The emotive issue of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka has cast a shadow on Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, with most key leaders in Tamil Nadu opposing the new government’s invitation to the island nation’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, for the event.
Amid signs that Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa may skip PM-designate Modi’s swearing-in on May 26, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi on Friday said the Lankan president’s participation in the event was “unacceptable to Tamils”.
MDMK chief Vaiko, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally, also opposed the invitation to Rajapaksa. Vaiko, the first to demand that Rajapaksa not be allowed to participate in Modi's swearing-in ceremony, met BJP president Rajnath Singh to lodge his protest.
India's ties with Sri Lanka had always been swayed by the domestic politics of Tamil Nadu over the rights of ethnic Tamils in the Sinhala majority island nation.
In 2009, the Lankan military defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and ended a 26-year civil war even as it came under increasing scrutiny over alleged violation of human rights.
But Modi, given the BJP majority in Parliament, is not dependent on Tamil parties to run the government and free to follow a more independent policy on Lanka.
The India-Sri Lanka ties, which had hit a rough patch over New Delhi’s vote against Colombo at the UN Human Rights Council, have been on the mend.
Last time, India had abstained from the vote, much to the satisfaction of Sri Lanka.
Rajapaksa was among the first world leaders to reach out to Modi after his election victory. The invitation to him, however, triggered protests in Tamil Nadu.
Jayalalithaa is understood to have conveyed her party’s sentiments to the BJP leadership. But state BJP president Pon Radhakrishnan said there was nothing wrong in inviting a leader of a neighbouring country.
According to reports, Rajapaksa tried to defuse the backlash in Tamil Nadu by inviting the chief minister of Tamil-dominated Northern Provinces to join the Lankan delegation.
(With inputs from Agencies)