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Sri Lankan Prez Gotabaya Rajapaksa to talk tough on Tamil issue

Published : Nov 26, 2019, 6:49 am IST
Updated : Nov 26, 2019, 6:49 am IST

Rajapaksa is, however, committed to “pursuing the concept of neutrality”.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Photo: AP)
 Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Photo: AP)

Bengaluru: Ahead of  Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s forthcoming visit to India on November 29, his first official trip abroad after taking office, the Sri Lankan leader has said once again said that he would work with India and do nothing to harm its interests.

However, in an interesting twist, one of his top advisers revealed that President Rajapaksa is likely to indicate that his government will no longer be open to arm-twisting by Delhi on the Tamil issue.

While high-level sources from the Rajapaksa inner circle have repeatedly said they will maintain a fine line between the two superpowers in their immediate neighbourhood —  China and India  — the new President, who ended the Tamil insurgency that had riven the island nation for nearly 30 years, is likely to make it clear during his first face to face meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that “India cannot play the Tamil card, every time it feels that the pendulum is swinging towards China.”

President Rajapaksa, reportedly in touch with Indian interlocutors to open a back channel with Mr Modi, is of the firm belief that while Sri Lanka’s policy of non-alignment served it well during the Cold War when the two superpowers were at a distance, that was no longer so, as the “power dynamics of the Indian Ocean” had changed, with one of the emerging powers in the region, India becoming “our immediate neighbour,”  key adviser and author Rohan Gunaratna said.

“Maintaining a policy of non-alignment will therefore not be practical or possible given the geostr-ategic location of Sri La-nka in the Indian Ocean, as India and China, and their proxies will exert pressure,” the foreign policy adviser told this newspaper.

Mr Rajapaksa will, however, reassure New Delhi, which had sent its foreign minister S. Jaishankar to Colombo within a day of his election victory, that this Rajapaksa government will “not allow its territory to be used in any way that could be a threat to India”, while cautioning, at the same time, that “neither can Sri Lanka be fully aligned to India.”

Mr Rajapaksa is, however, committed to  “pursuing the concept of neutrality”.

In a hint of what Delhi can expect, President Rajapaksa is expected to tell PM Modi that    "India’s Sri Lanka policy is not driven only by bilateral interest as Delhi gives the state of  Tamil Nadu a far bigger say in Indo-Lanka relations than it should, which is not necessarily in the best interest of Sri Lanka.”

Mr Rajapakse is, however, committed to  “pursuing the concept of neutrality”.

"It will declare itself a neutral state by enshrining the principle of neutrality in the constitution. This will inhibit Sri Lankan politics being compromised by influences of India or China. Also it will guarantee security for India without aligning with India", Mr Gunaratna said.  “When neutrality is enshrined in the constitution, major powers will be compelled to respect the neutrality of Sri Lanka and all strategic thinking on the power play in the Indian Ocean will have to accommodate a neutral state.”s

Tags: gotabaya rajapaksa, tamil issue