As the —the largest selling independent English language daily newspaper in Sri Lanka—spreads its wings today with a high-tech modern design, we hope the Sri Lankan Government also would be able to strategically design a new relationship with our giant neighbour India.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be among eight South Asian leaders visiting New Delhi today for the unprecedented ceremonial inauguration of the Barathiya Janatha Party Leader Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India in the afterglow of his dramatic and decisive general election victory which many analysts believe could change the face not only of India but the whole of South Asia.
Mr. Modi, who as Chief Minister turned his home state of Gujarat into the economic powerhouse of India, has pledged he would turn India into the economic powerhouse of South Asia. That may be one of the main reasons why he invited the leaders of all eight South Asian countries to attend the inauguration ceremony in New Delhi today and all will be there except Bangaladesh which is sending the Speaker of its Parliament.
President Rajapaksa has also taken a high level delegation with him for bilateral talks after the inauguration and we hope this would be the first major step towards rebuilding and consolidating Indo-Sri Lanka ties.
During the past five years after the end of the war, Sri Lanka’s ties with India have been topsy-turvy largely because of the lack of a vision and a clear strategy by our government leaders while the limping Congress Government also allowed hardliners in Tamil Nadu to influence or dictate policy toward Sri Lanka.
Some Government leaders are expressing optimism that Premier Modi would work out a more pragmatic relationship with Sri Lanka because he does not have to depend on the 36 seats of Tamil Nadu’s tough-talking Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jeyaram and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(AIADMK). But some analysts point to what happened in the 1980s after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In the general election that followed, her son Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress Party to a thumping two-thirds majority with more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Sri Lanka’s then President J, R. Jayewardene moved fast to rebuild close ties with Rajiv Gandhi, so much so that Mr. Jayewardene even attended the wedding of the daughter of India’s former Foreign Secretary, Romesh Bhandari. But within a short time Tamil Nadu’s then Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran and the hardline lobby groups there were able to influence and divert Rajiv Gandhi to such an extent that we saw the infamous ‘parippu drop’ in 1987. One factor led to another and the next year, the Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord was virtually forced upon the Jayewardene Government, there was an attempt to kill Mr. Gandhi in Colombo and Indian troops were sent here with all the drastic consequences that led to the killing of tens of thousands of people and economic damage that cannot be estimated.
We are not called upon to live in the past but we need to take the right lessons from history because the ethnic situation here is still unstable if not worse and extremists there or here could ignite something similar to what happened in 1987.