Visiting Colombo few times every year has become routine for foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon. Both served as high commissioners and both, because of their rich diplomatic experience in dealing with venerable Lankan politicians, are currently indispensable to India's post-war diplomacy in Colombo. They are again expected this weekend.
Meetings with President Mahinda Rajapaksa are usually held over fresh fruits, cereals and tea in the morning. At some point, Tamil parties’ representatives meet to complain that the Rajapaksa regime is not interested in devolving power to the regions. Then there are appointments with the extended Rajapaksa family about ongoing Indian projects and meetings with sundry ministers, more about protocol than substance; there will be recurring phrases like historic opportunity, genuine reconciliation and 13th Amendment; in all, little time to visit old friends or pick up something from the chic Odel store while on the rush.
There are points worth taking note this time though. On Monday, Rajapaksa promised a political solution to the minorities, "…which meets the needs of the people in the North…signifies a common Sri Lankan identity will be granted to them without being driven by foreign influences." Rajapaksa knows it best that no other "foreign influence" more than India is interested in the political solution.
Also, the Indian diplomats will be here in the middle of talks between the government and the Tamil National Alliance, an umbrella alliance of Tamil parties, to resolve the ethnic issue. The seventh round of government-TNA talks is slated end-June.
The slow pace of a major Indian housing project is likely to be discussed. The 50000 houses-project was announced last year when Rajapaksa visited New Delhi; the pilot phase was inaugurated by foreign minister SM Krishna in November. The project is apparently stalled over names of beneficiaries.
The recent Indo-Lanka joint statement – where India said Lanka should probe rights violations and withdraw Emergency laws – received vicious flak in the media. Foreign minister, GL Peiris took the censure though there was no way he would have endorsed it without Rajapaksa's nod. So, taking the joint statement forward will be a tantalising balance between domestic Lankan politics and international diplomacy.
After so much, how could either Odel or old friends be on the agenda?