By Bandu de Silva –
Since I wrote on Prime minister’s China visit, I re-read the jewel of the book “Down Memory Lane” left for me by my senior public service colleague, T.B.M.Ekanayake who was the first Commissioner of Registration of Persons, which his daughter sent me acting on a last request made by her dying father. Among the gems he has left behind through that book is one relating to the reference I made to formal institutionalisation of trade/economic relations with India following with that China long after that with China.
Writing on the cooperative movement, he says, his teacher Dr. K. Nesiah (at St john’s College), an ardent nationalist and a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, who was actively was actively engaged in fostering the (Gandhian) movement in Jaffna and started the first cooperative society to market agricultural produce from the Jaffna-Malayalam Tobacco Society and who saw a branch of the Society opened in India to market tobacco products. Despite doing good business, the branch office closed down in the sixties due to a ban imposed by India on import of tobacco. Reference to the ban was made by Indian government trade delegation led by senior civil servants during the regime of Dudley Senanayake in the 1960s. The Indian delegation indicated that imports from India had declined. This was taken as an indirect reference to imports of rice from India (under the 1952 agreement renewed in 1957). When Gamini Corea acting upon the advise of Ekanayake, as a member of the Sri Lankan delegation (he and I were assistant Secretaries together in the Citizenship Division), informed the Indian delegation that imports from India declined because our Jaffna farmers had switched on to cultivation of these items imported, the China bogy was not pressed any more.
This goes to show that India was not only behind China in formal arrangements with Sri Lanka on matters of trade (not to speak of economic cooperation) but even looking with displeasure on the agreement with China which conferred advantage to Sri Lanka. One has to do research as to whether India’s ‘Pancseela’ with and the ‘Indi-Chini Bhai-Bhai’, slogans with China before the border with China (1960), were honestly –rooted. One remembers that Nehru’s India was not pleased with Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Sirima Bandaranaike’s non –positive role over the border issue. Her positive role was to create a peaceful climate to settle the issue. India’s expectation was another. Sri Lanka had no need to get involved in a partisan role in the affair. British imperial legacy had not left the Indian thought both over the north-eastern border (so called McMohan line) or making the lands on the southern border subservient to it in every way.
All evidence that India had no ulterior motives when dealing with Sri Lanka in everyway. Sri Lanka’s rebuilding relations with China was the point of departure for India in her relations with India. I wrote a series of articles on this theme.’Indo-Sri Lanka Relations before and after Chin’s border war. The first was ‘Nehru treated Sri Lanka as a Colonial plantation before the border war’. I am really worried reading the criticism over going ahead with ECTA without full consideration. Beware the Trojan Horse at the door, in extoling the virtues of which High Commissioner Sinha has certainly exceeded the bounds of diplomatic extolling. (I remember the former Sri Lankan high Commissioner to New Delhi was summoned to the South Block for commenting during his visit for special relations with a State, Orissa or Bengal. Indian are so sensitive).