India and Sri Lanka are working to fix the dates for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to make New Delhi his first foreign port of call this month itself.
Sources told Express that there had been exchange of dates for Wickremesinghe’s visit. “It could take place within the next two to three weeks,” said a senior diplomat.This will be the first overseas visit of Wickremesinghe since he was appointed Prime Minister after the surprise win of Maithripala Sirisena in the Presidential elections in January, defeating two-term president Mahinda Rajapaksa. He had never ventured out of Sri Lanka during those eight months. After the UNP-led coalition again scored a victory in last month’s parliamentary polls, Wickremesinghe returned with a stronger mandate.
Indian was quite satisfied with the victory as it put a roadblock in the political comeback of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – and thereby allowed Colombo to take a more generous position on the reconciliation with Lankan Tamils.
President Sirisena had also chosen India as his first foreign destination in February. Sirisena Government is seen more friendly towards New Delhi as compared to Rajapaksa, whose regime was marked by the enlargement of Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean nation. The Lankan government had put on hold several large projects granted to Chinese firms.
The main uncertainty in deciding the dates is over the Cabinet formation. Wickremesinghe is now deeply engaged in negotiations with the second largest party — the Sri Lanka Freedom Party — over the division of portfolios in the jumbo Cabinet of the National Unity government.
“Obviously, the visit can only take place after the Cabinet is in place,” said another official. The government will also have to take parliamentary approval since the coalition Cabinet will exceed the cap of 30 ministers set in the Constitution, New Indian Express reports.