Modi’s First Hurdle Over Sri Lanka

thesundayleader.lk 24 05 2014

Modi’s First Hurdle Over Sri Lanka

“India’s prime Minister elect Narendra Modi faced his first political hurdle over Sri Lanka” India’s Prime Minister elect Narendra Modi faced his first political hurdle overSri Lanka.

It began with his decision to inviteSri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa and other heads of state of the SAARC region for the Indian Prime Minister’s swearing in ceremony which will take place on Monday. As the news of the invitations broke out, Tamil Nadu political parties declared war on Narendra Modi expressing their disapproval over Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s participation.

The woman who swept the Lokh Sabha election in Tamil Nadu with a remarkable victory, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Leader of the AIADMK party Jayalalithaa Jeyaram who was the first to criticise the decision made by Prime Minister elect Narendra Modi. “Unfortunate move of inviting Sri Lanka President to attend swearing-in ceremony of the new Prime Minister has deeply upset the people of Tamil Nadu,” said Jayalalithaa.”With regard to the relationship of the new Central Government with the Tamil Nadu Government, it would have been better if this ill advised move had been avoided,” she also added. Indian media also said that Jayalalithaa might boycott the swearing in ceremony of Modi in protest over the presence of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Meanwhile, The DMK, led by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi, on Thursday said Narendra Modi could have “avoided” inviting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for his May 26 swearing-in ceremony saying that the BJP leader should “understand the feelings” of the people of Tamil Nadu. According to Indian media, the fact that the Sri Lankan leader was invited as part of the BJP’s decision to invite heads of all SAARC nations failed to cut ice with the Karunanidhi-led party, with senior leader T K S Elangovan insisting that people in the state were “charged with anger” against Colombo for alleged human rights violations on ethnic minority Tamils.

“Rajapaksa is part of SAARC union, so they might have sent the invitation. But the Prime Minister designate-Modi should also understand the feelings of people of Tamil Nadu,” Elangovan, DMK’s Organising Secretary and also party’s spokesperson, said. He also added Tamils inSri Lankawere “attacked and human rights violations” against them were happening and most countries had criticised the Sri Lankan government’s actions. “People of Tamil Nadu are charged with anger. He (Modi) could have avoided inviting Rajapaksa,” Elangovan said. In addition to Karunanidhi’s party, MDMK, an ally of BJP, had already opposed President Rajapaksa’s participation in Modi’s swearing-in.

On Friday, President Rajapaksa made a smart move by inviting Northern Province Chief Minister to be part of the Presidential delegation to Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony. The invitation was certainly aimed at defusing the anger on the part of the Tamil Nadu political parties. Even the Tamil National Alliance did not expect that President Rajapaksa would invite them to join in the delegation and it came as a Friday-morning-surprise for top rung TNA leaders. When contacted by ‘The Sunday Leader’ on Friday morning, Media Spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance Suresh Premachandran said his party needed to discuss the matter at length before arriving at a decision. However, later in the day it was reported that the TNA would respond favourably to President Rajapaksa’s request.

It is true that Narendra Modi’s government has a resounding majority in Parliament and it doesn’t require Jayalalithaa’s support to form a government. However, the results of the Indian Lokh Sabha election have made Jayalalithaa’s party the third biggest political party in the Indian Parliament giving her 34 seats out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu. Therefore, when it comes to crucial policy level matters, Narendra Modi, the powerful leader of the BJP, is not in a position to disregard Jayalalithaa’s opinion.

This is only one side of the coin. On the other side, there are politicians such as Vaiko and Ramdoss who have turned themselves into allies of Narendra Modi and his government. The duo have already claimed that the BJP government will not repeat the mistakes made by the Congress government with regard to Tamils inSri Lanka. That in other words means that they will push Narendra Modi to resort to a harder policy onSri Lanka. Be that as it may, it is crystal clear that Sri Lankais looking to strengthen its bilateral relations with Indiaas a new government has now come to power with a strong mandate. Sources from the President’s Office confirmed to The Sunday Leader on Thursday that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will participate in the swearing in ceremony of Narendra modi which will take place at the forecourt of the historic Rashtrapati Bhavan with the participation of over 3000 guests.

President’s Meeting with Ban Ki Moon

Just a few days before taking part in the swearing in ceremony of NarendraModi, President Mahinda Rajapaksa met another important person on Wednesday on the sidelines of the CICA conference inChina. He is none other than UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who is no stranger to political circles ofSri Lanka. The highlight of the meeting was President Mahinda Rajapaksa extending an invitation to the UN Secretary General to visitSri Lankaand witness the developments that are taking place on the ground. Briefing the UN Secretary General on the efforts of reconciliation inSri Lanka, President said that 30 percent of the LLRC recommendations have now been implemented inSri Lankawhile the government is in the process of implementing the rest. The amicable meeting set the platform for the Sri Lankan leader to invite the senior-most UN official for a visit toSri Lankain a context where the UN is doing the spade work to conduct an international inquiry into the final phase of war in the country.

The UN Secretary General’s last visit toSri Lankacame in the wake of the final stages of the war and during the visit President Rajapaksa and the UN Secretary General issued a joint statement onSri Lanka’s post war plans. In the statement, the President pledged to address the grievances of all parties who were affected during the final phase of war. Some are of the view that the joint statement issued by the Sri Lankan President with the UN Secretary General in May 2009, certain promises of the statement has boomeranged onSri Lankaespecially where international human rights platforms are concerned.

However, the relations betweenSri Lankaand the UN Secretary General strained when the Secretary General appointed an Experts Panel to advise him on matters concerningSri Lanka’s war. Against the appointment of the Experts Panel, a prominent minister of the ruling UPFA, Wimal Weerawansa launched a fast unto death campaign in front of the UN office inColombo. When the fast unto death campaign elicited no response from the Secretary General, Weerawansa ended his hunger strike after President Rajapaksa offered him a glass of orange juice. A few months ago, the UN Secretary General was invited by the government ofSri Lankato be the Chief Guest of the Word Conference on Youth of whichSri Lankawas the host country. Representing the Secretary General, UN General Assembly Chairman John W Ashe took part in the conference.

Unexpected report ahead of President’s meeting with Chinese leader

While the President was inChina, news broke out inSri Lankasaying the second unit of the Lakvijaya coal power plant has broken down. Norochcholai coal power plant is one of the major Chinese –sponsored projects inSri Lankathat has already created a string of controversies. The timing of this news was of great significance as on that particular day President Mahinda Rajapaksa was to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. Although there have been a considerable number of breakdowns at the Norochcholai coal power plant, this particular “breakdown” did not fall under that category. To clear the air on this matter, the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) the company which constructed the Norochcholai power plant, had to issue a statement saying it was a scheduled shut down. “During the scheduled shut down there was some servicing done to the boiler, which was completed within half a day,” the Chinese Company said.

However, the President’s visit toChinawas a fruitful one as he was able to conduct important bilateral discussions with important figures of the international community on matters concerningSri Lanka. President Rajapaksa returned to the country on Thursday (22) and he was welcomed by Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and Civil Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayarathne.

President’s advice to Wimal

Leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF) and Minister of Housing and Construction Wimal Weerawansa never failed to make headlines in the media over the past few days. Weerawansa started making headlines in media last week when he met President Rajapaksa at the 70th anniversary celebration of K.D. Ebert and Sons (Pvt) Ltd. at Waters Edge on Friday night (16). As he saw Minister Weerawansa at the function, the President grabbed his hand and said “ada ahuwuna horaawa athatama” (Today I got hold of the thief). The President was alluding to the fact that Weerawansa was avoiding eye-contact with his “boss” for the past two – three weeks! He then signaled all the press photographers who were present at the event to gather around them and take pictures. The President even waited for a photographer who was running in that direction from the other side of the lobby.

President Rajapaksa and Weerawansa sat at the same table during the function and they were seen having an amicable conversation without any sign of tension on their faces. After some time, Weerawansa informed the President that he had to leave early to attend a wedding inColombo. The President, upon hearing that, advised Wimal not to leave early as that would be a negative indication to those who were sitting around them. Wimal agreed with the President’s remark and waited for the President to make a move first. After the President left, Wimal followed suit without leaving any space for media to arrive at speculation.

President’s advice to Wimal Leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF) and Minister of Housing and Construction Wimal Weerawansa never failed to make headlines in the media over the past few days. Weerawansa started making headlines in media last week when he met President Rajapaksa at the 70th anniversary celebration of K.D. Ebert and Sons (Pvt) Ltd. at Waters Edge on Friday night (16). As he saw Minister Weerawansa at the function, the President grabbed his hand and said “ada ahuwuna horaawa athatama” (Today I got hold of the thief). The President was alluding to the fact that Weerawansa was avoiding eye-contact with his “boss” for the past two – three weeks! He then signaled all the press photographers who were present at the event to gather around them and take pictures. The President even waited for a photographer who was running in that direction from the other side of the lobby. President Rajapaksa and Weerawansa sat at the same table during the function and they were seen having an amicable conversation without any sign of tension on their faces. After some time, Weerawansa informed the President that he had to leave early to attend a wedding inColombo. The President, upon hearing that, advised Wimal not to leave early as that would be a negative indication to those who were sitting around them. Wimal agreed with the President’s remark and waited for the President to make a move first. After the President left, Wimal followed suit without leaving any space for media to arrive at speculation.

SLFP MPs annoyed at Wimal and Champika

A few days after the meeting, the government had to face a no-confidence motion presented by the UNP on the government’s inability to control the influx of drugs into the country. Two days ahead of the vote on the no-confidence motion, the UPFA informed all its members to be presented in Parliament on the final day of the debate. However, the Jathika Hela Urumaya and the National Freedom Front decided to skip the vote on the no-confidence motion, giving a new twist to the controversy between the UPFA and its constituent parties.

Although the Jathika Hela Urumaya and the National Freedom Front did not vote on the no-confidence motion, the government managed to defeat the move by the UNP with a two thirds majority in Parliament. Only 57 MPs voted in favour of the motion while 151 MPs voted against it. Although the government defeated the UNP’s no-confidence motion with ease, the large majority of ruling party Parliamentarians were annoyed at the behavior of the JHU and the NFF. “How can they hold cabinet positions in the government and skip vote on the no-confidence motions?” they asked. However, the decision to be absent during the no-confidence vote created ripples in the ruling camp with some calling for immediate action against Weerawansa and Ranawaka.

A day after the no confidence vote, Weerawansa faced another setback as two of his stalwarts of the Uva Provincial Council deciding to join the UNP and the SLFP. Two NFF members representing the Uva Provincial Council namely Mihimal Munasinghe and W. Udaya Kumara left the party on Thursday and joined the two mainstream parties. Munasinghe has joined the United National Party while Udaya Kumara has joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party ahead of the Uva Provincial Council election. Munasinghe, an ex military-man who entered politics from Sarath Fonseka’s party in 2010 later joined the National Freedom Front led by Wimal Weerawansa. However, the real problem arises with the crossing over of Udaya Kumara who joined the SLFP, the largest coalition partner of the ruling UPFA.

Weerawansa’s party now charges that the SLFP has now violated the UPFA agreement by allowing Udaya Kumara to join the SLFP while there is an ongoing inquiry against him in the National Freedom Front. The NFF says that it would lodge a formal complaint with the President over the matter and demand immediate action against SLFP leaders who allowed the NFF member to join the SLFP. Although the NFF is entitled to lodge a formal complaint with the president, one should be really naïve to expect serious action against SLFP leaders who facilitated the crossover of Udaya Kumara. After all, the crossover can also be construed as a “red light” coming from the top rung leadership of the government, indicating them of the consequences of overstepping their political boundaries.