Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives, to meet PM Modi today

Shubhajit Roy
Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives, to meet PM Modi today
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa welcomed by Union Minister V K Singh in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Less than a fortnight of assuming office, newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday in his first overseas visit and discuss the future direction of the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

Rajapaksa, brother of Sri Lankan Prime Minister and ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said that he was looking forward to strengthening bilateral relations with Modi and the Indian government.

As he landed here on Thursday evening, he was received by Minister of State (road transport and highways) Gen (retd) V K Singh.

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On Friday, Modi and Rajapaksa are expected to discuss a host of issues, and Delhi will try to assess the newly elected Sri Lankan President’s agenda — both domestic and global.

On the domestic front, Delhi will want to gauge Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s approach towards the ethnic Tamil minorities in the island country.

After External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met him in Colombo earlier this month, Delhi had once again drawn the redline 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 components of Tamil minorities.

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The government has said that these expectations have been conveyed to Rajapaksa during the meeting between him and Jaishankar. This comes amid concerns in the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

The Rajapaksa 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.

This is the first time in recent years that Delhi has underlined these expectations so clearly, especially after five years of Sri Lankan government under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

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Delhi will also seek to understand the new Lankan President’s attitude keeping in mind the pro-Chinese Rajapaksa brothers at the helm in Colombo. During their term last time, when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the country’s Defence Secretary from 2005 to 2015, Chinese submarines and ships had docked in Lankan ports — causing a fair bit of concern in Delhi.

Gotabaya, on his part, has said that his country will “maintain an equidistant and yet, cordial relations with all countries”.