Sri Lanka: Return of Ranil, what it means for India

In an interview to N. Ram for ‘The Hindu’ a day after being sworn in as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister – for a second time in eight months and fourth time, overall – Ranil Wickremesinghe referred to India-facilitated Thirteenth Amendment, circa 1987, “build on it…maximise it” for finding a negotiated settlement to the vexatious ethnic issue in the island-nation. On China, another issue of concern for India, he had this to say: “We get back to having the close relations we had with the West and with India while maintaining our relationship with China, which has also been a longstanding one. And looking at our own role in the region and what stand we will take on some of the main international issues.”

Surprisingly for a South Asian, Third World nation’s Prime Minister in his place, Wickremesinghe was less critical of arch-political rival and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Was it a kind bonhomie that had marked the personal disposition of the two leaders towards each other through the past decade and more, or was it also indicative of a kind of broad national consensus’ on key issues about which enough signs and signals where available for long now?

If nothing else, until the ‘people were ready to vote out Rajapaksa’ or even afterward, Ranil and his UNP were less than critical of the former’s regime. It owed to their combined ability to retain and recover much of the ‘traditional’ UNP vote-share/vote-bank on the one hand. On the other, they might have also not wanted to risk targeting the ‘war-victor’, whose image the civil society and the social media had sullied enough.

Read More

Sri Lanka: ‘Re-vitalising’ India relations even more after the polls

he results of the 17 August parliamentary polls have indicated the continuance of a ‘national government’ of the type that newly-elected President Maithripala Sirisena and his chosen Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had put together in January.

Considering that there is also a greater scope and urgent need for re-vitalising Sri Lanka-India relations than ever before, the two nations can now work on restoring the earlier confidence, brick by brick – but with all-round reversals from time to time. How they work on it all could also determine the nature and course of India’s Indian Ocean neighbourhood relations, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had ‘re-vitalised’ with his three-nation tour in March this year.

India-Sri Lanka relations are like none other in bilateral relations for both. Going beyond the ‘China angle’ – it used to be the US during the ‘Cold War’ era – the two South Asian neighbours are bound by the ‘ethnic issue’, with constant reverberations in southern Tamil Nadu – often, independent of the party or leader in power at the Centre.

It is one such time again for India and India-Sri Lanka relations. Independent of whoever is in power in Sri Lanka, the nation can breathe easy that the Indian position over war-time ‘accountability issues’ at the UNHRC would not (have to) change at the September session in Geneva. India too would not have to review its position, despite pressure from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Sri Lanka, over larger issues of ‘war-time accountability’ and blame-fixing.

Read More

Sri Lanka polls: Tough choices and the way ahead

Come Monday, 17 August, and Sri Lanka would have gone to nation-wide elections for the second time in eight months. The result will determine if the January 8 presidential poll was a freak, or heralded a “change of political culture,” as claimed by the victorious combine at the time.

That combination of present-day President Maithripala Sirisena, the beneficiary of the January poll, and his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was among his benefactors at the time, could continue toddling along, in the name of ‘good governance’, their two-word passport to power at the time. Any reversal of the electoral fate for the unpredictable combine could usher in more unpredictability, what with President Sirisena declaring that post-poll, he would not invite his predecessor and fellow-party man, Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa, to become prime minister in Ranil’s place.

Therein is a hitch. The diluted 19th Amendment to the Constitution that the present duo piloted and passed through the Parliament, in which they did not command a majority, is clear that the President can invite only the leader of the single largest party or group to form a government – as is the case with any parliamentary democracy. Diluting, if not outright removing the powers of the ‘Executive President’ as promised by the duo, 19-A, has also taken away Sirisena’s powers to dissolve Parliament at the end of one year.

Read More

Sri Lanka’s new Govt, and India and China

Sri Lanka has got a new President and a new government. The nation has voted in the common Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, and voted out incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promptly congratulated Sirisena, indicating the traditional Indian readiness and willingness to work with the new government.
Indian concerns in and with Sri Lanka can be broadly identified with the ‘ethnic issue’ and the ‘China factor’. As the facilitator of 13-A power-devolution deriving from the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, India owes to itself, the Tamils of Sri Lanka and that nation as a whole, to help restore ethnic peace and balance in that country.
The Indian sympathies and assistance, if any, for the Rajapaksa government to battle out the LTTE too derived from such a perception. However, the promised peace has eluded Sri Lanka, and that has had its overtones for politics and elections in India, with particular focus on southern Tamil Nadu. More so, it has also had impacted on bilateral relations in more ways than one, particularly in the larger international context of a succession of UNHRC votes on ‘accountability issue’ deriving from US-sponsored resolution on alleged ‘war crimes’ in Sri Lanka.

Read More