Why India and Sri Lanka papered over President Sirisena’s allusion to RAW
Posted on October 18th, 2018

Courtesy NewsIn.Asia

Colombo, October 18 (newsin.asia): Realpolitik has made Sri Lanka and India paper over the rift that came about as a result of President Maithripala Sirisena’s  remark hinting that the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) may be  behind an alleged plot to assassinate him.

Both President Sirisena and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi realized soon enough that peace and understanding need to prevail between their two countries, and willingly sent out messages to each other and the world around, that the controversial remark was a misinterpretation.

Why India and Sri Lanka papered over President Sirisena’s allusion to RAW

They resolved that it will not be allowed to spoil Sri Lanka-India relations which have been cordial and on an even keen even if there are grievances and fears vis-à-vis each other.

Sri Lanka needs India to counter-balance China, whose economic hold on Sri Lanka is increasing causing concerns in some quarters. Sirisena himself told his cabinet that he is not happy with his government’s decision to hand over the Hambantota port to China on a 99 year lease with a 70% stake in it.

Sri Lanka is also apprehensive about inviting India’s hostility. If it stepped too much out of the Indian red line and impinged on New Delhi’s security and political concerns vis-à-vis China, India might destabilize Sri Lanka as it did in the 1980s with disastrous consequences for Sri Lanka.

India, on its part, would also like to have cordial relations with Sri Lanka so that Colombo addresses its national security concerns vis-à-vis China. While it is accommodative about China’s burgeoning economic presence in the island, it also wants Colombo to open its doors to Indian investment in major economic  sectors.

For all this, a stable and friendly government in Colombo is a sine qua non. And playing its part in ensuring stability and friendship, the Narendra Modi government has been bending over backwards to accommodate Colombo’s interests, anxieties and concerns.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly stated that Indian assistance will be determined only by Sri Lanka’s wishes and priorities and that nothing will be imposed on it.

This is the reason why the Modi government has not pushed hard for the controversial Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) which has been on the anvil for a number of years. Earlier, the Manmohan Singh government had dropped the even more controversial Comprehensive Economic  Partnership Agreement (CEPA) when the Rajapaksa government wanted it called off under Lankan nationalists’ pressure.

More recently, New Delhi had agreed to call off the 500 MW coal-fired power plant project in Sampur when Sirisena told Modi that the coal-fired plant would harm the environment.

New Delhi has agreed to Colombo’s proposal to run the Trincomalee oil storage facility as a joint venture even though the  original bilateral agreement had given all the 99 tanks to India.

New Delhi did not make it an issue when Sri Lanka said that it does not need Indian help to rehabilitate and develop the strategically located Palaly airport in Jaffna. Even in the case of the Eastern Terminal in Colombo India did not react angrily when Sri Lanka reneged on its original understanding to give its development to two Indian companies.

As in the case of the Mattala Airport, India has only been pursuing the East Terminal project through gentle persuasion.

The demand for an Indian presence in Colombo port, is based on a security concern created by the massive Chinese presence in the port, whose business is mostly with India. 80% of the business comprises Indian transshipment.

It was against this background that the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka,Taranjit Singh Sandhu, was able to get the Sri Lankan President  issue a public statement saying that he never told the cabinet that RAW has a hand in the alleged conspiracy to assassinate him.

The President followed this up by telephoning Indian Prime Minister Modi and apprising him of his remarks in the cabinet in which RAW was not mentioned. He pledged continued support for the strengthening of India-Lanka ties.

Modi too responded in a similar vein and pledged continued support for the betterment of bilateral ties in tune with his government’s Neighborhood First” policy.

Political Compulsions

Both Modi and Sirisena are aware that the government in Colombo ,however rickety and internally divided it may be, has to survive till the end of its official term at the end of 2019.

Both are of the view that the apple cart should not be upset despite irritants in bilateral matters, serious de-stabilizing conflicts within the coalition government, and the unending differences between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

In fact,  it was the on-going conflict between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe which precipitated the latest crisis.

It was when Sirisena was talking about the Prime Minister’s alleged lack of concern about the alleged plot to assassinate him which made Sirisena say that foreign secret services indulge in assassinations. He said that even the Indian Prime Minister might not be aware of the cloak and dagger work of secret services.

This was portrayed in the media as an insinuation against RAW.

RAW came to be suspected because the potential assassin was allegedly an Indian national from Kerala who had spoken about the alleged plot to a Sri Lankan man who had links with police intelligence.

In the coalition government, the police come under a minister from the United National Party (UNP) headed by  Wickremesinghe. Thus, a grievance against the UNP-controlled police became an Sri Lanka-India issue, threatening bilateral ties.

Sirisena-Modi Pow Wow 

Sirisena called Indian Prime Minister Narendra  Modi on the telephone on Wednesday to categorically reject reports in  sections of the media about him alluding to India’s involvement in any manner in an alleged plot to assassinate him and the former Defense Secretary of Sri Lanka Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The Lankan President said that the mischievous and mala-fide reports were utterly baseless and false and seemed intended to  create misunderstanding between the two leaders  as well as damage the relations  between the two friendly countries.”

He  also stated that the he regards the Indian Prime Minister as a true friend of Sri Lanka and also as a close personal friend.”

Sirisena stressed  the great value” of the mutually beneficial ties between India and Sri Lanka, and added that he remains steadfast on working with the Indian Prime Minister for further strengthening the ties.”

Modi’s Reaction

In response ,the Indian Prime Minister appreciated the prompt steps taken by the Sri Lankan President and his government  to firmly refute the malicious reports by publicly clarifying matters.”

Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s emphasis on following the Neighborhood First policy” and the priority the Government of India and he personally attach to developing even stronger all round cooperation between the two countries.

The Issue

Explaining the background to the controversy, a press release from the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said that at the  cabinet meeting on Tuesday, there were  discussions  on the alleged plot to assassinate President Sirisena and former Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The President, who chaired the meeting, emphasized the need to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the alleged assassination plot.

In these circumstances, it is very unfortunate that some parties with vested interests have resorted to spreading malevolent manipulations detrimental to the existing good relations between the two countries as well as the excellent personal rapport between the two leaders.”

India and Sri Lanka have maintained cordial relations and cooperation since the inception of this government. Several highest level visits have taken place between the two nations that have resulted in strengthening cooperation in many fields,  the press release noted.

The  High Commissioner of India Taranjit Singh Sandhu called on the President on Wednesday in which all matters were clarified and good bilateral relations were reassured,” the PMD release added.

(The featured image at the top shows Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi)

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