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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rajapaksa angry at TNA India visit; Swamy was not in the loop

[TNA meeting with ndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi]
Rajapaksa by Thursday was livid at the news that Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan and five TNA parliamentarians were headed for New Delhi the next day. Other members of the delegation were Mavai Senathirajah, M.A. Sumanthiran, Selvam Adaikalanathan, Suresh Premachandran and Pon Selvarajah. Conspicuous by his absence was Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran. On Friday, the delegation met Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in New Delhi that “Sushma Swaraj stressed on the need for a political solution that addresses substantially the aspirations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka for equality, dignity, justice and self-respect within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.” The TNA delegation had a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday where a whole range of issues including the fuller implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was discussed. Fuller details of the talks were not immediately available. Before his departure, Sampanthan told the Sunday Times, “I don’t want to be discourteous to the Indian Prime Minister by saying what we want to talk. There will be a wide range of issues we are concerned about. We want to live within a united, undivided Sri Lanka.”

Ahead of the TNA delegation’s departure, The Sunday Times learnt President Rajapaksa conveyed to Sampanthan his displeasure through an emissary. He was angry that there was no intimation to the Government. A source familiar with the dialogue said Rajapaksa had pointed out that the visit was aimed at cornering him and his Government. The TNA had wanted to change the Government. Referring to one of the causes of friction between the UPFA Government and the TNA, he had pointed out through the emissary that he agreed not to extend the term of the Northern Province Governor only because the Provincial Council there had adopted a resolution to oust him. The offer not to extend was made when Wigneswaran met Rajapaksa to be sworn in as Chief Minister on October 7 last year. The President had pointed out that wherever Sampanthan and party went, they would eventually have to come to him. Otherwise, they will not be able to talk about resolving issues, he has added.

The same sources said Sampanthan rejected Rajapaksa’s accusations that the TNA’s New Delhi visit was against the President and his Government. “Whatever is said and done, I am the leader of a Tamil political party. We are seeking a political solution. We are going at the invitation of the Government of India to explain our position,” he had responded. Sampanthan had also said that the Northern Provincial Council had adopted a resolution for the removal of NPC Governor long before the President assured them he would not renew his term. He had also said that a further assurance not to extend the Governor’s term had been given to the TNA when its members M.A. Sumanthiran and Chief Minister Wigneswaran met President Rajapaksa on January 2 at “Temple Trees”. Sampanthan has also been strongly critical of Indian Lok Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy for the remarks he made over the TNA’s visit to New Delhi.

Swamy, who was in Colombo for the fourth annual seminar organised by the Ministry of Defence, declared that if the TNA wished to go for talks in India, it would first have to obtain President Rajapaksa’s approval. Though sections of the UPFA perceived Swamy as a powerful voice of a policy maker in India’s ruling Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) Government, his remarks made clear he was not in the loop on key issues between Colombo and New Delhi. The TNA visit, planned earlier, had been kept a closely guarded secret until two days ahead of the delegation’s departure. Swamy received VVIP treatment during his visit and was taken on a conducted tour of the Kilinochchi district including the Nandikadal area. He met senior military officials there.

There is also another major cause for UPFA Government’s disappointment over TNA’s visit to New Delhi. UPFA sources say that besides the talks with Rajapaksa, when he went to attend Premier Modi’s swearing in, there has been no formal interaction by a UPFA Government dignitary with the Indian leader. External Affairs Minister Peiris told his confidants that he had wished the Indian Prime Minister’s first official engagement was with a Sri Lankan Government representative. The fact that the TNA has been granted that appointment meant, like the ousted Congress Government, the ruling BJP was equally keen that Sri Lanka enforce the 13th Amendment and went beyond it. The message that though governments change in New Delhi, there is no fundamental change in foreign policy is abundantly clear. In fact, EAM Swaraj who was in Sri Lanka as Leader of the Opposition, made this point during her engagements in Colombo in June last year. This is in marked contrast to the conduct of Sri Lanka’s own foreign policy where it not only goes through a periodic metamorphosis but is also sub contracted to foreign interests by those acting unilaterally.
[The heading is by the SLB]
– From the Sunday Times political coloumn


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