23 February, 2024

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Modern Ramsethu: An Unlikely Bridge 

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

One of the highlights of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s India visit last month was the agreement “to establish land connectivity between Sri Lanka and India.” Land connectivity between India and Sri Lanka means building a bridge from the Ramanathapuram region to Mannar, a modern Ramsethu. The parties are also discussing a tunnel. The two countries agreed to undertake a “feasibility study” for land connectivity “at an early date.” 

This is not the only agreement reached between the two countries during the president’s visit. For example, the leaders agreed to resume flights between Jaffna and Chennai, resume passenger ferry service between Nagapattinam and Kankesanthurai, and establish a high-capacity power grid between the two countries. The decision to develop land connectivity is controversial compared to the other agreements. This article argues that the envisioned modern Ramsethu would not be built for political reasons. 

Premature Enthusiasm 

President Wickremesinghe’s visit and the agreements reached created a lot of enthusiasm in India about an intensified partnership between the two countries. For example, an official of the Center for Social and Economic Progress declared that the outcome of the visit shows that India “will be the most important partner for Sri Lanka to reset its economy, its bureaucracy, its decision-making system for future economic partnerships” (Aljazeera, July 21, 2023). 

A notable factor is that Wickremesingh’s visit to New Delhi and the agreements reached did not generate the same enthusiasm in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan commentators have approached the possible close partnership idea with either caution or from a critical perspective. 

The Indian hope of becoming the most significant partner of Sri Lanka is premature, and it fails to appreciate Sri Lanka’s domestic and regional realities. During the last phase of the war with the LTTE, India offered considerable assistance to Sri Lanka. For example, based on intelligence provided by India, the (Sri Lanka) navy destroyed several LTTE ships, curtailing arms supplies to the Tamil rebels. India joined the “troika,” a three-person committee formed to speed up war-related decisions. In other words, India extensively helped Sri Lanka finish the LTTE, believing that Sri Lanka would cater to its national interest and security needs in a post-LTTE environment. India was disappointed. 

The Rajapaksa government sidelined India as it leaned drastically towards China. China became the darling of Sri Lanka. Consequently, India lost the battle with China in Sri Lanka after the end of the war. It was the economic crisis of 2022 that (temporarily) halted China’s buildup in Sri Lanka and allowed India to reenter the competition. India returned by providing about four billion dollars in financial and humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka during the crisis. Therefore, India is back in the game but has not won the battle as some Indians presume. Therefore, the Indian enthusiasm about forging the most important partnership with Sri Lanka is premature. It could be sidelined again.  

One of the reasons why India was almost wholly sidelined was China’s economic capabilities. It is a twenty trillion-dollar economy and the world’s largest by purchasing power parity. Although substantial, the Indian economy is worth only about four trillion dollars. Therefore, India could not compete with China in terms of catering to Sri Lanka’s post-war needs and ambitions. However, the most significant reason India was sidelined was fears of the Sinhala people in general and the Rajapaksa government in particular. These two factors would once again make the envisioned bridge an unlikely project.    

The Bridge 

Indian media reports suggested that Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed the land bridge project. For example, according to Nikkei Asian Online (July 21, 2023), Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra claimed that the land connectivity “idea was proposed by the Sri Lankan president and both leaders agreed to take this forward.” I doubt that Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed the idea because he had never enthusiastically discussed the bridge project. He also knows there is no enthusiasm about the bridge on this side of the Palk Strait. 

On the other hand, Indians are very excited about the bridge (or a tunnel), especially the Narendra Modi government, which is keen to build the bridge as a greater South Asian integration project. For example, in a 2015 (December 16) report, The Economic Times stated, “keen on promoting connectivity in the South Asian region, India is set to build a sea bridge and tunnel connecting Sri Lanka.” The report also quoted India’s Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari saying that the land connection “project was also discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his counterpart during the latter’s recent visit.” The bridge is an Indian idea. 

The vision statement issued after Wickremesinghe’s visit claimed that the land connectivity is proposed to “propel economic growth and prosperity in both Sri Lanka and India.” However, the reality is different. India is keen to build the bridge because it would easily bring the small island nation into India’s sphere of influence. India could also send its military and reinforcement to Sri Lanka easily in a crisis. For example, when foreign powers try to station their military in Sri Lanka. One cannot rule out the possibility of full or semi-stationing of Chinese or the U.S. forces in Sri Lanka. Therefore, from an Indian perspective, the proposed bridge is more of a strategic military instrument than an economic propeller.  

An Indian Dream? 

As I have already pointed out, the bridge cannot be built in the near future. Three significant factors could halt this project. They are (1) the Southern, especially Sinhala fears, (2) Ranil Wickremesinghe’s realities, and (3) China. The Sri Lankan fear of a land connection with India could be divided into three categories: (1) fear of Indian dominance, (2) fear of Eelam, and (3) concerns about the possible economic impact. 

Sinhala nationalists, not without reason, believe that a land connection with India would undermine Sri Lanka’s freedom and independence. It is possible that Sri Lanka remained an independent state partly due to its isolation from the Indian Subcontinent. Currently, the parties have only agreed to undertake a feasibility study. No concrete steps have been taken. Sinhala nationalist critics are already out with condemnation. For example, Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith recently accused the government of selling the country to India by agreeing to the bridge idea. According to a recent news report, the bishop claimed that “by selling parts of our nation, Sri Lanka is bowing to other nations. The authorities are making various stupid decisions leading the country towards destruction. Having gained freedom, we now have to lose freedom” (Newswire, August 28, 2023). The bishop insisted on a national referendum to decide on the proposed bridge. Bishop Ranjith is an intelligent activist. He insists on a referendum because he knows well that the bridge project will not pass the referendum test.  

Some Sinhala commentators also believe the bridge could promote separatism in Sri Lanka. Dayan Jayatilleka, calling the proposed land connection a danger to Sri Lanka’s “collective existence,” argued that it should not be built because the “North and East of the island of Sri Lanka will always be predominantly Tamil-speaking” (The Island, August 6, 2023). The proposed bridge also creates economic anxiety, especially in the North and East. Some Tamils believe that they will not be able to compete with the enormous and dynamic Indian economy. Similar economic anxieties may also exist in the South. Therefore, the Sri Lankan government will have to deal with severe resistance if and when concrete actions are introduced to build the bridge. The Southern resistance will have the power to shut down the proposed project. 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political realities will also operate as a hindrance. First, I do not believe he likes the land connectivity idea. He is no less nationalist than JR Jayewardene. I believe that the agreement to undertake a feasibility study is a delaying tactic. He knows that he cannot antagonize India. Moreover, Wickremesinghe does not have a government of his own. He heads a government of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Like many Sinhala nationalists, Mahinda Rajapaksa also has concerns about Indian hegemony and control. As a young politician, he believed India was coming to take the Sinhala land. Therefore, a political party headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa would not support a land bridge from India. The Sinhala resistance to the proposed land bridge can also potentially destroy Wickremesinghe’s electoral political ambitions. Therefore, as an astute politician, he will be cautious about the proposed bridge. 

A significant player in this whole scenario is China. Despite Indian pressure, China had always maintained cordial relations with Sri Lanka and had invested heavily to bring Sri Lanka into its domain. It succeeded in this endeavor. The economic crisis weakened China’s image and its grip on Sri Lanka to a certain degree. However, the Asian giant remains a powerful player in Sri Lanka. China also knows that the proposed land bridge would strengthen India’s control while weakening China’s influence in Sri Lanka. Therefore, China will use its power and influence to halt the land connection project. A recent case in point was the Colombo Port’s East Terminal project. The India (and Japan) funded project was believed to be canceled in 2021 due to Chinese pressure. The canceled project was transferred to China’s state-run China Harbor Engineering Corporation. Therefore, the modern Ramsethu bridge would remain a mere dream. The bridge will not happen without fundamental shifts in regional geopolitics.   

*Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan is a Professor of Conflict Resolution at Salisbury University, Maryland. Formerly, he was a Professor of Political Science at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    2

    Thanks, Dr Keethaponcalan
    .
    You’ve said:
    .
    “Sinhala nationalists, not without reason, believe that a land connection with India would undermine Sri Lanka’s freedom and independence.
    .
    It’s not just “nationalists”; it’s going to be a major development with both pluses and minuses. In any case Ranil doesn’t mean what he says. This is just to please India, and maybe force opposition parties to take up silly stands.
    .
    However, as the “Interim President, he ought not to even moot this sort of thing. He had to restore a semblance of order and conduct elections on the due dates.
    .
    I’ve stopped accepting Ranil as the legitimate President after he reused to conduct Local Government Elections on 09/03/ 2023.
    .
    What we urgently need are elections – of any sort.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 483111444V)

    • 8
      0

      “India could also send its military and reinforcement to Sri Lanka easily in a crisis.”
      This is rather like the claim that Trincomalee is of strategic significance in this age of cruise missiles. Way back in 1942, a fleet sailed all the way from Japan, and among other things, sank dozens of ships including an aircraft carrier.
      India doesn’t need a bridge to invade. Who is going to stop them landing on Galle Face? Much easier than driving from Mannar.

      • 2
        0

        Every project has plus and minus points. Think of this: Petrol is cheaper here than in India . 361 LKR here compared to 400 in India. So, hordes of Indians will come over to Mannar just to fill up with cheap petrol. Maybe even with browsers. I am sure crafty Ranil will set up 100 filling stations in Mannar. CPC will finally be profitable.
        On the other hand, Indian doctors can set up at the other end, and provide cheap treatment to hordes of Sri Lankans, thereby putting the GMOA out of business. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

  • 5
    2

    Good ol’ Modi is good for India: not for Sri Lanka.

    It’s the duty of our leaders to look after our interests: not India’s.

    Dumbass, know-all Ranil, is not good for Sri Lanka. He is the curse that has caused all the misery.

    Without impotent weak Rasnil as the leader of the UNP for 30 years, there wouldn’t have been the Rajapakses ………. and SLFP-side’s continuous rule. ……… Ranil is a godsend for the Rajapakses …….. and the SLFP-side of politics

    Truth is a hard thing to swallows.

    • 7
      2

      continued

      Native, ……….. Sirimavo, the weeping widow, is not the only villain in the story.

      The history of Lanka is chock-a-block with villains ……. thank ye lucky stars that there was at least one great hero in ye lifetime: Prabakaran!

      Sinhalese you, can’t accept him as a hero because he is not a Sinhalese ………. your mind is conditioned to accept only your own kind as heroes ……… Sinhal_Man, not even that, for him, they have to be all shoosh boosh English.

      Prabakaran was way ahead of his time to understand the villainy of the Sinhala leaders ……. and brave enough to do something about it.

      Or do ye want me to make objective-truth into a Sinhalese subjective-truth for ye to feel good? …….. I can make truth whatever ye wanna it to be …… making ye feel good is why I’m here for ……. if I get lost would ye feel any better? Be comfortable in ye hallucinatory dream to the grave?

      • 3
        1

        swallows ——> swallow

    • 4
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      nimal fernando

      “Truth is a hard thing to swallows.”

      Tiran Ales and your leader with conviction the psychopath VP traded people’s inalienable right to vote for Rs 175 millions. In fact not Ranil but Prabaharan who won the 2005 presidential elections and a war for Mahinda. Prabaharan ordered his captive people to boycott the 2005 elections.

      Of course truth is a hard thing to swallow.

      However 6.9 million also voted for Gota.
      Again the 6.9 million never looked for truth.
      The young men and women took it upon themselves to chase him out of his office, palace, country, …..

      People did not have food, oil, gas, medicine ….. bankrupt, unable to pay loans, … yet Saffronistas are bent on building Vihares.
      Truth is a hard thing to swallow.

      • 3
        0

        Native,

        Prabakaran chose wisely ……… Mahinda is a better leader than Ranil! ……. Unlike Ranil, Mahinda didn’t sell everything to India!!

        I’m not making this up: open your eyes and look!!!

        Prabakaran always had Lanka’s interest at heart. …….. You would never get it because he was a “Tamil.” ……… To you, only “Sinhalese” Ranil can be a hero.

        I know what you are going to think before you know it yourself …… if one day Gunduvindu and Gamanpillai get you …… I can write for you without missing a beat …….. :)))

        • 3
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          nimal fernando

          “Unlike Ranil, Mahinda didn’t sell everything to India!!”

          True, however Mahinda made this island indebted to China forever. Don’t forget we may not know what proportion of the debt includes commission paid to Rajapaksa Royals. The other question is how did Rajapaksa royals raise Rs 175 millions to pay for your hero VP? Accoding to Tiran (in his public confession) the money was given to them by neighbours. Do you know who that neighbour was. This fees paid to VP should be subjected to investigation under money laundering laws, and under PTA for funding terrorism.

          “Prabakaran always had Lanka’s interest at heart.”

          Prabaharan was not only a psychopath but a mercenary as well. He worked for Hindia, then for the West, Premadasa, then Rajapaksas and for those merchants of death. One of my Tamil friend told me many years ago that he was hoping VP would work for Tamils one day.

          Well I understand a section of Tamils believe VP was god Muruga’s avtar, or Bala Murugan. Many Tamils and Sinhalese visited and visit his home in VVT like pilgrimage to Kataragama.

          I suggest you help LTTE supporters to build a temple/shrine for VP at his birth place, become a diaspora supporter whom our good old Dr Mervyn Silva PhD vouched to kill.

          Take care.

          • 4
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            Nimal Fernando

            In case if you have forgotten:

            First they came for the Communists
            And I did not speak out
            Because I was not a Communist
            Then they came for the Socialists
            And I did not speak out
            Because I was not a Socialist
            Then they came for the trade unionists
            And I did not speak out
            Because I was not a trade unionist
            Then they came for the Jews
            And I did not speak out
            Because I was not a Jew
            Then they came for me
            And there was no one left
            To speak out for me

            By MARTIN NIEMÖLLER

            • 3
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              Nimal Fernando

              Would you be interested in officiating the deification ceremony of VP?

              Tamils could ask Modi to allocate a plot within the grounds of ShivShakti on the moon. There are entrepreneurs who are working on space tourism might start daily private flights to and from ShivShakti. Diaspora Tamils may want to visit temple of God Bala Murugan on the moon. You can join them.

              Please leave SJ where he is.

  • 5
    1

    India wields it power over Sri Lanka for managing her own domestic instability. The 13A is a red herring hatched by India, in the process. Caught in between are the poor Tamils of Sri Lanka.
    Sri Lankan leaders were always alert to the threat and challenges posed by India. They acted cautiously and dexterously. The exception being Mahinda Rajapaksa.
    The idea of a Bridge is India’s response to Rajapaksa, not China.

    • 0
      0

      Correction: India wields its power

  • 10
    3

    One can never rely on what politicians like ranil say. In his case, politics is a game and he intends to play as long as he can. He is not concerned about Sri Lanka’s independence or Indian hegemony. He only wants to wield power. He will allow thousands to die each week from lack of basic medicines or starvation and malnutrition so long as he and his cronies can be in utter contempt of the law and act criminally with complete impunity. He would not hesitate to sell even the whole country to anyone so long as he and his personal egotistic projects remain intact. Only the fools in the land do not know this. The major political parties are not very different to each other and take turns at deceiving the public. It is therefore vitally important that the people awake to this reality and claim back their country from the clutches of the parasitic class that consists of the political, commercial and clergy, without waiting for elections which merely pass the baton from one player to another from the two camps. An oppressed people have every legal right to revolt against their state, as espoused under human rights laws and conventions, especially as the judiciary is no longer reliable as a protector of people’s sovereignty.

    • 5
      0

      Lasantha Pethiyagoda

      “The major political parties are not very different to each other and take turns at deceiving the public.”

      Actually they don’t take turn to deceive people but deception is what they live for. They are all simultaneously participating in competitive racism. That is the only way they are even qualified to enter politics, look at Gota, Champika, Wimal, Ganapathipilla, Weerasekere, Sarath Fonseka, ………………… …

  • 5
    0

    “The bridge will not happen without fundamental shifts in regional geopolitics. “
    We cannot come to a conclusion like this with only political and economic or regional geopolitics. We also have to look at the social, cultural aspects as well. Sri Lanka politics has complexities and the country was brought to such complexities because of the failure of the leaders over the decades.

  • 0
    0

    Agreements reached did not generate the same enthusiasm in Sri Lanka. President did not speak about how people of sri Lankans propel economic growth and prosperity must be industrial other than that his announcement was to learn Tamil & and Chinese Language, The image shown by the President is Instead of building devise developing leadership in Sri Lanka but in creates a foretelling dependency of that leadership from India.

  • 9
    0

    The root cause of India, China, or America setting foot in Sri Lanka is the enmity of the majority Sinhalese society towards Tamils, imprinted by its politicians and the Buddhist hierarchy. They did everything possible to subjugate Tamils at any cost. Yes, at any cost. They borrowed to the hilt and depended on India, China and other nations to defeat the independence struggle by the Tamils to free themselves from Sinhalese state tyranny. Now India, China and others in turn are demanding their piece of flesh.

    Karma is biting Sri Lanka.

    • 4
      0

      Thiru

      “Karma is biting Sri Lanka.”

      Lets forget Karma, which none of has seen in action, nor where to find it.

      Let us deal with real issue.
      Who opposes the Bridge?
      Why?
      Have majority of the Sinhala speaking people or for that matter rest of the population has expressed its considered view?

      How about a referendum on on the proposed bridge?
      Does the people know what does it mean to build a bridge (connectivity)?

      Indians want to visit more Sri Lankan destinations.

      • 5
        1

        Native Vedda,
        ‘Indians want to visit more Sri Lankan destinations’.
        Amend it.
        India wants to control the destinies of more Sri Lankans.

        • 2
          0

          Nathan

          “India wants to control the destinies of more Sri Lankans.”

          As far as Hindians are concerned Sri Lanka is the Sinhala State of Hindia (part of Akhand Bharat. North Sri Lanka would form part of Tamilnadu.
          I am sorry for not clarifying the underlying idea of Sinhala state of Hindia. Lets see what our teenager has to say about Akhand Bharat.

    • 3
      0

      I fully agree with you. Since India is culturally, politically, economically and historically very close to Sri Lanka and all the communities and reigions are originated from India it is necessary to have close relationship with India and equal treatement of all the communities who belongs to this island. It is the wrong policy against India and other commenities by Sinhalese is the reason for the current geopolitical and bankgruptcy of this island. Even now if you cannot change your attitude and mentality no one can save this country.

  • 2
    3

    NO, Ranil WILL build that Bridge! That’s his destiny over millions of other Lankan destinies. It’s his proof for absolute power, come what may. Winning the elections means nothing for him. He won’t mind losing. He will begin building it long before any elections, or keep stalling elections till he begins it. This odd person needs satisfy obsessions against mostly his Sinhalese people, brought on from childhood days. And the Potthuwa, in fear of power-loss, will allow him to do as he wishes…..water cannons, poison-gas and all.

    • 4
      0

      ramona grandma therese fernando

      “NO, Ranil WILL build that Bridge! That’s his destiny over millions of other Lankan destinies.”

      You sound as though you are opposed to the idea of connectivity (the bridge) between India and Sri Lanka.
      Why?

      • 2
        0

        Native,
        Ramona is afraid of mosquitoes coming across the bridge, like fake doctor Padaniya.

        • 3
          0

          old codger

          “Ramona is afraid of mosquitoes coming across the bridge, like fake doctor Padaniya.”

          Why worry when we have Surgeon General Shavendra who has been ready for many months at the entry point along with his battle harden troops preventing illegal migrants (Kalla Thonie) crossing the bridge and he has been ready to detain all of them in a particular island.

          • 1
            0

            Native
            Every project has plus and minus points. Think of this: Petrol is cheaper here than in India . 361 LKR here compared to 400 in India. So, hordes of Indians will come over to Mannar just to fill up with cheap petrol. Maybe even with browsers. I am sure crafty Ranil will set up 100 filling stations in Mannar. CPC will finally be profitable.
            On the other hand, Indian doctors can set up at the other end, and provide cheap treatment to hordes of Sri Lankans, thereby putting the GMOA out of business. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

            • 2
              0

              old codger

              “….. thereby putting the GMOA out of business. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

              I love it.
              However media reported 2000 doctors have already left the country in recent months. Ranil is planning to produce more doctors and export them abroad and wants demand compensations from countries which employ Sri Lankan qualified doctors.

              “So, hordes of Indians will come over to Mannar just to fill up with cheap petrol. “

              However India is going to supply petrol through pipeline in the first place.

              By the way SJ is still glowing in 1960s Maoism. Is it possible to drag him all the way from 19th century to the present one?

              If and when the bridge is built will we need a passport and visa to travel to India? How would India prevent the racist/terrorist and the stupid sneaking into India? India would not mind these people getting there however the functionaries vent their anger/frustration on innocent visitors. Example nimal’s favourite hero VP sent his operators to kill Rajiv, members of EPRLF, …. and the innocent visitors paid the price … How would India guarantee the safety and security of visiting innocent Sinhalese as the restless agitated dump asses on the other side may harm the visitors in order to show their Tamil identity and solidarity?

    • 2
      1

      And after Ranil loses the elections, Potthuwa will magnanimously step in to assuage the people. Ranil will stay on as usual as a spare Pottuwa. The cycle will go on forever.

    • 7
      1

      Aunty Ramona, if the bridge is built, you and most Chingkallams can visit. their close relatives and cousins living in Southern Thamizh Nadu and part of modern Kerala and say hi to them. Maybe even visit your mythical relations from Goa. something good Aney. why are most Chingkallams unhappy? Very bad aney.

      • 0
        2

        Nothing from Goa…(btw, what’s with Goa that makes your casteism even more bitter for you?…so sad, so sad….)…..LOOVe the Southern Thamizh Nadu 4th cousins…so you want “Chingkallams” to drive past Southern Thamizh Nadu and fraternize with the Northies, do you? Boo, hoo, hoo.,….even at this time our “Chingkallams’ are learning Hindi and singing Hindi songs.

        • 2
          1

          Naughty grandma you mean you lied? You once stated here that you have upper-caste Goan Catholic ancestry. you may have forgotten this fib but not me. Yes please go to Goa and dance and sing not in Hindi but in Konkani. Like this
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr0Bs_c0c6Y
          However, this will not suit you as this is a Goan Hindu majority dance. This Goan Catholic dance will suit you better
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhCnmCMVA1E
          Dance Grandma

          • 0
            3

            Na, ah …..never said that. Where is your proof lozer.

            • 0
              1

              na aaah….only hyperlinks allowed for absolute proof. 💯✅

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