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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2732

Sri Lanka’s Independence Day Celebrations

By K.T.Rajasingham

The Government of Sri Lanka invited Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to participate in the Independence Day celebrations on 4th February, as the chief guest. Also Indian Prime Minister was expected to unveil the statute constructed in memory of the India Peace Keeping Forces in Sri Lanka. However, the Indian Government has officially told that, "The Indian Prime Minister is not coming to Sri Lanka next month due to scheduling problems and alternative dates are being worked out."

It is reliably learnt India may have considered the security situation in the country in taking a decision not to participate in the Independence Day celebrations in Sri Lanka. Local political situation in India had also some bearing on that decision.

Presently it is learnt that Sri Lanka Government has decided not to invite any other dignitaries or heads of state to participate in the Independence Day celebrations. Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rakapakse will be the Chief Guest and Guest of Honor at the celebrations.

Basil Rajapakse MP and the Senior Advisor to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse when talking with this writer confirmed that President Mahinda Rajapakse will be the Chief Guest at the 60th Anniversary Independence Day celebrations. He said that the President was elected by the people of the Country and he is most fittingly suited to be Chief Guest in the celebrations.

According to an official, Sri Lanka Government could have invited anyone they wanted to participate as chief guest in the 60th Independence Day celebrations. They would have invited even US President George W. Bush, as his Presidency is coming to an end by January 2009, or else Chinese President Hu Jinato, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf. Inviting anyone solely depends on the discretion of the Government of Sri Lanka.

If Sri Lanka Government would have invited any of those leaders it would definitely have had some effects on India. But the Government was very careful not to be undiplomatic by inviting a head of state that might belittle India as a regional leader. Sri Lanka values the friendship with India and greatly respects the regional leadership of India.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse rightly pointed out, “Sri Lanka Government, especially President Rajapakse has a fostered a very good relationship with India during this two year period. He has build up a good rapport with India and I think this relation that the President has with the Indian Prime Minister is the best after Sirima-Shasthri time. We have already developed a good relationship and shown them that we are sincere and genuine.”

That was the key to extending of invitation to Dr. Manmohan Singh, India’s Prime Minister to participate in the Independence Day celebration on 4th February. Unfortunately, Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit to Colombo has suddenly turned out to be a subject of a critical debate with a disappointing end and has become a topic of great concern to all and sundry in Sri Lanka.

Earlier, sometime in November 2007, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bollagama told the Sri Lanka Parliament that the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had been invited to attend Sri Lanka’s 60th., Independence Day celebration as the chief guest and the Government was hopeful he would accept the invitation. He further said that the invitation had been extended by him on behalf of the Sri Lanka Government earlier in that month.

An innocuous announcement regarding an invitation to India’s Prime Minister to visit Colombo to participate in Sri Lanka’s 60th., Independence Day celebrations has stirred the hornets nest.

At some point of time, Sri Lanka’s invitation remains unanswered and as India’s response was awaited, and then a section of Sri Lanka media was gleeful in reporting that the turban-headed Indian Prime Minister will not visit Sri Lanka. Majority of the Sri Lanka media have quoted spokesperson in the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

Subsequently, Press Trust of India’s reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will not be able to make it to the diamond jubilee celebrations of Sri Lanka's Independence Day on February 4 and alternative dates for his visit to the island nation are being worked out.

The report added, "The Indian Prime Minister is not coming to Sri Lanka next month due to scheduling problems expressed by the Indian authorities. Alternative dates are being worked out," said the Foreign Ministry official, who did not wish to be named.

But media’s in Sri Lanka as usual have linked the invitation and the so called visit of the Indian Prime Minister with so many other issues. Earlier it was reported that Sri Lanka Government would come up with a devolution package before the arrival of Indian Prime Minister. With a view to pacify the visiting Indian Prime Minister, Sri Lanka would announce the devolution proposal, news media out of Colombo reported. This is what said in the Tamil adage denotes, “tying a knot to knee and the bald head.” – Mulangkalukum moddanthalaikum mudichchupodal

Gothabaya Rajapakse, Defence Secretary and the youngest brother of Mahinda Rajapakse was quoted to have said, “The President has told them (India) that he will come out with a political solution to address the grievances of the Tamil people. Whatever the steps that we are taking we are briefing them. We do not have anything to hide and we have won their confidence. We do not want to do anything which will harm their security and their concerns. They know that we are not against the Tamil community and we are doing all these only to defeat terrorism. “

In the meantime, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama in a news conference said, The Government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa is fully capable of presenting a set of political proposals that satisfy and receive the consent of all. The Government will present this set of political proposals shortly.

Addressing the media in Colombo Minister Bogollagama said the main objective of the Government is achieving sustainable stability and peace.

The APRC is now in its final stage of drafting proposals. The Government is not focusing on banning the LTTE at the moment and the doors are always open for talks, he said.

Recently President Mahinda Rajapakse even met the leaders of the All Party Representatives Committee to submit their proposals on 23rd of January to enable him to finalize and present a devolution proposal.

According to reports emerging from New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister was involved in major domestic issues and he has a time constraint to give priority to other issues. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited China on a two day visit (13 – 15 January).

Subsequently, on 26th January, India will be celebrating its Republic day and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be the Chief Guest.

India’s financial year is April – March and by March India would be busy with its budget proposals in the Lok Sabah – Lower House of Parliament. The Union Budget 2008-09 is expected to be presented on February 29th, this being a leap year. The three-month long Budget session is likely to begin on February 25th, government sources said.

According to diplomatic sources this writer learns that there are so many other issues and most important of them all is the consideration for advancing the date of the Lok Sabah (Indian Parliaments Lower House) polls is being seriously considered by India’s ruling Congress party, and Prime Minister’s attention has been drawn.

A major section of the India’s ruling Congress party including Party President Sonia Gandhi are of the view of holding the parliamentary elections one year ahead of the scheduled date i.e. by April or May 2008.

Political insiders are of the view that it all depends on the agreement Sonia Gandhi expected to reach with Mayawati Naina Kumari – the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Chief Minister of Uttrapradesh. Mayawati is the first Dalit woman to become the Chief Minister of any of India's states. She belongs to Jatav caste which is at the upper-end of the Dalit caste hierarchy in Uttar Pradesh.

It is said that Congress leadership is at present seriously considering of holding the elections in April or May. In case they consider against holding the elections in April or May, then they may decide hold it by November this year.

Sources told that Indian Congress is quite confident that they will emerge victorious in the parliamentary elections in case they enter into an electoral arrangements with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.

Negotiations Sonia Gandhi is having with Mayawati at present are expected to conclude soon. Once there would be a positive development, then ruling Indian Congress Party would opt to have the Parliamentary election in April – May, otherwise they may dissolve the Lok Sabah in November and would go in for parliamentary elections.

While India is plagued with problems of their own, Government of Sri Lanka has finalized to hold large-scale civilian and military Independence Day celebrations in Colombo despite fears of Tamil Tigers attacks.

The main celebrations are expected to take place along the Galle Face promenade and access to the area, which is normally busy with walkers.

In the meantime, it has to be recalled that in 1998, Tamil separatist outfit Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam dispatched it suicide squad on 25th January 1998, which crashed through roadblocks and set off a truck bomb outside a fabled Buddhist temple in central Kandy, killing 11 people and wounding 23. The attack occurred days before the ancient capital was due to mark 50 years of independence in Sri Lanka on February 4, 1998 with celebrations to be attended by Britain's Prince Charles and other foreign dignitaries. Subsequently the venue of the Independence Day celebrations was moved to a secure zone in Colombo.

Attack on the holiest Buddhist temple in the hill capital led to the banning of the LTTE on 26th January 1998 which was revoked subsequently on 04th September 2002 to enable negotiations with the LTTE.

It is now learnt that Sri Lanka Government has taken extra precautionary measures to increase security ahead of the 60th Freedom Day on February 4th, with 4,100 extra security personnel bolstering thousands of police and soldiers deployed in and around Colombo.

Sri Lanka will hold large-scale civilian and military Independence Day celebrations in the capital. The extra security follows the collapse of a nonexistence Ceasefire Agreement 2002 between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam effective from 16 January.

- Asian Tribune -

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