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.

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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.

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