Colombo/New Delhi: The recent attacks on Sri Lankan pilgrims in Tamil Nadu and the shrill protest over training of its military personnel in India has deeply "hurt" and perhaps has even scarred India -Sri Lanka relations, which is now passing through a delicate phase, but Sri Lanka isn't yet considering chaining horses mid-stream.
Speaking to Indian journalists in Colombo, Sri Lanka's powerful Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is also the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said "It hurt our feelings. We cannot hide it. We never thought this will happen in India...But we have no hard feelings towards India or its people," he said. "I believe that the people of Tamil Nadu understand that nobody gains from such incidents," he said.
Over 180 Sri Lankan pilgrims were mobbed and harassed when they were visiting the ancient Poornimatha Church in Thanjavur in the first week of September. The pilgrims had to take refuge in the church. Sri Lanka then issued travel advisory asking its citizens to avoid visiting Tamil Nadu.
Mr Rajapaksa, however, made clear that his government isn't yet rethinking its military ties with India. "We have never thought about reconsidering our diplomatic and military ties with India," he said. Sri Lanka, he said was "very firm" on continuing the training programme and ruled out looking at China to replace in India. "No, we have never (thought about it) because in our long history since the days when we moved from British shoulders all training (to army personnel) were done in India or in Pakistan," he said. He was responding to a question whether Sri Lanka was reconsidering the training programme to its men in India and could possibly get them trained in countries like China in the wake of protests in Tamil Nadu.
Clarifying Sri Lanka's position further, he said, "There can be various opinions, but we can't (shift the programme). We are very firm on that and we have confidence (that it will continue). We have not even thought about," he said. The minister noted the long-standing defence ties with India and pointed out that the top military leadership of Sri Lanka starting with the Defence Secretary to Army commanders, have been trained in India.
"Everyone goes to India first and only then they are sent to other countries like USA (for training)," he said.
His comments assume significance since the Government of India had to shift the Sri Lankan military personnel training in Tamil Nadu to other bases following shrill protest by almost all political parties in Tamil Nadu, who opposed their training programme in India. Mr Basil Rajapksa also allayed apprehension, that have been expressed some sections in India, about Sri Lanka moving closer to China. "We look India in a much bigger way," he said.