The Narendra Modi-led Indian government does not understand Sri Lanka, and in fact, looks at it “in a different way”, the country’s former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told The Indian Express in an interview published on Sunday.

“We had a very good understanding with the Congress government in India, especially its bureaucrats,” Rajapaksa said. “We were able to get their fullest support in defeating the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam].”

“But the new government, especially the bureaucrats of the Narendra Modi government, look at Sri Lanka in a different way,” he said. “Without understanding it properly, without knowing the real facts on reports about submarines being docked at a Sri Lankan port…even the Indian media played it up.” Indian bureaucrats should have talked to the government and clarified matters, he added.

In 2017, Sri Lanka had reportedly rejected China’s request to let one of its submarines dock in Colombo when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting the nation. Colombo had last permitted a Chinese submarine to dock in its capital in October 2014, and India had expressed its opposition to the move. India is concerned about Beijing’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is the brother of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is being considered a potential presidential candidate for the 2020 elections. After the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, the 68-year-old Gotabaya Rajapaksa was charged with human rights offences – allegations that he has denied.

In response to a question about a perception in some circles that Sri Lanka was betraying India by moving closer to Beijing, he told The Indian Express that India “has to come out of this ‘China phobia’ with regard to its relationship with Sri Lanka”. Citing former Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon’s book Choices Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka had assured India that it was concerned about any security threats to India. “Our government never allowed Sri Lankan soil to be used by any foreign country against India…Diplomacy is an art of reciprocity, it is about engagement, conversations and mutual trust.”

He added that there were concerns among Sri Lanka’s patriots that India was working against Colombo’s interests. “For example, it is a known thing that [Indira] Gandhi supported and trained the LTTE in India. That created a huge anti-India feeling.”

Sri Lankans feel there is unnecessary influence by Indian governments in its internal affairs, Rajapaksa said, citing concerns during the previous change of government in the country. Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated and Maithripala Sirisena became the president. “The Indian government has to be more concerned about [such Sri Lankan worries] and study the situation, rather than act in haste,” he said.

Another problem, Rajapaksa claimed, was that India no longer talks to the Opposition in Sri Lanka. “During our time, it was normal for diplomats to meet opposition leaders here. Not only diplomats but even visitors from India would meet opposition leaders. But now, even the Indian High Commission is frightened to meet us.”