Sri Lanka-India ties must be strengthened for mutual benefits

Sri Lanka is an island which is surrounded by the Arabian Sea in the west, Way of Bengal in the east, the Indian Ocean in the south and the Palk Strait in the north was once the part of the Indian subcontinent. It is separated by a narrow and a very shallow sea of just 37 km in length at the narrowest point of India’s Dhanushkoti in Tamilnadu and Mannar district of Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is so shallow that only boats, not ships, can be operated through this strait. It is said that two engineers- Nal and Neel- of Lord Rama’s army had built a bridge to cross over to Sri Lanka. That is why it is called Ram Setu. It is really strange that instead of calling it Ram Setu strait, it is known as the Palk Strait after the name of Robert Palk, who was the governor of Tamilnadu sometimes in the 18th century. Northern and Eastern part of Sri Lanka consists mostly of Tamilians, who outnumber Sinhalese but in Central, Southern and Western parts of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese are in the majority. In Sri Lanka, there are three official languages-English, Sinhalese and Tamil.

Indian influence

There is not only the geographical contiguity between India and Srilanka but there are cultural, religious, legal and political similarities between both countries. The people of Sri Lanka live and behave in the same manner as most of the Indians do. Therefore, to say that the relationship between India and Sri Lanka is very old is simply an understatement. According to geological studies Sri Lanka was once the part and parcel of India. Influence of India in all spheres of Sri Lanka is seen to be believed. There has been regular trade and commerce between India and Sri Lanka even before the period of Mauryas and Guptas and this was followed in later centuries by the influence of Kingdoms located further south in the subcontinent, like the Pallavas and later on from the south Indian kingdoms of Pandyas, Cheras and Cholas.

The physical size of the Sri Lankan island is a little more than 65 thousand square kilometres, which is 1/4th of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Sri Lanka has not only observed, assimilated, adapted certain good traditions of southern Indian old empires but have and in some instances, transformed them. The Buddhist civilisation, which is the most significant and enduring legacy of the north Indian empires was retained, nurtured and protected long after Buddhism has ceased to be of any great significance in India.

There has been an exchange programme of journalists between India and Sri Lanka for the last so many years through Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) and Sri Lanka Press Association (SLPA). Almost every year SLPA invites the members of the IFWJ to Sri Lanka, which is reciprocated by the IFWJ, which receives journalists from Sri Lanka. Thus, the journalists of both countries get the opportunity to know, learn about both countries by interacting, meeting and visiting different places in both countries. This time many important journalists like B.V. Mallikarjunaiah, Hemant Tiwari, Siddharth Kalhans, Ajay Shukla, K. Asudhulla and Bhaskar Dube, Mukut Sarma was the part of the 15 member IFWJ delegation. SLPA’s Kurulu K. Kariyakarawana and his Indian wife Gitika Talukdar played an excellent host for the Indian journalists. Sri Lanka was a trouble-torn country from the beginning of the eighties till the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. It was considered to be an unsafe place for tourists and as a result of it, the tourism of the country was hit hard. But in the last five or six years, tourism has picked up in Sri Lanka to an unprecedented level.

India’s significant contribution

As a matter of fact, tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Sri Lanka and after the end of the civil war, the number of tourists has increased more than three hundred times. Every day many chartered flights from India itself go to Sri Lanka. For a large number of Hindu and Bauddha visitors, Sri Lanka is like a pilgrimage country because of its association with Lord Rama and Ramayana and Buddhism. The Indian delegation was invited by the Indian’s High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who is an epitome of suave, polite and decent behaviour, told that the contribution of India in the development and modernisation of Sri Lanka is incomparable and is much more than any other country of the world. Although there is a misconception among SriLankan’s about the tourists as they think that only westerners are the real tourists, who come with bulging pockets for comforts, this notion is now changing. In the last few years, the number of Indian tourists to Sri Lanka has gone manifold and it is increasing with every passing day. The role of the Indian government in the building of the economy of Sri Lanka is to be seen to be believed. Many rail lines have been constructed by India and on many tracks, the trains built in India are running. Unlike China, India believes more in the involvement of the local people in the developmental work of Sri Lanka rather than importing the workforce from India to Sri Lanka as China does. Most of the Chinese projects are financed, conceived and built by them only because they bring the workers from their own country ignoring the claims of the locals in providing them employment. India has always been sensitive to the feeling of the local people and she has stood with Sri Lanka, be it any natural calamity or manmade disasters like civil war or the attacks of radical Islamists in the churches at the time of the Easter.

The importance of Sri Lanka for India can be known from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the island for three times and has extended full cooperation to Sri Lanka in tiding over its problems. India has recently given five thousand built houses to accommodate the poor, needy and displaced persons of Sri Lanka during the long period of civil war. With the increasing number of casinos, dance bars and gambling centres,

the number of comfort-seeking tourists of European and other countries is going by leaps and bounds. Colombo is the main city of Sri Lanka an

d it is very ideally located on the banks of the Arabian Sea. It can boast of the good Marine Drive, high rise buildings, many starred hotels, and the modern airport etc, the roads in Sri Lanka are spick and span and the people are highly conscious about the cleanliness in the city. Sri Lanka like India is a multi-religious and a multi-cultural country. The total population of the country is around 25 million. There are 15 Universities in the country and the literacy rate is around 95 per cent, much higher than any in any third world countries. Although, there is no comparison between India and Sri Lanka in many respects because India has the vast resources of minerals, skilled human force and the scientific development, yet the per capita gross domestic product of Sri Lanka is two times more than India’s. While it is a little more than 2,000 US dollar in India, in Sri Lanka it is more than 4,100 US dollar per annum.

Media scenario

Most of the newspapers and other media houses in Sri Lanka have very limited reach and resources. Newspapers are very costly as compared to Indian newspapers because they do not have a large circulation and advertisement support. Most of the newspapers have to remain dependent on government advertisements, which is not the case in India. Many independent TV channels have also come up in Sri Lanka, but they are not as exclusive in dishing out the programmes of any particular area or branch. Every channel is the motley of entertainment news and business programmes but in India, there are hundreds of news channels which provide news in different languages for 24×7. Similarly, there are many entertainment channels, sports channels and business channels in India, where one can find the contents of once own interests and likings, and this has been possible only because of the advertisement support which they get from the private establishments and the people.

As a matter of fact, newspapers in India are the cheapest in the world largely because they get the private advertisement- support and therefore have not to depend on the mercy of the government. This is one of the reasons that media in India is fierce, robust and has the capacity to take on the high and mighty which is not possible in other third world countries. Apart from it, the readership is also quite high, and the reach is wider in India than in Sri Lanka or for that matter even in other developing countries. This is also one of the main reasons for India to have the flourishing, vibrant and dynamic democracy. The media in India, if it wants, can remain independent and it need not ride like a piggyback of the government. The legal system in India and in many other commonwealth countries like Sri Lanka is more or less the same. It is a different matter that after independence, the Parliament and the Supreme Court have completely transformed the Indian legal system and its jurisprudence, which is virtually serving as a role model for other countries. Hopefully, the relationship between India and Sri Lanka will further grow which will mutually beneficial. The government of India must remain cautious of Sri Lanka, which is spreading its tentacles otherwise there are many big countries, which want to convert Sri Lanka into a springboard for serving their own ulterior motives.