(1999 January 13)

Ten years after the infamous Indo-Lanka agreement signed by Mr. J. R. Jayawardane and Mr. Rajiv Gandhi another Indo - Lanka agreement has been signed by Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mr. Vajpayee. The first agreement was political and was forced on Sri Lanka by India, a fact that was known to most people even then, which has now been confirmed by Mr. Dixit, the then high commissioner for India in Sri Lanka who thought of himself as the viceroy in Sri Lanka.

In that political agreement many concessions were given to the Tamil racists. The agreement recognised that the northern and the eastern provinces of Sri Lanka were the traditional homeland of the Tamils, though not in the same words, against the history and the demography of the country. Tamil was also made an official language of Sri Lanka even though it was not so in India. Sri Lanka was declared again contrary to history, culture, and the population, a multi ethnic society.

Almost all countries are multi ethnic in the sense that there are two or more ethnic groups living in them. However as I have mentioned on many occasions, a country with a history is identified with a particular culture. England is an Anglican Christian country, irrespective of the fact there are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others living in that country. India is a Hindu country, whatever the constitution may say, even though many parts of the country were under the Muslim kings for many centuries. Nobody would think of equating the Hindu culture of India with the Buddhist culture in spite of her association with Buddhism in her history.

In declaring that Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic country the Tamil racists and the others who make use of Tamil racism to displace and then destroy the Sinhala Buddhist culture, want first to equate all the cultures in the country. The Sinhala Buddhists have realised this and they will never accept this fraudulent position.

The new Indo - Sri Lanka free trade agreement has also been made in a hurry. It is said that the Sri Lankan high commissioner designate in London, Dr. Lal Jayawardane, a former director of the UN funded WIDER institute, which gave financial and other assistance to Dr. Thambiah to publish "Buddhism Betrayed", was instrumental in drafting the agreement. It is likely that influential people with vested interests have made use of the opportunity of the presence of the President Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga in Delhi to go through the signing process in a hurry. In fact the agreement has been signed without the so-called negative lists. These lists are to be finalised in sixty days, which means that the two leaders were not aware of some of the contents of the agreement when they signed it.

The business people in Sri Lanka have not been consulted before the agreement was drafted and many of them are of the opinion that it will work against the interests of Sri Lanka. One does not need to be a businessman to know that the agreement is in favour of India. It is true that 1000 items from Sri Lanka will be exempted from duty over a period of three years in India and only 300 Indian items will be exempted from tax, that in turn, over a period of eight years. But the question is whether Sri Lanka has 1000 items to export in sufficient numbers for the Indian market. On the other hand Sri Lanka's main exports Tea, Coffee, Coconut and Garments will not be exempted from duty under the agreement.

Unlike India, Sri Lanka has not had a sound policy on economic production and consumption after independence and we are now in an economic crisis. The politicians, the economists, the business people may blame each other but the fact is that neither the so-called closed economies nor the open economies with or without the human face have helped to build up a sound economy in the country. The consumers themselves are also to be blamed to a certain extent as they have been very often looking for the imported items.

Before "independence" at least some sections of the population believed in slogans like "siyarate thay siri sepa thay", but after "independence" even these sections or rather their sons and daughters following the lead given by the elite in the country have been living on a "newen katata" or "from ship to mouth" economic policy. No amount of seminars in five star hotels or economic theories created in the west will solve this problem. Most of the politicians have been interested in importing food items and trying to provide them cheaply for the consumers or rather the voters. The politicians have been thinking in terms of the voters rather than the countrymen.

It is well known that the cost of production in Sri Lanka, very often, is much more than that in India. As a result even with duty, the imported Indian products are cheaper than the Sri Lankan products. On the other hand, the exported Sri Lankan products, even without duty, could be more expensive than the Indian products. As a result the trade balance which is very much in favour of India at the moment will continue to grow against Sri Lanka after the free trade agreement.

I would not be surprised if an apple imported from India would be cheaper than a plantain produced in Sri Lanka after the agreement is implemented. As far as imports like busses are concerned India has no competition at all from Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan market will be flooded with Indian imports.

On top of that, the proposed Sethu Samudram or the Sea Channel joining the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, in addition to making Indian ports causing problems to the Colombo port, will further reduce the prices of the Indian imports. Sri Lanka could very well end up as an economic colony of India.

The Indo Lanka trade pact, which was signed ahead of the implementation SAFTA, would have made the other members of SAARC suspicious of the whole exercise. Not that the SAFTA is very much better than the Indo Lanka free trade agreement as far as Sri Lanka is concerned but it would have at least given some breathing space. Are there officials and/or economic advisors of the President interested in making Sri Lanka an economic colony of India? Or are they hell bent on making this country a colony of some country if they cannot divide and weaken it?

Many people have questioned the validity of the Indo - Lanka free trade agreement. The question has been raised as to whether the President has the power to sign such an agreement. It is said that the cabinet has not been presented the draft agreement and that many cabinet ministers were in the dark like most of the others in the country, until the twenty eighth of December last year. It is clear that some people close to the President, who are not members of Parliament elected by the people and who are not accountable to them are taking decisions and implementing them through the President. These persons have very often acted against the interests of the country.

Sri Lanka is going through a crisis as a result of the policies of the so-called leaders and their advisors. We are being dictated by the western countries, India and sometimes by the others as well. All these powers have only self interest and at present try to use Tamil racism politically for their benefit. The economy is being handled by the world bank and the international monetary fund on behalf of the western countries. It appears that it is the turn of India to directly intervene in our economic affairs.

India and the west respectively as the regional power and the global power compete with each other to have a control over Sri Lanka, politically, culturally and economically. At the same time the global power is trying to maintain and continue its hegemony over India, in the above areas, especially after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. India seems to be having a number of strategies against the aggression of the global power. However unfortunately one of the strategies happens to be strengthening her position as a regional power to the detriment of her neighbours. India, Sri Lanka and the others have not thought of evolving a common strategy that is based on a South Asian ideology. One wonders whether the inability of the South Asians to develop such a strategy is due to the fact that South Asians do not belong to one common civilisation. Huntington in his book " The Clash of Civilisations" speculates that SAARC is a non-starter due to this fact.

In Sri Lanka the political leaders, in general, have not thought about these problems. The UNP has been happy to support the west, sometimes even to the extent of antagonising India. The SLFP in general has been more sympathetic towards India. But none of them has been able to think in terms of an independent foreign policy, for the country after studying the history of international relations from the ancient times, combined with national economic and cultural development programmes for Sri Lanka. India has been able to force two Indo-Lanka agreements and we have to think seriously about the present situation. In order to maintain our "independence" it is essential that the new Indo-Lanka agreement is also made ineffective.