India has sought clearance from Sri Lanka to open two Deputy High Commission offices, one in Jaffna and another in Hambantota, in a sudden decision to upgrade its previous request for only the opening of a consulate in Jaffna.
The request has been the subject of a diplomatic dialogue between Colombo and New Delhi. External Affairs Ministry sources say the matter is to figure at talks in New Delhi between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh during the Sri Lankan President’s three-day state visit to India – his first since his re-election in January this year.
At present, besides a fully-fledged high commission in Colombo, India has a Deputy High Commissioner’s office in Kandy. This DHC office was to service the needs of people of Indian origin including plantation labour, but after the completion of the Sirima-Shastri (Repatriation) Pact and the absence of both Indian citizens and stateless persons, the deputy high commission has continued to function.
Earlier, India had plans to open an office in Jaffna to deal with the issue of visas for northern Sri Lankans visiting India. However, it now wants to upgrade this into a Deputy High Commissioner’s office.
Last week, shortly before Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa was scheduled to fly to New Delhi as a precursor to President Rajapaksa’s state visit, the Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry is reported to have received a large dossier from India in what is described in diplomatic parlance as a ‘shopping list’ -- demands and requests from the Indian Government.
In view of the large ‘wish list’ sent by the Indian Government, Minister Rajapaksa and External Affairs Ministry Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe who was to accompany him put off the visit at the last minute. This coincided with an announcement by President Rajapaksa that no minister should leave the country due to the prevailing flood situation.
There was no immediate information as to what India has said to justify the opening of a diplomatic mission in Hambantota. The only reason attributable is its decision to directly confront what many Indian watchers see as India’s growing sensitivity to China’s increasing economic development programmes in the Hambantota district.
In return, India has offered a multi-million dollar economic package for the reconstruction of the north -- especially rebuilding the northern railway, the Kankesanthurai harbour and the Palali airport.
The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Sri Lanka is also up for discussion as is the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement which has boosted trade between the two South Asian neighbours. But Sri Lankan businessmen on Tuesday complained to President Rajapaksa that the agreement was one-sided and unfair to them.
It is reliably learnt that the Indian side is calling for exclusive rights for Indian Government agencies to be in charge of all these northern projects.
A draft joint communiqué is also been prepared to be issued at the end of President Rajapaksa’s visit. Attorney General Mohan Peiris has been called in to study this draft.
Taking no chances with Tigers
Even as Sri Lanka recently celebrated the first anniversary of its military victory against the LTTE, India extended its ban on the group till 2012.
While the Sri Lankan armed forces crushed the Tamil Tigers’ military and organisational structures last year, India’s Home Affairs Ministry appears unwilling to take chances. The ministry feels that India’s territorial integrity is threatened by what it calls, “sympathisers, supporters and agents of the LTTE in the territory of India.”
Following the defeat of the LTTE, the Tamil Diaspora has been placed under the India Government scanner. According to a gazette notification issued by the Home Ministry on May 14, the Diaspora is “spreading anti-India sentiments” among Sri Lankan Tamils through Internet. The ministry says the Diaspora is doing so by “holding top Indian political leaders and bureaucrats responsible for the defeat of the LTTE.” Such activities, according to the Indian Government, are likely to threaten security of Indian VVIPs.
New Delhi also believes that “remnant LTTE cadres” may be regrouping in Tamil Nadu to pursue their cause for a separate homeland. While the ministry notification does not specify where the separate Tamil homeland is being planned for – India, Sri Lanka or elsewhere -- it states that Tamil Nadu could be used as a base for such activities. The ministry notification says such groups perceive the Indian Government to be “traitors” and the Sri Lanka Government as “enemies.”
According to the ministry: “Possibilities of these remnant cadres using India, especially the State of Tamil Nadu, as a rear base for their regrouping activities cannot be ruled out as some LTTE cadres interdicted recently, had come by clandestine sailing. Possibility of their entering India through sea route and genuine documents in the guise of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees cannot be ruled out.”
Diplomatic sources in Colombo’s told the Sunday Times that New Delhi had reasonable intelligence inputs to believe that anything was possible.
Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, the LTTE continues to be listed as a banned organisation in India with 33 other outfits including the Maoists, Islamic terror groups and various insurgents from that country’s north-east. Two Indian Tamil organisations – Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and the Tamil National Retrieval Troops – are also included in the list.