Home » News

Can new Indian Foreign Secretary ‘charm’ SL to dance to India’s tune?

[DailyMirror, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 08:10 No Comment]

Nirupama Rao who is to be appointed as India’s new Foreign Secretary was issued a warning in 2006 by the then Sri Lanka’s (SL) Tourism Minister  Anura Bandaranaike . This was at the time when she was about to leave after serving as India’s High Commissioner (HC) in SL. Anura’s warning was “ it is a good thing  that Ms. Rao is getting a promotion, but hope in the future she leaves Sri Lanka out from her itinerary.” 

Yet. today the need to appoint Nirupama Rao as Foreign Secretary may have arisen to make SL her first priority in her itinerary. Nirupama’s appointment is coinciding with the period when the foreign policies of India  are being seriously  reviewed in an unprecedented manner by SL  and are receiving special attention. The background to this is the rapid growth and development of friendship between SL and China.

Nirupama Rao, no sooner she concluded  her former assignment as the HC for India in SL than she left for China. She was appointed as  India’s  HC to China even before she had officially completed her term in SL. Because of Mr. Bandranaike’s statement ,she was driven to the centre of a storm of controversy within SL.. He alleged in Parliament that Ms. Rao , Indian HC to SL was interfering in SL’s internal affairs. His statement received wide publicity . Though the Govt. of Rajapakse announced that it  dissociated itself from Bandaranaike’s utterances, it was only after the Indian Govt. came to her defense.

To Nirupama Rao, SL is not an unfamiliar place . In the year 1980, she was the first secretary at the Indian HC in SL.. She came to SL as Indian High Commissioner  to succeed Nirupen Sen, her predecessor, in the midst of allegations against the latter that he was conspiring to topple Ranil’s UNP Govt.. Speculations were rife that if Nirupen Sen during his period was  fuelling the fire of politics in SL ; Nirupama Rao’s  visit on the other hand was to dowse that fire.

At this juncture , there had arisen a popular belief that , as Chandrika Bandaranaike , the President of SL cannot contest the elections , it was Ranil , the UNP Presidential candidate who will be the next President. Nirupama Rao during the terminal period of Chandrika’s tenure of office took steps to unite Ranil and Chandrika to seek out a political solution for the ethnic conflict. In her reports  transmitted to India , she  made an unforgettable remark   , that was not to underestimate  Prime Minister , Mahinda Rajapaksa under the Chandrika Govt. India however made an assessment that Chandrika using her power will destroy Rajapaksa , and Ranil will therefore become President ,which assessment was diametrically opposed to Rao’s evaluation.

Ranil Wickremesinghe who toured India after the date for Presidential elections was fixed  , after his  return said,  if he becomes the President of SL he would seek the instructions and advice of  Chandrika to resolve the ethnic issue. This triggered rumors that Ranil’s announcement was  based on India’s instigation.

Nirupama Rao who strongly believed that Mahinda Rajapaka will become the President of SL made clear that chances are that Mahinda will become President even though India was more inclined to negotiate with Ranil on the ethnic issue. Nirupama Rao’s conviction  turned true – Mahinda became the President of SL.

No sooner Mahinda was installed as President than India became jittery because  it entertained the fear that minorities will be left in the lurch for  Mahinda had no  need of the support of the minorities, as  the JVP and the JHU political parties were propping him. But Nirupama Rao who has long envisaged that Mahinda Rajapaksa will become the President, maintained cordial relations with Mahinda since he was a Prime Minister ; exploiting this relationship she began giving instructions to Mahinda : if there is a Head of State in SL since its independence who had paid a visit to the Official residence of an Indian  High Commissioner to SL, it was only Mahinda who did this , and this was the first time such a thing ever occurred.

When Rao who was perturbed over the withdrawal of the security detail of CWC Leader Thondaman , spoke to Mahinda and invited him to her residence . Mahinda Rajapaksa eagerly visited her. Not only the local , but even the Indian media expressed shock and dismay over his visit. It is the consensus that in any country , it is the High Commissioner of the Foreign country who goes to meet the Head of State , and not vice versa.

The Sunday Times English newspaper went  so far as  to point out that during the period of the former President JR Jayewardene , even when the High Commissioner of India, Dixit arrogantly posed off as a ‘Governor’ of SL, and used threats and intimidatory tactics, the former President of SL never broke with protocol : it was Dixit who went to meet Jayewardene , and latter never went to Dixit’s residence.  When Thondaman’s security was restored after Rajapaksa’s visit to Rao’s official residence , all reasonably thought Rao was exploiting Rajapaksa.

Rao after demonstrating that she could change Rajapaksa’s decision went to the next stage to  sideline the JVP and JHU , the allies of the Govt., and tried to unite the Govt. and the UNP. Towards this end she acted as an intermediary. Her first step was trying to make Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister while Rajapaksa was the President and create a National Govt., and thereby  procure a solution to the ethnic issue.

When this did not succeed , she sought to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe together to sign a memorandum of understanding . She succeeded in her efforts. The main object of this memorandum was for both parties to jointly work out a solution for the ethnic conflict. The All Party representative conference (APRC) too was launched on her initiative.  India was of the view that the memorandum of understanding and the APRC were  great victories accomplished by Rao.

Not long after, Mahinda Rajapaksa tore the memorandum of understanding into shreds when he took into his fold 18 UNP members of Parliament and gave them Ministerial portfolios. The Govt. also announced that the APRC proposals are not acceptable ..

It is only then India realized that it cannot flex Mahinda  nor can his decisions be changed Ultimately, it was Ranil who suffered injustice by signing the memorandum of understanding because of India and Rao’s insistence. At the time Mahinda acted in breach of the memorandum , Rao was in China .

Alok Prasad who was appointed as the next High Commissioner of India to SL cast aside the role of making Mahinda dance to his tune , and began dancing to the tune of Mahinda.. He explained that if Mahinda is to be stalled from getting pushed into the clutches of China  , he must be in the good books of Mahinda.

Nirupama Rao is returning from China to accept the post of Foreign secretary at a time when the foreign policies of India in relation to SL are  highly complicated and have not met with success.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.