Sri Lanka PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to India is turning out to be quite a breakthrough as far as New Delhi-Colombo relations are concerned. In his interview to The Hindu, Mahinda Rajapaksa has expressed the hope that India would help the island country tackle its ongoing debt crisis.
Sri Lanka is currently facing a mammoth challenge in the form of domestic and foreign debt of US $60 billion, under which the Sri Lankan economy is currently reeling.
Replying about the challenge of servicing such massive debt obligations, the Sri Lanka Prime Minister said, “This is something we discussed with the Indian government as well, and have asked if we could get a moratorium on all loan repayments for three years until we can revive the economy. If the Indian government takes this step, then other governments might agree to do the same thing, including China.” He added, “It all depends on the stand India takes.”
Sri Lanka Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa has made it clear that the island country is looking towards India to pull it out of the Chinese debt trap. It is clear that the Rajapaksa brothers- Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa, who are currently in total control of Sri Lanka’s affairs look towards India, not China as the one who will Colombo out of the debt crisis that it finds itself in.
This is largely in consonance with the pro-India stance that the Rajapaksas have taken ever since Gotabaya Rajapaksa stormed to power last year. He had said that the decision to lease Hambantota port was a mistake and that he would also request Beijing to re-negotiate the 99-year lease agreement of the Hambantota port.
The Rajapaksas are therefore conscious of the fact that it was the Dragon’s debt-trap diplomacy, a prime example of which is the Hambantota port, that has put Colombo in a severe debt crisis. Between New Delhi and Beijing, the Rajapaksa regime is hence looking for closer ties with the former.
The Modi government too has been appreciative of how the Rajapaksas are no longer tilted against India. Last year, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had visited India in his first official visit to any country after getting elected as Sri Lanka’s President. New Delhi had then extended a US $450 million in soft loan to Sri Lanka.
It is true that it was during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as Sri Lanka President that China had got the island country to cough up the Hambantota port. But Colombo itself seems to have been done it at a time when it was facing global outrage over allegations of serious human rights violations.
It was the Hambantota port and China’s debt-trap diplomacy in Sri Lanka, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the country’s President, that had led to souring of ties between India and its maritime neighbour. However, with the Rajapaksa regime trying to pull their country out of debt troubles and looking up to New Delhi to help it out, it seems that the same debt trouble might also lead to a strong renewal of Indo-Sri Lankan ties.