Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who on Thursday arrived in New Delhi on his maiden state visit abroad, will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra at noon Friday. He will later call on President Ram Nath Kovind, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.
Colombo-based officials said national and regional security, development cooperation and economic assistance are likely to come up at the high-level bilateral discussion that comes a fortnight after Mr. Rajapaksa clinched presidency.
The visit also follows India’s particularly swift outreach to the region’s newest leader. Mr. Gotabaya, a military man-turned-bureaucrat, entered politics with a presidential bid and won with a decisive mandate. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, the first foreign official to call on him, flew to Colombo as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s envoy, hours after Mr. Gotabaya formally assumed charge.
Presidential adviser Lalith Weeratunga, who is on the Sri Lankan delegation to India, said Mr. Jaishankar’s visit signalled a “new beginning” in the ties. “The President [Mr. Rajapaksa] is really looking forward to this visit [to New Delhi].”
National security, a “top priority” for the President, would likely be discussed at length, Mr. Weeratunga said. “The President is also keen that any impediment to Indian investment be ironed out. He is very focussed on every aspect of the partnership with India and wants to look at our close ties in a holistic manner,” Mr. Weeratunga told The Hindu before his departure.
Spotlight on Tamil issue
Sri Lanka’s Tamil leadership and people are closely following the visit, especially since the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said after Mr. Jaishankar’s visit that New Delhi “expects” Sri Lanka to take forward its post-war reconciliation process, ensuring “equality, justice, peace and dignity” of the Tamil people.
Veteran Tamil leader R. Sampanthan said he expected Mr. Rajapaksa’s visit to “make a positive contribution” to better relations between the neighbours. “Better relations will be facilitated by India’s concerns being addressed in regard to the process of reconciliation and the resolution of the national question in Sri Lanka,” he told The Hindu , expressing the hope that both governments would ensure that the past promises to the Tamils were kept.
Referring to Mr. Modi’s recent remarks that the Constitution was “a guiding light”, Mr. Sampanthan said: “We too look upon the Constitution as the guiding light of our present journey. Our new constitution must be enacted without any further delay, as it will light up the path of Sri Lanka’s journey towards, peace, prosperity and progress for all its people.”
The outgoing government could not complete the proposed constitution, despite its drafters tabling an interim report in Parliament based on wide consultations. It remains to be seen if devolution of powers to the Tamils, or more broadly a political solution through constitutional reforms, will figure at Friday’s discussions.
Before his departure, Mr. Gotabaya tweeted: “Leaving for my first state visit to India and looking forward to strengthening bilateral relations with Shri @narendramodi and Govt of India”.
Following his arrival in New Delhi, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted: “A civilisational relationship nurtured through millennia President @GotabayaR on his first overseas visit since assuming office arrives in India on a State visit at PM @narendramodi’s invitation, demonstrating the strength & dynamism of [India-Sri Lanka] relations. #NeighbourhoodFirst”.