Prime Minister Narendra Modi with then Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (File Photo | Reuters)
NEW DELHI: While China may be in pole position in
, with the Rajapaksas firmly in saddle again, India seems confident its own outreach to PM Mahinda Rajapaksa when he was in opposition will ensure the island neighbour doesn't return to its pre-2015 pivot to
India sees itself as having played a major role in improving the lives of people in Sri Lanka in the past few years with focus on connectivity and housing. After having completed 65 grant assistance projects, according to Indian officials, India is currently working on implementing 20 more "people-centric" projects.
Chinese charge d'affaires in Sri Lanka Hu Wei described Mahinda this week as an old friend of President
while conveying a congratulatory message from the CPC Central Committee on his party's thumping victory in the parliamentary elections. It was under the watch of Mahinda, who was president from 2005 to 2014, that Sri Lanka locked itself into an economic embrace with China. Beijing's no-strings overseas aid and loan policy saw China replacing Japan and India as Lanka's main development partner in that period.
The relief over Mahinda's ouster as president in early 2015 was short-lived though. With its then $8 billion debt to China and a looming balance of payment crisis, Sri Lanka was again looking at Beijing for assistance. In just 15 months after Mahinda's departure, China managed to not just revive its flagship $1.4 billion Colombo port city project, but also started expansion work on major infrastructure projects which were seen as economically unviable.
A year later, in 2017, India seemed to have taken an important step to repair ties with the Rajapaksas when Modi had an "unscheduled" meeting with Mahinda during his visit to Colombo. In 2018, he again met the former president during the latter's "private" visit to India. That his brother and Lankan President
chose India for his first overseas trip after being elected last year was also significant for India.
While there are still some concerns about what the landslide victory of the Rajapaksas could mean for minorities, the government has taken note of Mahinda's comment that he will work to expedite development in Tamil areas, a major focus area for India.
To revive the economy in these areas, officials here said that India has developed an industrial zone in Atchuvely in Northern Province and provided boats and fishing equipment to the fishermen.
Indian officials said India's efforts have played an important role in improving connectivity in Sri Lanka. "India has helped restore arterial railway lines, which sustained heavy damage in Tsunami in 2004. India has reconnected northern Sri Lanka with the rest of the country by restoring railway lines, establishing signaling systems and supplying rolling stocks," said an official.
India is currently also said to be helping in the development of Kankesanturai harbour in the north. An emergency ambulance service set up with India's assistance also played a useful role in saving lives in the aftermath of the Easter terror bombing in April 2019, officials said.
Officials also recalled that during the visit of President Gotabaya to India, Modi had announced two new Lines of Credit - $400 million for infrastructure development and $50 million for security and counter-terrorism cooperation. "This is in addition to the $100 million LOC offered in 2018 for undertaking solar projects in Sri Lanka," said an official.