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Mahinda making overtures to Modi

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( September 25, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Last week, media hounds got whiff of a bit of news that somewhat off the familiar pattern. An Air Force helicopter carrying some Indian personnel made an emergency landing at some place near Dompe, due to an unknown technical failure. What piqued the curiosity of those in the media who received this information was the anonymity of the Indian passengers in that helicopter. When they tried to coax out at least a tiny bit of information from various Air Force sources they were stone-walled.

Refusing to give up, media hounds then resorted to guessing games and concluded the mysterious passengers could be the cast of the Bollywood movie Bombay Velvet, which was being shot on location here. However, when the truth was ultimately revealed, it was found the mysterious passengers, or rather the mysterious passenger, had nothing to do with the Bollywood scene. In fact, the identity of the passenger caught everyone by surprise, for it was Shiv Sena Leader, Uddhav Thackeray. Shiv Sena is an organization strongly connected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Interestingly, Thackeray had also made a previous visit to the country, on an invitation by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Thackeray is not the only Shiv Sena member to visit Sri Lanka in the recent past. Swapan Dasguptha, an Indian journalist, who has a close affiliation with the BJP-RSS-Shiv Sena alliance, was also in the country recently and wrote a series of articles appreciative of the progress of Mahinda Rajapaksa's development initiative in the North. It has now transpired that Uddhav Thackeray's unannounced visit was in response to an invitation from the President. Interestingly, his visit came soon after the BJP had announced Narendra Damodardas Modi, as their candidate for Prime Minister.

The Rajapaksa family is very adept at using personal connections with Indian politicians to influence the Indian perception of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, to its advantage. When current Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee, was the Foreign Minister of India, the Rajapaksas made a strong pitch to claim his goodwill through the mediation of a lady who was closely connected to him. In the same manner, they canvassed the goodwill of the Gandhi family through a business associate of Priyanka Gandhi's husband. In another instance in the past, when M. Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the Rajapaksas used Thondaman's connections with Karunanidhi's daughter, Kanimozhi to influence Tamil Nadu's stance on the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. When Jayalalithaa Jayaram became Chief Minister, they used Milinda Moragoda's personal connections with the then Chief Minister of Andra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, who was a close ally of Jayalalithaaa to get into her good books.

Moragoda's prospects

Moragoda had built up a good rapport with Naidu during the 2002 Ranil Government. Speculations among political circles have been rife with talks of many possible scenarios in so far as Moragoda's future role is concerned, if he is tasked with building bridges with India, using his personal connections. According to some inside government sources, if the BJP comes to power in the next Indian election, Moragoda could be appointed as a special agent of the government to interact with the Indian Government. Another speculation is that Moragoda would be appointed to Parliament from the National List and made the Minister of External Affairs to utilize his known affinity with the BJP. It is said Moragoda's associates are prodding the Rajapaksa family to make use of his connections with senior BJP leaders.

Be that as it may, Mahinda Rajapaksa obviously thinks and heavily banks on an electoral victory for the BJP and Modi becoming next Prime Minister of India. That seems to be the reason why he invited Thackeray to visit the country as soon as Modi's name was announced as the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate.

However, Indian media also noted shortly after Modi's selection that relations between Thackeray and Modi have been strained due to conflict of interests. This is how it had been reported in the media:

"The churning of the ocean has thrown up Amrit (divine nectar). 'Shiv Sena' President Uddhav Thackeray's adulatory welcome to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, who was anointed BJP's Prime Ministerial nominee, may be music to BJP's ears.

Sena mouth-piece Saamna, of which Uddhav is the editor, has taken periodic jibes at Modi, questioning his Hindutva credentials and pointing to his 'superb publicity machinery.'

Reasons for uneasiness in the Sena – which has so far made BJP play second fiddle in Maharashtra and will not like the tables being turned – are not too hard to find. Modi, who is seen as a strong personality, who neither forgives nor forgets, attempted to appropriate the aggressive Hindutva space that Sena is known for post-2002 riots. He is close to Uddhav's estranged cousin and MNS Chief, Raj Thackeray, and is said to be distant from the Sena leadership. Sena leaders say prospective NDA allies maybe put off by Modi's image."

The Jayalalithaa factor

Jayalalithaa's relations with Modi are on a better footing than her relations with the Congress Party. Therefore, in a probable scenario of the BJP forming the next government in India, Jayalalithaa's stock would rise higher with corresponding increase of her power of interference in Sri Lanka's ethnic problem. Yet, probably Mahinda Rajapaksa is presumably under the impression that anti-Muslim fundamentalist stance of the government matches well with that of Shiv Sena's anti-Muslim role and therefore they enjoy an affinity of some degrees. He could, therefore, be thinking that the BJP goodwill is a winnable target.

Mahinda's biggest headache in the days ahead will be the Northern Provincial Council and its Chief Minister designate, C.V. Wigneswaran. This government is obviously labouring under an illusion, if it considers a future BJP Government would pay scant attention to Wigneswaran and the Northern Provincial Council, as they are part of Congress Government's legacy and therefore not their responsibility. Contrarily, the government would be well-advised to bring about a permanent solution to the country's ethnic problem during the lifetime of a Congress Government due to a few very cogent reasons. The foremost being that the Congress Government and the Tamil Diaspora dislike each other because of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and India's support for Sri Lanka in destroying the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The BJP does not have that all-consuming hatred against the former LTTE and its remaining rump. Therefore, Mahinda's best chance to resolve the ethic problem for once and all is decidedly now.

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