The Telegraph
Wednesday , January 21 , 2015

Forward march

Neither India nor Sri Lanka has wasted time in going about a business that the new regime in Colombo had set its heart on and India had eagerly looked forward to. Resetting ties with India may not have figured prominently in the election rhetoric of Maithripala Sirisena, who harped instead on the Rajapaksas' allegedly dubious liaisons with China. But the default conclusion - that a distancing from China would automatically revive relations with India - was never discouraged. In fact, it now forms the central pillar of the foreign policy-reorientation that the Sirisena administration has begun in earnest. Not surprisingly, the invitation for an India visit, communicated only hours after the new government took over in Colombo, was reciprocated by the prompt visit of Sri Lanka's foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, to New Delhi, where he declared that bilateral ties with India were headed for a state of "irreversible excellence". There is no doubt that much water would have to flow under the bridge before this observation can be vetted, but Sri Lanka already appears to have got to work on the fundamentals. Since the Sri Lankan Tamil issue so overwhelmingly features in this relationship, the facts that the governor of the northern provincial council has been replaced by a civilian member of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and that Sri Lanka is willing to engage with the United Nations for a domestic war crimes inquiry formed an encouraging backdrop to the bilateral talks in New Delhi. Here some of the other thorny issues were discussed, such as the repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, the fishermen's problems, and political reconciliation within the island. A healthy beginning has been made on all these issues. How the talks proceed in the future would, of course, depend on how the coalition of 49 parties in Sri Lanka prioritizes its concerns.

It would be helpful to keep in mind that Sri Lanka's resetting of ties is not restricted to India. The rekindling of the warmth with India is part of the government's larger gamble of resetting the island's ties with Western nations that have been, and continue to be, perceived using the human rights issue to browbeat Sri Lanka. This means India would have to walk a tricky path in the next UN human rights council summit. Again, distancing from China is part of the Sirisena regime's ambition of making the country self-reliant. It does not mean abandoning all ties with China.

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