It is reported that the meeting between Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went cordially (AFP)
It seems like Indian Premier Narendra Modi likes Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This was what was portrayed when the Indian Prime Minister extended an invitation to Gotabaya to ensure that his visit to India would be the maiden overseas tour by Sri Lanka’s First Citizen after assuming duties as the seventh Executive President of the island.
Gotabaya and Modi share a common trait; aggression. The former was a key figure in the island administration’s fight against terrorism and Modi this year showed some of those qualities when he allowed Indian Air Force aircraft to drop bombs in Pakistan’s Balakot. This was India’s response to a car bomb which went off in Pakistan controlled Kashmir area accounting for the lives of 40 Indian paramilitary officers.
The meeting between the two high-profile lawmakers went cordially, but there had been an absence of sharing the same sentiments where certain clauses in the 19th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution were concerned. The duo were reported to have differed in their opinions in areas like giving police powers to a provincial government; with these sentiments expressed in their meetings with the media.
India has several reasons to be interested in Sri Lanka and having some kind of a foothold in the island; especially the peninsular area in the north of the island. Peace in the Indian Ocean close to Sri Lanka is vital for India. India is also concerned about the ‘national question’ which features solving the grievances of the minority Tamils. If this community agitates Tamil Nadu flares up in response. A cordial friendship between the two leaders doesn’t suggest that Sri Lanka isn’t aware of Modi’s balancing act.
Another reason perhaps why Modi loves Sri Lanka’s choice of president is because he is a task master who doesn’t take no for an answer. Already the Indian Premier has queried as to why certain Indian funded projects, for which MOUs were signed, haven’t been implemented in Sri Lanka. Of course these were the responsibilities of the Wickremesinghe regime which made an unceremonious exit from administration at the recent Presidential Elections. Modi also knows that Gotabaya has the efficiency and will to deliver and this combination is just what India needs in a Sri Lankan leader when it comes to pursuing matters which interest both nations.
- Gotabaya also knows that the Southerners oppose the 13th because it contains ‘substance’
- Though Modi supports the full implementation of the 13th Amendment Prabakaran opposed it
What matters for India is for it to have a footing here in the island associated with the stake Tamils would have and a presence in key strategic locations which have access to the Indian Ocean.
Modi also sorted out some of Sri Lanka’s financial worries by offering a US $ 400 million credit line; which is most welcome at a time when China is getting a foothold of this island due to India’s closest neighbour faulting on the repayment of existing loans.
India can’t push for a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka because that would fuel an old debate whether Tamil Nadu should breakaway from India. However Modi does have his concerns regarding his ‘homegrown’ issue because the topic has surfaced and is much discussed after his rise as premier. Two other factors which can fuel the Tamil Nadu breakaway issue are this state being leaderless after the demise of Jayalalitha and the 15th Finance commission which suggests that instead of 1971 census data, the data of 2011 must be used.
If Tamil Nadu misses Jayalalitha, Sri Lanka’s northerners miss the late Tiger Leader Velupillai Prabakaran. There are opinions formed in many quarters that if Prabakaran lived today he would have given headaches to the present Indian Premier. This is because though Modi supports the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, Prabakaran opposed it. This was because the 13th Amendment didn’t fast track the demands by the Tiger rebels for a separate state.
Modi supports the implementation of the 13th A because it helps devolve power through the establishment of provincial councils, gives executive powers to the provincial councils, appoints powerful Governors, offers legislative powers to such decentralised states and appoints financial commissions.
Gotabaya is also much obliged toward the Sinhalese hardliners from the South who he has to keep happy; largely because their votes were so important for him to secure political power.
We’ve also read posts in social media where Gotabaya has been quoted as saying that ‘this is a country for everybody to live in’. This is a mature statement to make as a lawmaker compared to the controversial statement made by UNPer Mangala Samaraweera who stirred a nation by saying ‘this isn’t a Sinhala Buddhist nation’. But after having said all that Gotabaya also knows that the Southerners oppose the 13th because it contains ‘substance’.
It’s still unknown whether Gotabaya has even an iota of unhappiness regarding the Tamils rejecting him at the presidential elections. Regarding the Tamils in the island the 13th A is pending, but no longer can the Government of Sri Lanka sit on it as in the past because India has included the subject in the agenda which spells the foundation on which both these nations will work together in the future.
Gotabaya has reason to believe that the South will not oppose what he does in terms of addressing the ‘national question’ through the implementation of the 13th. Till then he has put a plaster on a wound that’s festering which has a message inscribed on it and reads ‘judge me by my record on development (of the north and the east) after five years!
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