Indian visitors highlight broad consensus on relationship with Sri Lanka
Posted on July 18th, 2014

Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

A group of senior public figures from India visited Sri Lanka this week for the inaugural seminar of the Sri Lanka India Pragathi Sansadaya, initiated by Presidential Advisor Mr. Sunimal Fernando at the Foundation Institute on October 22nd. They addressed a media briefing held at the Peace Secretariat the following day.

The idea was to reflect on the future of the relationship between Sri Lanka and India. Two retired diplomats – former Foreign Secretary Ambassador K.P.S. Menon and former High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Ambassador N.N. Jha – and two intellectuals and senior members of the largest national political parties – Dr. Ravni Thakur, academic and Joint Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Cell of the All India Congress Central Committee and Dr. Seshadri Chari, economist and former Editor of the official journal of the Bharatiya Janata Party – participated.

Sri Lanka and India share many thousands of years of history. Culturally, religiously and economically, the two nations have so much in common and are probably closer than any other pair of countries in the world. The visitors all stressed the need to go forward and build on this to set an example of successful bilateral relations for the region and elsewhere. Following such a path was said to be the means of ensuring peace and prosperity for all. There was keen enthusiasm for deepening and expanding cooperation of all varieties, and particularly in the cultural, religious and economic spheres.

The visitors also spoke about the current situation. Indians are understandably worried for their brethren over here as the fighting intensifies in the Vanni, but Tamil Nadu politicians have recently gone beyond these quite reasonable concerns to push for some kind of intervention by the Indian government to stop the military campaign against the LTTE.

Ambassador Jha said that the Tamil Nadu parties were simply getting ready for the upcoming elections to the Lok Sabha, which are due within the next six months. And Ambassador Menon agreed that they were only acting to try and gain the political advantage in Tamil Nadu. Dr. Thakur and Dr. Chari both agreed that the move was opportunistic. All of the speakers felt that the situation was different to previous agitations on Sri Lanka. Ambassador Menon suggested that people weren’t responding in the way that the Tamil Nadu parties had expected. There had been no real outcry, he said.

People were beginning to understand the difference between hardships faced by civilians due to military action and atrocities committed by the security forces. Ambassador Jha felt that the Tamil Nadu parties were now looking for a way out. He drew attention to the fact that the AIDMK hadn’t taken up the issue, which he said it would have done, if that had been politically expedient. Dr. Thakur felt that the situation wasn’t particularly grave and noted that the politicians who had submitted their resignations had done so only to their party leaders.

Dr. Chari added that the DMK was already toning down its statements, having received only a lukewarm response from people in Tamil Nadu. Ambassador Jha reminded the audience that the Union government retains control of foreign affairs, so it is the position taken by Delhi that is important. Dr. Thakur and Dr. Chari stressed that the two largest national political parties in India were agreed on the approach to be taken with Sri Lanka. Dr. Thakur highlighted the statement made by the head of the Congress Party in Tamil Nadu, speaking out against those making propaganda for a terrorist group who assassinated one of their most important leaders. Dr. Chari confirmed that the message coming from Tamil Nadu was not by any means delivered on behalf of all parties there, for a number of the major Tamil Nadu parties and some of the national groups had boycotted the All Party Conference.

Dr. Chari emphasised the very broad and definite consensus in India against terrorism. The visitors also said that India was now completely decided on a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries including Sri Lanka. Ambassador Menon added that any encouragement they may like to give towards working out a political settlement would have to be completely unobtrusive in order not to give cause for arrangements to be labelled as pro- or anti-Indian. As he said, anything that happens behind the scenes rarely stays there. If India were to push for something, Ambassador Menon felt that it might only lead to greater difficulties in Sri Lanka. Ambassador Jha stressed that it was generally felt that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was already convinced of the need for a political settlement to resolve the grievances of the minority communities for good. The visitors referred as an example to President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the United Nations General Assembly in Tamil. Ambassador Jha described it as very brave and worthwhile. Ambassador Jha urged Sri Lankans to understand the problems faced by the Indian government. Coalition politics is there to stay, and partners cannot be ignored if they have genuine concerns. He suggested that getting through accurate information on the situation here would be useful in containing the pressures from Tamil Nadu.

The Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha commented that the Sri Lankan government was now making a real effort to do this. He highlighted the fact that there had been only 45 civilian deaths in two and a half years of air strikes, excluding the Sencholai incident. The Air Force maintains that the girls who died there were cadres undergoing military training, and evidence from survivors appears to confirm this. Artillery shelling has also been very restrained, he said. There was only one incident in which civilians were killed during the entire campaign to liberate the East.

Since fighting intensified in the North, four months have seen only two allegations of shells hitting civilian locations. UNHCR has already dismissed one of these claims with respect to the Mullaitivu hospital. The Ministries of Disaster Management and Disaster Relief and Health and Nation Building and the Commissioner General of Essential Services have come together to brief the press regularly on the humanitarian assistance being delivered to the Vanni, and they are also working hard to communicate statistics to demonstrate the excellent record of the Security Forces. Prof. Wijesinha added that the LTTE was actually helping to clarify the situation by taking actions such as, a few days previously, when it launched suicide attacks on food ships travelling up to Jaffna. The LTTE have previously attacked the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, denied access to the ICRC and hijacked a Jordanian ship carrying food destined for the North. The Government has got over all of these hurdles in time and it is now obvious who is putting them up again.

Prof. Wijesinha welcomed the suggestion from the Indian government that they contribute to the effort to send food into the Vanni. He said that it would be a very positive development that would show that neighbours were now determined to help each other.

All of the speakers were full of praise for the Sri Lanka India Pragathi Sansadaya. They said that it would provide a forum to discuss issues and map out a path for the two countries to expand and deepen their relationship in the years to come. Complementary strengths would thereby be used to greater effect. Dr. Chari highlighted Sri Lanka’s strategic position, while noting India’s size. Dr Thakur and Prof. Wijesinha spoke of the education sector, in which Sri Lanka is far ahead at lower levels but a long way behind at the very top. A number of specific proposals were advanced too. Ambassador Jha suggested that India help Sri Lanka improve the quality of its English teaching and Information Technology education, and mentioned a suggestion he had made while serving here to help set up institutions on the lines of the Indian Institutes of Technology and Management. Working together in publishing and the production of high quality school books was also discussed.

Communications Director of the Peace Secretariat Senaka Weeraratna called for the establishment of an Indian Studies Centre in Sri Lanka, and the visitors concurred that a Sri Lankan Studies Centre would be very useful in India too.

The Sri Lanka India Pragathi Sansadaya provided an opportunity for scholars from the two countries to get together and think beyond the current issues. Participants felt that it had a bright future.

Communications Division
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )

3 Responses to “Indian visitors highlight broad consensus on relationship with Sri Lanka”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    USA has shot down a second Malaysian plane killing 295 this time in Ukraine.

    US news agencies try to put the blame on Russia and rebels. But the truth is UKRAINE GOVT. troops shot it down mistaking it for a Russian plane.

    Ukraine govt. is supported by USA.

    Another Malaysian plane was shot down by US troops during a navy drill with Thailand.

    Malaysia is a Muslim country, more peaceful than most Muslim countries.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    This is the perfect time to DEMONIZE Tamilians.

    In 1998 Tamilians shot down a CIVILIAN aircraft (LIONAIR) flying from Palali to Ratmalana killing all on board.

    The world need to be REMINDED of these barbarians.

  3. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The code word “Peace” and “permanent” normally translate to the indifference of the government to the desires of the majority. There is nothing permanent if the problem of an expanding foreign faith or faiths continue at the expense of Sinhalese Buddhism. That act alone is extremely divisive and destroys the Buddhist culture of Sri Lanka in an insidious covert manner that is fully supported by Colombo to the “best interest of all” or simply put “the best interest of vested minority parties”.

    It is nice that India and Sri Lanka have a cordial relationship. But it should not be at the expense of Buddhism in Sri Lanka or Hinduism in India. India has the power to put pressure on Colombo to give extraordinary levels of “equality” to Sri Lanka’s Tamil, Muslim and Christian populations. Sri Lanka also has the capacity to get engaged in the separatist movements in Kashmir to her northeastern states as well as giving support to the resurgent movement for Khalistan. Both are detrimental to each nation and should not be attempted.

    It is obvious after reading this article that Colombo by her nature cannot take sides on ethnic issues in Sri Lanka. Only the Buddhist Sanga is left to represent and to give voice to the Sinhalese Buddhist culture. Neither Colombo, Chennai, New Delhi or the UN will do that.

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