A 14-member Indian all-party delegation from both Houses of Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, is to visit Sri Lanka after the National New Year holidays.
It will be one of the major political developments between the two countries since bilateral relations took a dip after India voted against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last month.
Indo-Sri Lanka relations have been strained over the minority Tamil issue in Sri Lanka, and India's support initially for the secessionist movement in the North and East of the country. In recent times, there is friction over what the Indian side claim is 'historic fishing rights' in the Palk Strait that separates the two countries, but Sri Lanka sees the Indian claim as "poaching". Several fishermen from either side keep getting arrested and locked up in jails on both sides of the Strait.
The Indian parliamentary delegation will be led by Opposition Leader Susmita Swaraj of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and will include MPs from the Tamil Nadu-based Dravida Munnetra Kalazam (DMK), a party headed by the vociferous anti-Sri Lanka former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. Incumbent Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kalazam (AIADMK) has so far not nominated any MP for the visit, but a place is being kept for the party.
The India delegation includes Lok Sabha Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj (Bharatiya Janata Party); M. Krishnaswamy (Lok Sabha, Congress);
N.S.V. Chitthan (Lok Sabha, Congress); Manicka Tagore (Lok Sabha, Congress); Dr. E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan (Rajya Sabha, Congress); J.D. Seelam (Rajya Sabha, Congress); T.K. Rangarajan (Rajya Sabha, Communist Party of India - M); Dr. Sucharu Ranjan Haldar (Lok Sabha, AITC); M. Venkaiah Naidu (Rajya Sabha, BJP); Pralhad Venkatesh Joshi (Lok Sabha, BJP); Shivanand Tiwari (Rajya Sabha, Janata Dal -U); Shailendra Kumar (Lok Sabha, Samajwadi Party); T.K.S. Elangovan (Lok Sabha, DMK); and Sidhant Mohapatra (Lok Sabha, Biju Janata Dal).
The visit - on the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government was earlier planned for November last year but postponed. Last month, a heated debate took place in the Indian Lower House (Lok Sabha) on Sri Lanka's human rights record which was up for scrutiny at the UNHRC meeting in Geneva. After much deliberation, India eventually voted in support of the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka. Pressure from the ruling Congress party's coalition partner, the DMK, and the AIADMK Chief Minister to vote against Sri Lanka was known to be a contributory factor for the decision.
During the six day visit to the country, the Indian parliamentary delegation is due to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. They will visit India-funded projects in the Northern, Eastern, Central and Southern provinces and make a visit to Parliament House at Sri Jayawardanapura-Kotte.
Minister on special mission to New Delhi
By Damith Wickremasekara
Sri Lanka will make a concerted effort to bridge a huge trade deficit with India in addition to improving relations with the regional power after it voted for the US-backed resolution at the United Nations Human Rights council in Geneva last month, a senior cabinet minister said yesterday.
Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa told the Sunday Times his visit to India later this month would focus on these two and other areas.
Mr. Rajapaksa is due to meet India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and other ministers during the visit which will come after the visit of a 14-member Indian parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka next week.
“The trade deficit between the two countries is very much against Sri Lanka and one of the main purposes of my visit is to find ways of bridging that gap,” the minister said.
He said that last year Sri Lanka imported items to the value of US dollars 5,519 million from India as against exports to India from Sri Lana to the tune of US dollars 519 million. The previous year Sri Lanka imported items to the value of US dollars 4,439 million and exported items to the value of US dollars 474 million.
Mr. Rajapaksa said he also hoped to meet Indian business leaders and invite big investors here.
The minister said he also hoped to improve the strained ties with India, which Sri Lanka regarded as an important political ally.