Q: Do you think the recent pacts between Sri Lanka and India on visa, customs and youth development signed during Indian PM’s visit will bring a change in Indo-Sri Lankan relations?
A: Narendra Modi’s visit gave a strong message to Sri Lankans that India would be with us in our efforts in getting good governance. However, the signed agreements are technical in nature. I don’t know whether these will change the nature of Indo-Sri Lankan relations but they will definitely build trust that has broken down.
Q: But Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s “right to shoot” statement echoes a different approach.
A: He was joking and people misunderstood him. Media persons kept harassing him with questions. In response, he just said that if an unwanted person came into my house illegally, I had a right to shoot him for trespassing.
Q: Why do you think we are unable to resolve the long pending fishermen issue?
A: Indian fishermen use illegal methods like exploding dynamite to catch fish which is completely unacceptable. This destroys marine life at our side. It is very frustrating for Sri Lankan fishermen. I don’t know if it is allowed in India but Sri Lanka has banned it.
Q: India has voted twice against Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council on the war crimes issue. How is India’s stance viewed by the new government?
A: Many countries voted against us. There were justifiable causes for that. Previous government was intransigent on human rights issues of Tamils, press freedom and human rights of even Sinhalese people. These countries have been flexible with the new government. Publication of the UN report has been postponed for six months. This will allow us time to conduct internal investigation with the support and presence of the international community.
Q: Sri Lanka’s growing closeness with China is a cause of concern for India. Will Sirisena government change the foreign policy discourse?
A: This was during previous government when Rajapaksa gave all investment projects to the Chinese. Our government, which is a coalition of two parties, believes in non-alignment and active engagement with all neighbours. We will not allow any country, however friendly they are, to exploit us.
Q: What does an average Sri Lankan think about India?
A: India and Sri Lanka have 3,000 years of close relations. There is a lot fondness and respect for India among our people. They also have some fear as well. In ancient times, Sri Lanka was invaded by south Indian kings 52 times. Invaders often destructed our irrigation system leading to floods everywhere. And ours was an irrigation economy. People felt that Indians were not like us. The perception continued till the recent past… Indira Gandhi was very unwise…After Mrs Gandhi, every Indian government has sought to normalise relations.(dna)