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When we were in Geneva in the dark days of March, I was surprised to read that Senior Minister D E W Gunasekara had been appointed Acting Minister of External Affairs. It was only long after I got back to Colombo that I realized it was an excellent choice, and the Acting Minister’s clear vision and determination had avoided what might have contributed to further catastrophe.

One of the heartening aspects of the aftermath of the vote was continuation of good relations between India and Sri Lanka. Personally I believe India did the wrong thing in voting against us, and I think we must engage in private with Delhi and show the possible unfortunate consequences of that vote for India and the region as well as for us. But it was and is essential to avoid recrimination. In addition, while deploring the result, we must look at the reasons that led India to take this fateful step, try to understand the compulsions, remedy whatever shortcomings we might have displayed and ensure that India appreciates the need for continuing positive engagement with us.

By and large both countries have worked hard at maintaining the relationship. The Indian Prime Minister sent a gracious message after the vote, and our politicians have by and large refrained from provocative reactions. Unfortunately there have been some harsh comments about India by journalists who are normally sensible and supportive of the position of the Sri Lankan government, and they should be advised to look at the whole picture rather than particular unpleasant aspects. But on the whole I believe, with the recent generally positive visit of the Indian Parliamentary delegation, and a return soon to the type of diplomacy that confirmed a congruency of interests during the conflict period, we have both avoided what might have been an unpleasant fallout at the time of the vote.

Much of the credit for this goes to Minister D E W Gunasekara. While his patriotism is not at all in doubt, he made it clear when he was Acting Minister that there was no question of blaming India for what was going on. He seems also to have ensured that this approach was followed by all his colleagues in Cabinet, including those who might have been rearing to have a go, as it were, at India. I am not sure whether this was the reason the President took the unusual step of appointing an Acting Minister for just a few days, but I believe the result was admirable, and both countries owe him a lot for ensuring that moderation prevailed.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2012
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