MR shows the way

Daily News Editorial

The decision by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the latter’s visit to Sri Lanka is to be commended. It was indeed a bold decision given the anti-Indian rhetoric that was been bellowed by the likes of Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila in the run up to the visit. At the Pohottuwa party’s May Day rally at Galle Face, Weerawansa called for the hoisting of black flags during Modi’s visit while Gammanpila, subsequently at a media briefing, justified his colleague’s call. No black flags though were seen anywhere in the country during the visit reminiscent of an earlier call too by the duo urging the public to hoist black flags during Independence Day celebrations.

Cartoon googled and added by TWImage result for wimal weerawansa - gammanpila cartoons

It is ironic indeed for Weerawansa to call for the hoisting of black flags during the visit of a leader of the country which gave the world Buddhism, embraced by seventy five percent of Sri Lanka’s population, not least by the NFF leader, who apparently is a devout adherent. Fears were stoked by the Joint Opposition that the Indian Premier was set to sign trade agreements with the government in the guise of visiting the country to participate in International Vesak Day celebrations. Like all its recent predictions and forecasts, this too was proved unfounded. There were no objections though when the Chinese leader arrived in the country to sign the Port City agreement that entailed an exclusive flying zone for China in the land reclaimed from the sea.

Be that as it may, Rajapaksa had delivered a resounding slap to the Weerawansa-Gammanpila duo by his meeting with the Indian Premier when the call was to hoist black flags during the visit. It certainly had hit them where they live. Many of the JO stalwarts were seeing backtracking on their anti-Indian rhetoric after the meeting. They who claimed that MOUs were to be signed on ETCA and other trade pacts changed tune to state that the agreements were indeed signed during Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent visit to India. Even the Ven. Elle Gunawansa, known for his virulent anti-Indian sentiments, was forced to acknowledge that he was not against the Prime Minister Modi’s visit, after the Rajapaksa-Modi tete a tete. According to the Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu, the discussion was very cordial and Rajapaksa had reportedly thanked the Indian Prime Minister for the development assistance granted to Sri Lanka. Besides, India also extended its not inconsiderable assistance towards the defeat of the LTTE by way of weaponry and sophisticated radar equipment.

The former President, no doubt, is well aware of the importance of cultivating good relations with our giant neighbour, whatever he or his backers may say to the contrary. In fact, during his Presidency, Rajapaksa strove to build friendship with India in a big way and in fact nominated his brother Basil as a special emissary in shuttle diplomacy to the exclusion of External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris. In fact, Rajapaksa was a member of United Front Government led by Sirima Bandaranaike which built special relations with India that extended even to a personal level between the Gandhi and Bandaranaike families. Given this legacy there can be no doubt that Mahinda Rajapaksa is keen to continue this special relationship with India, even though he is out of power, notwithstanding the anti Indian rhetoric spewed by members of the Joint Opposition such as Wimal Weerawansa on whom the nuances of foreign relations are lost in the small world they inhabit.

It is hoped that at least now the members of the Joint Opposition would shed this India phobia and come down to reality in this modern age and new world order where international borders are getting increasingly blurred. Their leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has shown the way. Antagonizing India can only be to the detriment of this country. We can no longer be xenophobic and be cut off from the larger word. Whipping up anti-Indian hysteria for political reasons is well and good, but this should not be taken too far to the extent where it will impact on the country’s economy and importantly on the good relations that have been cultivated with India by successive governments.

There is a current tendency to portray India as acting inimical to the interests of the country and its economy through agreements foisted on Sri Lanka. Members of the GMOA too are making common cause with the likes Weerawansa and Gammanpila in India bashing, creating goni billas to turn public opinion against India. Any Indian involvement in Sri Lanka is viewed with a jaundiced eye by these elements without giving thought to the economic and other gains to Sri Lanka derived therefrom.

We should get rid of this siege mentality which perhaps is a carryover from suspicion grounded in history. Hopefully, Rajapaksa’s meeting with the Indian Premier, in the wake of the hostile attitude towards India by some of his close confidants, will change public perception hitherto harboured against our giant neighbour.