India’s Domineering Role Over Sri Lanka

By Mulaffer Khalid

The writer is a political analyst, a Senior Lecturer at the Chartered Institute of Supply & Materials Management and Visiting Lecturer both at the National Institute of Business Management and the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration.

COLOMBO (IDN) — India, one of the major nuclear powers in South Asia, has long gained a notoriety as a political bully in its own neighbourhood—and Sri Lanka has continued to be one of its victims.

The domineering behaviour is not only reflected in its diplomacy but also in the high seas where Sri Lankan fishermen have been recently intimidated by Indians fishing in the same waters.

Unfortunately, India is currently on a free fall from unity. The great sage of India, Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts to unite the country (over 1.4 billion people, as of now) are continuously being trampled upon by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Gandhi was far greater man than what the American thought of Abraham Lincoln. Gandhi was the very soul of India. The day he was murdered India lost its soul and became a political monster.

Looking at history, when Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon) Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela went to Indonesia to address the Non-Aligned meeting in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955, the participants included the host, Indonesia’s President Sukarno, U-Nu, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ali Bogra, and Sastroamidjojo.

The Indian leadership scorned Kotelawela for being forthright about his proposed agenda for the Conference since India wanted to dominate. However, it was Ceylon which showed guts and metal when it defied the Americans and the West who deemed that the whole world should have nothing to do with China after it drove the exploiting Western colonialist out of China.

While Ceylon’s relationship with India continued to decline, there was a strong new relationship with China. Ceylon was one of the first nations to have trade dealings and diplomatic relations with China, beginning with the 1952 Rubber-Rice Pact. Our Member of Parliament R.G. Senanayake signed the agreement, which had a five-year term and proved to be a cornerstone in Ceylon’s foreign policy.

This bold landmark agreement, defying Western sanctions, established very cordial relations with China for the past seventy years, enjoying many cultural and trade exchanges.

The BMICH, a world-renowned Conference Hall was built in Colombo, with entirely Chinese funds and Chinese technical workers back in 1973. It hosted the massive 113-member Non-Aligned Summit in 1976 where world leaders from over hundred countries attended, including Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings. There are also many other Chinese projects that can be viewed with amazement in Sri Lanka.

Still, in early 2000 Sri Lanka offered India the Hambantota Port for development. India foolishly refused this. It is now crying over spilt milk. The most unforgivable act was to train one of the most brutal terrorist organisations, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), on Indian soil to fight and destroy Sri Lanka.

During this period, it not only smuggled Indian arms into Sri Lanka but carried out large scale bottom-trawling poaching in our Northern waters, smuggled tons of Ganja and other contraband.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has unfortunately fallen into an Indian debt trap where she is offering loans largely to buy Indian goods. Our Rajapakse government seems to play politics with the Indians in an act of political jugglery.

Meanwhile, currently taking centre-stage is another life and death matter, which could be used to gauge how independent Sri Lanka is. What does freedom or independence or the extravagant Independence Day celebrations mean to these people in the North and East? Amid the blatant invasion by Indian fishermen, can these people, bruised, battered, and bloodied by a 30-year conflict consider themselves free and independent?

The time is now, to free them from the clutches of Indian fishermen, tomorrow may be too late. The Indian fishermen should not be allowed to usurp the independence we won in 1948.

It is that of a large number of Indian fishermen blatantly breaching the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) to poach in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters plundering its resources, by using banned fishing methods such as bottom trawling, under the very nose of the Sri Lankan government that appears to be helpless, which is depriving the northern fishing community of their only means of a livelihood and leaving them destitute and impoverished.   

A case in point was that of several protests launched by northern fishermen recently to condemn the killing of two fishermen—34-year-old J. Premkumar, a father of three young children and 21-year-old A. Thanikaimaaran, both from the fishing village of Vaththiraayan in Supparmadam and against the unchecked and illegal fishing carried out by Indian fishermen, with the relevant authorities doing little or nothing to stop them.   

The other was that of a northern fisherman setting fire to his boat and fishing gear, to highlight the increasing anger against the Indian fishing trawlers that trespass into Sri Lankan waters for the sole purpose of pilfering our fishery resources.

The fisherman from Polikandy in Valvettithurai said he was unable to carry out his fishing activities until the Indian poachers were stopped and that he was forced to look for alternatives to make a living.

A Point Pedro fisherman claimed that some weeks before the killing of the two Sri Lankan fishermen they had spotted nearly 400 Indian bottom trawlers in the northern seas while Vadamarachchi East Fisheries Federation President N. Varnakulasingham said Indian trawlers fitted with powerful lights could be seen near the coast in the early hours of the morning. He said many local fishermen had chosen to stay ashore after their nets had been damaged by Indian trawler activity while some had even gone missing in mid-sea.

The repeated assurances by Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda have turned out to be only empty rhetoric and are of no use to the northern fishermen, who continue to insist that the minister and the government he represents put a complete stop to the poaching activities which continue unabated and more vigorously now than ever before.

Incidentally, the All Ceylon Fisheries Association (ACFA) held a protest outside the Fisheries Ministry urging the government to intervene in stopping the illegal fishing by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters.  

Meanwhile, the new political developments in Sri Lanka don’t augur well for the country.

Sri Lanka gained its independence from Britain 74 years ago. But, 74 years later, are we as a country and a people truly free, sovereign and independent? Is every citizen in this country equal before the law or as George Orwell said in Animal Farm, ‘All are equal before the law but some are more equal than others”?   

The answer is quite evident from the news projected in the electronic and print media of the various forms of injustice meted out to people, either by way of unemployment or of farmers trapped in the botched-up fertilizer fiasco crying their hearts out for fertilizer to nourish their paddy, vegetable and fruit crops.

Also, the extrajudicial killings of suspects while in police custody; the inordinate surge in the cost of living with the prices of essential commodities including food items increasing to levels way beyond the purchasing capacity of middle and low-income groups, the daily wage earners and those worst off, while none of those involved in scams — sugar, palm oil and garlic among others — held responsible or accountable and roaming free, leaving the people to foot the bill or pay the price.  

We have no intention whatsoever of belittling the Independence Day celebrations held to mark the important occasion of hoisting the Lion Flag on February 4, 1948, by the Father of the Nation and Ceylon’s first Prime Minister Don Stephen Senanayake.

But what we make haste to highlight is the fact that extravagance is not what the people expect at a time such as this when Sri Lanka itself is struggling to make ends meet with the ongoing dollar crunch making it near impossible to import fuel and other basic requisites that the country urgently needs. [IDN-InDepthNews — 23 February 2022].

Image credit: Journals of India

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