Protests against a derogatory article that appeared in a Sri Lankan website continue in Tamil Nadu. What agitates the people in the state and elsewhere in the country is that the website belonged to the defence ministry of Sri Lanka. The article referred to Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s letters to prime minister Modi and was accompanied by an illustration which was in bad taste. The letters had been written to protest against the frequent arrest and harassment of Tamil fishermen. Following protests, the website removed the article and the illustration. What’s more, the Sri Lankan defence ministry tendered an unconditional apology to the prime minister and the chief minister.
Ordinarily, all this should have ended the matter. It is, perhaps, a measure of the seriousness of the issue that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had to tell Parliament that she would summon the Sri Lankan envoy to lodge India’s strong protest. That the Sri Lankan defence ministry is headed by president Mahinda Rajapaksa himself is what made the derogatory article all the more offensive. It is nobody’s claim that he had a hand in the publication of the article but he should certainly find out who had caused so much damage to India-Sri Lanka relations by publishing it and take suitable action against the person concerned.
Prime minister Modi is keen on strengthening India’s relations with all countries, especially neighbouring ones. There are historic reasons for the coldness in India’s relations with Sri Lanka but Modi has already proved that he is not a prisoner of the past. The manner in which he took the Nepalese into confidence during his visit to Kathmandu is a case in point. Now is the time for New Delhi and Colombo to sort out all the problems that have been bedevilling their bilateral ties. This is all the more reason that Sri Lanka should be cautious enough not to offend Indian sensibilities in any manner. There are diplomatic channels open to discuss and settle all bilateral issues.