The civil nuclear deal India and Sri Lanka signed was the high-water mark of Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to India. In fact, all the four agreements they signed are a pointer to their growing relationship. That the new president chose India to be his first port of call was in itself a confidence-inspiring gesture. India is the first country with which Colombo has signed a nuclear deal. It was the operationalisation of the India-US civil nuclear deal during president Obama’s visit to India that made the agreement possible. The deal marks a sea change in Sri Lanka’s policy towards India’s decision to use nuclear energy to meet its growing power needs.
Incidentally, the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa government had been claiming that the Koodankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu posed an environmental threat to Sri Lanka. That the project has been commissioned and has been running fine should have opened the eyes of Sri Lanka to the possibilities of harnessing nuclear energy for the island nation’s development. It is also proof that Sri Lanka wants to roll back the policies pursued by the previous government that made it a close ally of China. The deal will naturally be seen as a major setback for China which has growing ambitions in the region, as manifested in the liberal bankrolling of several multi-billion rupee projects like the setting up of a new port.
As its largest trading partner, India is in a position to meet most of Sri Lanka’s needs of industrial and agricultural commodities. India can play a vital role in developing Sri Lanka’s tourist potential. The agreement to improve air and sea communication between the nations is a step in this direction. Strengthening cooperation in defence and agriculture has also been thought of. Alleged maritime violations and detentions of fishermen can be sorted out in a friendly atmosphere. More significantly, prime minister Narendra Modi will visit Colombo next month when more bilateral agreements will be inked.