Rajapaksa eyes improved ties with India

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a meeting at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi on November 29, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2019

Rajapaksa eyes improved ties with India

  • This is the symbol of close proximity and a sign of dynamism in our relationship”, says Modi

NEW DELHI: The leaders of India and Sri Lanka have decided to take their relations to a new high. In his first visit abroad after assuming charge as the president of the island nation two weeks ago, Gotabaya Rajapaksa told reporters in New Delhi on Friday: “I want to bring the relationship between India and Sri Lanka to a very high level.”

He added that both India and Sri Lanka need to work together on issues related to security and overall welfare of the people of the two countries.

On the second day of his three-day visit, the Sri Lankan leader met his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed terrorism and ethnic reconciliation, with the Tamil minority group dominating the discourse.

“We feel privileged that the Sri Lankan president chose India as the destination for his first trip abroad within two weeks of taking the oath. This is the symbol of close proximity and a sign of dynamism in our relationship”, said Modi.

He announced a $400 million line of credit for the development of infrastructure in Sri Lanka and a $50 million line of credit for counter-terrorism efforts.

“It is my hope that Sri Lanka will take the reconciliation steps further to fulfil the aspirations of the minority Tamils, including the implementation of the 13th amendment”, Modi said in a joint press statement after the meeting.

Rajapaksa’s visit is significant in India as it comes amid widespread apprehension among the Indian establishment that his elevation would further drive Colombo in China’s camp.

New Delhi’s relations with its southern neighbor reached a nadir between 2005 to 2015, when Mahinda Rajapaksa, elder brother of the president, was ruling the country. The elder Rajapaksa gave China lots of economic and strategic space in Sri Lanka, which made New Delhi uncomfortable.

He also allowed China to park its naval ship in the Indian ocean. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to hand over the strategically located Hambantota airport and seaport in southern Sri Lanka to China for 99 years alarmed India.

In 2015, he unexpectedly lost the elections, blaming India for his defeat.

However, after the defeat, the Rajapaksa family tried to mend fences with India.

Within days of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s swearing-in, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar travelled to Colombo and extended Modi’s invitation to him.

“Both the country’s security and development are inseparable therefore we remain alert to each other’s security sensitivity”, Modi said after the meet.

Chennai-based Sathiya Moorthy of the think tank Observer Research Foundation said: “Both the nations have to restore mutual trust and also address Chinese security issues.”

He added that “India’s apprehensions of China using the island nation as a strategic location is based on past experience, when the previous Rajapaksa regime allowed a Chinese submarine to enter the Indian Ocean after he handed over the Hambantota port to Beijing. There now seems to be better understanding between the two countries.”

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 31 min 37 sec ago

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)

Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”