Mahinda Rajapaksa's India Policy: Engage and Countervail

Ashok K. Behuria is Senior Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
Gulbin Sultana is Research Analyst at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • January 2013

    Mahinda Rajapaksa has emerged as perhaps the only Sri Lankan leader who has managed to secure some strategic autonomy in conducting his country's foreign policy vis-à-vis India. He engaged India effectively during the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and simultaneously countervailed India by improving his country's relationship with India's traditional adversaries such as China and Pakistan. In the post-LTTE scenario, he has maintained a defiant posture vis-à-vis India over the latter's persuasion to evolve a political solution to the ethnic issue. Backed by a nationalist upsurge at home and support from countries such as China, he may continue with his policy of bypassing Indian pressures and persuasions in the coming days. Against this backdrop, the article raises the following questions and seeks to answer them. Does Rajapaksa's India policy signify a typical quest for strategic autonomy by a smaller state vis-à-vis a larger neighbour? Can this be explained as an effort to offset India's overwhelming influence on Sri Lanka? How is his ‘India policy’ different from that of other leaders? Does he display a unique style of leadership compared to his predecessors? How far has he succeeded in counterbalancing Indian influence? What are the reasons for his success or failure? What are the implications for India and how can he be effectively engaged?