The Sunday Leader

Tug Of War Starts Between Modi And SL Govt

“Sri Lanka looks forward to working with India in taking forward SAARC operations”

Tug of war starts

A day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, at around 10.30 a.m. President Mahinda Rajapaksa walked into ‘Hyderabad House’ in New Delhi for a 30 minute meeting between the two heads of state. Although the Indian Prime Minister met Pakistani Head of State Nawaz Sheriff on the same day, that did not steal the limelight from the Modi- Rajapaksa meeting – which was obviously a hot topic for Indian media

Narendra Modi, Basil Rajapaksa, Wimal Weerawansa and P.B. Jayasundera

Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister of Livestock and Rural Community Development Arumugam Thondaman, Monitoring MP of the Ministry of External Affairs  Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, Mayor of the Jaffna Municipal Council Yogeswaray Patgunarajah, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Kshenuka Senewiratne and Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi Prasad Kariyawasam were also present at the first meeting between the Sri Lankan President and the newly appointed Indian head of state.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the meeting with a positive mindset as the trajectory of Narendra Modi’s political career strongly resembled that of the Sri Lankan President. There were many similarities between the two leaders where their ascension to power was concerned and they both share nationalistic roots.

At the very outset of the meeting, President Rajapaksa congratulated Narendra Modi for his sweeping victory at the Indian Lok Sabha elections and spoke of the long standing relations between the two countries on political, economic and cultural fronts. While expressing gratitude to the Sri Lankan President for his warm wishes, the Indian Prime Minister brought three main topics into the discussion, i.e. speedy measures towards reconciliation, devolution of powers based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and resolving issues between Sri Lankan and Tamil Nadu fishermen.

After the meeting however, there were two interesting media statements on the same discussion. One was from Sujatha Singh, Foreign Secretary of the Government of India and the other from the Sri Lankan President’s media unit.
India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh’s statement was as follows:

“In his meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, PM noted that India valued its relations with Sri Lanka. He requested the government of Sri Lanka to expedite the process of national reconciliation in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka. Early and full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment and going beyond would contribute to this process. They also discussed the fishermen’s issue, India’s development assistance programme, and economic and commercial cooperation. In particular, PM expressed interest in the early launch of the 500 MW Sampur Coal Power project and greater connectivity between the two countries. Both leaders reiterated their desire to further strengthen bilateral relations.”

Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa’s media unit also issued a statement on the same meeting, which was completely blind to several important points highlighted in the Indian Foreign Secretary’s statement. The Sri Lankan statement ran thus:

“The two leaders had an in-depth discussion on issues of mutual concern. President Rajapaksa described the initiatives Sri Lanka has taken with regard to rehabilitation, resettlement, reconstruction and the ongoing reconciliation process in the country. President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Modi also discussed the issue of fishermen of both countries and measures that can be taken to find a permanent solution through a process in which the views of fishermen from both countries can be taken into consideration. Both agreed that talks between the fishermen and the meeting of the joint committee of officials must continue.

Prime Minister Modi expressed his gratitude to President Rajapaksa for participating in his inauguration ceremony, stating that the presence of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders augurs well for the future of SAARC cooperation and solidarity. The Prime Minister was of the view that SAARC must focus on common issues that can benefit the region and reflect our concerns on a global platform.

President Rajapaksa, welcoming the views expressed by Prime Minister Modi, stated that India’s leadership is crucial for the success of SAARC ventures and Sri Lanka looks forward to working with India in taking forward SAARC operations”.
The Sri Lankan statement did not make any reference to the part pertaining to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and that speaks volumes of the ‘politics’ behind the meeting.

The Sri Lankan President would not probably have thought that the newly appointed Indian Prime Minister would emphasize the need for the full implementation of the 13thAmendemnt as he had a powerful government behind him which had a resounding majority in Parliament without the support of the Jayalalithaa factor. However, the Indian Statement made it clear that India’s position on the 13th Amendment has hardly altered with the regime change.

However, fresh from his visit to New Delhi, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday ordered officials to quicken the progress of the Sampur coal-fired power plant being built jointly with India. The Sampur project was one of the topics of discussion between President Rajapaksa and the Indian Prime Minister.

Last October, Sri Lanka and India had announced the finalization of a US$ 512 million joint venture coal-powered electricity plant in Sampur in the Trincomalee District.

A statement from the President’s office that came on Wednesday said that Rajapaksa had directed the Attorney General and the Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy to expedite the project, which would see the construction of two power generators of 250 megawatts each.

At the signing of the deal last October in the presence of then External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, it was announced that the construction was to begin within a year and the plant was to be connected to the national grid by 2018, providing cheaper electricity. Although the Sri Lankan government immediately responded to the Indian Prime Minister’s remark on the Sampur power project, it is still maintaining silence over his reference to the full implementation of the 13thAmendment.

Basil to lead Uva campaign

This also came in a context where the government was preparing heavily for a Provincial Council election in Uva. It is now learnt that the election campaign in Uva will be spearheaded by the President’s general trouble-shooter, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. The Minister did not play a major role during the Western and Southern Provincial Council elections, apart from addressing several rallies in the two provinces. No one can deny the fact that the government’s performance at the two elections was below par and as a result the overall percentage of votes obtained by the UPFA showed a significant decrease. It is in this context that Basil Rajapaksa is going to lead the government’s election campaign where his nephew Sasheendra Rajapaksa will contest as the Chief Ministerial Candidate.

The Uva Provincial Council is the only election that would probably come ahead of the next presidential election which will take place early next year. Therefore the government and its politicians in the province would be desperate to perform better at the Uva PC election than they did at the Western and Southern Provincial Council elections. At the same time, the Uva Provincial Council election will also be key factor that would determine the exact timeline of the next Presidential election. For instance, if the government fails to get the desired results at the Uva Provincial Council election (most probably in September), they will be a little hesitant to go for a national level election soon after!

Harin Fernando’s possible candidacy has also become a major concern for the government. Fernando, a young and dynamic politician of the United National Party, is contesting from Badulla where they are several electorates that are widely considered traditional UNP strongholds. On the other hand, the fact that Fernando is sacrificing his Parliamentary seat and contesting for Provincial Council elections would also give a fillip to UNP supporters in the area who have been hungry for an election victory for 13 long years. That is one reason why the government is now planning to field one Rajapaksa to support another Rajapaksa who will be the CM candidate of the government. One should also not forget the fact that Sasheendra Rajapaksa is entering the electoral fray with the “Rajapaksa factor” that is wedded to his name. Unlike the Uva Provincial Council election, the government did not have the direct benefit of the ‘Rajapaksa factor’ at the Western and Southern Provincial Council election.

Wimal can’t cash in on PB’s replacement

It is still not clear whether the constituent parties of the UPFA, namely Wimal Weerawansa led Jathika Nidahas Peramuna and the Jathika Hela Urumaya would contest with the government at the Uva Provincial Council election. Although the 12 proposals formulated by the Jathika Nedahas Peramuna have been handed over to the President, the government still has not come up with an official response for the proposals.

Therefore, it is still not clear whether the government is inclined to follow the Weerawansa path. At the meeting between representatives of the UPFA and the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna, which took place at Temple Trees last Saturday, the President raised concerns over some of the remarks made by Weerawansa criticizing the conduct of the government.
However, some assumed that the removal of Dr. P.B. Jayasundera as the Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Development came as a result of the scathing attack launched by Weerawansa. Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, last week, bade farewell to his position as Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Development as he was replaced by Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama, who was previously Secretary to the Health Ministry.

The shuffling of positions actually came as a result of various demands made by health sector trade unions that were of the view that Dr. Jayawickrama’s decisions have led to unprecedented problems in the health service of the country. Therefore, to make room for Dr. Jayawickrama at the top rung of the government service, Dr. Jayasundera offered to sacrifice his additional position as the Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Development. Although Dr. Jayasundera served as the Secretary to the Economic Development Ministry, his primary focus was always the Ministry of Finance and Planning. Where Dr. P.B. Jayasundera was concerned, the Economic Development Ministry post was a position of secondary importance.

When a group of UNP MPs, namely Eran Wickramaratne, Ajith P. Perera,  Ajith Mannapperuma and Niroshan Perera, visited the Norochcholai coal power plant on a fact finding mission on Thursday, they, in the back of their minds, thought that some controversy would happen. They were fully prepared, at least mentally, for a Hambantota sort of attack that included rotten eggs, tomatoes and ‘toy’ pistols. However, as they entered the Norochcholai coal power plant in the district of Puttalam, they realized there was an unexpected ‘tranquility’ in the premises.

Much to their amazement, there were smiling faces all around. The UNP MP delegation was welcomed by Deputy Minister Victor Anthony who was flanked by several local government representatives of the province. In addition to politicians, Acting General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board Bandula Thilakasena and Deputy General Manager were also present at the brief ceremony that was organized to welcome the UNP Parliamentary delegation. It was exactly the opposite of the welcome they received in Hambantota where they were greeted with leers and jeers.

The UNP Parliamentary delegation was escorted by officials and detailed explanations were given on the functioning of the coal power plant and reasons for its shortcomings. After the MPs ended the inspection, a tea party was organized for them by the staff and politicians representing the district. The UNP MPs too were overwhelmed by the grand welcome and took everything in good spirit.
However, it is still not clear whether the niceties on the part of the Norochcholai officials and the politicians representing the government would dilute the report which the UNP MPs will present to Parliament subsequent to the fact finding visit. The UNP Parliamentarians were of the view that implementation of the Norochcholai power plant project was deeply flawed and therefore the government should appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to launch an investigation into the matter. A Parliamentarian who took part in the fact finding mission told The Sunday Leader that the findings of the visit further buttressed the UNP’s convictions.

The whole scenario involving the UNP delegation’s visit to Norochcholai points out the futility of the ‘drama’ that took place in Hambantota. It only contributed towards further tarnishing the image of the government and blew the UNP’s fact finding mission out of proportion. On the other hand, the warm welcome they received in Norochcholai spoilt the ‘back-of-the-mind’ plans of the UNP to a great extent.

2 Comments for “Tug Of War Starts Between Modi And SL Govt”

  1. gamarala

    Modi’s remarks on 13th Amendment being ignored in the official communique and presence of the Mayor of Jaffna in the sri lanka delegation show the coming colours – meaning “we will ignore the 13th amendment and allow the governor to run the NPC”.

  2. Christopher

    Now is the time for the two leaders of Sri Lanka and India to come to a solution for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. This could be done by discussing the issue with Tamil Nadu Chief minister Jayalalitha. She is the key for a perfect resolution.

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