Modi Likely to Meet Rajapaksa in Damage Control Exercise
COLOMBO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to meet former President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his sojourn here on March 13 and 14 in an apparent bid to dispel the impression in Rajapaksa’s mind that India had conspired to get him defeated in the January 8 Sri Lankan Presidential election, sources close to Rajapaksa told Express on Thursday.
The meeting is likely to take place in the official residence of the parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa who is also the ex-President’s elder brother. Modi is to address the Lankan parliament on March 13. There could be a vacant slot for a meeting the next evening also, before the India House reception for the visiting PM.
The sources said that the idea of meeting Rajapaksa was planted in Modi’s mind by a top official of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who felt that India cannot not afford to alienate Rajapaksa who still enjoys mass support among the majority Sinhalese though his own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has gone over to the newly elected Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena.
The chances of Rajapaksa coming back to power as Prime Minister in the June parliamentary elections are not dismissed by political observers because the Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe government is bristling with inner contradictions, policy confusion and rivalries.If the present coalition collapses like the Janata Party government in India did in1980, Rajapaksa can bounce back to power as Indira Gandhi did in 1980.
In case that happens, India will have to contend with an implacably hostile Rajapaksa-2 regime.
The BJP top brass who visited Lanka about two weeks ago went back to New Delhi with the view that India should not put all its eggs in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe basket and that lines of communication with Rajapaksa should be re-established.
When a top BJP leader came to Colombo soon after the January 8 election, an attempt was made to meet Rajapaksa, but the sulking ex-President would not meet him.Rajpaksa refused to meet Indians and told a Pakistani jounalist that RAW is behind all the trouble in Pakistan and Lanka.
The BJP leader apparently adviced Modi to postpone his visit to Lanka by a few months to allow the situation in the island to become conducive.
But since it was too late to back out of the visit, the next best thing, to meet Rajapaksa, was agreed upon, the sources said.
Till late on Thursday, it was not clear if the Modi-Rajapaksa meeting will definitely take place, but sources said that Rajapaksa himself may be keen on re-establishing ties with India, a country he can ignore only at his peril.
Meanwhile, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo is doing its best to impress Modi.It is learnt that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe will welcome Modi at the airport, and President Sirisena will welcome him at Anuradhapura, the next day.