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Rajapaksa plays his trumps against India

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( July 16, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) While Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris was having discussions with Indian Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, President Mahinda Rajapaksa extended the service of Northern Provincial Council Governor Major General G.A. Chandrasiri. It was an unexpected move for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). TNA and its Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran had been demanding the removal of Chandrasiri from the post of Governor of the Northern Province for a long time. The former Congress Party Government of India was also in support of this. They were of the view that the Sri Lanka Government, which was hesitating to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, should at least replace the military officer with a civil servant.

In fact, this is not a difficult task. The nationalist parties of the government may not oppose it. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa showed that he would not pay heed to the TNA or India. President Rajapaksa did this move while his Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris was meeting his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj, who knew very well about Sri Lankan issues. As Opposition Leader of the Indian Parliament, she visited Sri Lanka, discussed with TNA and studied the problems including the Governor's issue. Her Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) Government has also stated that it would not deviate from the Congress Government policy on Sri Lanka's ethnic problem.

Different gift

However, the Indian Foreign Minister offered a different gift to Sri Lanka, which elated President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was a guarantee that India would not support a UNHRC probe on Sri Lanka. She also said the policy of not voting in favour of a probe against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Commission may also not change.

In fact, the objective of Peiris' visit was to obtain this guarantee from India. President Rajapaksa thinks that such statement from Modi's Government can be a slap on the face of the US and its allies. It can also hurt the Opposition of Sri Lanka that is waiting till Modi's Government upsets Rajapaksa's rule. While the much needed guarantee is solicited from India, Rajapaksa extended the service of the Northern Province Governor knowing that India may not respond to it.

The first issue raised by Modi, when he had discussions with Rajapaksa, following the former's swearing in, was the threat India faces from the Pakistani nationals residing in Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa may be thinking of playing the Muslim card to Modi like he trumped the Congress Government by playing his China trump card.

After returning to the island, Rajapaksa took steps to deport the Pakistan nationals, who had sought refugee status through the UN High Commission for Refugees. Rajapaksa went further ahead forgetting the friendship with Pakistan and asked Pakistan to recall a diplomatic official from the Pakistan Embassy in Sri Lanka, who the Indian establishment had suspicions about. Rajapaksa did all this to appease Modi, since he felt it was crucial at that moment. Rajapaksa has eventually been successful in trapping the Modi Government with the Muslim issue like he trapped the Congress Government with the China issue. Rajapaksa may be thinking that Modi may forget the 13th Amendment to the Constitution for some time now. Perhaps, he may be thinking that the Shiv Sena, which is behind Modi, may look at the attacks against the Sri Lankan Muslims with their tongues in cheek. The Mahinda Rajapaksa Government knows that appeasing Shiv Sena is appeasing the Modi Government.

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