Seminar Report

Sri Lanka & Maldives: Internal Politics, External Relations & India’s Interests

21 Nov, 2013    ·   4185

Sisir Devkota reports on the discussion

Sisir Devkota
Sisir Devkota
Research Intern

Sri Lanka

Brigadier (Retd) K Srinivasan

Establishment Director, Centre for Security Analysis, Chennai

The Tamils in Sri Lanka expect the Prime Minister of India to make an appearance at CHOGM as it would be in their political and social interest. The Prime Minister’s decision to not visit Sri Lanka could cost the Congress party significant votes in the upcoming election. Also, the upcoming visit by the Indian PM to Sri Lanka would contradict the agenda of the Congress party in the southern states of India.
Because of extreme fishing in the waters between Sri Lanka and India by Indian fishermen, Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen’s catches have reduced significantly. This is also developing as a political problem.  The Indian position on this is contradictory as it is working to improve the fishing rights for Tamils in India while simultaneously promoting the fish economy of Sri Lankan Tamils.

The Sri Lankan government is “Rehabilitating, Reconstructing and carrying out the process of Reconciliation” for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Apart from the problems with fishing and deterioration of the ecosystem in sea waters between India and Sri Lanka, the deteriorating relations of India with Sri Lanka would create a vacuum which either China or Pakistan could fill.

Dr Mallika Joseph
Executive Director, RCSS, Colombo

The Sri Lankan government treats the current situation as a post war period and not post conflict. The development priorities of the government are specific, which raises a number of questions. An example consists of recent plans to open up casinos in Sri Lanka to boost revenue, and provide tax holidays, both of which are against Buddhist values.  Elections in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka and the upcoming Commonwealth meeting are the top priorities of the Sri Lankan government. India may feel that it cannot achieve anything by attending the meeting, but not attending would also not yield any substantial political benefit. The Tamils in India sporadically engage with Tamil interests in Sri Lanka, and too before international events. There is also a decrease in student forums in Tamil Nadu taking up the cause. Both Tamil Nadu and New Delhi lack robust policies to address Tamil issues.

Dr D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS, New Delhi

Indian Foreign policy toward its South Asian neighbours over the last fifty years is not federalised and has instead been dictated by the central government. However, the federal states are now asserting their rights. It is a positive development, as seen in some provinces in China. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is using the regional problem regarding the Tamils as an excuse to shape India’s Sri Lanka policy and his subsequent visit to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth meeting. There is a vacuum in the expectation of who exactly is going to be responsible for the Tamils in both nations. For example, if it is the central government, the federal state, or student forums as it used to be in the past.

Dr N Manoharan
Research Fellow, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi

To say that the federal units asserting their power as of recently is questionable and not positive. The federal aspirations are negative and arebased on four kind of hypocrisy. The first hypocrisy is the contradictory treatment of fishermen in both India and Sri Lanka. Secondly, before questioning the human rights issues within Sri Lanka, the condition should also be assessed in the state of Tamil Nadu inside India. Third and the last hypocrisy arethe mere living condition of Jaffna Tamils and non-supporting nature of the Tamil Nadu politicians. Regarding CHOGM, India is not abstaining the meeting and the people in India are not against the PM not going. The Indian Prime Minister should go like the British PM, also to monitor the huge aid that India has provided to Sri Lanka in recent years.


Dr N Manoharan
Research Fellow, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi

The two specific issues for consideration are why the elections have not taken place, and what its implications are. The elections took place on 7 September but since no political party gathered a majority of the votes, it resulted in an election run-off. In fact, on 19 October, which was fixed as the election day by a decision of the Supreme Court, the election candidates fled. Maldives could face many problems if the elections do not take place before the current president tenure ends on 11 November. The political implication of this would be a democratic dilemma. As part of the economic implications, the GDP value of Maldives would decrease. The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) has stated that Maldives lacks economic and institutional efficiency despite excellent opportunities. Apart from the diplomatic implications in the United Nations and the Commonwealth countries, the Maldivian Freedom Index over the years has also been on the decline.

Dr Anand Kumar
Associate Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi

Maldives is important to study because not only is it at geographical sea proximity in the Indian Ocean but also only seven hundred kilometres away from India’s southern shore. Earlier, India was less prepared and less versed on what was happening in Maldives, which led other nations like the US to recognise the Maldivian government using the Indian decision as a yardstick.

There are both domestic and international enquiry committees set up to look into the matter of the Maldivian crisis. Part of the international enquiry is from the CHOGM forum, which one of the reason why India should attend the upcoming Commonwealth summit in Colombo. On the relations between India and Maldives, India has been treated shabbily by Maldives, which could be an indicator of the erosion of the Indian sphere of influence in South Asia. The Maldivian interest in bringing China into SAARC as an observer is also the product of the increasing rapport between China and Maldives. The overall scenario of India-Maldives foreign relations could be analysed from the significant event of the Maldivian foreign minister calling the Indian ambassador to criticise his meeting with the election commission.