Wikremesinghe overshadowed by Sirisena in Modi trip (Update)

Colombo, Mar.14 (ANI): Prime Minister Ranil Wikremesinghe has had to take a back seat to President Maithripala Sirisena during the crucial and high profile trip of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the country.

Today, while President Sirisena was with the Indian Prime Minister during his visit to the sacred city of Anuradhapura, standing next to Mr. Modi was President Sirisena when the Buddhist monks chanted hymns at the sacred Maha Bodhi tree.

Mr. Modi's counterpart, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was meanwhile, sitting with his pals and watching a schoolboy's cricket match at the Sinhalese Cricket Club. He also did not go to Jaffna. He stayed away from the Indian media covering the Indian Prime Ministerial visit, quite aware that his controversial interview to an Indian TV channel had almost jeopardized Prime Minister Modi's visit.

It may be recalled that PM Modi dropped the Maldives leg of his five-day Indian Ocean nations' tour because of the political events in that country.

The Sri Lanka visit was top on Mr. Modi's priority list and Wickremesinghe almost sabotaged that.

In the interview, he shockingly mocked the reporter when he said that if Indian fishermen strayed into Lankan waters, they were liable to be shot.

While the words were shocking enough, the blase manner of the Prime Minister was also off-putting. It was as if he couldn't care less that he was talking about human lives, whether Indian or Sri Lankan.

What makes Wickremesinghe so cheeky? Perhaps his annoyance with the Indian leadership that chose to back Maithripala Sirisena instead of him who was more experienced to head the coalition. He was in India in August when he met with the BJP leadership as well as Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Wickremesinghe is at loggerheads with the chief minister of the Northern Province, C.M. Vigneswaran. That was also probably one of the reasons why the Sri Lankan Prime Minister did not accompany the Indian Prime Minister to Jaffna.

Wickremesinghe is not comfortable staying out of the limelight. He has had to do that because the new coalition led by President Sirisena, of which he is a crucial part, is still in its honeymoon period and has the support of India and Sri Lanka.

The coalition has representation from all communities and is taking bold foreign policy steps. He is very much a part of those decisions. Having an over arching ambition or making any moves to destabilize the coalition would not benefit him in any manner. In fact, it would help former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is waiting and watching to make his next move.

Wickremesinghe and Sirisena together could thwart Rajapaksa's return via the parliamentary election route that could take place in April-June this year. But if they split up, then not only is their political future in jeopardy, they also risk destabilizing India-Sri Lanka relations. By Smita Prakash (ANI)