Defence

India to closely monitor any move by Mahinda Rajapaksa that undermines security & economic interests

India, following the re-election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the family’s consolidation of power, is keeping a close watch on any move by the regime to undermine Delhi’s security and economic interests in the island nation as well as the Indian Ocean Region. While the Rajapaksas have traditionally been close to the Chinese, President Gotabaya, younger brother of the PM, has refrained from taking any measure so far to harm Indian interests after being elected as President in 2019. However, all eyes are now on the elder Rajapaksa Mahinda, the current PM, who as a President had strengthened ties with Beijing, persons familiar with the matter told ET.

China wants to develop Sri Lanka as an anchor for its Indian Ocean outreach but this has security implications for India ranging from Hambantota Port to Chinese submarines in Lankan waters. “India does not expect Sri Lanka to dilute its ties with China but at the same time hope that no step based on the huge electoral mandate is initiated to undermine Delhi’s security interests,” a watcher of Indo-Lankan ties told ET. New Delhi, on its part, will continue to support development-related and infra projects in the island nation based on local requirements. The government here moved swiftly even before poll results were formally announced with PM Narendra Modi becoming the first leader to congratulate Mahinda Rajapaksa and reinforce shared Buddhist heritage.

Indian envoy to Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay, became the first foreign diplomat to call on the newly-elected PM to discuss future plans of cooperation. Indian naval base in Goa last week repaired a Sri Lankan air force plane, which had developed a snag, in what won huge praises in Colombo. The 2019 terror attacks in Lanka have brought the two sides closer in the fight against cross-border terror and radical forces, according to Lanka watchers. Even when he was the lame duck PM, Mahinda was hosted by India as part of outreach to the ruling leadership in the Southern neighbour, recalled one of the persons quoted above. India’s total development assistance portfolio in Sri Lanka now exceeds $3.45 billion, of which $560 million is in the form of grant assistance. The assistance programmes across Lankan districts focus on capacity building, human resources development, connectivity, as well as infrastructure development.

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