Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has strongly criticised the Sinhalese Buddhists for opposing closer ties with neighbouring India.


Samaraweera said that the ‘neo-fascists’ should understand the political realities in South Asia before opposing the government’s move. Speaking at an event recently organised by the Sri Lanka-India Society in Colombo, the minister said it is unfortunate that majority of the Sri Lankan people fear India the most. Actually, these people should be grateful to India for introducing Buddhism, the great religion, in the Island nation in the mid-third century, added the minister.

Samaraweera urged the neo-fascists not to forget that Ashoka, India’s first great Buddhist king who reigned in 272-231 BC, sent some missionaries to the tiny nation in 236 BC and they encouraged Sri Lankan King Devanampiyatissa to spread Buddhism in the island. According to the minister, some “misguided” Buddhists deliberately ignore the historical perspective of India-Sri Lanka relationships only to oppose Colombo’s decision to maintain close ties with New Delhi.

Samaraweera stressed: “Whenever a bridge over the Palk Straits to connect our two nations is proposed, they get into a paranoid frenzy that all of India is waiting drive over that bridge and make Sri Lanka their home. When trade agreements are discussed, they see swarms of Indian doctors and barbers coming across to flood the Sri Lankan market.”

The minister is of the opinion that President Maithripala Sirisena considers close ties with India as a great opportunity for Sri Lanka to make a steady economic progress. Samaraweera further said that Sri Lanka planned to bolster ties not only with India, but also with Canada, Hong Kong, Vietnam and other fastest growing economies.

Meanwhile, he hailed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed between the two countries in 1999, saying that Sri Lanka’s exports to India have increased by almost 10 times in the last 17 years. Within a decade of signing the pact, the imports-exports ratio between India and Sri Lanka declined from 10:1 to 6:1, he added. At the same time, the foreign minister requested India to be attentive to the needs, hopes and aspirations of the common Sri Lankans.

Samaraweera attended the event just before the arrival of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s in Colombo. During her February 5-6visit to Sri Lanka, Swaraj held separate talks with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena. Apart from briefing the visiting Indian minister on latest political developments in his country, the Lankan premier sought Indian investment. He also requested India to help Sri Lanka in setting up a Special Economic Zone in Trincomalee. On Saturday, President Sirisena discussed a host of regional and international issues with Swaraj. Indian High Commissioner to Colombo Y K Sinha told the media: “The president recalled the very warm ties that exist between the two countries build on civilisational links of thousands of years.” During their hour-long meeting, Sirisena and Swaraj also discussed various projects undertaken by India in Sri Lanka and decisions made during the previous high-level visits.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]