But Modi has so far played his cards close to his chest. He has been silent on the key Tamil demand of constitutional guarantees on powers to Tamil provinces and punishing those guilty of human rights abuses during the closing stages of the war. India has supported deferring the tabling of a report on the killings at the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Coming a few months before the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lanka, Modi may not want to be seen as leaning on the government too much as that may strengthen Sinhalese hardliners. His visit may well be symbolic and spur Indian support to reconstruction and investment.
The Indian Prime Minister is scheduled to travel to ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Kandy, besides capital Colombo and the Tamil-dominated Jaffna. “It will be a historical visit. His trip would help improve the relationship between both countries,” said S C Chandrahasan, founder of the Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OFERR).
Modi’s visit will be a return for Sirisena’s visit to Delhi last month that saw the two countries ink a civil nuclear pact. Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister since 1987 to visit the island. During his visit to sign the India-Sri Lanka accord, Rajiv Gandhi met with a hostile reception. He was attacked by a Sri Lankan sailor using a rifle butt during a guard of honour.
Besides laying the foundation stone for a cultural centre in Jaffna and handing over Indian-built houses to Tamils, Modi is also scheduled to visit the thermal power station being constructed by NTPC in Sampur in Trincomalee district in eastern province. His visit is expected to speed up the delayed project.
On the fishermen issue, the Lankan government has been insisting that Indian fishermen shouldn’t cross the borders. Modi’s visit may lay the groundwork for a permanent solution through ongoing talks.
There is also hope that the Modi visit will facilitate the resumption of commercial flights between Palali airport and Trichy.
“The Sri Lankan government has asked the army to release around 1,100 acres held by the army as high-security zone near Palali. The airport which is now being used by the air force will then be available for commercial operations. Flights between Trichy and Palali will facilitate not just the return of refugees but also bolster trade links,” said K Mayooran, a Jaffna-based businessman.
Modi is likely to meet Northern Provinces chief minister C V Wigneswaran during his visit to Jaffna. TNA MP S Sridharan said that Tamils expect that land will be returned and the status of thousands of missing people accounted for as a result of his visit. “They also hope that the nearly 1,800 political prisoners held under detention for many years now will be released,” said Sridharan.
But, political analyst and former Sri Lankan Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka said if any push on devolution of power for the north will complicate the situation for the Sirisena regime. “I am quite confident that he will not take a hard line especially on issues like the northern provincial government’s recent ‘genocide’ resolution. Indian foreign secretary Jaishankar is an old Sri Lanka hand, having served here during IPKF times, and he will be sensitive to the fears of the Sinhalese majority,” said Dayan.
Dayan also said that the timing of Modi’s visit is not perfect since parliamentary elections will be held soon. The presidential elections showed that Rajapakse still commands a majority of the Sinhala vote and if Modi is seen as pushing Sri Lanka too hard it will create a backlash against Sirisena.
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