External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who arrived in Colombo on an unannounced two-day visit on Tuesday, said newly-elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would travel to India on November 29 at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This is likely to be Rajapaksa’s first official visit abroad after assuming office. Jaishankar made the announcement after meeting Rajapaksa on his first day in office after being sworn in as the country’s new President on Monday.
“A warm meeting with Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Conveyed PM Narendra Modi’s message of a partnership for shared peace, progress, prosperity and security. Confident that under his leadership, India-SriLanka relations would reach greater heights,” Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting.
Jaishankar, who had served as First Secretary and Political Adviser to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka in the 90s, became the first foreign dignitary to call on President Rajapaksa.
A warm meeting with Sri Lanka President @GotabayaR. Conveyed PM @narendramodi’s message of a partnership for shared peace, progress, prosperity & security. Confident that under his leadership, #IndiaSriLanka relations would reach greater heights. pic.twitter.com/pDxZf0ZM3A
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) November 19, 2019
Following his election win on Sunday, Gotabhaya, a former wartime defence secretary and younger brother of ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was quick to reach out to India — and convey that while China will be a “trade partner”, India remains “our relative”.
Following his victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Rajapaksa and said he looked forward to deepening relations between India and Sri Lanka.
“I look forward to working closely with you for deepening the close and fraternal ties between our two countries and citizens, and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region,” Modi said in a tweet.
Replying to PM Modi’s wishes, Rajapaksa thanked him and said that the two countries are bound by history and common beliefs.
“I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the people of India for your warm wishes. Our two nations are bound by history and common beliefs and I look forward to strengthening our friendship and meeting you in the near future,” Rajapaksa said in a tweet.
Later, the PMO posted on Twitter that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “telephoned” the President-elect and congratulated him on his victory. “PM Modi extended an invitation to Mr Rajapaksa to visit India at his early convenience. The invitation was accepted,” it said.
As a symbolic first step, the President-elect chose Anuradhapura, the World Heritage City and ancient capital known for its traditional links to India, for his swearing-in ceremony Monday — instead of the traditional Independence Square in Colombo.
Sources close to Gotabaya told The Indian Express that he will be a “healthy partner” for India. “With the current government, India imagined that its interests will be protected. But it failed to protect Sri Lanka’s interests and did nothing for India. A strong president in Sri Lanka will make sure that India is the closest friend while protecting the independence and autonomy of his own country,” sources said.