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Lanka apology after ‘love letter’ row
- Colombo removes article on defence ministry website that denigrated Modi, Jaya

Chennai, Aug. 1: Sri Lanka today apologised to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa after the title of an article on its defence ministry website and the visuals accompanying it triggered a furore in India.

The write-up by independent author Shenali D. Waduge, which referred to the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s letters to Modi over Colombo’s arrest of Indian fishermen, was titled “How meaningful are Jayalalitha’s love letters to Narendra Modi?”

It was accompanied by a picture of Modi enclosed within a heart sign just above a photo of Jayalalithaa, appearing to imply she was dreaming about him.

Posted on the top of the ministry homepage this morning, the article was removed by afternoon after protests from Tamil Nadu politicians who raised the matter in Parliament.

“We extend an unqualified apology to the Hon. Prime Minister of India and Hon. Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu,” said a statement posted on the Lankan defence ministry website sometime later.

It said the article had been “published without appropriate authorisation and not reflecting any official position of the government of Sri Lanka or ministry of defence”.

The apology appeared to be a late realisation on Colombo’s part since it had initially withdrawn only the visuals — following the outcry in India — while letting the article with its disparaging title stay.

“Whoever thought they were taking pot shots at Jayalalithaa failed to realise that they were lampooning Modi as well given the context of the title for the article,” said an official from the Sri Lankan deputy high commission in Chennai.

“They should have removed it completely the moment it was highlighted by Tamil news channels in India.”

Fears of possible attacks on Lankan residents and tourists in Tamil Nadu, for which there is precedent, may have prompted the article’s eventual removal.

A disclaimer at the end of the article had claimed “the ministry of defence bears no responsibility for the ideas and opinions by numerous contributors to the ‘Opinion’ page of this website”. But some Tamil Nadu politicians argued that nothing on the homepage reflected that the write-up was the individual opinion of a contributor.

“It’s very placement on the top of the homepage with a red pointer describing it as ‘New’ gave the impression that it had the complete endorsement of the defence ministry,” said AIADMK parliamentarian V. Mythreyan, who drew Parliament’s attention to the matter.

The article alleged that Jayalalithaa’s “tantrums are dampening the otherwise positive outlook of the Modi-led BJP government”.

It argued that Jaya was trying to help the boat owners who were forcing Indian fishermen to poach in Sri Lankan waters as no fish was available in Indian waters.

“She should be advised to stop her tantrums and start looking at how the Indian fishermen can be absorbed into a new avenue of livelihood if there are no fish to fish in Indian waters.”

The article said that since Jayalalithaa knew that her state’s fishermen were “violating internationally demarcated waters and poaching while also using internationally banned bottom trawlers, it is unjustified to ask the Indian Prime Minister to take action against Sri Lanka”.

“Obviously she is attempting to dent the popularity of the Indian Prime Minister while also disturbing the amity that is being built between the two nations,” the article said.

“Her actions are obviously aligned to the undiplomatic and unscrupulous policies followed by the Sonia-led Congress government where the central government of India was virtually kept strangulated and on a noose by successive Tamil Nadu governments.”

Tamil Nadu political parties from across the spectrum — including the DMK and the Congress — condemned the article.

“It’s a brazen attempt to cause division between the Centre and Tamil Nadu and amounts to gross interference in India’s internal affairs,” MDMK leader Vaiko said.