Colombo July 28 (NIA): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday that India’s development assistance to Sri Lanka will be determined by the choices and priorities of Sri Lankan leaders and people.
“India’s development cooperation with Sri Lanka encompasses a wide spread of projects throughout Sri Lanka in different areas of economic activity. But it must happen as per your aspirations. It is for this reason that our cooperative projects rely on the choices and priorities set by the people, the leadership, and the government of Sri Lanka,” Modi said in his message on the occasion of the inauguration of Sri Lanka’s first State of Art pre-hospitalization ambulance service run by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health and India’s private sector GVK EMRI with an Indian government grant of US$ 7.55 million.
Modi’s stress on Indian aid going by the choices and priorities of Sri Lankans is significant because India is generally seen by the Sri Lankan intelligentsia and the political elite as having a “Big Brotherly” attitude to Sri Lanka imposing its political and economic will on the small island nation.
The ambulance project itself had come under heavy flak from the Sri Lankan opposition parties, the medical profession, and the media, and portrayed as a Trojan Horse to smuggle in Indian medical professionals, and even intelligence agents.
Al this, despite the fact that the project was mooted by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka in March 2014.
Other India-Sri Lanka projects which came under fire from the Sri Lankan opposition and professionals were the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). The objections were the same, namely, Indian professionals and even low skilled workers like barbers and farm hands will invade Sri Lanka and take away jobs from locals.
While CEPA was abandoned in the last minute, ETCA ran into heavy weather till the Sri Lankan government recently set up a consultative mechanism involving Chambers of Commerce and all professional bodies, and even offered to include a representative of these stakeholders in the country’s negotiating team.
The other key issue which Prime Minister Modi touched on is India’s commitment to the maintenance of Sri Lanka’s unity and integrity. This is significant in the context of a fear among the majority Sinhalese community that by proposing devolution of powers to the Tamil-speaking provinces, India is wanting to partition the country on ethnic lines.
Modi countered this notion and set the record straight when he said: “India stands for a united, stable and prosperous Sri Lanka. That is also the goal of our partnership. And the emergency ambulance Service is a unique example of this friendship.”
Modi congratulated Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for his “leadership” in respect of the ambulance project, which is expected to benefit eight million people in the Southern and Western Provinces of Sri Lanka. The services will be rendered free of charge.