Rajapaksa pardon will improve ties

This may be a good moment for India and Sri Lanka to clinch negotiations on the question of fishing rights

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken the wise decision to pardon the five Tamil Nadu fishermen sentenced to death by the Colombo high court on October 31. This will be welcomed widely in India, and is likely to go some way in giving reassurance to bilateral ties that occasionally appeared to be under strain on account of the fishermen’s issue, which is one livelihood for coastal people in Tamil Nadu.

The five were apprehended in November 2011 by the Lankan authorities for smuggling heroin, a charge that appeared far-fetched considering that Indian fishermen are always at risk when fishing in the Palk Straits and are always fearful of straying into Lankan waters and being shot at by that country’s naval patrols. Smuggling heroin of all things is likely to be the last thing on anyone’s mind in such circumstances.

An earlier comment on the subject in this space had hoped for a presidential pardon in the case of the fishermen. This was evidently the cleanest way to clear the impasse in which the arrest of the fishermen had landed bilateral relations. The seriousness of the matter was clear from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to raise it with President Rajapaksa in their telephone conversation on November 9.

The two will meet at the Saarc summit in Kathmandu next week. The decision to offer Presidential reprieve to the jailed Indian nationals so that they may return home to freedom (and not to Indian jails, which would be the case if the sentence had merely been commuted so that the fishermen could serve out the rest of their prison term in an Indian jail under an existing agreement) potentially provides scope for discussions on raising the trajectory of India-Sri Lanka ties.

The Tamil factor in the relations between New Delhi and Colombo can frequently be whipped up as a negative factor. The magnanimity shown by Sri Lanka to Tamil fisherfolk may help to blunt this instrument somewhat. This may be a good moment for India and Sri Lanka to clinch negotiations on the question of fishing rights for Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu in the Palk Straits.

The elbowroom offered by a quietened Tamil factor gives both countries the space to pursue normal relations between traditionally close neighbours that are sometimes brought under pressure on account of regional rivalries. Recently the berthing of Chinese submarines by Lanka, even if these were just passing through, caused disappointment in New Delhi. The satisfactory resolution of the fishermen issue can smoothen ties and help the two countries turn the page. Healthy relations with Sri Lanka will prove useful in India pursuing its interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

( Source : dc )
Next Story