New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday dashed off to Colombo, a day after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in as the new President of Sri Lanka. The visit is a short and unscheduled one in light of a new dispensation in Sri Lanka, albeit one that India would be cautious of and eager to make inroads early on.
Sources said Jaishankar reached Colombo early on Tuesday evening and will return on Wednesday morning. The minister met the new president and extended an invite from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit India, which Rajapaksa accepted. He became the first foreign dignitary to call on Rajapaksa.
A warm meeting with Sri Lanka President @GotabayaR. Conveyed PM @narendramodi’s message of a partnership for shared peace, progress, prosperity & security. Confident that under his leadership, #IndiaSriLanka relations would reach greater heights. pic.twitter.com/pDxZf0ZM3A— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) November 19, 2019
Modi telephoned Rajapaksa on Sunday to congratulate him on his electoral win and invited him to visit India as his first official foreign tour. The Lankan leader thanked Modi for his good wishes and expressed his readiness to work with India very closely to ensure development and security, the Prime Minister's Office said.
The visit to India on November 29 will be Rajapaksa's first visit abroad after taking charge.
Conveying the good wishes on behalf of the people of India and on his own behalf, Modi expressed confidence that under the able leadership of Rajapaksa, the people of Sri Lanka will progress further on the path of peace and prosperity.
Rajapaksa is the younger brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was a colonel in the Sri Lankan Army before leaving it to migrate to the US in 1992. He was until then in the battlefield against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north.
Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka when his older brother was named the presidential candidate in 2005. With his brother's victory, he was appointed to the powerful position of Secretary to the Defense Ministry.
Rajapaksa is credited with helping end the island nation's long civil war against the (LTTE) during his tenure as the defence secretary. In 2006, he survived an assassination attempt carried out by the LTTE with minor injuries.
India's caution stems from the fact that the 10-year regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, from 2005-2015, had made New Delhi uncomfortable with its open closeness to China. Mahinda Rajapaksa was accused of driving Sri Lanka into a Chinese debt trap and pushing a Hambantota port in his constituency, one that was considered economically unfeasible but strategically significant.
China managed to get the port on a 99-year lease from Sri Lanka despite India’s opposition. The only solace India could draw was from the fact that the port cannot be used for military purposes without Sri Lanka’s consent.
Reports from Sri Lanka also suggest that Rajapaksa wants his brother to take over as the Prime Minister. Pressure is also being mounted on Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremsinghe to resign and dissolve the Parliament to pave the way for early polls in February 2020. Parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka are slated for August next year. Many believe this move will mean Mahinda Rajapaksa would be once again, de facto, be running the country.