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SL President makes first foreign visit to India

30 November 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is now on a visit to India - his maiden foreign tour. On the other hand, India was the first country that seems to have taken the election of former Defence Secretary as the Sri Lanka’s President so important that it sent its External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishanker within a day after his swearing in. Dr Jaishanker was said to have taken a personal message from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well.   


Though New Delhi had been the first diplomatic destination of many Sri Lankan leaders, the visit by President Gotabaya to India and Dr. Jaishanker’s rush to Sri Lanka are more important in the light of the Rajapaksas’ perceived close proximity to Beijing. Also these visits, especially that of the Indian external Affairs Minister took place at a time when the Sri Lankan leader has been elected with the slimmest possible support of minorities, especially the Tamils in the country’s history.   


Interestingly, the Indian minister, according to India Today, had conveyed to President Gotabaya “India’s expectation that the Sri Lankan government takes forward the process of national reconciliation to arrive at a solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity” which the “Sri Lankan leadership took 
into account.”   


It is also interesting to note that the leaders of the government having found out a link between President Gotabaya’s visit to New Delhi and vandalising of Tamil signboards of several roads in Colombo suburbs which can otherwise be termed as a trivial matter. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had attributed the vandalisation to the motives to discredit the government in the wake of President’s New Delhi visit. This points to the Sri Lankan leaders’ concern over India’s sensitivities towards the Island’s 
ethnic conundrum.   


In fact President Gotabaya Rajapaksa might be the most concerned person in the government over India’s sensitivities. This was well demonstrated at an interview he as the then Defence Secretary had with an Indian journalist, V.K. Shashikumar which was later published by the Media Centre for National Security on May 18, 2010. He said “India is a huge power in our neighbourhood and our proximity to Tamil Nadu with 60 million Tamils sensitive to what’s going on in Sri Lanka made the situation extremely complex for us. We knew that while other countries could or would resort to economic sanctions, only India had the power to militarily influence the course of our 
war operations.”   


Explaining the closeness between the two governments during the height of the war against the LTTE, Rajapaksa continued in the interview: “From our side Basil Rajapaksa, Lalith Weeratunga and I interacted extensively with MK Narayanan (former Indian National Security Advisor), Shiv Shankar Menon (former Foreign Secretary) and Vijay Singh (former Indian Defence Secretary). Among the six of us we had continuous dialogues. Whenever there was a sensitive issue, we met and discussed and resolved it. This helped the Forces to continue their military operations absolutely unhindered.”   


The concerns had been mutual. When Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi started a fast-unto-death, calling for a ceasefire, at the height of the war in Sri Lanka, in late 2008, New Delhi was in a fix. It wanted Sri Lanka to do something to defuse the situation. Shashikumar quotes Gotabaya Rajapaksa as saying “Within six hours of Karunanidhi going on fast we could defuse the crisis in Tamil Nadu by issuing a statement announcing the end of combat operations and shelling inside the No Fire Zone, which led to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister ending his fast”.   


It is against such a backdrop of closeness that Jaishanker conveyed to the President last week “India’s expectation that the Sri Lankan government takes forward the process of national reconciliation to arrive at a solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity”   


The crux of the message was that the government must win over the minorities. The President too regretted the absence of their support to him at the Presidential election during his speech after being sworn in at the Ruwanveli Maha Seya premises in Anuradhapura on November 18. Nevertheless any ethnic polarization might end p in disaster. Yet, one cannot expect a section of the people to win over the government; rather it should be the other way around. It is important in this regard to create an environment where every community respects the sensitivities of others by identifying extremism among each community, minority or majority and the real issues that affect them.   

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