He came to the national capital alone at the tender age of 20, but with a determination to learn. Exactly 44 years on, Sudharshan Seneviratne is back in the city for a long haul, this time as Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India.
The nomination of Seneviratne, a renowned archaeologist, for replacement of Prasad Kariyawasam had surprised many. After all, he is the first person from outside the diplomatic service to grace the coveted post in the past two decades.
Sitting in his office here, Seneviratne is coming to grips with his new job, even as he rekindles old friendships from his university days. “I feel like having come back home,” he told Express in his first interview after presenting his credentials on July 31. A soft-spoken academic, who has spent all his life among books and ancient monuments, Seneviratne’s nomination, was certainly a signal from Colombo that it intends to forge another path in its relationship with its bigger Northern neighbor.
An inkling about his appointment came soon after India voted in the UN Human Rights Council against an independent probe into the alleged excesses by the Lankan forces in the war against Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE).
“A week after the vote, President Mahinda Rajapaksa contacted me regarding the High Commissioner post... I think he thought we should reach out to India,” Seneviratne said. The Lankan Mission here is critical as the Ambassador has to liaison with 83 other foreign Missions, which are concurrently accredited to Colombo. The role is especially delicate, with Lanka being the focus of an international probe set up by UNHRC this year, supported by the West, but opposed by Arab and Asian nations.
Following India’s vote in the UN and India visit of the Lankan President, there has been an upswing in the bilateral ties. “With my arrival, I feel the relations have become more positive,” he said.
During his 10-year stay here, Seneviratne first studied at Hindu College and then became the first Lankan to complete his masters and doctoral thesis from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Shared heritage and cultural life
“More than anything, the goodwill is still here. Everybody has been so supportive. It has been very emotional. My gurus are here,” said Seneviratne, who had studied under RomilaThapar and R Champakalakshmi. His doctoral thesis was on “Social Base of Early Buddhism in Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka from third Century BC to third Century AD”. This has been the forerunner of the main theme of his professional life -- the shared heritage and cultural life between Lanka and South India.
Now, as the High Commissioner he would like to see more collaboration between the two countries in higher education, archaeology and heritage management. In fact, Seneviratne is particularly interested in replicating the idea of a Kalinga-Sri Lanka foundation in other states. “We would like to have similar outreach in states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala,” he said. Seneviratne still reminisces his visits to Tamil Nadu during his research days. “I cannot forget the people of Tamil Nadu, including my colleagues as well as some of my teachers. We always had an emotional bond,” he said. Seneviratne is also eager to call on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Courtesy: The New Indian Express