pooja to India
Not bad for Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to visit India
and return in 24 hours. This is in contrast to some of his Cabinet
colleagues who have virtually pitched camp at the ritziest New Delhi
hotels with their families at the people's expense -- and also in
sharp contrast to a Minister who went to Malta for a conference
soon after the elections and is still to return.
routine for Sri Lankan politicians is first the Dalada Maligawa,
and then the Delhi Maligawa to pay obeisance to the deities there
before signing the guest book. Quite apart from the indecent haste
to get there, good neighbourliness requires a newcomer on the street
to call on the neighbour, and be offered tea and biscuits after
a self-introduction. That's nicety, but the Samaraweera visit to
Delhi was much like an uncomfortable meeting between two confused
people playing their socially defined roles. President Rajapakse
and LTTE chieftain Velupillai Prabhakaran have both delivered --
or delivered themselves rather -- of their addresses to the people.
President Rajapakse has confused everybody with his invitation to
India, all regional states, all friendly countries, and the United
Nations for good measure, to help out in the peace process. In the
aftermath of that, and the speech from the Wanni, there seems to
be a general 'wait-and-see' line adopted by the rebels. It seems
that India would also like that curious state of affairs-in-limbo.
well and good, except that the unpredictable LTTE has a habit of
catching Colombo and New Delhi on the wrong foot consistently. The
official joint statement that was issued from New Delhi after the
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister's whistle-stop visit says it all. It's
a statement that says nothing, or at least nothing new at all.
Indian government parrots the standard position that it stands for
a settlement in Sri Lanka consistent with democracy, pluralism and
human rights etc., which is a message to the LTTE. But to the Government
of Sri Lanka, India says it stands by a "united Sri Lanka".
This has been a contentious issue in the recent run-up to the Sri
Lankan Presidential poll, where President Rajapakse backed by his
JVP and JHU allies consistently rejected this position taken up
by the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, and dinned it into the electorate
that they stood for "unitary Sri Lanka". This was followed
up with President Rajapakse's presidential address echoing what
he said about a unitary Sri Lanka.
latter position, viz., about a unitary Sri Lanka, has been coyly
ignored in the joint-statement issued by the two parties. The statement
refers to the further strengthening of economic and commercial cooperation,
with emphasis on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
That is most welcome -- and that is what the Indian side is most
concerned about in bilateral relations nowadays. But whatever happened
to the Defense Cooperation Agreement with us, that the government
of India faithfully pledged just last year would be signed, sealed
and delivered? Why has this gone into the nether subconscious of
both parties, not even meriting a mention in the joint statement?
Sri Lanka abandoned the Defence agreement because India has failed
to appease the pro-LTTE lobby within their coalition Government?
There isn't also a word about the controversial Sethusamudram Canal
project which the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry not so long ago expressed
its reservations about. Why so? Were these matters deferred for
another time, or is the new Minister coy about taking up this issue
India, there are mixed reactions to all this among the military
and bureaucratic establishments. Some of the newer comers to the
helm of the South Block (External Affairs) or the North Block (Defence)
do not seem too excited when discussing India's adventurism in Sri
Lanka, both politically and later militarily -- and the bloodied
nose Indian troops received at the hands of the LTTE. Their view
of the Sri Lankan situation is one of indifference at best, typified
by the vague joint-statement from New Delhi replete with generalities
that leave more unsaid than said.
even so what's important is that Samaraweera's visit is a precursor
for a State or working visit by Sri Lanka's new President to India.
President Rajapakse must first come to terms with what he wants
from India before he makes his own journey to the country. In India,
they don't even know his name yet and the New Delhi press refers
to him as Mahendra Rajapakse, all Indianised and mangled already.
Incidentally, Minister Mangala Samaraeera's visit received -- at
best -- two paragraphs in the inside pages in most Indian dailies.
has an obligation to revert Sri Lanka to the status quo the country
enjoyed before the 1983 riots, when Sri Lanka had an economic growth
rate that India is now enjoying, even though our own has plunged
abysmally low ever since. India's cool "we are looking forward
to directing discussions on the peace process" is blasé
diplomatic jargon translating to mean "we are sitting on the
fence". Having said that, the muddled thinking in Sri Lanka's
political leadership on the future direction needs some looking
into also. What else could we do, but wait and see for ourselves?