The visit by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Delhi ended almost unnoticed but for a remark by the Official Spokesman during Q&A at a media briefing on Thursday that “all bilateral issues were discussed… discussions basically focused mainly on the bilateral relations and how to strengthen them further and beyond that, actually, I can’t share on this forum.”
The Sri Lankan side did slightly better by issuing a press release (in Sinhala meant for domestic audience), which was still helpful where it said that Wickremesinghe “is always prepared to take all efforts to accelerate all the Sri Lankan-Indian joint venture projects” and “expressed his confidence on the possibility of solving the problems that have emerged at present.”
The Sri Lankan High Commissioner Chithranganie Wagishwara subsequently told the Hindu newspaper, “Our focus was on the implementation of all the decisions taken so far. Both Prime Ministers and the delegations spent much of their discussions on reviewing what has been done, what needs to be done and what needs to be speeded up.”
Wickremesinghe’s partymen are reportedly are conspiring to form a new government by jettisoning the alliance with President Sirisena.
Clearly, Sri Lankan ‘talking points’ focused on the tardy implementation of the ongoing Indian projects rather than on finalizing any new major projects. Simply put, our historic proposals on two flagship projects to rival China – Trincomalee oil farm project and the takeover of Rajapaksa International Airport at Mattala – have been put on hold by Colombo. If history provides any clue, they may never see the light of day, leaving us to draw own conclusions in due course.
Wickremesinghe, who came to power following the ‘regime change’ in January 2015, has been a disappointment. His reputation as a pro-western leader is correct but Modi government’s assumption that anyone who is ‘pro-West’ (read pro-US) would also be ‘pro-India’ turns out to be a false notion. Delhi put faith in him to roll back Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. Instead, China only expanded its presence in Sri Lanka during this recent period.
A disturbing question must be asked – frankly, two questions. One, hasn’t the naivety of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in diplomacy and international relations and its parochial mindset been badly exposed – in its assumption that by accentuating the ‘civilizational’ (read Buddhist) affinities with Sri Lanka and shoving under the carpet the Tamil issue, Colombo elites would accept Indian hegemony?
Two, more importantly, with the LTTE vanquished (thanks to India’s backing for Colombo’s war effort), hasn’t Delhi altogether lost its capacity to leverage or influence Sri Lankan policies?
The Sri Lankan High Commissioner Chithranganie Wagishwara subsequently told the Hindu newspaper, “Our focus was on the implementation of all the decisions taken so far.
However, Wickremesinghe cannot be faulted f he is unable to deliver on the proposed Indian projects in Trincomalee and Mattala. His visit to Delhi (following his darshan at Mookambika temple) came at a time when he is fighting for political survival. He is not in a position to deliver on anything anymore. The coalition government in Colombo, which came into being following the ouster of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is unraveling.
President Maithripala Sirisena is being accused of corruption by PM Wickremesinghe’s senior party colleagues (such as foreign trade minister Sujeewa Senasinghe) who also allege that the inquiry into the so-called bond scam (which cost the government over $1 billion) is an act of political vendetta by Sirisena against Wickremesinghe’s partymen are reportedly are conspiring to form a new government by jettisoning the alliance with President Sirisena. Incredibly enough, a patch-up between Sirisena and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot be ruled out in the political realignments under way.
Sri Lankan ‘talking points’ focused on the tardy implementation of the ongoing Indian projects rather than on finalizing any new major projects.
Wickremesinghe’s real mission could have been to gauge the temperature in Delhi. One can only hope that Delhi doesn’t get sucked into the Sri Lankan whirlpool. There’s a saying, ‘Once bitten, twice shy’. Regime change is always a dicey business, especially in countries such as Nepal or Sri Lanka with politicians who refuse to be regimented as ‘pro’ or ‘anti’.
It is wise to pursue interests that are immutable rather than chasing chimeras. And those interests certainly included the just and fair settlement of the Sri Lankan Tamil problem. The Modi government’s benign neglect didn’t bring expected dividends.
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.