India Hopes Return of Ranil as Sri Lankan PM Would Mean Movement on Reconciliation

After taking oath on Wednesday, Wickremesinghe who has never gone on a foreign visit in the eight-month long government, is likely to choose India as his first foreign port of call.

Published: 19th August 2015 12:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th August 2015 10:52 AM   |  A+A-

New Delhi: There is a mixture of relief and quiet satisfaction that New Delhi will only have to deal with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister, with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s return thwarted for the second time in eight months – which could help in creating the right environment in meeting India’s main concerns in pushing the reconciliation process and fishermen issue.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick off the mark to congratulate Wickremesinghe. “Spoke to Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and congratulated him on his alliance's wonderful performance in the elections,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s twitter account posted at 7.12 p.m.

He was “confident that under Mr. Wickremesinghe's leadership, bilateral ties between India & Sri Lanka will get stronger”. Modi also congratulated the “people of Sri Lanka on the peaceful conduct of polls”.

In the final tally, United National Party-led by Wickremesinghe won 106 seats in the 225-member parliament. With the help of 16 seats of TNA and other constituents of its alliance, United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) will go past the majority line, but it will be taken up

In Delhi, the clear trend in the results was greeted by relief, since forecast had not been very optimistic. “There were multiple perspectives, some said that it would be too close to call or that Rajapaksa would scrape through,” said a government source.

After taking oath on Wednesday, Wickremesinghe who has never gone on a foreign visit in the eight-month long government, is likely to choose India as his first foreign port of call.

When Rajapaksa had lost the presidential polls in January to Maithripala Sirisena, India had lost no opportunity to regain ground which had been lost to China through their massive investments in infrastructure projects. Sirisena came to India in March, before he went to China, and Modi also visited Sri Lanka – the first stand-alone visit by an Indian PM in over two decades.

The statement issued by Wickremesinghe in the afternoon to claim victory was taken special note in its conciliatory language. “Now it is no longer necessary to be divided as winners and losers. We need to unite as one family to create a new political culture in this country… Let's build a civilised society, a Government of consensus, a new country,” he said.

Sources described the phrase as being “highly positive” as it seemed to give a signal on the reconciliation process.

Of course, Wickremesinghe and Sirisena’s next big challenge will be to work quickly to prepare a credible domestic mechanism for a healing hand after years of civil war, ahead of the relief of the report of the UNHRC next month in September.

Sources told Express that Western countries had still not decided if there will be a resolution for voting – a reasonable judgment to wait for the results of the parliamentary election and Colombo’s take on the domestic mechanism.

The Tamil National Alliance, with its respectful 16 seats, will have a bigger role in government formation and will likely put pressure on Colombo to have an effective policy on reconciliation. Their electoral performance has also effectively dismissed fears that more extreme Tamil candidates, sponsored by diaspora organization, who contested the polls would gain ground.

"The main takeaway is that whether the majority or the minority, everybody is tired of the politics of confrontation," said a government official

At the same time, Sirisena would also need to balance with the requirements of his own SLFP party, since he would require support of some of the 95 MPs of the opposition alliance, UPFA to pass any constitutional amendment, as well as, to put a dampener on Rajapaksa’s role as an opposition leader.

Sources also pointed out that there could also be an effective solution to the fishermen issue – a constant bugbear in India-Sri Lanka relations.

Earlier in budget session, Wickremesinghe’s unvarnished words about shooting Indian fishermen who cross into Sri Lankan waters had created a flutter among Tamil MPs in parliament. 

“His words may have harsh, but actions have not. We go by his deeds. Right now, there are no Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody,” said a government official.

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