There’s fear of Sri Lanka crisis spillover, says EAM S Jaishankar
India has given $3.8 billion as ‘humanitarian’ assistance to Sri Lanka, making it the biggest donor. The country will ‘help and facilitate’ the island nation in its engagement with other multilateral funding bodies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other debtors, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said after an all-party meeting on Sri Lanka.
Jaishankar said the initiative (all-party meeting) was taken by government in view of the fact that ‘there’s a very serious crisis in Sri Lanka. “The situation there is unprecedented in terms of what we are seeing and the financial, social and political consequences of that. It’s our very close neighbour. So, naturally the level of concern, as well as the worry that there would be spillover to India, is there. If there is instability in any neighbouring country or any violence, that is a matter of deep concern to us”, he told reporters
At the all-party meeting, two issues were flagged: that of Indian fishermen and all aspects of the problem that keeps spilling over in Tamil Nadu, separated by a 12-km belt of water from Sri Lanka. Jaishankar conceded that India and Sri Lanka have long-standing issues on this. But, he said the economic crisis and the money Sri Lanka owes to other countries is an immediate crisis.
He also said comparisons between India and Sri Lanka were inaccurate and misplaced on all counts including political and economic instability. Rahul Gandhi had in tweets over two days, compared India with Sri Lanka and the people’s uprising there.
Political parties from Tamil Nadu such as the DMK and the AIADMK had demanded at an all-party meet before the Parliament’s monsoon session began that India should intervene in the crisis in the neighbouring country. Jaishankar did not mention any kind of active intervention. The Indian Embassy in Colombo has repeatedly denied speculation that India would intervene militarily, or act in any way to shield the discredited Rajapaksa regime.
The meeting saw the presence of many officials including Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Gopal Baglay, and officials from the Ministry of Finance who made detailed presentations to contest the proposition that India could go the Sri Lanka way.
“Many members were concerned about lessons of Sri Lanka and we had anticipated that question. We also have seen some very misplaced speculation in Press saying something has happened in Sri Lanka so should we be worrying about situations in parts of India. So, we had asked Finance Ministry to make a a presentation that brought out, statewise, the expenditure to revenue comparison, liabilities to GSDP, growth rate or liabilities of various Indian states, budget borrowings that they have done, mortgaging of assets. The unpaid power dues to GENCOMs and DISCOMs and the outstanding guarantees that states have. So we had a very good discussion. Members were very keen to know how much we have done,” Jaishankar said.
This was immediately criticised by parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which runs a state that has a huge fiscal deficit. “We strongly objected to the mention of state borrowings. Why not what the Centre is borrowing? Why bring politics into this? The BJP office, through its political motives, has highlighted the Telangana fiscal issue,” TRS sources told agencies.
After the meeting, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah said: “That nation (Sri Lanka) is dying. We have to save that country. The Finance Secretary said that our (India’s) condition is not bad and our reserves are better. China’s debt trap is not the only concern for (Sri Lanka). They have taken money from many places. Without the International Monetary Fund (IMF), they don’t have any other option. I am hopeful that India will help in that.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi were among the senior members of the government at the briefing, which was also attended by P Chidambaram and Manickam Tagore of the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Sharad Pawar and T R Baalu and M M Abdulla of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
M Thambidurai (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), Saugata Ray (Trinamool Congress), Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), Sanjay Singh (Aam Aadmi Party), Keshava Rao (Telangana Rashtra Samithi), Ritesh Pandey (Bahujan Samaj Party), Vijayasai Reddy (YSR Congress) and Vaiko (Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) were among those who attended the meeting.
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