Rajapaksa’s Delhi visit hints at thaw

Former Sri Lankan President seems to be warming to India.

September 09, 2018 09:33 pm | Updated 09:33 pm IST - New Delhi/Colombo

 Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks to his supporters during an anti-government protest in Colombo on September 5, 2018.

Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks to his supporters during an anti-government protest in Colombo on September 5, 2018.

In an indication of warming of ties, former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will visit New Delhi this week and hold important discussions.

Mr. Rajapaksa, who is credited with ending the reign of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam with the military operations from 2006 to 2009, will deliver a public lecture on “India-Sri Lanka relation: the way ahead” organised by the Virat Hindustan Sangam, led by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy. He is likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The External Affairs Ministry has not spoken about the meetings so far. A source said the visit was being planned by “private parties”.

Mr. Rajapaksa attended the swearing-in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014. He lost his President’s post to Maithripala Sirisena in 2015. While he accused India of contributing to the regime change, he met Mr. Modi when the Prime Minister visited Sri Lanka in May 2017. The late-night meeting, apparently unscheduled, was organised at Mr. Rajapaksa’s request. After the war, New Delhi was disturbed by Mr. Rajapaksa’s apparent tilt towards China, which brought in massive investments to Sri Lanka. He was also criticised for the alleged human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan military during the war.

The visit comes less than a week after thousands of demonstrators, led by Mr. Rajapaksa, protested in Colombo against the government’s economic policies and the delay in holding provincial elections.

The Rajapaksa camp is yet to name its candidate for the presidential election likely at the end of 2019. A 2015 constitutional amendment has placed a two-term limit on the presidency, thus barring the former President from contesting again, but Mr. Rajapaksa’s supporters have sought the Supreme Court’s clarification. “There is an opinion that I can contest again. We need to find out if I am eligible,” he told presspersons recently.

Political sources in Colombo point to the efforts to groom his son and Hambantota MP, Namal Rajapaksa, who is accompanying his father on the India trip. He played a role in mobilising supporters for last week’s rally.

Though out of power for more than three years, Mr. Rajapaksa, who represents Kurunegala district in Parliament, remains a formidable political actor in Sri Lankan politics, often challenging the fractured coalition in power.

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