Tapping the civilisational connection between the two nations in Buddhism, India has reached out to Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority. Given its proximity to such historic sites associated with Buddha like Lumbini, Sarnath and Bodh Gaya, the international airport at Kushinagar, which is believed to be the final resting place of Buddha, becomes a key focal point of religious tourism, and not only for Sri Lankan Buddhists. The importance given to the link to the religion born in India also represents a perceptible shift in India’s outreach suggestive of a more holistic view of Sri Lanka as a key neighbour.
For decades, the Tamil question and related autonomy issue were the focus of political ties, even long after the questionable dispatching of the Indian peace keeping force — but only at the specific request of J.R. Jayewardene — and the failed twin track diplomatic policy during the height of the LTTE insurrection. A historic turn of events came with the ending of the war with the Liberation Tigers in 2009 but India has lost much ground since then as the island nation snuggled up to the Chinese embrace even if it led to Sri Lanka falling into a debt trap and signing away the Hambantota port on very long lease.
At a time when Sri Lanka is facing a severe economic crunch and struggling even to pay for food imports, India could make a grand gesture by giving the nod to a request for a $500 million line of credit for them to be able to pay for fuel imports. An empathetic gesture at such a time might do more to generate goodwill and this might also facilitate the addressing of a few strategic concerns that India has regarding Chinese presence in proximity to peninsular India that is too close for comfort.
Security concerns more than trade and Tamil issues, as in the stalled provincial elections in the north and east and the larger question of implementation of the 13th amendment, have tended to dominate the New Delhi view, which was evident during the foreign secretary’s recent visit, too. Significant economic assistance given at this point may help reinforce the view that geographical closeness should reflect in far better neighbourly ties with Sri Lanka in all aspects.