an anti Indian sentiment. That is no diplomacy from a country that was home to great scholars as Kautilya but pure huribis of a macho nation that has no sense about its neighborhood.

If Sri Lanka is being pushed around like a ragdoll & put to humiliation what could it do ? A nation pushed too far will act on self survival & its defense. That is how the state of Israel survived & now thrives. If India points the barrel towards us instead of a friendly olive branch , we will have to take matters into our own hands. Starting to develop a powerful navy that could showcase our power in the Indian Ocean will be such a practical step. We need to change the rules of the game by identifying our strengths & the weaknesses of the other. Sri Lanka survived a number of invaders from India , three colonial powers & a grueling war waged by the one of the world’s deadliest guerrilla armies. In the legend Ramayanaya we lost as a result of a betrayal & so was the case in colonial British conquest. Now none of the two states need to choose such an unwise path. The rise of Asia is what this century is all about & both India & Sri Lanka should focus on common prosperity instead of hostility. Whether or not India will repeat its millennia old mistake with Sri Lanka’s relations is yet to be seen. Sadly though history usually repeats.

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