Sri Lanka instability a 'serious concern' for India

All-party meeting held to discuss continuing civil unrest in Sri Lanka

Protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday call for acting president and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to resign. AP
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India has expressed serious concerns over the political and economic instability in Sri Lanka, saying such an “unprecedented” situation brings worry of a “spillover”.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar led an all-party meeting to discuss the crisis.

The meeting followed a demand by political parties from Tamil Nadu for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene amid an influx of migrants in the southern state.

"This is a very serious crisis and what we are seeing in Sri Lanka is in many ways an unprecedented situation," Mr Jaishankar said at the meeting.

"It's our very close neighbour, so naturally the level of concern, as well as the worry that there would be spillover to India, is there."

The regional Tamil political parties DMK and AIADMK on Sunday demanded that the government intervene in the crisis in Sri Lanka amid growing concerns over the condition of the country's Tamil population, a religious ethnic community, and their migration to the Indian state.

Sri Lanka, an island nation of 22 million people, is off the southern coast of India on the Indian Ocean and is about 450 kilometres from Tamil Nadu.

As the nation is facing its worst economic crisis in seven decades, with severe shortages of fuel, food, medicine and gas, and inflation of about 55 per cent, desperate Sri Lankans have been fleeing the nation.

The Sri Lankan Tamils, also known as Eelam Tamils, have fled to Tamil Nadu after the decades-long civil war in the past.

Their plight is an emotional issue in India's Tamil-dominated state and often involves demands from politicians for direct intervention.

India and Sri Lanka share historic, strategic and trade ties, and the island nation is at the centre of the government's Neighbourhood-First Policy that focuses on peace and improving relations with India’s immediate neighbours.

India has been playing the role of a concerned neighbour since the crisis hit Sri Lanka.

Mr Jaishankar said the members discussed India’s perspective on the political turbulence and the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka needs $5 billion in the next six months to cover basic necessities for its citizens and India has significantly supported the country and sent aid through other channels.

It has also provided a $500 million line of credit for fuel and pledged support of more than $3.8bn for “ameliorating the serious economic situation” in Sri Lanka, apart from sending tonnes of rice, medicine and milk powder to the ailing country since April.

“We had done two presentations,” Mr Jaishankar said.

"One was done from a political perspective, from a foreign policy perspective, which explained to all leaders that the political turbulence in Sri Lanka, economic crisis which was there, the debt situation."

He said New Delhi would help Sri Lanka to engage with the International Monetary Fund and other debtors.

But Mr Jaishankar did not disclose India's perspective on the political turmoil that has deepened since president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled last week and a new presidential election was scheduled on Wednesday.

India has stayed away from intervening into the political crisis.

Mr Jaishankar had last week said that India’s focus was on the economic aspects.

“Other issues are not bothering India," he said.

Ashok Kantha, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka from 2009 to 2013, said that New Delhi’s position on the political crisis has been “nuanced”, because it does not support any political party.

“India has made it clear consistently that we are with the people of Sri Lanka and we will support them," Mr Kantha told The National.

"We hope that they will achieve their aspirations in accordance with the democratic processes and constitutional arrangements.

“India has taken the stand as it is not supporting any particular political dispensation in Sri Lanka.

"It is not for us to decide how the political processes play out. Looking ahead, one may expect the policy to be continued."

Updated: July 20, 2022, 5:43 AM