India expects the newly-elected President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa to boost the national reconciliation policy with the Tamil community of the country, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Thursday.
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the message was conveyed by Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar during his visit to Colombo on Tuesday, a day after Mr. Rajapaksa was sworn in as President following a huge electoral victory.
The Indian statement has been welcomed by prominent Sri Lankan Tamil leaders who have called for a “reasonable solution” to the Tamil national question.
“External Affairs Minister conveyed to President Rajapaksa, India’s expectation that the Sri Lankan government will take forward the process of national reconciliation to arrive at a solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity” Mr. Kumar said.
“And since then, you must have seen President Rajapaksa’s statement where he affirmed that he will be President of all Sri Lankans irrespective of all race and religious identities, and without creating a distinction on whether they voted for him or not,” the spokesperson added.
Mr. Kumar said Mr. Rajapaksa will be in New Delhi on November 29 and 30.
On Tuesday, in a series of tweets in English, Tamil and Sinhala, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa had said: “I am now the President of all Sri Lankans, whether they voted for me or not and irrespective of their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Elections are now over and I need the support of all Sri Lankans to build a prosperous nation where all can live with respect and dignity.”
Though the MEA appeared to take credit for the message, the newly-elected President’s message was in line with his earlier tweet on November 17, soon after his poll victory. “I am grateful for the opportunity to be the President, not only of those who voted for me, but as the President of all Sri Lankans,” Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa had said then.
Following his meeting with the President, Mr Jaishankar had announced that Mr Rajapaksa would visit Delhi on November 29. “A warm meeting with Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Conveyed PM Narendra Modi’s message of a partnership for shared peace, progress, prosperity & security. Confident that under his leadership, #IndiaSriLanka relations would reach greater heights,” Mr Jaishankar had tweeted.
Welcoming the Indian statement, Sri Lankan Tamil leaders have said this indicates India's desire to see the Tamils of the island nation as equal citizens of the country.
“We welcome the statement of the spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, and we are grateful that the matter was taken up during Mr. Jaishankar's visit to Colombo. We look forward to working with both, the Sri Lankan and Indian governments to ensure there is a reasonable solution to our national question, based on substantial power sharing, within the framework of a united, undivided, indivisible Sri Lanka,” said R. Sampanthan, leader of Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Sri Lanka’s Tamil leadership has emphasised that India must play a role in ensuring swift and substantive progress in post-war reconciliation through a political solution.
“The Indo-Lanka Accord (1987) is a subsisting bilateral agreement between the two countries, for the purpose of a long-lasting solution to the ethnic question,” said M.A. Sumanthiran, Jaffna district MP and spokesperson of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main party representing the Tamils living in the north and east.
Observing that many of the terms envisaged in the Accord were yet to be met by successive Sri Lankan governments, he said: “It provided for meaningful power devolution to the Tamils. The previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration assured India at least thrice in writing to fully implement the 13th Amendment and even go beyond it but did not deliver.”
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the defence secretary in the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the war of 2009 which led to the defeat of the Tamil militancy in the country.
“The main message of the election is that it was the Sinhala majority vote that allowed me to win the presidency. I knew that I could win with only the votes of the Sinhala majority. But I asked Tamils and Muslims to be a part of my success. Their response was not what I expected. However, I urge them to join me to build one Sri Lanka,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a televised speech after being sworn-in on Monday in a symbolic event.