India offers its support to Lanka in economic crisis
New Delhi External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Monday assured Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of India’s continued cooperation in coping with the unprecedented economic crisis in the island nation
External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Monday assured Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of India’s continued cooperation in coping with the unprecedented economic crisis in the island nation.
Jaishankar, on a three-day visit to Colombo to attend a ministerial meeting of BIMSTEC, also met Sri Lanka’s top Tamil leaders and discussed the minority community’s aspirations and political empowerment.
India has extended financial assistance worth more than $1.5 billion, including two lines of credit for purchasing fuel, food and medicines, to help Sri Lanka tackle a massive economic and energy crisis triggered by a shortage of foreign exchange.
Jaishankar and the Sri Lankan president reviewed bilateral relations during their meeting. “Assured him of India’s continued cooperation and understanding,” Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed his gratitude to the Indian side for the assistance in the form of the line of credit.
At his meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Jaishankar virtually inaugurated the Jaffna Cultural Centre built by India. The leaders also witnessed the signing of an agreement on supporting Buddhist culture and heritage.
They also virtually toured a camp in Jaffna for fitting the “Jaipur Foot”, a rubber-based low-cost prosthetic leg.
Jaishankar also held talks with Sri Lanka’s finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, who has been coordinating with the Indian side on measures to cope with the economic crisis. Reports said the Sri Lankan side had sought another $1-billion line of credit.
“Discussed the economic situation and India’s supportive response. We will continue to be guided by Neighbourhood First,” Jaishankar said on Twitter after the meeting with the finance minister.
The economic crisis has triggered widespread protests over the rising cost of essential items and a shortage of fuel. Jaishankar visited Lanka IOC, the local subsidiary of Indian Oil Corporation, and assessed the island nation’s fuel supply situation.
He tweeted that Lanka IOC’s managing director Manoj Gupta had briefed him on the fuel supply situation. The Indian line of credit of $500 million is “helping Sri Lankan people in their everyday life”, he said.
Later on Monday, Jaishankar held separate meetings with a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by R Sampanthan and Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) leaders and discussed socio-economic issues related to the minority community.
“Met the TNA delegation led by Shri R Sampanthan. Discussed realisation of the aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity,” Jaishankar tweeted in English and Tamil.
He added in another tweet: “Interacted with TPA delegation of Mano Ganeshan, Thigambaram, V Radhakrishnan, Uday Kumar. Discussed the socio-economic issues of the Indian origin Tamil community. India stands committed to its development partnership with IOTs.”
Jaishankar’s meetings with the Tamil leaders came days after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sought the cooperation of the minority community to rebuild Sri Lanka. This was the president’s first interaction with them since assuming office more than two years ago.
Jaishankar also met state minister Jeevan Thondaman and Senthil Thondaman and reviewed India’s development projects in the upcountry region.
India has pressed the Sri Lankan government to fully implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution to devolve greater powers to the Tamil minority. However, the Sri Lankan side has indicated that a new Constitution is expected to address the issues of the Tamils.
The TNA wants full devolution of powers under the 13th amendment. However, hardliners in the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP) have been calling for a total abolition of the provincial council system established in 1987.
On Tuesday, Jaishankar will participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which comprises India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand and Nepal. This meeting is part of the preparations for the virtual BIMSTEC Summit to be hosted by Sri Lanka on March 30.