| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( August 20, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) When the Congress Government of Dr. Manmohan Singh was in power in India, a regular visitor to this country was N. Ram, Editor of the Hindu. He was granted exclusive interviews by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The close connection between Ram and Mahinda was built up by the tireless effort of an Indian PR company, which had been tasked to build bridges between Mahinda and India.

To do so, the PR company engaged in a manoeuvre of putting Indian politicians who could influence Indian policy on Sri Lanka in close contact with Mahinda. One such prize catch was the Hindu Editor Ram. The PR company advised Mahinda to embrace Ram as a special friend so that he could use Ram's friendship with the Congress and the Gandhi family and also his extreme hatred with Prabhakaran and the LTTE who were responsible for killing Rajiv Gandhi, to his advantage. However much Ram could influence Indian policy on Sri Lanka, the 13th Amendment was beyond the ken of his or any other person's influence with the Indian Government.

Indian position

As the PR company's failure in influencing the Indian position on 13A became apparent it was decided to enlist the support of immensely anti Prabhakaran, Janata Party Leader Subramanian Swamy to help Mahinda in his peace offensive with India. Signifying his camaraderie with Mahinda, he made a very strong case for Dr. Manmohan Singh's participation at the CHOGM which was held in Sri Lanka.

When the Congress Party showed signs of losing the last national election Mahinda decided to bet on the support of Swamy who was very close to the BJP. Thus it came about that Ram was replaced by Swamy as being more important in Mahinda's political calculation. As such before the last Indian National Election, Swamy was a frequent visitor here building up a strong friendship with Mahinda. He was convinced that Swamy, being so close to the BJP leadership would naturally be given a ministerial portfolio in the new government. Based on that belief he had entered into a coalition with the BJP. But due to some reason not yet known, Swamy was not offered a Cabinet post in the new government. Indian media meanwhile put forward the idea that Modi is vary of Swamy and was keeping him at his arms length. However, Mahinda still thinks Swamy can be immensely helpful to him. Perhaps Swamy himself may be behind the confidence building manoeuvre aimed at Mahinda. Swamy has on an earlier occasion pulled such a caper at the time when congress won the 2004 election. He launched a massive propaganda blitz publicising that Sonia Gandhi was advised by Indian President Abdul Kalam not to accept the Premiership of the new government as he himself had asked Kalam to dissuade Sonia as her nationality could become a big issue. Kalam later denied this story as totally baseless.

Subramanian claims that after he wrote to APJ Abdul Kalam to stop Sonia Gandhi from becoming PM, Kalam spoke to Sonia and persuaded her not to become PM. But since 2004, Kalam had denied repeatedly via press conferences and interviews that he never spoke to Subramanian Swamy about her Citizenship. Press records of Reshtrapati Bhavan prove that the then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam never raised the issue of citizenship with Sonia.
On 19 May 2004, Kalam's office issued a press release, "It has been reported in a section of the press that the President A.P.J. Kalam had discussed the citizenship issue with the Smt. Sonia Gandhi when she met him yesterday at Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is contrary to facts. It did not figure in the discussions at all. Press releases dating back to 2004 are unavailable on President of India's website. They were removed after the 2007 Presidential Elections. Press information Bureau's link is as credible as original source.

Media has provided interviews of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to make it clear P.M. Nair, then Secretary to the President in his book The Kalam Effect: My years with the President reflects the same. In 2012, media reported that Kalam in his book has said that he never spoke to Sonia Gandhi about her citizenship, and never backtracked from his stand of 2004. However Subramanian Swamy has challenged the version of the former president.

This is how Wikipedia reported the incidentApparently Swamy has lost his credibility as a reliable operator in the political arena with such an unremarkable and unreliable history behind him. It will be a serious folly for Mahinda Government to trust him to pull its chestnuts from fire. It seems that Mahinda has not yet learnt the failure-prone lesson of depending too much on PR agents to sort out the country's problems with other countries. He should have learnt that lesson when the Liam Fox caper failed to assuage British Government's displeasure with our country. When the Conservative Government came into power in the UK, PR companies advised Mahinda to cultivate friendly relations with Liam Fox who went onto become Defence Secretary. When in the Opposition, he had tried to get both the government and the Opposition to work together to solve the ethnic problem.

Fox on this occasion was heavily criticized by the Opposition in Britain, accusing that he was being paid for his efforts by Sri Lanka Government. It later transpired Fox's trips here were bankrolled by the government. Ultimately Fox had to go home as he was fired from his position. There have been enough opportunities for Mahinda to learn a very pertinent lesson in international relations.

That is, depending too much on PR companies instead of the country's own embassies lead to unforeseen complications in international relations.