2 February, 2023


Modi Visit & Indian Phobia

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

Several articles appeared in the local print media prior to Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka at the invitation of GoSL as the chief guest in the celebrations marking 14th UN Veska Day. Most articles, in tone, were not welcoming. A couple of articles last Sunday after Modi’s departure praised him and declared the visit a success.

The STF inspected and occupied buildings located directly opposite Police Park, take off point for Modi’s IAF helicopters, from 5.30 till after 10 am on May 12. There was an inordinate distance between the podium at the Norwood stadium in Dickoya and the steel barriers holding back flag waving Sri Lankans of Indian origin. The usual hand shaking with members of the public and opportunity for selfies was done away. Nothing was left to chance for the display of any spontaneous acts of emotional outrage, similar to the disgraceful episode in 1987. Notwithstanding the mutual back slapping between leaders of the two countries, there was a general lack of enthusiasm for the Indian leader’s visit by the average Sri Lankan. 

Some commentators refer to an ‘Indian Phobia’ in Sri Lanka, especially among the Sinhalese community. The word phobia is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something’. ‘Irrational’ in turn is defined as ‘Not logical or reasonable’.

Indo – Sri Lanka relations were at a low ebb ever since a Chinese submarine was permitted bunkering facilities in Colombo in late 2014. President Rajapaksa was voted out of office a few months later in January 2015. Since then, with four visits to India by President Sirisena, three by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and two visits to Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Modi since January 2015, relations at state level have rarely seen better days.

Sri Lankans are not alone in fearing its big neighbor. Small nations around US, Russia and China have similar fears. Small nations around Germany privately dreaded a unified Germany. It serves no purpose going back to invasions from across the Palk Strait in previous millennia. However, a brief synopsis of India’s heavy handed handling of neighborhood relations since independence in August 1947 warrants mention.

India and Pakistan have fought wars of 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. India was instrumental in the dismemberment of former East Pakistan, modern day Bangladesh. India justified its role due to the exodus of 10 million East Pakistani refugees to India. Goa, considered a part of metropolitan Portugal as India did not exist at the time of occupation, was acquired in 1961 in a military operation. Calls for a referendum and UN mediation was rejected. In 1975, after years of building up support, Sikkim was annexed to India after the Indian army laid siege to the Chogyal’s (Ruler) palace. In the 1980s, Nepal experienced economic chaos as a result of requesting to be treated fairly. The dispute on the Trade & Transit Treaty came to a head in 1988 when India imposed an economic blockade which lasted until mid-1990. Nepal’s GDP growth rate plummeted from 9.7% in 1988 to 1.5% in 1989. In more recent times, India involved itself in Nepal’s constitution making project and is suspect of having a hand in the fall of former Prime Minister Oli’s government.

In 1987, India forced itself into Sri Lanka after aiding and abetting separatist terrorists for a decade. India’s complicity was confirmed by one time Prime Minister VP Singh in an affidavit (7.9) he submitted to the Jain Commission on November 05, 1996 investigating the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. 

The absence of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and its northern neighbor China, indicates a heavy Indian influence over Bhutan’s foreign affairs. As recently as June 2015, Indian troops stormed into Myanmar in pursuit of terrorists. Myanmar, a sovereign nation, was informed of the entry of Indian troops into its territory as the operation was underway.

It need be stated, Sri Lanka has only one major foreign policy issue. That is India. The need to maintain close and friendly relations with India is a given fact. The need to act at all times, with due consideration to Indian concerns for the security of its southern sea board at all times too is a given imperative. This needs to be handled with utmost care, by professionals.

However, it cannot be a one-way street either. Reciprocity and mutual respect is the apotheosis and corner stone for close and friendly relations.

Notwithstanding the cordial relations at state level, a serious trust deficit prevails among ordinary Sri Lankans, especially among the 70% majority community. Local sentiments is not a phobia which is irrational but a fear and resentment based on recent Indian interventions and attitudes, considered hegemonistic, from the perspective of ordinary Sri Lankans. It is both rational and understandable. Most have no idea of India’s military adventures nor its covert operations in neighbouring countries.  But they are conscious of the role played by India in Sri Lanka since late 1970s. Even assistance given at the tail end of the conflict to combat LTTE terrorism was largely negated by India repeatedly voting against Sri Lanka at UNHRC a few years ago.

The ordinary Sri Lankan does not appreciate the dialogue between the Indian leadership and Tamil leaders of Sri Lankan and Indian origin.  Prime Minister Modi and high officials visiting Sri Lanka meet with Tamil National Alliance, Tamil Progressive Alliance and Ceylon Workers Congress leaders regularly, huddled inside the Indian High Commission in Colombo. When the TNA leader who is also Leader of Opposition claims, he requested Modi to intervene and mediate between the two leaders of the unity government, it does not help India’s case either. This will be detrimental to aid reconciliation. Nor does visiting Heads of State and Governments addressing public gatherings make a difference in political terms. Modi addressing public rallies in Jaffna in 2015 and in Dickoya a few days ago of audiences predominantly from the two Tamil communities does nothing to allay fears of those in whose minds, Indian intervention on behalf of the same Tamil persons of Sri Lankan origin is anything but forgotten.  It has not escaped their attention, a substantial part of Indian aid and assistance has been for the benefit of mostly one particular community in mostly one part of the country. Even though Sri Lanka, at this juncture must be happy with whatever aid it receives in whichever part of the country, it is not the perspective of the average person. The need for four Indian representation offices in a country as small as Sri Lanka rightly or wrongly adds fuel to suspicions of meddling in internal affairs.  India has only three representation offices in UK to manage its affairs in that country and the welfare of a million strong Indian diaspora. These are some factors which manifest into anti-Indian feelings.

The transformation of cordial relations between leaders into tangible results is hampered chiefly due to fears and resentment among a large number of Sri Lankans. ETCA, despite its many benefits, is opposed by professionals for their own selfish reasons and the Joint Opposition for political reasons. The Trincomalee oil tank farm project is opposed by CPC Trade Unions. In addition, there is no stomach for either project by the common man as well, which is due to wide spread anti-Indian feelings. On the eve of Modi’s visit, Colombo based Indian journalist PK Balachandran stated in a dispatch, “A deep and growing resentment is palpable in Sri Lanka over India’s pushy bid to establish its presence in the island to counter China’s moves to find a foot hold here.”   

What is required is a hearts and minds project to win over the large number of Sri Lankans harbouring anti-Indian feelings. C Raj Mohan, Director of Carnegie India, in a recent article wrote “Above all, Delhi must address the deep sense of national hurt in Colombo that has arisen from India’s intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs over recent decades.” Raj Mohan has understood the problem.

Prime Minister Modi could best kick start such a project. His address at the BMICH International Vesak Day celebrations on May 12 was a sadly missed golden opportunity. “Let us look more within; and let us uphold nothing else but the truth” could have been supplemented with something on the lines of a general reference to mistakes made in the past. A call to let bygones be bygones and the two nations to forge ahead, with the knowledge such mistakes would not recur could easily have been the beginning of a healing process. It would have better resonated with the purpose of the visit, Vesak celebrations apart, than the mantra that emanated from Prime Ministers Modi’s lips of “whether it is on land or in the waters of Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible” which could contain several meanings and add to the subtlety of the dichotomy espoused.

President Xi Jinping, in his opening address during the One Belt One Road initiative emphatically stated “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of any country”.

Would Prime Minister Modi emulate such a magnanimous undertaking to foster friendly relationship with Sri Lanka and India’s other neighbors or is it an opportunity missed?  It would have also been meaningful to win more hearts and minds than all the ambulances promised by Prime Minister Modi to the remaining seven provinces.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    India needs sri Lanka and srilanka needs india..sometime china is pushing srilanka to far to anger India..China does not want to know our issues with India…already we have 1 million India Tamils in upcountry and this is in addition to cultural ties of North and east Tamils witb south India communtiy Tamil Nadu…
    Moreover, India is our close neighbouring country so we can other ignore it’s geopolitical interest…
    I think we could.have better diplomatic and business relationship with India than any country in Asia..
    So we should look down india..China may support us but it’s. Interest rate and business agenda are dangerous for us than any country

    • 6

      Lankan——————————————————–Rajeewa Jayaweera conveniently ignores domestic threat emanating from his own saffron clad thugs coupled with Sangha’s deafening silence on their unruly saffronistas, and Sinha Le stupid Bumiputras. It is worrying. Well this is Sri Lanka where people are not known for wisdom. Rajeewa Jayaweera is no exception.

  • 5

    Dear Rajeeva,
    Despite being told several times you are unable to grasp the basic principle that sovereignty of Srilanka depends on the security concerns of India. As long as Srilanka keeps to this limit, there will not be any Indian interference. Do you sincerely believe that there is no breach of Indian security at present and any Indian inroads verbally or otherwise is unfair. Mahinda is the root cause of the problem of selling and leasing parts of Srilanka to China making the country indebted and at the mercy of Chinese demands. MS/RW tried to wean China off and failed as China put the foot down. Now Srilanka is in a soup and has to face the music. Do not blame Tamils for seeking help from India to settle their problems as Srilanka does seem to be making any headway. Chinese statement that they do not interfere in other countries is a blatant lie. China has paid money for the Mahinda may day rally. China is doing clandestine activity to bring Mahinda back to power. Just because Sinhalese are fearing India and want it not to meddle with them, India is not going to just wait and let the Sinhalese to dance about. As what happened in 1987, India will bring Srilanka to its feet, if it does not change its way. How can you complain of India harassing you, when you are harassing Tamils and refusing to grant them their rights. How do you expect India to win the hearts and minds of Sinhalese when you have failed to win the hearts and minds of Tamils. You are woefully silent about the dressing down given to Mahinda, when it was told in no uncertain terms not to incite racism about Indian trade deals or settling Tamil problem constitutionally.

  • 3

    The statement that China will not interfere in the affairs of any other country is pure bunkum. It will always interfere in Taiwan and Hongkong, both areas with a separate history. It annexed Tibet, a Buddhist country as well as Xinjiang an area peopled with Muslims and Non-Han tribes. China seeks to annexe vast areas of the South China Sea falling within the legal zones of other Asian states. No big power exists without interfering in the affairs of small powers in the region.

    Being a small power within a region of a big power is a fact of life. Prudence requires the formulation of an adequate foreign policy that will ensure non-interference. In this case, if Tamils are the reason for the intervention, why not treat the Tamils fairly? They are entitled to basic human rights, not genocidal, maniacal policies adopted by successive Sinhala- Buddhist governments.

  • 0

    Yahapalana prime minister and UNP talks about Security of the INdian Ocean. I think, that is what exactly Nato does with the under developed western europena countries such as Poland. They ask finanace NATO and to buy fighter jets, Tanks and weapons all for defending against Russia. Who will fight if there is a war. It is again the polish soldiers for western powers.

    I think they – West and India – want Sri lanka to do the same thing. Simply Sri lanka will be spying over Chinese movements indian Ocean sri lankan man power, fighter jets and provide information to India and to the west. So, their needs subsidized by Sri lanka.

    It is the same thing witgh ETCA and any trade agreements signed with anhy country including China. Sri lanka maintain huge trade balances with India and china. Sri lanka is mostly an importing countrfy. Yet Sri lanka want to sign trade pacts mostly to bring indian skilled workers here, chinese workers here and to fill the country with their exports.

    when Modi said that every thing in Sri lanka affects India’s security, that does not scare Sri lankans. It doe snot scare Tamils or Indian Tamils as anyway they Indian and always cheer to the west.

    Last time, when Modi came, it was a co-operate Federalism or something. this time, every thing Sri lankaa does affects India. It is simply 17 million affexct the future of 1.25 bilion. How can you justify that ?

  • 3

    Rajeewa Jayaweera,
    British East India Company at the initial stages did not interfere politically.
    Any economic activities between countries have political & military components which are both hidden and not hidden.
    The statement by Xi Jinping is a kind of salesman talk. Didn’t China help Premadasa regime ? Didn’t India help Srimavo regime ? I mean during the two JVP uprisings .
    To crush the LTTE, didn’t both China & India help Rajapakse regime ?
    Why don’t you honestly accept the fact that ruling party or parties of SL were morally corrupt in solving the in house problems of unitary Mother Lank since 1947.Lanka.?

    Don’t you think the Maha Sangha can play its role in getting rid of this phobia you mentioned, by being realistic and educating them based on the priciples of Lord Buddha ?

    Do you think (1) the BC pact was aborted because of India ?
    (2 ) SWRD was killed by RAW’s agents?
    (3) was the naval officer who tried to kill Rajiv with the rifle head during the guard of honour was set up by JR or Premadasa or LTTE ?

    What about the phobia of the majority of the Indians because Rajapkse regime has given tiny parts of SL to China on freehold and lease hold ?

    What I can infer from your write up you as an Ariya Sinhala Buddhist supremacist wants to control the minorities with help of both China & India.

    Instead don’t you think SL with its well defined sea border can prelong its unitary state with internal unity through various means ?

  • 2

    President Xi Jinping, in his opening address during the One Belt One Road initiative emphatically stated “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of any country”. >>>>>>>Would Prime Minister Modi emulate such a magnanimous undertaking >>>seriously are you an idiot. No you are not. you are bloody clever. Exploiting the idiotic Sinhala masses.

  • 4

    Dear Mr. Jayaweera,
    “President Xi Jinping, in his opening address during the One Belt One Road initiative emphatically stated “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of any country.Would Prime Minister Modi emulate such a magnanimous undertaking ?”.
    China can afford to do this. It has no equivalent of Tamilnadu. But if India did this, do you think the likes of the BBS and jackals like Elle Gunawansa would not declare open season on the minorities? As someone said, if you treat your own womenfolk properly, outsiders will not try and grope them.
    What ordinary people have is a phobia fuelled by total belief in the Mahavamsa-inspired “history” force-fed into them in school, plus this new-fangled idea of absolute sovereignty donated by the departing Brits. Until just 70 years ago, there was free movement between India and SL.
    It will take a generation to remove these factors.

    About the CEPA, I am happy that you see it as positive, and that the opposition to it by local businessmen is entirely selfish. I think the success of brands like Damro and Amante in India has taken the wind out their sails.

  • 5

    old codger —————-I am too tired of repeating Hindian position on this island. As far as the Hindians are concerned Sri Lanka is the Sinhala sate of Hindia. Full stop. Sirisena is the Governor of Sinhala state appointed by Delhi. Ranil is the chief minister of the Sinhala state. So were MR and D. M. Jayaratne respectively. ———————————— “As someone said, if you treat your own womenfolk properly, outsiders will not try and grope them.” ——–It is humbling to see my comments are quoted “very often” here. Since I do not have copy right over my comments please feel free to quote them as frequently as you see fit. ——————————————————————————————————————————————————–By the way Rajeewa Jayaweera types:President Xi Jinping, in his opening address during the One Belt One Road initiative emphatically stated “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of any country”. ——————————————————-Of course China would not interfere in the internal affairs of any country, however either it will concur and subjugate people or remains a constant threat to neighboring countries. It had already swallowed enough land from various countries, Tibet, constant threat over Assam, Taiwan, North Korea, Butan, Natuna Islands (Indonesia), Scarborough Shoal (Philippines), Senkaku Islands (Japan), Shaksgam Valley & Arunachal Pradesh (India), Spratly Islands (Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan), and settled borders after aggressive postures since 1950s (Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, , Myanmar, Laos). China is a peace loving country, it loves pieces from neighbouring countries. By the way when will the port city become land of the peacefully rising dragon? ——————————————————-

  • 1

    The best way for Sri Lanka to handle India is making India has less and less leverage on Sri Lanka. We will have to go back to Mahinda type politics

  • 2

    Tamils or TNA will not go to India and seek Indian intervention if the sinhala people and the maha sanga understands the tamil problem and solves it within a united Sri Lanka. It is because of the careless attitude of sinhala leaders that has frustrated many liberal sinhalese including Rajeeva’s distinguished father Stanley Jayaweera and uncle Neville Jayaweera. Chief minister Wigneswaran when he assumed duties mentioned that Tamils must not go to India or Tamil Nadu to intervene in the tamil problem, which I also agree. But what could we tamils do when the maha sangha and government don’t want to solve the ethnic problem. I like to solve my family problems within my family and not go to my uncle or neighbour.

  • 4

    I am a die hard Tamil nationalist and a pro-LTTE’r , even for me I believe if the Sinhalese leaders are willing to accommodate our aspirations with in a united Sri Lanka , We need to keep the Indians out of our conflict/ Struggle/ Politics etc. I am surprised this writer Rajiva and many other Sinhala contributors to this forum seemed to lack basic common sense when they deal with the Tamil political issue. It is in the Tamil as much as the Sinhalese interest that the Tamils of this country and Sinhalese reach a settlement amongst ourselves to keep third party particularly India out of this country. If NORTH and EAST of srilanka receives devolved powers and becomes a federal Tamil Province of Sri Lanka 90% of the SRI lankan Tamils and an over whelming Majority of the people in Tamilnadu and the International community will back that.

    WHEN A SETTLEMENT LIKE THE ONE DESCRIBED ABOVE IS REACHED the Tamils on both sided of the palk strait will want to live in harmony with the Sinhalese. The current hostility between the Tamils and Sinhalese will die out or at the least diminish to a very manageable level. The Tamils all over the world will then side with the Sinhalese and form an unbreakable alliance to face any existential out side threat may it be from China, India or even the middle east.

  • 0

    Rajeewa Jayaweera : The spectre of Indian invasion was raised with McCarthy fervor in the late forties/early fifties. There was no sign of invasions for the past 70 years. If at all India had been magnanimous. They took back some million fourth/fifth generation Ceylonese – so called Indian Tamils. They gave Katchatheevu – considered illegal transfer by many. They helped to win the war. Why are you recycling the invasion threat? You paint out the delicate existence of Lanka with bully India about to pounce. Look at Singapore. During the Suharto regime some 2 million Indonesians of Chinese origin were slaughtered. Yet Indonesia or for that matter Malaysia dare not touch Singapore. Why?? Singapore has evolved into a robust nation – they made sure that language/religion/race divide does not take hold. Do you think that the cause of the present Lankan predicament was due to the promotion of the language/religion divide?

  • 0

    Rajeewa Jayaweera talk to KP. He makes very clear what we refuse to understand about India. Simply India wants Sinhale to be a colony of India. We should understand that we can threaten India’s security because remember cuba vs UISA.

    On the other hand becoming a colony is too much.

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