Dec 01, 2021

Basil in Delhi, to meet PM Modi

Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior ministers over the next two days.

He is likely to seek crucial economic assistance from India by way of investments and enhanced tourist exchanges, official sources in Colombo indicated.

This is his first official visit abroad since his brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, appointed him Finance Minister in July last amid what the government termed an “unprecedented” economic crisis – with draining foreign reserves, falling rupee (200 to a US dollar), soaring living costs, and growing fear of a food shortage next year. Mr. Basil recently presented his first Budget in Parliament. It is expected to be passed next week, with the government’s two-thirds majority in the House.

Since the pandemic struck, the Sri Lankan leadership has made at least two requests for economic assistance – a debt freeze that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa requested in February 2020, and a $ 1.1 billion currency swap that President Gotabaya sought in May 2020 – but New Delhi is yet to respond to either, amid considerable strain after Sri Lanka unilaterally cancelled a tripartite agreement earlier this year with India and Japan to jointly develop a Colombo Port terminal. Colombo instead offered a “compromise” project at a neighbouring terminal, and India agreed to rope in the Adani Group as the main private investor.

High-profile visits
Meanwhile, high-profile visits have continued. Early October, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Sri Lanka and sought an early completion of the India-backed projects, and enhanced connectivity between the countries. Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani visited Sri Lanka later in October and held talks with the leadership on the West Container Terminal project at the Colombo Port, as well as potential investments in the energy sector.

While it was rumoured for some time that Mr. Basil, the youngest of the Rajapaksa brothers at Sri Lanka’s helm, would visit India before the end of the year, both sides kept the dates of his visit under wraps. The visiting Minister is also expected to meet External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman, among others, in New Delhi.

Mr. Basil, the chief architect of the Rajapaksas’ political comeback in 2019 and 2020, has been a key interlocutor in Sri Lanka’s ties with India. He was a part of a “troika” along with Mr. Gotabaya and bureaucrat Lalith Weeratunga during the final years of the civil war, and participated in frequent discussions with New Delhi.

Enhanced defence ties
Sri Lanka on Tuesday also sought enhanced strategic ties with India. Its High Commissioner to India Milinda Moragoda met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi and “explored avenues of further augmenting defence and security cooperation with India”, a press release said.