- During the first term, Modi commanded a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha
- Likewise, India reached out in a big way to the Tamils of Indian Origin or estate Tamils in Sri Lanka
Shortly after the final results of the Indian General Elections were announced affirming a thumping victory for Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) Leader Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe contacted his Secretary Saman Ekanayake and said he would have to travel to India.
“Now, we may have to go to India,” the Prime Minister remarked to his Secretary.
By doing so, he did not mean to say that he intended to go for the official swearing in ceremony of Modi for his second term as the Prime Minister of India. Instead, he meant to foster further ties with the Modi Government after undertaking an official visit.
During Modi’s first term, the present Government of Sri Lanka sustained healthy relations with India. The Indian Prime Minister visited Sri Lanka twice –one on an official visit in the immediate aftermath of the regime change in January, 2015 and the other to attend the UN Vesak Day celebrations in 2017 as the Chief Guest.
During the period, Sri Lanka and India witnessed a shift in the dynamics of bilateral ties in some aspects. India focused more on its strategic interests.
"Alongside, Sri Lankan political leaders will find it easy to deal with the new Indian Government this time as well since it has a clear majority to act independent of the parties in Tamil Nadu as long as the political question is concerned"
During the first term, Modi commanded a comfortable majority in Lok Sabha, and therefore he did not have to depend on regional parties such as those from Tamil Nadu in his legislative work and bilateral engagements. As such, Sri Lanka went through a period when India did not stress too much on the Tamil issue. Instead of laying continual stress on a political solution based on the 13th Amendment, India shifted its diplomacy more towards people centric projects such as the launch of Suwa Seriya ambulance service, a new 1500-seat auditorium for the Ruhuna University and a US $ 100 million credit line for solar power projects. Alongside, India unsuccessfully tried to secure some strategic projects such a petroleum hub in Trincomalee and the Mattala Airport. There was public opinion built against these projects being given to India.
Likewise, India reached out in a big way to the Tamils of Indian Origin or estate Tamils in Sri Lanka by launching housing schemes for them in place of line rooms which they occupied for generations. Modi once addressed a public rally in the estate sector in the central hills during his visit to Sri Lanka for Vesak in 2017. Besides, he made televised addresses to these people on several occasions.
In a clear indication of his interest in winning over estate Tamils in Sri Lanka, he once said, “Your roots are in India. They have grown in Sri Lanka,”
That is his diplomacy to win the hearts and minds of estate Tamils in Sri Lanka as an ethnic group loyal to India.
Modi has now emerged even stronger in Indian politics clinching up a larger majority in Lok Sabha. His ruling alliance, which needs 272 seats in the Indian Parliament to form a Government, is having 352 seats.
His second term kicks off at a time when both Sri Lanka and India are faced with the latest wave of Islamic terrorism. The terror strikes killed more than 250 persons in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019. It has been a menace for India for a long time. But, for Sri Lanka, it is a new phenomenon. Now, the country is grappling with the challenge of countering Jihadi terrorism.
In Sri Lanka, Modi’s re-election is weighed in such a context. He was elected on a popular wave of Hindutva or nationalism based on Hinduism. Obviously, Indian people placed their trust in Modi to eliminate terrorism in all its manifestations.
"As such, Sri Lanka went through a period when India did not stress too much on the Tamil issue. Instead of laying continual stress on a political solution based on the 13th Amendment, India shifted its diplomacy more towards people centric projects"
The group of terrorists that wrought havoc in Sri Lanka appeared to have had links with similar elements in South India. Also, it is widely reported that the Indian authorities’ passed on specific intelligence to the Sri Lankan side though it failed to take preemptive action.
In countering Jihadi terrorism, India, under Modi, would cooperate with Sri Lanka. India has already extended its full support to Sri Lanka in this regard.
The Sri Lankan political leaders share positive thoughts in this regard since the Indian leader has already deepened his counterterrorism efforts.
Alongside, Sri Lankan political leaders will find it easy to deal with the new Indian Government this time as well since it has a clear majority to act independent of the parties in Tamil Nadu as long as the political question is concerned.
Whenever there is a strong Government in New Delhi, it has relatively been a smooth sail for bilateral ties.
Muslim leaders ask Govt to act with leniency
However, there appears to be some resistance from local quarters against some action taken in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks. The security forces, along with the police, made a lot of arrests. Now, the Government is under pressure from its alliance partners representing the Muslim community. The support of All Ceylon Makkal Congress and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is crucial for the government to survive.
At Tuesday’ Cabinet meeting, SLMC Leader Higher Education Minister Rauff Hakeem protested against some arrested persons being packed into prison cells in Negombo. His argument was that these people were taken in for questioning on allegations not linked with terrorism, and the Government should not have an iron-fist approach in dealing with them.
“They are packed into cells like canned fish,” he told the Cabinet meeting. He also showed some photos to drive home his point.
The Government is faced with the challenge of improving the security situation. Also, it is coming under pressure from Muslim leaders whenever they feel legal boundaries are overstepped in dealing with the matter. The Government is cautious not to antagonise the Muslim parties over electoral concerns. At the same time, the general public expects the Government to nip the latest form of terrorism in the bud. Now, the Government is embroiled in a crisis to reconcile all interests.
Cabinet astonished as Sagala, Malik quarrel
The Cabinet witnessed an unexpected argument breaking out between two ministers who are otherwise close buddies and seen as close confidants of the Prime Minister.
That is over a plot of land belonging to Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) in Trioncomalee. Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama asked for this land to put up a steel plant, but Ports and Shipping Minister Sagala Ratnayake declined to give it citing environmental reasons. An argument broke out between the two afterwards. The Cabinet found it astonishing since they were close to each other otherwise.
The Prime Minister finally intervened asking for the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out for the industry to be put up.
“The EIA can be done if I release the land. I cannot release the land,” Mr. Ratnayake remarked angrily.
President Maithripala Sirisena also found it amazing.
“Now, there seems to be problems at Temple Trees,”