Muralidhar Rao_EPS

Light at the end of the tunnel

After the successful culmination of the war fought over three decades with the LTTE, Sri Lanka today has started enjoying peace and normalcy. This is reflected in almost every aspect of individual and collective life throughout the country. The relationship of the central government with the provinces and various social groups is gradually becoming harmonious. Normalcy and peace are prerequisites for economic activity and development of any country. The comity of the last five years has helped the Sri Lankan government in achieving higher GDP growth, boosting industrial production, attracting foreign investment and participating in international trade. Political parties and leaders, irrespective of their different perspectives, are able to conduct normal activities without any threat to personal security. Democracy is hence thriving.

Sri Lanka’s economic growth accelerated with the end of the conflict; GDP growth increased from 3.5 per cent in 2009 to 8.3 per cent in 2011, reflecting a “peace harvest”. The growth rate has remained robust since then, above 7 per cent. FDI inflows have been constantly on the increase in recent years. Sri Lanka attracted $1.2 billion in FDI in 2013, while it has set a goal of $2 billion for 2014. Industrial production has grown at the rate of around 10 per cent for the past three years. Increased investments have improved macroeconomic conditions, expanded infrastructure facilities and renewed economic activity in former conflict zones.

The end of violence will not automatically resolve all issues. There are various underlying conflicting perspectives and political aspirations which were responsible for the terrible war between government and the separatist organisations that fought for Eelam. The Sinhalese and Tamil communities suffered the brunt of the violent conflict, with 13,500 civilians losing their lives between 2000 and 2009. In the same period, around 5,000 security personnel laid down their lives and 22,500 militants were killed. Sri Lankan society understands the value of peace and believes that a final resolution of the contentious issues is essential for lasting peace, which is required for sustained growth of the nation. The Sri Lankan government led by president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the opposition parties, the Tamil National Alliance and other important leaders have a big role to play in achieving this.

After the war ended, Sri Lanka went through a commendable election process. The leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), including the chief minister of the Northern Province, are seen as strong and reasonable leaders even by adversaries. Tamil leaders have been demanding that promises made to them be fulfilled, within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. A parliamentary select committee was constituted but there is a trust gap between the government and the TNA about the sincerity and commitment of the former towards final resolution of issues. There has been a stalemate for some time. Rajapaksa has to take an initiative to create a road map with specific milestones to carry forward the resolution process and allay the apprehensions of the TNA and other leaders. Instead of rationalisations, proactive steps are required from the government to end the stalemate. The permanent settlement of pending Tamil issues within the framework of a united Sri Lanka is imperative for restoring peace in the nation as well as the continuing progress of the region. Long-standing issues including the withdrawal of the army from the Northern Province, land, administrative support for the chief minister, police powers etc. have to be part of the negotiation process. Measures should also be taken for the socio-economic uplift of the up-country Tamil people, who are critical in the plantation sector economy.

India is an important neighbour and a civilisational partner of Sri Lanka. With a major stake in the security of the entire subcontinent, India has a key role in facilitating the dialogue between the various factions in Sri Lanka and in helping to resolve the issue permanently. Owing to the civilisational affinity between the nations, despite some bitter experiences in the recent past, the reservoir of goodwill and mutual trust has not dried up. After the formation of the Narendra Modi government with an absolute mandate, the expectation of the people of Sri Lanka has increased manifold. The prime minister’s initiative of inviting SAARC leaders to Delhi for the swearing-in of the new government, the meeting with TNA leaders in Delhi who are fighting for resolution through devolution and the recent meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with Rajapaksa show the earnestness of the Indian government to resolve outstanding issues.

The arrest and/or killing of fishermen from Tamil Nadu who enter Sri Lankan waters by that country’s navy had been a matter of worry for many years. Since the NDA government came to power, the killing of fishermen from Tamil Nadu has stopped and the Lankan government has proactively released many of the arrested Tamil fishermen. But the rest continue to be in Sri Lankan custody. It behoves Sri Lanka to now release the trawlers seized in these operations. The issue should be seen as one of livelihood and the Sri Lanka government, in dealing with them, should adopt a sensitive and flexible approach and take creative steps.

The Chinese presence in Sri Lanka and investment in infrastructure and defence is becoming an area of concern for India. It has also created apprehensions among the people of Sri Lanka regarding their self-reliance and socio-economic sovereignty. But to think that China can substitute India is a misplaced notion, given our geographical proximity to Sri Lanka and the civilisational connectivity between the two nations.

Tourism is very important for the island economy. One million tourists visited the country in 2012, contributing earned foreign exchange to the tune of $1038.3 million. It has grown steadily since the nation returned to normalcy. Sri Lanka can become one of the top tourist destinations in the world, provided there is lasting peace. A two-way and circular tourist circuit for Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims can be developed by linking the religious sites in India and Sri Lanka. Many sites in the island nation are connected to the Ramayana. Thus, Sri Lanka and India have a cultural resonance, with common deities.

Now that India has a decisive government, major breakthroughs in relations with Sri Lanka are possible. The resolution of outstanding contentious issues will help India increase its involvement in Sri Lanka’s development activities and become its leading investment partner.

(The author is BJP National General Secretary. Email: p.muralidharrao@rediffmail.com)

http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Time-to-Cement-Indo-Lanka-Ties/2014/10/16/article2479408.ece