- In the wake of rising humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, India reportedly will soon provide another round of assistance to Sri Lanka
- It will help India strengthen people-to-people connection as well as build a strong base at the government level
- Given that Sri Lanka’s needs are not that big to harm India’s coffers, it can afford to preserve with Island nation
Often the common populace fail to understand the nitty and gritty of foreign relations. Currently, Indians are also facing difficulty in understanding why in spite of the Sri Lankan government’s agonistic attitude towards India, we are helping them time and again. But, any move on the bilateral front is made with a long-term goal in mind.
India to provide further assistance to Sri Lanka
According to a report by Economic Times, India is gearing up to increase monetary assistance to its Southern neighbour. As per the ET report, the assistance this time will be centered more towards humanitarian requirements. After getting fuel, medicine and rice from India, the Lankan government is said to have demanded Urea from India.
Apparently, other than some token offer from famed international financing organisations like IMF, India is the only country which has been standing beside the Island nation in times of need. Lankans are currently running from pillar to post in search of basic needs like rice, water, food, fuel, seeds to sow crops etc. In 2022 alone, India has provided Sri Lanka with $3 billion currency swaps, credit lines for essentials, and loan deferments.
Long-term goals of India
But, people of the country are bewildered. They have seen the final result of India helping Sri Lanka in the past. First Lankan government is debt-trapped by China, then it comes to India for assistance, India provides it with required support, Lankan government takes it and finally it again decides to go with China. With such a chequered history, it’s next to impossible for people of the country to trust Sri Lanka in future.
But, Sri Lanka, a country has two segments, one its government and other its population. While, anyone can easily blame successive Sri Lankan governments for constantly betraying India, it is hardly the fault of an average Sri Lankan. Though, there is not much survey to verify this, but general environment and bonhomie between Indian and Sri Lankan supporters during Cricket matches strongly suggest that the average Sri Lankan would prefer India over China’s predatory tactics.
People to people bond is going to increase
That is what PM Modi seems to have decided to capitalise on. Through continuous support to Sri Lanka, the Modi government is increasing India’s moral base among Sri Lankans. When Lankans get to know that projects are being laid down in their country with the help of India, the support of them will upshoot just like an average Afghani supports India in spite of Taliban being in power.
An example of India’s increased soft power was recently seen when Sanath Jayasurya, possibly the biggest legend of Sri Lankan Cricket openly praised India. Terming India a big brother, he said, “You know as always as a neighbour, the big brother next to our country has been helping us… We are very grateful to the Indian government and the Prime Minister (Modi),”
Shaking the power corridor of Sri Lanka
However, no matter how much India solidifies its stand among people, without shaking the power corridors of Sri Lanka, it is not going to be able to fulfil its goals of having greater synergy with the country. But, the solution to the puzzle lies in the puzzle itself. Sri Lanka is a small country. The economic assistance to the island nation can never be that big so that it ends up harming Indian coffers.
Let’s compare Lanka’s debt to India’s reserves. Sri Lanka has to repay $25 billion of foreign loans by 2026. On the other hand, India’s forex reserve is inching towards the $600 billion mark. So, even if we repay Sri Lanka’s loans on our own, it will dent only nearly 4 percent of our treasury, easily recoverable within a short span of time.
Basically, India can keep on feeding Sri Lanka for a very long period of time until it finally decides to jump out of China’s lap. It is not wise and may turn out to be a counterproductive effort, but given Sri Lanka’s geographical standing it is worth doing it. Once Sri Lanka becomes aligned to India, it may act like a naval base for us.
Backup option for India
In case, the continuous feeding does not yield results on government level, India would already have a clout in the public. Governments may come and go but support among the public will always remain. At the end of the day, if the public decides that they will support India, then the government will have to cater to their demands, like it happened in the case of the Oli government in Nepal.
Sri Lanka governments have been cunning and greedy in the past. But, it is also true that they are neighbours and one can change friends, but cannot change neighbours. It’s better to show perseverance with the Indian government’s efforts towards resurrecting the India-Lanka relationship.