— All India Radio News (@airnewsalerts) February 14, 2021
Ahead of assembly elections in Tamil, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited during the inauguration of the Chennai Metro Rail Phase-1 extension and expressed the government's commitments to Tamil rights in Sri Lanka.
“We are always committed to ensuring that they live with equality, justice, peace and dignity”, Modi maintained during his speech.
Modi further highlighted the development work the government was undertaking and noted that he was the “only Indian PM to visit Jaffna”. Included in the projects, is “50,000 houses for displaced Tamils in north-eastern Sri Lanka with 4,000 houses in the plantation areas”. His speech also touched on developments in healthcare and connectivity in the region as well as the development of the Jaffna cultural centre.
Escalating tensions with Sri Lanka
These remarks follow escalating tensions between India and Sri Lanka as Sri Lanka has withdrawn from $500-$700-million-dollar agreement over the East Container Terminal Project. The Rajapaksa’s withdrawal from the agreement follows Sinhala backlash and fear of an “Indian invasion”. There are also allegations of Chinese influence behind this decision.
Whilst Sri Lanka has withdrawn from this agreement, the country has permitted China to establish three energy projects in small islands off the Jaffna peninsula. China also maintains an 85% stake in the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), which is under a 35-year ‘Build Operate and Transfer’ agreement with the Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA).
Responding to this withdrawal, the Indian government demanded that Sri Lanka settle a currency swap agreement worth US$ 400 million as opposed to enabling a further extension. Despite Sri Lanka’s ongoing foreign exchange crisis, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka was able to raise the money however the Rajapaksa administration has said it will not seek to obtain an IMF bailout but have instead looked towards China for further loans.
These decisions come in advance of the UN Human Right Council’s 46th session which will focus on Sri Lanka. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has released a damning on Sri Lanka warning of the “seeds of future violence” and calling on member states to consider “asset freezes and travel bans” on Sri Lankan officials accused of human rights abuses. The report further calls for member states to take “steps towards the referral of the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court” and prosecute Sri Lankans accused of crimes “before their own national courts”.
Modi also commented on the fishermen’s rights maintaining the government’s commitment to “protect the rightful interest of our fishermen”.
This statement follows the killing of four Tamil Nadu fishermen with allegations that they were “tortured to death”. India’s Ministry of External Affairs has stated that they have lodged strong protests with Sri Lanka following these deaths however Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has called on Modi to launch "an appropriate inquiry" into the killings. Modi did not touch on these specific cases during his visit.
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) chief Vaiko has stated that at least 800 Tamil Nadu fishermen have been killed by the Sri Lankan navy over the last 35 years.
Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu are set for April-May 2021 and DMK leader Stalin is contesting for Chief Minister position for the first time.