Dramatic change in Sri Lankan politics

Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena has dismissed his prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In the 2015 presidential election, it was Sirisena, then Health Minister in the Rajapaksa government, who defeated Rajapaksa and became president. As Rajapaksa was pursuing a pronouncedly pro-China policy, New Delhi heaved a sigh of relief. Sirisena was considered friendly to India. Things, however, started changing in Sri Lanka of late. The differences between president Sirisena and prime minister Wickremesinghe became manifest. Now the wheel has turned full circle. Wickremesinghe has been ousted, Rajapaksa has come back as prime minister.
What is intriguing is that Wickremesinghe visited New Delhi a few days ago – October 18 to be precise. Immediately after his return to Colombo there was a rumour that president Sirisena had told a cabinet meeting that India’s external espionage agency RAW was plotting  to assassinate him. New Delhi was taken aback. Though the Sri Lankan Government forthwith denied the rumour as baseless, it seemed things were not normal between Colombo and New Delhi. An opposition MP, Namal Rajapaksa demanded that Sirisena reveal the “names of the four RAW agents” in his Cabinet.
Coming in the wake of these events, the return of Rajapaksa as prime minister cannot but be a cause of concern for New Delhi. That Rajapaksa was regaining lost political ground became evident when in the local body elections his party won majority of seats by polling forty per cent of the total votes. Though Sirisena won the presidential election from an anti-Chinese platform, after assuming office he found he could not antagonize the Chinese. He had to assure Beijing that their investments in the island nation would be safe and the change in the leadership did not mean a change in Sri Lanka’s policy toward China.
Most ongoing Chinese projects were restarted, including the ambitious Colombo Port City project. It is being built on 250 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea and is expected to be completed by 2045. In fact China’s economic grip on Sri Lanka is too strong to be ignored. There is the example of the Hambantota port. The Chinese built it during Rajapaksa’s time. When Sirisena succeeded him, he tried hard to repay the loan the Chinese had advanced, but he failed. Ultimately he had to sell 80 per cent equity of the port and hand over 15,000 acres of land around the port to China. To combat Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, India has to match China in the field of economic assistance. Sri Lanka is too important for India to be ignored.

Monday, 29 October, 2018