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What change of guard in Sri Lanka means for India

india Updated: Jan 09, 2015 19:53 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's new president-elect Maithripala Sirisena was a low-profile minister until he emerged as the best hope for a fractured opposition to topple South Asia's longest-serving leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa. HT analyses what the change of guard means for India.

1. India took a position of neutrality in the Sri Lankan elections. Rajapaksa and India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party BJP shared good ties for a long time. Before the ties could move on to a substantive track under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, change has come in the island nation.

2. There was some heartburn in India recently as Rajapaksa did not heed to the demands for political devolution of power to the Tamil minorities. Sources admit Rajapaksa was not happy that the new government in Delhi was insisting on the issue.

3. Sri Lanka's main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance, had taken a stand supportive of Maithripala Sirisena. That gives India some hope that the new president will be more amenable to the demands of the Tamil minorities.

4. Under Rajapaksa, China made huge inroads into Sri Lanka. This, at times, raised alarm bells in New Delhi. Sri Lanka figures prominently in China's New Silk route initiative and Indian Ocean strategy. For Rajapaksa, getting closer to China was more of a necessity due to his pronounced anti-West stand. By indications so far, the new president wouldn't be playing a China-focused foreign policy.

5. On the economic front, little change is expected. But India will be looking at improving trade ties with Lanka, which used to be India's largest trading partner in South Asia till Bangladesh took that position in recent times.

6. As happens in politics, all said and done, Rajapaksa was a known entity (He called India a relative and China a friend during the election campaign). And since individual leaders also play a key role in foreign policy formulations, India has the task of getting to know the new leader more.