Paying 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.

The 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.

That's 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.

The 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.

This 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?

Has 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 as well?

In 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.

But 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.

India 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?

No. 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2. P.O. Box: 1136, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka.
Tel: 2326247, 2328889, 2433272-3. Fax: 2423922, 2423258
Editor - editor@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
News - stnews@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
Features - features@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
Financial Times- ft@sundaytimes.wnl.lk
Subs Desk - subdesk@sundaytimes.wnl.lk,
Funday Times - funtimes@wijeya.lk

No. 48, Parkway Building, Park Street, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka
Tel: 0115330330, 0115330808, 0115330808. Fax: 2314864
Email: adve@lankabellnet.com


No. 47, W.A.D. Ramanayake Mawatha, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka.
Tel: 2435454, 2448322, 0114714252. Fax: 2459725

Back to Top  Back to Index  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to