From a man who had ceased to be India’s favourite to the reach-out and engagement with New Delhi now, former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has come a long way. There is a growing realisation in India that opposition forces that are gaining ground in their respective countries must be engaged with.
The massive win of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party in the local government polls with a two-thirds of the seats was a wake-up call to everyone that this family is not ready to be written off just yet.
Invited by the Virat Hindustan Sangam, Rajapaksa addressed a gathering Wednesday evening in New Delhi where he spelt out his vision for an “inclusive” Sri Lanka understanding India’s “special” concerns arising out of the issue of the reconciliation of the Tamil population.
The Rajapaksa administration had received a lot of flak for the handling of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) conflict and the international community wanted him tried for ‘war crimes’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’. But he said, “Let me first dispel some common misconceptions. We did not, at any time, wage an ethnic war: the military action was certainly not directed against the Tamil community”, alluding to the fact that it was to root out terrorism from Sri Lankan soil.
He also had hit out at India for meddling in Lanka’s internal affairs ahead of the last presidential elections held three and a half years ago.
He continues to be firm that any reconciliation and rehabilitation of the minorities should be a “homegrown” process. “Fatal to its (reconciliation) efficacy will be the impression that it is only a device to placate vested interests with agendas of their own”, he said.
While Mahinda Rajapaksa’s increasing closeness to the Chinese was one of the major factors for the wedge between the two nations, Rajapaksa explained that it was the last administration that always offered all the projects first to India and when India did not need it then looked for other investors, but the Sirisena administration has, contrary to it poll promises, only increased its business with China.
With the presidential elections due in 2019, this visit to India becomes significant. While there still is no clarity whether if the amendment of the Sirisena government of a two-term cap for presidents would apply to Mahinda, India is not leaving anything to chance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Mahinda Rajapaksa who was accompanied by his son Namal Rajapaksa, sending out a message not only to India but also to his domestic audience that he is still in the game.