Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Sri Lanka in March, the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the island nation in over 25 years. During the visit, Mr. Modi is likely to travel to Jaffna in the Tamil-majority Northern Province, official sources in New Delhi told The Hindu.
The visit has been scheduled a month after the visit of Sri Lanka’s newly elected President, Maithripala Sirisena, to New Delhi in mid-February. Mr. Modi’s visit will coincide with the 28th Human Rights Council session in Geneva, where progress on a U.S.-sponsored investigation into Sri Lanka’s rights record will be reviewed.
The previous bilateral visit to Sri Lanka by an Indian Prime Minister was in 1987, when Rajiv Gandhi travelled to Colombo to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord with the then Sri Lankan President, J. R. Jayewardene. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Colombo in 2008 to attend the SAARC summit and hand over its chairmanship to the then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, he skipped the Commonwealth Summit that Sri Lanka hosted in November 2013, a decision that was strongly criticised by sections in New Delhi and Colombo.
Mr. Modi is expected to travel across the island, including to the North where India has infrastructure initiatives, including a project to build 50,000 houses for war-displaced people. The two countries are engaged in discussions on the possible repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees in India.
The high-level visits are likely to cover a lot of ground on a host of bilateral and strategic issues concerning the neighbours. New Delhi has, over the past decade, been pushing for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Sri Lanka, a pact that the Rajapaksa government deemed redundant. It has been keen on expediting work on the Sampur power plant coming up in Trincomalee with Indian assistance.
The Palk Bay conflict, affecting fisher-folk of both countries, is likely to be on the agenda. Devolution and implementation of the 13th Amendment — born out of the Indo-Lanka Accord — are likely themes for discussion.
After an apparently strained relationship with Colombo during Mr. Rajapaksa’s tenure — predominantly over what India saw as Sri Lanka’s growing proximity to China — New Delhi was quick to welcome and reach out to Colombo’s new dispensation following the January 8 election.
Mr. Modi was one of the first leaders to congratulate Mr. Sirisena on the morning of January 9 — emerging trends then had begun signalling his victory.