CAA’s Articulate – Revitalizing India-Sri Lanka relations amid the pandemic


  • The pandemic presents an opportunity for Sri Lanka and India to focus on the revitalization of partnerships.

Uniqueness of India-Sri Lanka relationship

  • The India-Sri Lanka relationship, de jure, is between equals as sovereign nations.
    • However, the relationship is asymmetric in terms of geographic size, population, military and economic power, on the one hand, and also social indicators and geographical location, on the other.
    • The relationship is also steeped in myth and legend, and influenced by religious, cultural and social affinities.
    • Hardships of COVID-19 present an opportune time for Sri Lanka and India to nourish the roots of the relationship using modern toolkits, but leveraging age-old wisdom and experience.

Historical ties

  • Ashoka and Buddhism
    • The advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka during the time of Emperor Ashoka was the result of cross-border discourse.
    • For many centuries, later on, the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura housed an international community that included traders from India, China, Rome, Arabia, and Persia.
    • Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka also contain shrines for Hindu deities.
    • Colonial-era
      • Labor from south India was brought to Sri Lanka to work in plantations.
      • The Indian freedom struggle had its influence on Sri Lanka as well.
        • There was cross-border support for the revival of culture, tradition, local languages, spiritual practices and philosophies, and education.
      • Both countries transformed into modern nations with constitutional and institutionalized governance under colonial rule.
      • Process engineering by colonial powers for identification and categorization of people was a factor in the emergence of separatist ideologies based on ethnicity, language, and religion.
      • This mindset is now ingrained and accentuated in politics.
        • Episodic instances of communal hostility are referenced often to suit tactical political gain.
    • Contemporary times
      • Sri Lanka’s strategic location makes it apparent that not only economic fortunes but the security of both countries are inextricably linked.
        • Therefore the calamity in one country can adversely impact the other.
      • Currently, freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific together with a rules-based international order and peaceful settlement of disputes are of common interest.

Way ahead

  • Addressing issues and imbalances
    • The socio-economic development of Sri Lanka has remained linked to India.
    • Though robust partnerships with other countries have been often sought in line with the non-alliance foreign policies of both countries, such efforts must be bounded by an atmosphere needed for peace, prosperity, and stability.
    • Economic integration
      • Sri Lanka can also encourage Indian entrepreneurs to make Colombo another business hub for them, as logistical capacities and facilities for rest and recreation keep improving in Sri Lanka.
      • Integrating the two countries but with special and differential treatment for Sri Lanka due to economic asymmetries can be fast-tracked for this purpose.
    • People to people connect
      • There is immense potential for both countries to accentuate or create complementariness, using locational and human resource potential, for harnessing benefits in the modern value chains.
      • Robust partnerships across the economic and social spectrum can also promote people-to-people bonhomie.


  • While avoiding advocacy of zero-sum solutions on crucial issues, both countries must seek to harmonize strategic and other interests in line with common values and socioeconomic compulsions.