By R. Hariharan –
Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is neither a stranger to the inner circle of New Delhi polity nor an unfamiliar personality in the North Block. However, for the duration of the final 1 year his profile has undergone a welcome make more than. The fortunes of this seasoned political leader, identified more for his failures than successes in his repeated forays for power, pulled a political coup of sorts. In league with Maithripala Sirisena, one more political veteran even though from the opposition, he thwarted former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid for energy twice!
The duo defeated Rajapaksa’s electoral bid for a third term as president in January and seven months later they outsmarted Rajapaksa’s try to comeback to power utilizing his loyalists in the seemingly more potent coalition – the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), in the recently held general election.
As a result Prime Mininister Wickremesinghe now enjoys power with a public endorsement of his political agenda twice inside a year. Regardless of political obstacles the Wickremesinghe-Sirisena duo had made some progress in living up to the expectations of the public. Their promises include increasing the accountability of the executive president to the parliament, empowerment of the prime minister and cleaning up the administration of corruption and cronyism. Their perform carried out so far, although still not completed, has restored Sri Lanka’s credibility which was eroded each at house and abroad by former president Rajapaksa’s autocratic style of governance.
Wickremesinghe is heading a national alliance government, the 1st since 1977, in which the ruling United National Party (UNP) and the principal opposition the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have come with each other. This has enhanced the possibilities of advertising a national agenda to focusing on improvement in an environment of unity, peace and harmony. Former president Rajapaksa, failed to do just that in spite of his singular success in receiving rid of the LTTE once and for all. He frittered away five years of peace that followed the military victory in Might 2009 by focusing on strengthening his help base. As a result the socio-political atmosphere was vitiated by acrimony, distrust, religious and ethnic polemics and strife.
This has increased the probabilities of the present government making additional progress in its reform agenda regardless of the widespread cynicism in the political milieu. But Wickremesinghe would be more confident than ever ahead of when he visits New Delhi nowadays for the very first time right after becoming prime minister.
There is a lot of convergence in between the leadership in India and Sri Lanka in their outlook than ahead of. Wickremesinghe’s agenda to correct Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China after Rajapaksa had succumbed to its “fatal” charm in the locations of strategic safety and trade was 1 such area. So it was not surprising to uncover the Ranil- Maithripala duo welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s renewed efforts to build a broadened and enduring connection with Sri Lanka when he visited the island nation some months back. They reciprocated his wish to get rid of other kinks in the relations among the two countries that had appeared during the earlier regime. This makes the Sri Lankan leader’s New Delhi visit a specific one as Sri Lanka government probably enjoys greater credibility in the corridors of North Block than Rajapaksa ever did.
Both Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena have also shown their readiness to act upon the concerns of both India and the West such as the US, which were dealt with superficially in the course of ten years of Rajapaksa rule. These issues are confident to be incorporated in Modi-Wickremesinghe talks even if they are not aired in public due to national sensitivity more than some of them in both countries.
Both India and the West were irritated by Rajapaksa’s ploy to twist their issues over his government’s dismal human rights record throughout and following the ethnic conflict to whip up Sinhala nationalism and encourage xenophobia for his political benefit. Similarly, he distorted their insistence on resuming the political dialogue approach with Tamil polity to resolve their long standing demand for equity with Sinhala majority as encouragement to Tamil separatism.
This had produced issues for India as its adverse fallout in Tamil Nadu politics adversely affected the fortunes of successive governments in New Delhi. This had cramped India’s efforts to meaningfully contribute to create a win-win connection with Sri Lanka. This weakness was exploited by China to enter Sri Lanka in a huge way.
Even though the coalition era has ended in New Delhi, ethnic amity in Sri Lanka will continue to influence India’s policy not only due to its impact on Tamil Nadu politics, but also in the interest of national safety. India and Sri Lanka are geographically too close to every other producing their national security interests complimentary than contentious. This makes it required for them to create a mutually reinforcing partnership, notwithstanding their unequal sizes and strengths.
Political dispensation for Sri Lanka Tamils will continue to stay one particular of lynchpins to progress India-Sri Lanka realtions. The Wickremesinghe government had tried to break the impasse in resuming the dialogue procedure with Tamils within the ambit of 13th Amendment (13A) to the Constitution which is supported by India. Nonetheless, it will be politically hard for the Sri Lanka government to grant land and police powers envisaged in the 13A to the provincial councils. We can anticipate this situation to come up when Modi and Wickremesinghe meet, though it is a moot point regardless of whether it would go beyond creating cordial statements.
For both India and the West, Rajapaksa reneging on his promises to them attend their issues went beyond matters of Sri Lanka’s internal politics it became a challenge to their strategic power assertion specifically right after he got cozy with China and provided a welcome strategic foothold for China in Sri Lanka in India’s close proximity and midway in the Indian Ocean sea lanes by means of which bulk of global maritime trade is performed. This assumes specific significance in the light of China growing assertion of is naval power in Asia- Pacific area, specifically in the Indian Ocean.
From the Sri Lankan viewpoint, there are some issues exactly where it wants India’s help and understanding. The UN Human Rights Council Rights Council (UNHRC) discussion on Sri Lanka’s comply with up actions taken on the US-sponsored resolution passed session 3 years back would come up on Friday, right after the report of the UN Human Rights Commissioner is presented. Although the US is probably to modify its insistence on a UN sponsored international inquiry by accepting a domestic inquiry with the assistance of the UNHRC, Sri Lanka needs Indian assistance to broaden its help base. Though the US move has met with some political criticism in Tamil Nadu and agitation by fringe elements egged on by the Sri Lanka Diaspora, India had always supported domestic inquiries in preference to international ones. In view of this the compromise resolution recommended by the US would almost certainly be supported by India.
The second situation is Indo-Sri Lanka trade. During his Colombo pay a visit to, Prime Minister Modi had revived the idea of a Comprehensive Financial Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in between India and Sri Lanka. India had mooted the idea and it nearly came via in 2008. Nevertheless, in the face of protest from neighborhood enterprise, the Rajapaksa government created cold feet and gave it up following that. Sri Lanka is facing exceptional economic crunch and troubles of debt servicing for the servicing the loans it had incurred. Even the IMF had been lukewarm to the thought of lending much more to Sri Lanka to service Chinese loans.
So Sri Lanka urgently demands India’s hand holding to see it via its crisis. Nevertheless, it will be difficult for Sri Lanka government to openly help CEPA as it is probably a no-go location in Sri Lanka politics. However, it appears Sri Lanka would not be averse to operate out an economic arrangement comparable to CEPA though it may be called by a various name. This was indicated in a report in Sunday Times, Colombo which quoted Sri Lanka Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva as saying that CEPA troubles have been likely to be among other essential issues throughout the bilateral talks between the two leaders. He added, “We should push for such agreements with nations like India. However, we need to not blindly enter into such agreements. We must study in detail our personal experiences and that of other equivalent countries to negotiate the best deal for us. Any bilateral or multilateral trade agreement that rewards Sri Lanka have to be pursued.”
*Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence officer, is related with the South Asia Analysis Group, and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail:[email protected] Website: www.col.hariharan.information