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RAW, Sri Lanka & its President: Who is after whom?


News Analysis |

Media reports in India and Sri Lanka claimed that the President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena had accused India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing for plotting to assassinate him. However, some damage control measures have since been taken.

The Sri Lankan president reportedly said this at a weekly cabinet meeting with his ministers. He told those in attendance that RAW was “trying to kill” him but “Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not be aware of the plan.” An anonymous source said that “we were just shocked when he said it.” This news was first reported in The Hindu in India and EconomyNext in Sri Lanka.

Chinese ingress in Sri Lanka means Beijing has a presence right at the underbelly of India, something which New Delhi would like to oppose when possible.

This ‘assassination bombshell’, as EconomyNext calls it, was dropped by the President days before the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe was scheduled to visit New Delhi. He was to meet PM Modi of India to discuss bilateral ties and projects in Sri Lanka that India is providing assistance for.

An Indian national hailing from Kerala in India was arrested on a tip-off late in September. This individual was interrogated by the Sri Lankan CID and claimed to know of a plot to assassinate the President. Sirisena was reported as saying “the Indian national must be a RAW agent trying to kill me. The Indian PM may not be aware. That is often the case.”

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The India newspaper The Hindu claims to have spoken to several government officials to verify what the President reportedly said. It is curious to note that the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka had a heated argument over the development of the Colombo Port. The President vehemently opposed any Indian involvement in its development.

On the other hand, the Prime Minister seemed to be in favor of India involvement in the project. His visit to New Delhi may prove to be consequential in this regard. Supposedly, 80% of the cargo held at the port in question is to be Indian. Sri Lanka also relied on Chinese loans for some development projects.

The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has arrived in New Delhi for a three-day visit in which wide-ranging talks are scheduled to be held.

When it couldn’t pay back the loans, the debt was converted into equity and China secured a 99-year lease over the Hambantota port. Chinese ingress in Sri Lanka means Beijing has a presence right at the underbelly of India, something which New Delhi would like to oppose when possible.

The Colombo port which the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka have strong opinions about seems to be a test case of how much influence India could gain in the island nation. It appears as though Sirisena and Wickremesinghe are resenting opposing interests.

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Could it be possible that the President ‘leaked’ the news about the assassination plot in order to derail talks the Prime Minister was going to have PM Modi? ; Talks that could potentially lead to finalization of India involvement in the Colombo port?

That almost sounds like a conspiracy theory. But then again, politics at the highest levels can be Machiavellian. It is not outside the realm of possibility that media pressure could be used to influence policy direction. There have been such instances in Pakistan. There was a report in some media channels that the Western route of CPEC had been canceled.

The Indian PM has appreciated efforts by the government in Colombo to reject misinformation in the media.

The then PM Nawaz Sharif eventually had to call All-Parties conference to dissuade people who were convinced the news was true. Misinformation in the media can often muddle important policy debates. The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has arrived in New Delhi for a three-day visit in which wide-ranging talks are scheduled to be held.

Meanwhile, the President of Sri Lanka categorically denies media reports eluding the involvement of RAW in some assassination plot against him. The Indian PM has appreciated efforts by the government in Colombo to reject misinformation in the media. However, it’s curious that The Hindu claimed to have asked several government officials confirming what the President said at the time.

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Were all those unnamed officials wrong about what they seemed to have heard? Or is the President taking a U-turn on this issue and siding with the Prime Minister as far as Indian involvement in development projects in Sri Lanka is concerned? Even the Hindu has since updated their article, adding that previous media reports are rejected by the President.