India will assist Sri Lanka in its early economic recovery.

‘Our consistent position has been that devolution of power must be negotiated in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan HC India’

India will help Sri Lanka stage an “early and effective” economic recovery, Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay has told The Indian Express.

To that end, India, which has provided nearly $4 billion in aid to Sri Lanka, would like to bring in “more investment” in the future to help the country build capacities to respond to economic challenges, according to Baglay.

His comments come in an exclusive interview, his first since the July 9 protests and the resignation of Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and ahead of Parliament’s vote to elect a new President on Wednesday.

On his meeting with Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, he stated, “We have spoken in favor of finding a solution to the current situation within (the) framework of democracy through democratically established institutions and within the Constitutional framework.” Sri Lanka is going through a critical period.

They must, under their own Constitutional provisions, elect a new President to serve the remainder of the term. The House was scheduled to meet on Saturday to formally begin that process. So, as the High Commissioner of a fellow democracy, of a close and neighboring country, it was my duty and responsibility to go across and convey the Speaker’s support for democracy in person, as well as to reiterate to him the support that India has provided to the people of Sri Lanka in their difficult times.

Further elaborating on India’s assistance to Sri Lanka he stated as part of our neighbourhood-first policy, India has always prioritized our relations with Sri Lanka. Of course, our ties are civilizational, based on the people’s close relationships and cultural similarities.

But, at the moment, we are focusing a lot of attention on strengthening the economic partnership, and it has been a source of great professional satisfaction for me to see some of those initiatives taken and moving forward…

In the first six months of this year, we provided nearly $4 billion in total support. The idea is to respond to Sri Lanka’s requests for assistance in dealing with their foreign exchange crisis. This is significant because essential items such as fuel, fertilizer, food, and medicines must be imported.
We would like to continue bringing more investment into Sri Lanka in the future because it will help create medium and long-term capacity to respond within the Sri Lankan economy.

On the protests and the economic situation, he was outspoken, saying, “It’s not my place to comment on internal Sri Lankan protests.” People’s feelings are generally expressed to some extent. In addition to the larger economic difficulties and the impact of the pandemic, tourism as an industry was severely harmed, as were exports and remittances into Sri Lanka. All of this combined to create difficulties that could not have been predicted two years ago.

The regime is changing, and a transition is taking place right now. And, as a close and friendly country, we wish the Sri Lankan people well, and we hope that this transition will not only be smooth, but will also help Sri Lanka stage an early and effective economic recovery, alleviating the difficulties that the Sri Lankan people are facing.

In terms of India’s strategic interests, he believes Sri Lanka is an important member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). It is an important BIMSTEC member. It was, as you may know, the chairman of BIMSTEC until recently. Our maritime ties with Sri Lanka are critical… But it’s not just about India’s security. In 2019, an Easter Sunday attack occurred here…

There has been good cooperation within the region and between India and Sri Lanka to ensure that we continue to address the challenges that affect all of us in the region cooperatively.
It is critical that Sri Lanka maintains its leadership role in maritime vigilance. Because a number of drug consignments have been intercepted thanks to collaboration between India and Sri Lanka, as well as other countries in the region such as the Maldives. This affects all of our security; it is critical that we continue to cooperate and maintain the level of cooperation…

The Coast Guard held an exercise in April, in which the Sri Lankan Coast Guard also took part. It is critical to promote and encourage bilateral and multilateral initiatives aimed at maintaining and improving collective security and regional security.

On the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils and possible conversations with the new President, he believes that India must speak with the new President when he is there. However, there is a clear stipulation in the Sri Lankan Constitution regarding the aspirations of the Tamil people and the citizens of Sri Lanka.

Our consistent position has been that devolution of power must be negotiated in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. In the past, we have encouraged the Sri Lankan government and political parties to engage in direct dialogue in order to find a way forward.
When the new government takes office, it may be time for various stakeholders to pick up the threads and engage in a forward-looking dialogue to address these issues.
We have remained deeply involved in development cooperation work not only in the North, but also in the East. And in the Indian-origin Tamil community areas, their state sector, plantation workers — that has recently been one of the defining features of our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka. We continue to focus our efforts on development cooperation in the north and east, but also in the rest of Sri Lanka.

(Courtesy The Indian Express) 

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