NEW DELHI: India gave its stamp of approval on the new Sri Lankan government’s “initial steps” towards political reconciliation, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted the invite to visit the island nation in March, which would be the first stand-alone bilateral visit by an Indian PM in 33 years.
On the last day of his first overseas trip, Sri Lankan foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national security advisor Ajit Kumar Doval. He had met his counterpart Sushma Swaraj on Sunday.
When Samaraweera met Modi, he handed over the invitation to visit Colombo, which was accepted with alacrity. This means there would be back-to-back high-level visits - President Maithripala Sirisena in February, followed by the Modi to Sri Lanka in March.
The last stand-alone bilateral visit was by Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. Other PMs had since travelled to Colombo, but they were for regional multilateral summits.
At the meeting, Modi lauded the recent “initial steps” taken by the new government for “political reconciliation, inclusiveness and participation”. He apparently told Samaraweera that “even a few steps clearly indicate one’s direction”.
Just a few days ago, Colombo had replaced the Northern Province governor with a non-military official - a long-standing demand of Tamil National Alliance which had supported Sirisena’s candidature. Modi also expressed “admiration for the Lankan leadership’s vision of a “truly Sri Lankan government”, inclusive of all voices.
Significantly, he congratulated both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe for the “impressive victory, which was a vote for unity and change in Sri Lanka”. Modi hoped that Sirisena’s victory would advance reconciliation and development in Sri Lanka, and peace and progress in our region.
Describing Sri Lanka as a truly close neighbour and friend, the PM offered India’s continued support and partnership to Sri Lanka.
Later, Samaraweera told a select group of journalists that relations with India would be on the upswing under the new government, admitting that Rajapaksa regime “managed to cause some strain to our historically excellent relationship” and that’s why he had come on a quick visit to “restore normalcy”.
Samaraweera said Colombo didn’t want to tilt towards any country, but “India being a close neighbour, it will always receive special attention!” He described the presidential election which saw the upset victory of Sirisena as “sri Lankan version of the Arab spring”.
“This bloodless revolution is Sri Lanka’s Burma Moment. India and the world should support us. There are still certain elements that are trying to cause trouble,” he added.