India Looks for Bigger Sri Lanka Role


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May 6, 2009
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24 Sep 2009

NEW DELHI -- With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) decimated in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka, India is now seeking greater involvement in the welfare of the Tamils in the island country. New Delhi is looking to supply electricity, rehabilitate and resettle displaced Tamils, and rebuild infrastructure in general. And this month, Rahul Gandhi, the general secretary of the ruling Congress party and son of the all-powerful Sonia Gandhi, emphasized that India will do everything in its power to protect the rights of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

"The central government is applying as much pressure as possible on the Sri Lankan government," Gandhi declared. "Congress wants the rights of the Tamils guaranteed. There is absolutely no question about it. We will do everything to protect them."

Measures announced by India in the post-LTTE era include a $100 million relief package for the estimated half-million war-affected Tamil Sri Lankans, as well as help in demining the LTTE-controlled areas.

One significant project involves reviving the Indo-Sri Lanka Electricity Interconnection project via overhead and undersea cables. A high-profile official delegation is due to visit Colombo this month to set up modalities to initially transfer 500 megawatts of power to Sri Lanka. The aim is to eventually raise supply to 1,000 megawatts to cover electricity-deprived regions of northern Sri Lanka hitherto under the control of the rebels. The power project is expected to cost nearly $100 million, with USAID involved in financing the feasibility studies. Construction is expected to begin by next year.

Meanwhile, India's state-run National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), the country's largest power generator, is looking to set up of a 1,000-megawatt, coal-based thermal plant in Trincomalee district -- a former LTTE stronghold -- at the cost of $500 million.

There is reason for such urgency. New Delhi has never been happy with the rising influence and role of China, and lately Pakistan, in Sri Lanka -- including their military assistance to Colombo during its war against the LTTE. India was forced to limit its military support for Colombo due to domestic political considerations arising from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. India offered only defensive capabilities such as radars, despite expressions by some top functionaries in New Delhi that India should have a greater involvement.

Tamil political parties in India resisted any supply of arms to Colombo, and remained sympathetic to the LTTE's cause due to cultural and linguistic affinities, despite the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a LTTE suicide bomber.

For example, the incumbent chief minister of Tamil Nadu, M K Karunanidhi of the DMK, went on a brief hunger strike to protest the brutality of the Sri Lankan army's final onslaught against the LTTE. The DMK is an ally of the ruling Congress party and opposes any military assistance to Colombo.

In the absence of Indian military aid, Colombo reached out to Beijing, which was quick to respond, given its aspirations of extended influence in the Indian Ocean region. India has since looked on with displeasure at the deep-water port in Hambantota, on Sri Lanka's south coast, which is currently being built with Chinese help.

India has long been wary of such bases being set up by China in its neighborhood, which have been described as a "string of pearls" around India's neck -- one that can easily be tightened should the need arise. The Chinese are also involved in building the Gwadar port in Pakistan and two naval bases in Myanmar that open the possibility of a Chinese military presence next to India's maritime borders.

After being beaten in Myanmar, New Delhi is also wary that Chinese energy firms are going to make a dash for Sri Lanka's oil and gas reserves in the Mannar Basin, which have been offered by Colombo for exploration. Meanwhile, India worries that Pakistan's influence in Sri Lanka could result in terror cells infiltrating the island country to orchestrate attacks on Indian cities, as has happened from Bangladesh.

However, now that the political complications surrounding the LTTE are out of the way, New Delhi is keen to use its support of the Tamil minority population in Sri Lanka to dilute other outside influences, and has not hesitated to make its intentions known at the highest policymaking levels. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan have all had regular interactions with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

As part of a longer-term plan, India has also been looking to turn the Palk Straits into an international thoroughfare, with the help of the U.S. Labeled the "Sethu Samundram" canal project, the exercise, however, has been opposed due to religious sentiments associated with the area.

With a major stake in Sri Lanka's still-uncertain peace, India will also likely apply more pressure the Sri Lankan government to move in the direction of federalism and autonomy for Tamil areas. Now that the fighting in Sri Lanka no longer stands in the way of the close emotional link between the two countries' populations, India feels a newfound freedom to use its regional presence to ensure that minority Tamil interests are protected.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist covering foreign and strategic affairs, security, politics, defense, business and lifestyle issues. He has been a correspondent for the Times of India and is widely published in newspapers and magazines in Asia, Europe and America

WPR Article | India Looks for Bigger Sri Lanka Role


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Mar 21, 2009
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India should take this matter seriously, or else any other neighbouring country will come in,
i heard Iran is giving loan to Lankan Govt.?

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