Two days after meeting newly-elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, New Delhi on Thursday drew the red line on Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka, for the first time in recent years.
Delhi underlined its expectation that the new government in Sri Lanka should carry forward the process of “national reconciliation” and meet the aspirations of the Tamil community. It also outlined “equality, justice, peace and dignity” as the key aspirations of Tamil minorities.
The government said that these expectations have been conveyed to Gotabaya during the meeting between him and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday.
This comes amid concerns in the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, which was articulated by the Tamil National Alliance — the major political party representing interests of ethnic Tamil minorities in the island country.
Past record raises concerns
This is the first time in recent years that Delhi has underlined the expectations on Tamil minorities so clearly, especially after five years of Sri Lankan government under President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe. They have now been replaced by the Rajapaksa brothers. The family, which was in power before 2015, has been accused of human rights violations against Tamil minorities. Indian concerns stem from the past record of the Rajapaksas when they were in office.
Without mincing words, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday, “During his meeting with President Rajapaksa, External Affairs Minister discussed our close and bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, including ways to further strengthen this in coming years… (he) conveyed to President Rajapaksa India’s expectation that the Sri Lankan government will take forward the process of national reconciliation to arrive at a solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity.”
He added, “You must have seen President Rajapaksa’s statement where he affirmed that he will be the President of all Sri Lankans irrespective of their racial or religious identity and without creating a distinction on whether they voted for him or not. The President also stated that he is committed to ensuring the development of the Northern and Eastern provinces and considers India a valued partner towards this endeavour.”
The MEA spokesperson also rejected the perception that it was acting quickly, keeping in mind the pro-Chinese Rajapaksa brothers at the helm in Colombo. “Our relations with Sri Lanka, or for that matter with any neighbouring country, are independent of our relations with third countries. Our multifaceted relationship with Sri Lanka stands on its own footing and is rooted in our geographical proximity and historical connections,” Kumar said.
Articulating the sentiments of Tamil minorities, Tamil National Alliance leader R Sampanthan, who had backed Gotabaya’s rival Sajith Premadasa, has said, “Our wish is that the new President will respect the very substantial democratic verdict of the Tamil people of the North and East and it is my belief that he will do so. It is only then that we can bring about a sense of oneness and the feeling that we are all equal citizens of one country and this country will be protected and that by creating such an environment we can achieve major economic and social development which will benefit all the people of this country.”
Gotabaya has said that his country will “maintain an equidistant and yet, cordial relations with all countries”.