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Gotabaya arriving on 29th on PM Modi’s invite

Newly sworn in Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has accepted the invitation from PM Narendra Modi to visit India on November 29th. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar extended the invite when he visited Colombo. An MEA release said that ...

, ET Bureau|
Nov 20, 2019, 08.51 AM IST
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New Delhi: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has accepted PM Narendra Modi’s invite, and will visit India on November 29 on his maiden trip abroad as Delhi reached out to the new dispensation within two days of the former defence secretary’s election as the head of the island nation.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Colombo on Tuesday, a day after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in. Jaishankar is an old Sri Lanka expert having worked in Colombo during IPKF days. He dealt extensively with Colombo as Foreign Secretary during 2015-18.

ET has learnt Jaishankar reached Colombo Tuesday evening, and will return on Wednesday morning. The minister met the new President and extended an invite from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit India, which Rajapaksa accepted.

Modi had spoken to Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the telephone on Sunday evening and had extended an invitation to visit India. An MEA release said that Rajapaksa expressed his “readiness to work with India very closely to ensure development and security”.

On Monday, soon after his election, Rajapaksa stated that he will remain neutral in the big regional power rivalry. India would also desire that the new President safeguards interests of Tamil minority in the country.

India is cautiously optimistic about the new regime in Lanka that sits in the vital waterways of Indian Ocean Region. The 10-year regime of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s older brother, Mahindra Rajapaksa, from 2005-2015 had made Delhi uncomfortable with its closeness to China.

Mahindra Rajapaksa was accused of leading Sri Lanka into a Chinese debt trap by pushing the Hambantota port that falls in his constituency, and the one that was considered economically unfeasible but strategically significant.

China managed to get the port on a 99-year lease from Sri Lanka, though it cannot be used for military purposes without Sri Lanka’s consent.

There are reports that Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants his brother to take over as the Prime Minister. Pressure is also being mounted on current Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremsinghe to resign and dissolve the Parliament to pave the way for early polls in February 2020. Parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka are originally slated for August next year. Experts feel that if Mahinda Rajapaksa is PM he would be once again, de facto running the country.

Mahinda Rajapaksa had irked India by allowing Chinese submarines to berth in Sri Lanka twice without informing Delhi. The matter was raised at the highest level twice in 2014.

Besides military assets, Delhi has reservations about strategic installations that any outside power may create in the island nation adversely impacting Indian interests, ET has learnt.
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