Yahapalanya & India

By Kamalika Pieris

India sees itself as a future world power. But unfortunately, the world does not see India in the same way. The world considers India to be a badly run, badly divided country. India appears to be a country that is unable to fulfill the just demand of its citizens, said one critic. Kuldip Nayar notes that that India has many fissiparous tendencies. Its diversities are solidifying into separate entities and threatening to become permanent compartments. Consensus is becoming difficult, so that even basics cannot get the approval of parliament. Also its politicians are corrupt.

India is jam packed with 1.3 billion people occupying a land area a tenth the size of Africa which has a population of 1.2 billion, said observers. India’s infrastructure is poor, India’s air pollution is the world’s deadliest and India has 400 million people who notoriously do not have any sanitation at all. In 2015, more than half of the rural population still defecated in the open.

The world rankings do not favor India either. World Bank ranking placed US first with GDP of USD 17.4 trillion for the year 2014.  China came next with USD 10.3 trillion. India was in 10th position with 2.5 trillion. World Economic Forum ranking for 2017 was USA first with a GDP of 18 trillion USD, followed by China with $11 trillion. India was in seventh place with USD 2.83 trillion. US held 24.3% of the world economy and China had 14.8%.

In Higher Education too, India does not lead. Times Higher Education, Asia Universities ranking for 2017 placed Singapore National University first, Beijing University second and Tsinghua University, third. The first mention of India is Indian Institute of Technology, Bangalore at position 27, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay at 42 and University of Delhi at 131.

India plans to actively resist any attempt by any other power to establish its dominance over South Asia. India’s immediate rival is China. India has no intention of giving in to China.  India is prepared to battle it out. Apart from its money, China is still far behind the U.S. whether in terms of military capabilities, scientific and technological advancement and innovative economy, said India. The Chinese economy is slowing down. It has an ageing population, an ecologically ravaged landscape and mounting debt, said India.

China was not the most important country in the Silk route either, continued India. China was just one of the countries which participated in the   network of caravan and shipping routes which criss-crossed the Silk route. Chinese silk was certainly prized across the world as were its ceramics. But so were Indian cotton, spices and precious gems. Much of the Silk Road trade was actually in the hands of the Sogdians who inhabited the oasis towns leading from India in the east and Persia in the west into western China.

India says that ancient China was never at the centre of the Asian universe and it never commanded respect from the states around it. China was never a major trading nation and remained relatively insular through most of its history, as well. It never developed the cosmopolitan spirit which has been a hallmark of the Indian temperament, said India proudly.

India acknowledges that China has considerable achievements. China’s contemporary rise is indeed remarkable, admits India. It is on the basis of its economic and military capabilities, its accumulation of knowledge, capital and mastery of science and technology and, above all, its ‘contribution to the global commons ‘that it must claim its rightful place in the emerging world order.

China may continue to expand its economic and military capabilities and may even become the most powerful country in the world. But the world, including Asia, will, in the future be ruled by a cluster of major powers. We are not even in a China-centric Asia let alone a China-centric world, announced India.

A study by Harvard’s Center for International Development released in 2017, has projected a dramatic fall in China’s economic growth to 4.41 per cent in the coming years until 2025. On the other hand, India would perform extremely well growing at 7.72 per cent during the period. Indonesia, Vietnam, Uganda, Kenya and Mexico are expected to perform a lot better than China according to the report. However, India and Pakistan became full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2017. This China-dominated security grouping is increasingly seen as a counterweight to the United States-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

India is updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter long-standing tensions with regional rivals China and Pakistan. India not only wants to modernize its armed forces but it wants to manufacture the items locally. Indian companies will tie up with foreign organizations to manufacture fighter jets, armored vehicles, helicopters and submarines locally, on a Make in India’ venture. British defence giant BAE Systems said it had chosen India’s Mahindra group to build a plant for assembling howitzer artillery guns in the country. India is now modernizing its nuclear arsenal as well. However at present China’s army is superior to that of India. China has 57   ballistic missile submarines of all types.  India has 15.

India cannot fight China alone, therefore, In order to combat China, India has forged a military alliance with USA.  US-India economic relations are also poised to grow, said observers. India has entered into a civilian nuclear program with USA as well. The Trump administration shows every sign of continuing the momentum toward a closer relationship with India.  India is also moving closer to Israel, another state which is loyal to US.   Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Israel in 2017.

It was not always like that between India and USA. In the late 1970s, the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) called for worldwide offers to develop the Trincomalee   tank farm as a commercial venture. Multinational oil giants like Shell and Chevron did not respond. An offer arrived from Coastal Corporation, a US firm that was actively trading in oil in Singapore. The CPC and the Coastal Corporation signed an agreement to develop the tank farm. There were immediate protests from India. New Delhi was apprehensive of any US access to Trincomalee that would pose security threats to them at a time when the Cold War was at its height between the US and the former Soviet Union.

The then Indian Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari was dispatched to Colombo by Premier Indira Gandhi as special envoy for a meeting with   President J.R. Jayewardene. After discussions, Jayewardene directed that fresh offers be called. A three-member Tender Board once again recommended that Coastal Corporation be awarded the tank farm project. Amidst mounting Indian protests, Jayewardene sent Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel and CPC Chairman Daham Wimalasena to New Delhi. They met Premier Gandhi and the Indian Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram. However, an apprehensive New Delhi opposed any American presence in Trincomalee.

But in 2007 when the Hambantota project started with Chinese assistance, the once again apprehensive India turned to US. They wanted US help to ascertain the status of Chinese involvement in the Hambantota port project, even before actual construction commenced in January 2008. This came to light when WikiLeaks released classified US diplomatic cables,

India has decided to match China’s OBOR with an Indian one. In May 2017, India announced the creation of Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) with Japan’s support   as a counter to China’s ambitious One Belt One Road. This was first mentioned in the joint declaration issued by Prime Ministers Modi and Shinzo Abe in November 2016.  

The document was prepared by three think tanks,  the New Delhi based Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) linked to the Ministry of External Affairs; the Jakarta-based Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and  Japan’s Institute of Developing Economies of the Japan External Trade Organization (IDE-JETRO). Research institutions and individuals from Africa were also invited for detailed consultations. South Africa, Mozambique, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia sent representatives for the consultation process. The African Development Bank welcomed the AAGC vision document. Unlike OBOR which entails development of a land corridor, AAGC will essentially be a sea corridor linking Africa with India and other countries of South-East Asia and Oceania. It is presented as an initiative arising out of a consultative process, unlike the “government-funded model” of OBOR project.

In its first phase, the corridor will link Africa with India and countries in South-Asia including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. There is a plan to connect ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Eden. Similarly, ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Kolkata in West Bengal will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar. Apart from developing sea corridors, the AAGC also proposes to build a robust institutional, industrial and transport infrastructure among countries in Asia and Africa. .

AAGC is intended to increase growth and investment in Africa by curtailing the ever increasing presence of China on the African continent. African Economic Outlook 2017, showed that China is still the major consumer of African goods, accounting for 27 per cent of Africa’s total global exports. China is also a leader in investment in Africa. In 2015-16, the country invested a whopping US$ 38.4 billion. In comparison, India during the same year, invested just US$ 2.2 billion across 64 projects. Japanese investments in Africa were minuscule.

India wants full control of the South Asian region as the first step towards becoming a global power. India thinks that it is the leading sovereign state of South Asia, by right, because of its geographic position and superior size. Smaller South Asian states such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan should bow to India. India also thinks that the foreign policies of these countries must take India into account. They must consult India regarding all internal matters which affected India’s security. If a neighboring state adopts an independent foreign policy disregarding India’s concerns, or ignores India’s advice on how an internal problem such as a civil war should be managed, then India can intervene.

Unfortunately for India, India’s neighbors do not agree with any of this.  South Asia does not see India as its natural leader. They see India as haughty, arrogant, interfering and a very poor example of what a modern Asian state should be. Sri Lanka for example is ahead of India in certain matters. Sri Lanka’s life expectancy in 2017 was   76.8 years and global rank was 90. India’s was 68.8 years and rank was 123.   India’s infant mortality is 5 times more than Sri Lanka. Though India boasts of having a GDP of $4.9 trillion its per capita income is about half that of Sri Lanka, said critics.

India expected Sri Lanka to behave like a little baby sister once they both got independence in the 1940s. But there was nothing baby-like about Sri Lanka. Unlike India, Sri Lanka was at least 2000 years old, when it regained independence in 1948.  Sri Lanka had had a long, unbroken history   as a sovereign state, and had no intention of ever forgetting it.  Sri Lanka  also had   centuries of diplomatic relations with neighboring  countries  such as  India,  China, Iran, Burma,  Thailand and  was not going to forget that either.

Further, Sri Lanka has no land border with India and is strategically located in the Indian Ocean, making it more independent of India than most other South Asian countries. Once it gained independence, Sri Lanka entered into diplomatic relations with many countries, including Russia, China and Pakistan. We need not be intimidated by India, said K Godage in 2010, when the Eelam war was going on, because we have other friends. China, Iran and even Libya would give us aid without humiliating conditions.

India wanted Sri Lanka to remain exclusively within the sphere of influence of India  but set about it the wrong way, by antagonizing Sri Lanka and withholding assistance when Sri Lanka asked for it. Both these were amply seen in the Eelam war.  Despite this, Sri Lanka had offered Hambantota port to India and USA first. They were not interested. Then along came China, well ahead of schedule. Not only did it help in the Eelam war, but provided aid, investment and generously funded major projects in post-Eelam Sri Lanka. India simply did not have the money to take China’s place as Sri Lanka’s main financial backer.

Now that China has entered the picture, India has suddenly become affectionate. Prime Minister Modi of India, speaking at the 14th UN International Vesak Celebrations, in Sri Lanka said that the strong cultural bond and affinity between the peoples of India and Sri Lanka make the peoples in these two countries inseparable. We see a future for us together where we both flourish. All of us, particularly Sri Lanka and India, should grow together. We cannot prosper in isolation, said India. There is a moral obligation on the part of India to support Sri Lanka’s economic development efforts.

The Indian Prime Minister also said that India is committed to the economic prosperity of Sri Lanka’s citizens because whether it is on land or in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible”. Sri Lanka was not impressed. What he means by stating that the security of our societies is indivisible is that India opposes Sri Lanka permitting China or any other outside power to come in and involve itself in strategically significant development projects which pose a threat to India, said critics.

India also took the position that Sri Lanka loves India. Indian MP Sashi Tharoor said I witnessed at first hand the welcoming atmosphere in Colombo when the International Indian Film Awards (IIFA) took place here in  2010, shortly after the end of the civil war.  This cannot be accepted. USA holds it Oscars and Britain it’s Bafta in their own countries, but India holds its festival in different capitals.  IIFA says this is to promote Indian cinema all round the world but it could also be considered an attention getting device.

IIFA 2010 has resulted in vast tourist publicity for Sri Lanka which no advertising campaign could have bought. Event had an 80 million audience said   India supporters. Critics took the opposite view. They complained about the cost. In other countries India spends, here, critics alleged that Sri Lanka had spent around 840 million per event. Some money had come as a loan from a state bank.

India took the very  acceptable position that it must continuously watch Sri Lanka’s actions, because they could have security implications for India. Sri Lanka is like an aircraft carrier parked fourteen miles off the India coast, India said. In this situation, foreign relations with India have to be ‘managed’ by Sri Lanka, not bungled.  The Rajapaksa government was good at this.

After Eelam IV the war-winning Rajapaksa government had been under heavy Indian pressure to acquire Sri Lanka’s defence ‘needs’, including training and intelligence from India   in 2014,Sri Lanka accepted    the Indian offer to build two AOPVs  (Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel.  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa then Defence Secretary had signed the agreement on behalf of Sri Lanka. It was part of the overall project meant to enhance Sri Lanka-India relationship, observed Shamindra Ferdinando.

Former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon said in his memoirs “I found that as the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya, had a clear view of Sri Lanka’s interests, one that was compatible with ours. Immediately after the war, he reassured Indian troika about the nature of Sri Lanka’s defence relationship with China, and helped Indian companies reenter the reconstruction of Colombo. Security was Gotabhaya’s preoccupation, which made him sensitive to India’s concerns, while his brother Mahinda was much more compliant with Chinese demands, having built a political machine on Chinese money.’

India has had a special interest in Trincomalee, because of the military potential of its harbor and its proximity to India. For years we were told that nothing could be done to develop Trincomalee because ‘India will not like it.’  India’s interest in the oil tank farm in Trincomalee was primarily for security reasons.

Yahapalana, probably under orders from its western handlers, now plans to hand over the development of Trincomalee, port and all, to India. We have now initiated action to develop a port centered larger Trincomalee   development zone, said Yahapalana   this will be a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka with benefits to both parties. Memorandum of Understanding with India was worked out to jointly for investments to develop the Trincomalee Port, establish a petroleum refinery and other industries there. The Singapore firm of Subana Jurong will draw up the master plan for Trincomalee. There will also be a   Colombo Trincomalee economic corridor.

The present day Yahapalana government was created to kick China out and bring India into Sri Lanka. A pro-India group was formed in Sri Lanka to praise India. India is in the forefront of world geo politics, this group said.  India has the most powerful military in the Indian Ocean. India is the 7th highest economy in the world. We need India, they said. We must alleviate fears of India, they concluded.  Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe put it bluntly. Apita indiyawath oney, Oi. Apita Indiyawa tharaha karaganna behe” he said.  We need India. We cannot antagonize them. Therefore Yahapalana took every opportunity to make a fuss of India. For Vesak, we did not invite any leaders from Buddhist countries. Our invitations went to two Hindu leaders, BJP’s Modi from India and Bhandari from Nepal, observed amused critics.

INS Vikramaditya, India’s aircraft carrier, and India’s newest and largest ship made its maiden overseas port call to Colombo in January 2016.  Sri Lankan President  Maithripala Sirisena was the first foreign head of State onboard the ship. Sri Lanka had planned acquire 12 JF-17 fighter aircraft built in Pakistan in collaboration with China. India quickly offered its new Tejas fighter, still in its trial period, as an alternative.

Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) on July 22, 2017, took delivery of an Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) built by the Government of India owned Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) Sri Lankan military personnel received training in two Dornier aircraft, belonging to the Indian Navy. The training exercises were carried out in the West and Southwest Coast of the Sri Lankan Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in June 2017.

Yahapalana is favoring India at the expense of Sri Lanka, critics charged. 800 Maruti cars were imported to Sri Lanka in 2015, facilitated by a substantial slash in import duty and simultaneous increase in import duty for hybrid vehicles by a grateful government assisted by India to win the election.  India has gifted a high class emergency ambulance service with state of the art medical equipment inside 88 fully equipped ambulances supported by a USD 7.55 million grant from India. This is viewed with suspicion by Sri Lanka health professionals.

India wants Sri Lanka to purchase Indian helicopters ‘and other such items’, when more suitable and cost effective alternatives are available elsewhere, complained critics. Yahapalana government would like to see an investor from India take a stake in the building of a container terminal in Colombo port. More than 60% of Colombo transship comes from India.

Yahapalana handlers are well aware that India will balkanize and the south Indian states will separate from north India. There must be an economic link between Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu,    Gujarat and other Indian states, said Yahapalana.  The total GDP of the five southern States, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala, is over USD 500 billion with the possibility of doubling to a trillion dollars within a decade or so.

Sri Lanka has offered 500 acres of land to the Government of Andhra Pradesh to develop an industrial park. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made separate phone calls to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu to tell him this. This was in response to a proposal submitted by Naidu to the Sri Lanka government when he visited Colombo in 2016 to participate as Chief Guest  when Yahapalana celebrated completing two years in office.

Andhra Pradesh is one of the fastest developing states in India, and Naidu is rated as one of the most dynamic, proactive and forward-looking chief ministers in India. And this may possibly be the first time that the Sri Lankan Government is inviting the government of a state in India to develop an industrial park in the island, babbled Yahapalana.

The geopolitics of Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean close to India and India’s resulting  security concerns are important factors that foreign policy decision makers in Sri Lanka should take into consideration, when Sri Lankan leaders seek the involvement of any outside power in Sri Lanka’s development activities, said S.W. Premaratne . They should have India’s security concerns uppermost in their minds. Therefore, when Sri Lanka enters into agreements with other states seeking their involvement in strategically significant development projects, there should be very clear provisions in such agreements prohibiting such states from using Sri Lanka for military purposes. .

The China factor could lead to serious problems with India, said analysts. China is building a port in Sri Lanka and their submarines visit Sri Lanka.  This will create new difficulties with India.” India will not be agreeable to Sri Lanka giving China access to ports for military purposes.  Yahapalana’s transfer of   ‘a lot of property’ to China would also incense India. India will want to counterbalance it. Sri Lanka should not depend mainly on Chinese development assistance. Sri Lanka must craft a balanced foreign policy with India and the West, observers said. However this is good advice  if we have a friendly, independent India, not a weak dependant India acting as a cat’s paw for the United States of America. (CONCLUDED)

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