• The earliest mention of Sri Lanka dates back to the time of the Ramayana. Ravana, who held Sita captive in Lanka, was rescued by Ram with the help of Hanuman.
  • The relations go back to the times of the advent of Buddhism. Buddhism as a movement spread over Sri Lanka some 2000 years ago.
  • The north and north east region of Lanka has been economically integrated to India.
  • The native people of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) were colonially under the British, but were not a part of British India Empire, being administered separately.
  • From the 1830s onwards, British acquired indentured labour from India, especially from Tamil Nadu, to Ceylon. The Tamils who were transported by the British settled in the northern part of Ceylon.



  • India became independent in 1947 while Ceylon in 1948.
  • After Ceylon became independent, the Sinhalese government discriminated against Tamils, thereby deepening the void in Indo–Ceylon relations.
  • Ceylon, devised a mechanism to make it tough for Tamils to acquire state citizenship. They also wanted to ensure they put an end to Tamil dominance in public services. Through the Sinhalese language barrier, they made it tough for Tamil administrators.
  • However, in 1964, there was a Shastri–Sirimavo pact that was signed whereby Ceylon agreed to give three lakh Indian Tamils in Ceylon citizenship and India also agreed to repatriate a sizeable number to India. However, the matter of repatriation did not complete till 1988.
  • After the 1971 Indo–Pak war, Indian allegiance shifted towards the USSR as Sri Lanka gradually drifted towards the US.
  • Jayewardene advanced a liberal and open economy and positioned Sri Lanka westward.
  • The situation especially deteriorated in 1977 and 1981 due to Tamil riots.
  • Post 1980, India adopted a very delicate policy. It is widely alleged by scholars and theorists that India used the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) to train Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka.
  • The aim was to use Tamil rebels to destabilise the Jayewardene regime and also while also ensuring that the Tamil rebels do not succeed in creating a separate state.
  • It was in 1976 that the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), a separatist and insurgent militant force, was formed by V Prabhakaran.
  • As the R&AW had gradually succeeded in destabilizing the Sri Lankan government, it slowly stopped supporting the rebels.
  • But by this time, the LTTE had emerged as a powerful force and began to assert itself as the sole representative of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
  • When Indira Gandhi died, Jayewardene took the help of Pakistan and the US to get Sri Lankan forces trained to counter the LTTE rebels.
  • In 1987, Jayewardene formally requested India to oppose any kind of military intervention by the LTTE in Sri Lanka but India failed to act
  • India–Sri Lanka Accord (ISLA) had been signed on 29 July 1987, which assigned a certain amount of autonomy to Tamil areas.
  • Sinhalese began to perceive India’s role as an undue interference in Sinhalese internal affairs that was not in Sri Lanka’s best interests.
  • In November 1989, in the Indian elections, V P Singh won and in March 1990, it ended the IPKF mission
  • The IPKF was recalled to India. In 1991, the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi and then was subsequently designated as a terrorist organisation.
  • After the death of Rajiv Gandhi, many Tamil groups also began to stop supporting the LTTE.
  • As India realised the failure of its mission, it also felt the need to go for a fresh look at India’s Sri Lanka policy.


India and Sri Lanka Accord-30 Years
  • The India-Sri Lanka Accord (ISLA) was an attempt to conclude the ethnic war of SriLanka through constitutional and political means.
  • The basic idea of the Accord was that the ISLA would provide India an opportunity to shape the post war political trajectory of Sri Lanka.
  • ISLA had two goals.
      • the idea was to persuade the conflicting ethnic groups to join mainstream politics
      • Seek political devolution in Sri Lanka by altering the constitution of the state to get autonomy for the Tamil community.
  • The ISLA was rejected by the LTTE and it resorted to violence against India and Sri Lanka both and continued till 2009.
  • As per ISLA, the LTTE was to give up their weapons to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and Sri Lanka was to accommodate the Tamils and go for devolution.
  • The Sri Lankan government in 1987, through the 13th Amendment, resorted to the devolution of power by creating Provincial Councils.
  • But they have become an extension of the ruling political party in power at the Centre. A large number of LTTE cadres avoided surrendering weapons to the IPKF and consumed cyanide.



  • As the Cold War ended, India opened up its economy and gave itself a fresh outlook to explore relations with the outside world.
  • This did impact our perception of Sri Lanka. Even the subsequent heads of state of Sri Lanka, namely, Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe, took steps to improve relations.
  • In 1998, India–Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement was signed.
  • From 2000 till 2003, India, encouraged dialogue and ceasefire between Sri Lanka and the LTTE, without being formally involved in the process.
  • Rajapaksa became President in November 2005. The period from 2005 to 2006 saw civil unrest in Lanka. The government of Rajapaksa increased the military backlash and launched Eelam war–IV from 2006 to 2009.
  • Prabhakaran, the most prominent leader of the LTTE, was killed in 2007 and by May 2009, the LTTE was wiped out.
  • During the Eelam war–IV, as India stayed out, Sri Lanka developed proximity with Pakistan and China.
  • Th post-LTTE period witnessed rising concern on the part of India as Pakistani pilots supplied training and ornament to Sri Lanka.
  • Arms were also provided by China, along with substantial economic aid. China was granted access to the Hambantota port, which India had earlier declined to develop citing financial reasons.
  • This has increased Indian fears as the possibility of a civilian–military nexus in Sri Lanka could endanger Indian security.
  • The major focus of India now is to ensure that Pakistan and China don’t use Sri Lanka against India.