India has assured Sri Lanka of completing development projects on time, some of them preferably before the January 2020 elections in the island nation, The Sunday Express has learnt. Both sides also decided to sensitively handle the issue of fishermen, especially in the coming months, without “use of force”, as has been the practice in recent years, sources said.
Visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe Saturday met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held bilateral talks, one-on-one and then followed by a delegation-level interaction, but both leaders did not make any public statements.
While connectivity and infrastructure projects are a priority for India, New Delhi has decided that it will not specify projects of importance, as it does not want to attract undue attention from domestic and international players.
“We want to go ahead with the India-assisted projects without any major challenges, and do not want to get undue attention. There are players in Sri Lankan domestic political arena, as well as outside…we are mindful of those sensitivities,” an Indian government source told The Sunday Express.
Sources said that the “focus” of the visit was on development projects in Sri Lanka, and their progress and “speedier implementation”. Modi also raised the issue of fishermen, which should be handled with a “spirit of cooperation”, and without the use of force. “This was conveyed by the PM, and especially since there has been a great deal of sensitivity in handling the issue. In the last few years, the issues have been handled very maturely by both sides. That spirit needs to continue,” the source said.
This issue is crucial especially before the Lok Sabha elections in India in mid-2019, and the Sri Lankan general elections in January 2020.
The two leaders also discussed ways to promote visits and exchanges, especially amongst the youth and the students from both sides. “They also discussed on how to jointly promote tourism,” the source said.
Wickremesinghe’s India visit comes in the backdrop of controversial media reports that Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has accused the Indian intelligence agency, R&AW, of plotting his assassination, a claim firmly rejected as “false” by Colombo.
However, sources said that the issue of Sirisena’s claim was not referred to during the delegation-level talks, although it cannot be ruled out during the leaders’ one-on-one interaction. Wickremesinghe and Sirisena have been at loggerheads politically in Sri Lanka in the recent months.
The Ministry of External Affairs on Saturday said in a statement that the visit is part of “our continuing engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka at the highest level”.
“This multi-faceted partnership has been marked by close contacts at the highest political level, growing trade and investment, wide ranging development cooperation, increasing linkages in the fields of education, health, infrastructure, connectivity and capacity building and broadening people to people contacts,” the statement by MEA said.
It also said that both Prime Ministers discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and ways to further deepen the historically close and friendly relations between the two countries.
Earlier in the day, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also separately called on the visiting Lankan leader. Wickremesinghe and Singh discussed issues related to security and anti-terror cooperation between India and Sri Lanka.
In her meeting with the Lankan premier, Swaraj also reviewed the progress of India-assisted development projects in the island nation. Wickremesinghe arrived here on Thursday on a three-day visit to boost ties in a range of areas, including trade, investment and maritime security.
On Friday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi met Wickremesinghe and discussed cooperation between the two countries. He also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.