Packed schedule awaits Indian MPs’ team in Sri Lanka


Our Special Correspondent


NEW DELHI, April 16: A packed schedule awaits an all-party Indian parliamentary delegation that arrives in Colombo on Monday night on a six-day visit to Sri Lanka—-the first of its kind.

An earlier delegation that visited the island in 2010 comprised MPs only from Tamil Nadu.

The MPs will visit the North, the East and other parts of the island to see for themselves and assess the progress that is being made on rehabilitating the internally displaced people (IDPs) and to visit some of the major projects that are being built across the island with Indian assistance.

After Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK and opposition DMK withdrew their MPs (one from each) from the delegation, it now comprises 13 MPs from both houses of Parliament, the Lok Sabha (LS) and the Rajya Sabha (RS). And six of them are from Tamil Nadu.

The team is led by Mrs Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a prominent leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mrs Swaraj, aged 60, is a top-ranking leader in the BJP. Sharp and articulate, she has served two terms in the Rajya Sabha, and this is her third term in the Lok Sabha. She has been Information & Broadcasting Minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s cabinet, a chief minister of Delhi. In the event of the BJP coming to power in 2014, she is considered one of the top contenders for the prime minister’s job.

In Colombo, the team will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa for breakfast on Saturday—-their last day in the island. Observers here say the Indian parliamentarians may ask the president to enlighten them about his plans about devolution of powers to the minorities in the North and East.

They are also likely to know when and how he proposes to implement some of the crucial recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in the light of the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on March 22.

India had voted for the resolution to convey to Colombo a sense of urgency needed in taking steps to achieve reconciliation between the Sinhala majority and the minority Tamils and Muslims, and to speed up rehabilitation of the Tamils in the war-battered North and East.

The delegation will begin Tuesday with calling on Minister for Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, and then External Affairs Minister GL Peiris.

The MPs will then go to Parliament, where they will meet Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, interact with MPs and attend a lunch. They will meet representatives of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).

On Tuesday night, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K Kantha will host for the team a dinner, at which its members will get to interact with prominent Colombo-based Sri Lankans and Indians.

On Wednesday, the MPs will visit Medawachchiya, site of the largest IRCON base facilities as rebuilds the the island’s northern railway network. IRCON representatives will brief the delegation on the projects the state-owned company is executing.

They will then go to Mullaitivu, where they will see several projects being carried out with Indian assistance. The Security Forces Commander will brief them on the progress being made on various fronts.

The MPs will then go to Jaffna, where they will interact with MPs from the region as well as representatives of the civil society. They will spend the night in Jaffna.

On Thursday, they will visit Kankesenthurai Harbour, where India recently carried out a $20-million wreck removal operation. The harbour is being renovated, after which it will begin trade with Nagapattinam, the ancient minor port in Tamil Nadu’s east coast about 60km away, and a trading centre for over 2,000 years. Emperor Ashoka the Great had built a Buddha vihara here.

(Nagapattinam has had close links with Sri Lankan Buddhist monks. In the sixth century, a Buddhist monk renovated a Buddhist temple in this town).

On the same day, the MPs will visit the southern railway project at Kaluthara and witness the handing over of the completed section. They will meet Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe.

On Friday, they will visit the Eastern Province and the hills to meet people. At Batticaloa, they will meet Pillayan or Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan, the LTTE child soldier-turned-chief minister, and visit some projects being built with Indian financial assistance.

They will visit Dickoya in the hills, where India is helping build a hospital for plantation Tamils.

On Saturday, the last day of their visit, they will interact with President Rajapaksa over breakfast at his official residence to exchange views with him on what they have seen during their hectic visit.

Interestingly, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the only person of consequence in the Rajapaksa clan the MPs are not scheduled to meet formally.

Five of the visiting MPs are from the Congress Party, three are from the BJP, and two from Janata Dal (United). The other four are from four different parties represented in Parliament.

The team comprises nine members from the Lok Sabha and four from the Rajya Sabha. They belong to seven prominent parties, namely: the ruling Indian National Congress (INC), the BJP, Janata Dal (United), Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC), and the Communist Party of India—-Marxist (CPI-M).

The team’s members are: Mrs Sushma Swaraj (BJP), leader of the delegation; M Krishnaswamy (INC); NSV Chitthan (INC), Manicka Tagore (INC); Dr EM Sudharsana Natchiappan (INC); JD Seelan (INC); TK Rangarajan (CPI(M); Dr Sucharu Ranjan Haldar (AITC); Prahlad Venkatesh Joshi (BJP); Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U); Shailendra Kumar (SP); Sidhant Mohapatra (BJD); and Vishwa Mohan Kumar (JD-U).

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