Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa commenced his most challenging tour of India on Wednesday during which he will meet Sri Lanka’s “old friend,” President Pranab Mukherjee, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Mr. Rajapaksa was initially slated to participate only in the Buddhist University ceremony at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh on September 21. However, a meeting with Dr. Singh was later finalised. The two met in mid-2010, but there has been no bilateral meeting since then.

Dr. Singh had accepted an invitation extended by Mr. Rajapaksa to visit Sri Lanka early last year. Though much spin is being put by both sides on why an Indian Prime Minister has not visited Sri Lanka since 2008 (that too for a multilateral summit), the fact remains that Sri Lanka and India have not been on the same page on many issues, especially after the fall of Tamil Tigers in May 2009. India wants substantial progress in reconciliation issues, especially the question of political rights of Tamils, ahead of Dr. Singh’s visit.

Communication gap

More worrying are the gaps in communication between the leadership of the two countries. A classic instance was during and after India’s vote against Sri Lanka in the March session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Conversations with senior officials on both sides made one thing clear — that the Sri Lankan President was led to believe by his officials that India would, at worst, abstain from a vote.

The whole time, senior Indian officials insist, they had made it plain and simple to everyone who talked to them from the Sri Lankan establishment that something “drastic” was on the way. Indian officials argued that this would have been clear at least after Dr. Singh’s statement in Parliament.

Mr. Rajapaksa still believes that the Indian vote against Sri Lanka at the Council was a mistake. That India will make amends when the Universal Periodic Review comes up. But this seems to have no basis in the Indian reality emanating from New Delhi.

In one conversation with The Hindu, a senior Indian official made it clear that the reason why India voted against Sri Lanka was because it made promises in 2009 which it did not keep.

In the run-up to the visit, Sri Lanka has played up the China and Pakistan cards hoping to give India the jitters. Recently, President Rajapaksa thanked Pakistan for its help in combating the Tamil Tigers.

Soon after, he thanked China for help rendered during the war with the Tamil Tigers.

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