India should see Sri Lanka as a whole and stop focussing just on the island’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said in an interview to The Hindu on Monday.
The Power and Energy Minister said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pragmatic approach to Sri Lanka could enhance trade, technological and political partnerships, paving the way for a “win-win situation” for the neighbouring countries.
“That India is a guarantor of the northern Tamil people’s rights should now be a thing of the past,” he said in an apparent reference to India’s push for devolution of powers in Sri Lanka as per the 13th Amendment, consequent to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.
“The Sri Lankan Tamils have to cooperate with the existing government to settle their problems without dragging India in,” said the Minister, a prominent politician in the Sinhala-nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Heritage Party), led largely by Buddhist monks. The party was a key member in former President Mahinda Rajapakasa’s coalition, before members crossed over to the joint opposition platform ahead of Sri Lanka’s January 8 presidential polls, backing President Maithripala Sirisena.
Observing that India’s perspective on Sri Lanka needed to change, he said: “It [Sri Lanka] is not part of India or Indian culture, we have created a unique, organic culture here.” India’s “support” to the LTTE had caused a “big disappointment” in the psyche of the Sinhalese people, but India could change that by engaging through music, cinema, fashion and cricket. “There are various common things other than Hinduism and Buddhism.”
Commenting on major infrastructure projects funded by foreign nations, Mr. Ranawaka said Sri Lanka ought to have had technical audits before clearing them, pointing to Sri Lanka’s Northern railway line project that was restored with Indian assistance. “The line constructed by India was four times more than the benchmark costs,” he said, adding that similar infrastructure projects funded by China should have also been subjected to greater scrutiny.
On Sri Lanka’s perceived tilt towards China, the Minister said the “mistrust” under the Rajapaksa government could now be buried and India and Sri Lanka now had a good opportunity to engage as equal partners. “We all have to accept that China is going to be the next economic super power. India cannot tell Sri Lanka what its China policy should be. Unfortunately Sri Lanka was a bit trapped between the undeclared cold war between US and China.”
Even as he emphasised the need for Sri Lanka to adopt a policy of non-alignment, Minister Ranawaka clarified: “We all have to accept one thing. China is going to be the next economic super power,” adding: “India cannot tell Sri Lanka what its China policy should be.”
On the ongoing power plant project in the island’s Eastern Province — India’s NTPC is a partner in the joint venture set up for building the coal-powered plant — the Minister said the Environment Impact Assessment report was ready and was currently being presented for public opinion.
Sri Lanka and India are also discussing possible collaboration in the areas of power sharing and energy, revisiting the undersea power transmission project. “Both countries have agreed to do a feasibility study,” he said.