In a “very friendly and cordial” half an hour’s meeting here late on Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa completely skipped politics and spoke about forging close economic relations between the two countries, a well-placed source said.
Contrary expectations, Rajapaksa did not voice any concerns about the recent economic agreements with India which had created a political storm of sorts in the island.
On the other hand he dwelt on the deficiencies in the economic policy of the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and regretted that the projects that his government had launched were stalled. The government ought to generate “investor confidence,” he stressed.
Rajapaksa added that he is all for economic cooperation with India.
After the meeting Rajapaksa tweeted: “As always, a cordial meeting with PM Narendra Modi yesterday. Happy to see him in Sri Lanka for International Vesak day celebrations.”
However, the Indian Prime Minister, being aware of the opposition to Indian aided projects, told Rajapaksa that the projects are meant to do good to Sri Lanka and assured him that India will not launch any project which is harmful to Sri Lanka.
Curious about China’s role, Modi asked Rajapaksa, who is known to be close to China, about the controversies surrounding the China-executed projects such as Hambantota port. Rajapaksa said that the terms of an agreement on the port are still being negotiated and that he expects the Chinese to wait.
The meeting was held at the request of Rajapaksa, the Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu said.
As soon as Modi entered the room, Rajapaksa asked if he was tired after a series of programs since he arrived in the evening. Modi smiled and replied: “When I see you, tiredness vanishes!”. That set the tone for the meeting.
Modi then went on to ask why Rajapaksa had not come to India for talks as he had promised to do when they last met in Colombo in March 2015. Rajapaksa said that he would visit India. Sources close to the former President said that he might call on Modi the next time he goes on pilgrimage to Thirupathi or Bodh Gaya.
Commenting on the meeting as a whole, the source said: “It looks as if Modi wants to keep up a friendship with Rajapaksa to be able to work with him if he comes back to power.”
It is clear that Rajapaksa also wants to make up with Modi after accusing the Indian intelligence agency RAW of engineering his electoral defeat in January 2015 for getting close to China at the expense of India.
The two leaders have indeed buried the hatchet.
Rajapaksa had said in a recent interview that he “admires” Modi and refused to reiterate the charge against RAW saying “let bygones be bygones.”
On Thursday, he even denied to the media that his parliamentary and political colleague, Wimal Weerawansa, had threatened to hold a black flag demonstration during Modi’s visit and said that Weerawansa’s speech had been misinterpreted.
Rajapaksa also said that Modi’s visit “would not have a negative impact on Sri Lanka.”
Others who were present at the meeting were Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Defense Secretary and younger brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, India’s Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar and the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu.
No one other than Modi and Rajapaksa spoke at the meeting as it was meant to be between the two of them only, the source said.