| by Upul Joseph Fernando
( September 3, 2914, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Political leaders from opposition parties are battling each other to be the first to meet Indian Prime Minister Modi as reported in 'Ceylon Today' a few weeks ago. Indian South Block sources revealed that the Indian Prime Minister will meet Sri Lankan Opposition Leaders after concluding his rounds of meets scheduled with the TNA. Rumours were afloat that Modi would first meet former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. However, chances are less that she could meet him first due to several other reasons. The main reason is that her standing with the BJP generally had not been on a strong footing. She was nursing a grudge against Vajpayee's BJP Government which was in power during her presidency for not helping her in the worsening struggle against the LTTE. Rao's Congress Government before the Vajpayee Government offered a helping hand to Chandrika's devolution proposals with a view to marginalize Prabhakaran. But the Vajpayee Government strongly urged her to go for a negotiated settlement with the LTTE. Chandrika was annoyed when Vajpayee invited Ranil, the Opposition Leader for a discussion with him.
Mostly due to these reasons Chandrika's chances of having an audience with Modi before others hang in the balance. Ranil-Modi meet before all others too cannot be predicted in view of the current developments in India. In fact, Ranil made an unsuccessful attempt to meet Modi when he visited India recently. Ranil had stronger ties with the BJP when the likes of Advani held influential positions in the party. However, now that the old guard of the BJP had been purged from their powerful positions, Ranil may not have influential friends over there.
A notable feature of former Indian Prime Ministers extending invitations to Sri Lankan Opposition Leaders had always been made after much circumspection and deep analysis of all pros and cons. This position is best illustrated by the invitation Chandrika received following her arrival from London and became a Central Committee Member of SLFP, to meet then Indian PM Rao. This invitation of Rao came as a surprise not only to Premadasa who was in power then, but also to Anura Bandaranaike, the then heir apparent to the SLFP crown.
Dixit, then Indian High Commissioner who had arranged the meet between Rao and Chandrika had this to say about it in his book:
"Two opposition leaders from Sri Lanka (both belonging to the same family) visited Delhi in 1992. Anura Bandaranaike, son of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, arrived in Delhi in the late spring or early summer of 1992. He was a SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) Leader and also the Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka Parliament. He was received by the Prime Minister, and he also met other leaders and went back quite satisfied. Just a few days later, his sister Chandrika Kumaratunga was in the Indian capital at the invitation of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Chandrika Kumaratunga, at that point of time, was making preparations to re-enter Sri Lankan politics after her long absence from the political scene in the aftermath of the assassination of her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga by the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna).
I had the privilege of knowing Kumaratunga (later to become the President of Sri Lanka) during my assignment in Colombo. When she visited the Indian capital, she wanted to meet the Prime Minister, but having tried through normal channels, she had not succeeded. She met me and mentioned her request. I recall Kumaratunga defying mainstream Sinhalese public opinion in 1986 to go and talk with Tamil militant groups in Madras to explore the possibilities of a peaceful solution to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka.
I rang up the Prime Minister directly that evening and requested him to receive Kumaratunga. I explained that I was making this special request because, in my assessment. Kumaratunga belonged to the most enlightened segment of Sinhalese leadership and I predicted that she would become an important figure in Sri Lankan politics, if not in the Sri Lankan Government, within five years. Prime Minister Rao agreed to a 15-minute meeting, but it lasted for 45 minutes. Kumaratunga had an analytical and detailed discussion with the Prime Minister on the Sri Lankan situation and Indo-Sri Lanka relations. The footnote to this event is that, when Kumaratunga did become President of Sri Lanka in 1994, she sent me a note. It read: "Mani, I have proved your prediction correct except that it has come true in a shorter time span of two rather than five years." I was touched that she had time to recall this incident and communicate with me in the midst of her enormous concerns and preoccupations."
In the same manner that Rao invited Chandrika for a meet in 1992, Prime Minister Vajpayee invited then Leader of Opposition Mahinda in 2003 to undertake a tour of some Indian States to familiarise with the devolution of power between centre and states and more importantly for a discussion.
A SLFP Central Committee Member, Chandrika Kumaratunga who was invited by the then Indian Prime Minsiter to meet him became the President in 1994. Mahinda Rajapaksa who was also invited as Leader of Opposition by the Indian Prime Minister in 2003, too became President in 2005.
It was known then, that Mahinda who was Prime Minister sought an appointment to meet Manmohan Singh even before the declaration of 2005 Presidential Election. It was futile. Actually Singh met Chandrika and Opposition Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe separately and advised them both to agree to a bi-lateral arrangement to settle the ethnic problem. Presumably India acted with some conviction that Ranil would emerge victorious at the Presidential poll. But the then Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Nirupama Rao had alerted India to the possibility that Mahinda could win the Presidential poll.
India failed to heed to the report on the ground situation which prevailed at the time. India miscalculated the situation.
Usually, Indian Prime Ministers extend invitations to Opposition Leaders after a serious appraisal of many cogent factors. When Fonseka turned up in India just before the 2010 Presidential Election and sought an appointment with the PM, he was unsuccessful. India had not rated his chances high at the Presidential Election. Indian Prime Ministerial invitations to Sri Lankan Opposition Leaders ahead of Presidential Elections indicate a prophetic importance. It is interesting to note whom Modi will meet first with a Presidential Election round the corner. Will it be Ranil or Chandrika?