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Raj Deepak asked: Should not India move ahead in its relations with Sri Lanka without demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment, particularly in view of the growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka?

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  • Gulbin Sultana replies: India emphasises on a meaningful devolution package, based on the 13th Amendment, to create necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement of the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka. India also has practical reasons to lay emphasis on the implementation of the amendment. Around one lakh Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka are living in India. Until and unless political reconciliation is achieved in the North and East, voluntary repatriation of these refugees will not be possible. To repatriate all the Sri Lankan refugees and to stop more from coming in future, it is in India’s interest too to emphasise on political devolution in Sri Lanka.

    The known displeasure of Sinhala nationalists over India’s emphasis on the 13th Amendment has not stopped the two countries from engaging each other. India is providing development and security assistance to Sri Lanka. The economic engagement between the two countries has also increased over the years. Therefore, it should not be assumed that India’s emphasis on the implementation of the 13th Amendment has in anyway stalled the growth of the Indo-Sri Lankan ties.

    Increasing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka especially during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has been of some concern for India. The new President Maithripala Sirisena is likely to have a more balanced and practical relations with China. His government has also decided to review several Chinese projects in the interest of the economy and security of the country. It is expected that Sirisena Government will be more sensitive towards India’s concerns. Therefore, while India should carefully monitor the Chinese activities in Sri Lanka, it should not be unnecessarily alarmed by their mere presence in the country.

    The new government though has expressed its intention to find a sustainable solution to the Tamil problem, but several political parties currently supporting the government are known to have opposed the 13th Amendment in the past. The fate of the amendment, therefore, remains uncertain. India, however, still needs to pursue the new government to find a political solution to the lingering Tamil issue, based on the 13th Amendment, as it is in the long-term interest of both the countries.

    Posted on February 03, 2015