ECONOMYNEXT – Close on the heels of a packed four-day visit by India’s foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Sri Lanka, two more high profile Indians are in the island this week with meetings scheduled for Wednesday (13) with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other senior government officials.
Visiting India Army Commander Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane is scheduled to call on President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Naravane’s Sri Lankan counterpart Gen Shavendra Silva said at a joint press conference in Colombo on Wednesday.
The India army chief is on a five-day good will visit during which he will attend the finale of an ongoing joint military exercise between the two countries.
“This is my first visit to Sri Lanka in my present capacity. But I have witnessed the strengthening relationship between the two militaries since my days as a junior leader when I was here as part of the [Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF)],” said Naravane.
“My visit also coincides with the ongoing India-Sri Lanka joint bilateral military exercise Mithra Shakthi, which is the largest bilateral exercise undertaken between us. I shall be witnessing the culmination phase of this exercise along with Gen Silva [at a military training facility in Maduru Oya].
“This exercise forms a major part of India and Sri Lanka’s growing defence relationship. As mature democracies, the quality interaction between the elected leaders of both countries is mirrored by similar interactions between our two militaries,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bharathiya Jantha Party (BJP) senior politician Subramanian Swamy who is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka is also expected to meet senior ministers including Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda. He will also address a forum at the Institute of National Security Studies of the Defence Ministry, according to a report by Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror.
Swamy arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday (12) to attend a private Hindu Navaratri celebration organised by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family and held at Temple Trees, his official residence.
The Indian visitors are in Sri Lanka amid speculation that the government has caved into Indian pressure to hold the country’s long delayed provincial council elections.
Foreign Minister G L Peiris on Monday (11) rubbished this speculation, insisting that though the government does wish to hold the elections in the first quarter of 2022, it will not be because India or any other foreign government wants it.
Peiris denied that India foreign secretary Shringla had put pressure on the government to hold early elections.
The Indian visits are also taking place against a backdrop of growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka, much to India’s concern, as Beijing continues to make headway in investments and lending for the island nation’s infrastructure projects.
At his meeting with Shingrla, Presdident Rajapaksa assured the visiting official that Sri Lanka will not allow any activity that could pose a threat to India’s interests. It is also noteworthy that it is not common for a head of state to grant an audience to a visiting foreign secretary.
Rajapaksa was emphatic that Sri Lanka will not be used for any activity that could pose a threat to India’s security since there is a clear understanding about the geographic location of the two countries, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said in a statement after the meeting.