India speaks up, asks SL to respect statute, democracy

India speaks up, asks SL to respect statute, democracy

In picture: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. AFP photo.

India on Sunday called for upholding democratic values and constitutional process in Sri Lanka.

New Delhi broke its silence two days after Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena removed Ranil Wickremesinghe from the office of Prime Minister and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement in New Delhi saying that India was closely following recent political developments in Sri Lanka. "As a democracy and a close friendly neighbour, we hope that democratic values and the constitutional process will be respected," the statement quoted Raveeah Kumar, spokesperson of the MEA, saying.

Wickremesinghe, who was in New Delhi recently for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, refused to leave the office of Prime Minister, claiming that Sirisena's move to replace him with Rajapaksa was unconstitutional and he still enjoyed majority in Parliament.

"We (India) will continue to extend our developmental assistance to the friendly people of Sri Lanka," said the MEA spokesperson on Sunday.

New Delhi broke its silence on the poitical turmoil in Sri Lanka a day after United States, United Kingdom and European Union asked “all parties” in the Indian Ocean nation to adhere to the Constitution.

Though the ruling BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy welcomed the appointment of Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the Government of India has not yet acknowledged the change of regime in Colombo.

New Delhi has reservations about Rajapaksa, during his erstwhile tenure as President, as he had allowed China to expand its footprints in Sri Lanka and build strategic assets in the Indian Ocean island ignoring the security interests of India. The political parties in Tamil Nadu too has reservation about Rajapaksa regime's alleged atrocities on minority Tamils in Sri Lanka during the crackdown on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Rajapaksa, however, sought to mend fences with New Delhi over the past few months. He visited New Delhi and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.

China's ambassador to Sri Lanka, Cheng Xueyuan, called on both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe on Saturday.

India is treading cautiously over the issue of change of regime in Colombo lest it is accused of meddling in the internal affairs of the neighbouring country.

Wickremesinghe met the diplomats of US, India, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada and European Union at the official residence of Prime Minister at Temple Trees in Colombo and briefed them about his stand on Saturday. Though India's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, did not attend the briefing, the Deputy Chief of Mission Shilpak Ambule was among the diplomats, who were present at the meeting with Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe of late had run-ins with President Maithripala Sirisena over India’s offer of support to infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, including on the issue of New Delhi’s proposal to help develop the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port. While Sirisena is not keen on allowing India to play a role in development of Colombo Port, Wickremesinghe has purportedly been arguing in favour of accepting New Delhi’s offer of support.

The differences between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe over New Delhi’s offer of support for development of East Container Terminal of Colombo Port reportedly came to the fore during a cabinet meeting earlier this month.

A section of media reported that it was in the same meeting that Sri Lankan President had made a remark alluding to the possibility of India’s external spy agency Research and Analytical Wing hatching a plot to assassinate him. Sri Lankan Government dismissed the media reports. Sirisena also called up Modi and stressed that the “mischievous and malafide reports” had been “utterly baseless and false”, and seemed “intended to create misunderstanding between the two leaders as well as damage the cordial relations between the two friendly neighbours”.

A statement issued by Wickremesinghe after his meeting with Modi last week claimed that Prime Minister of India coveyed to his counterpart from Sri Lanka his disappointment over lack of progress on the proposed infrastructure projects New Delhi was keen to fund in the island nation, including a 500 MW power plant run on re-gasified Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), an LNG terminal or floating storage re-gasification unit in Colombo or Kerawalapitiya, a 50 MW solar power plant in Sampur, industrial zones, special economic zones and the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port. The statement was apparently a move by Wickremesinghe to hold Sirisena responsible for the delay in the projects.

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