Q) Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as an island State has been of strategic geopolitical relevance to several major powers. In this context, critically examine the significance of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka for India. 

Why this question 

Important part of GS paper-II. 

Key demand of the question:

Significance of Sri Lanka for India, cooperation among the two countries and the challenges in their cooperation. 


Critically examine- Look in close detail and establish the key facts and important issues surrounding the topic. Try and offer reasons as to why the facts and issues identified are most important, as well as explain the different ways they could be construed.


Briefly give an overview of evolution of India’s ties with Sri Lanka. 


In the first part, categorically highlight the significance of Sri Lanka for India and the areas of cooperation between the two countries especially w.r.t. its location in  the Indian Ocean. 

In the next part, give a list of challenges that have sometimes led to strain in ties with the neighbouring country. 


Conclude with a way forward. 

Model Answer


Sri Lanka being the closest maritime neighbor for India at just 30 nautical miles away from the territorial boundary has immense significance for India. Both the countries have shared deep historical, cultural, ethnic and economic ties. The trajectory of the relations between the two countries has been full of ups and downs.

Importance for Sri Lanka to India 

  1. Economic- Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners among the SAARC countries. India in turn is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally.
  2. Diaspora- There are a significant number of people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka. Most of these include the Tamils. They are instrumental in the plantation sector economy of Sri Lanka.
  3. Cultural- Both the countries share a cultural relationship as India is the origin of Buddhism and Buddhists are present in vast numbers in Sri Lanka.
  4. Strategic- Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean region as an island State has been of strategic geopolitical relevance to several major powers, including India to ensure a larger presence in the Indian Ocean. 
  5. Sri Lanka is a member of regional groupings like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and SAARC in which India plays a leading role.


  1. India- Sri Lanka relations to a large extent are influenced by the party in power in Sri Lanka. 
  2. During the period of lows in India- Sri Lanka relations, the country has apparently moved closer to China and the presence of China in the country has grown significantly. This poses a strategic threat for India.
  3. Fishing disputes have been a constant area of concern between the two South Asian neighbors for a long time. Sri Lanka has always expressed concerns about illegal fishing by Indian fishermen within its territorial waters across the Palk Strait.

Way Forward 

  1. A permanent solution for the fishermen problem is the need of the hour. 
  2. Strengthening the economic ties through Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the two countries. 
  3. Strengthening the cultural and ethnic ties.
  4. Mutual efforts from each side and will to resolve the problems. 

As a prominent Asian nation with critical national interests in South Asia, peace and stability in its closest neighborhood is critical for India. India should look forward to deepening the ties with a country that can help in realizing its goal of becoming a Net Security Provider in the Indian Ocean Region.