Why Delhi Must Act to Align Interests With Sri Lanka Prez’s Vision
President Gotabaya Rajpaksa has a unique opportunity to address several national issues that remained on the side-lines during the administration of his predecessor, Maithripala Sirisena and also in the second term of then President Mahinda Rajpaksa.
Both Maithripala and Mahinda offered much promise but fell short of expectations. Gotabaya is not a stranger to the strength and power of the high office of the Presidency, which he now occupies, especially after having carried out the mandate of the then President Mahinda Rajpaksa to ending the decades long civil war. He understands its nuances of power in a strategic manner. This time around the mandate received from the by him is even more powerful as he now has to lead the country towards unity, stability and development by taking all people and shades of opinion along-with him. The next several months will certainly be a major test for him.
What Next for India-Sri Lanka Relationship?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has congratulated Gotabaya and invited him to India. This is India’s first contact with Sri Lanka at its highest political levels since the presidential elections. Sri Lanka is of considerable strategic importance for India. Gotabaya is aware of this fact by virtue of his close connections to the Indian establishment during his days as the defense secretary and adviser to Mahinda. There are several factors in bilateral relations that require attention of both governments.
For India, it may be worth considering upgrading Sri Lanka’s profile in its development assistance programs and give the Foreign Ministry much more say in the disbursement and management of funds announced under different lines of credit and in doing so involve the corporate sector proactively. Our corporate giants have to reset their compass to look at Sri Lanka as a destination for investment in manufacturing and allied industry including food and marine products processing. India has proved to be a reliable ally in the field of security and intelligence.
Basil Rajpaksa is credited to be the architect behind the Gotabaya victory and remains a crucial player in all major decisions pertaining to India and his imprint will be seen in economic development and financial planning with special emphasis as a trouble shooter for Gotabaya and the government. The growth and development of India-Sri Lanka relations requires very strong political impetus and support. Basil has a major role to play here irrespective of the role assigned to him. He will clearly be a points-person for India-Sri Lanka relations.
De-radicalisation Roadmap and Winning Over Alienated Jaffna
The Rajpaksa think-tank will have to create a road map for de-radicalization, de-alienation, re-stabilization and de-polarization though out the country. An analysis of the presidential election results has underlined the need for early and immediate solution to the general feeling that the community is split on racial lines.
Gotabaya has to address this in several ways to bringing about a healing touch and create the right ambience for unity and reconciliation.
The import of the election statistics in Jaffna peninsula and other areas, that overwhelmingly voted for the UNP/NDF candidate, is a reminder that the minority communities are still not part of the national mainstream. A school of thought opines that Maithripala Sirisena squandered away the goodwill extended by them during his entire term.
They point out that even President Mahindra Rajpaksa, in his second tenure, could have done much for them especially in the post-2012 period which witnessed violence and attacks on minority communities. There is, therefore, a great sense of dissatisfaction among the minorities and this must engage the attention of the Rajpaksa think-tank. Further, having clinched over 52% of the votes at the elections, Gotabaya received a mammoth heads-up from the majority Sinhala community. He will also need to carefully calibrate reforms that have to be in sync with the majority community.
Creating New Political Environment by Encouraging Younger Aspirants
For the opposition parties and minority community, time has come to review their strategy and policies. The UNP has to return to drawing board and prepare for the parliamentary elections and also a new leadership. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is now a shadow of its past and has to consider ways and means to remaining relevant in the present political environment.
Its leadership may be guilty of squandering opportunities to build strong and vibrant political platform and also to obtain the best possible benefits for its constituents. The moot question is whether they mustered the will to remain relevant and also prove that they have not outlived their utility.
The Muslim community, too, seems to be in the same boat. The writing is on the wall as they have to come up with out of box strategy. They have to ensure that they are equal to the task when the country goes to the polls to elect a new parliament and improve their standing in the community. Both TNA and Muslim community have to consider younger aspirants to fight local body and provincial council elections and create a new political environment.
Other Challenges for Gotabaya Rajpaksa
It is obvious that Gotabaya will need to hold parliamentary elections sooner than later so as to form his cabinet and council of ministers to administer Sri Lanka in keeping with his political vision and policy. He will have to wait for a few months for it and in the interim prepare to win parliament in a convincing manner. The country cannot afford to witness a repeat of several episodes that characterized the Maithripala Sirisena- Ranil Wickremesinghe administration.
The Constitutional imbalance has to be addressed since under the previous dispensation most of the powers of executive presidency were exercised by Ranil. Mahinda has indicated that the government would study the 19th constitutional amendment and plan out a course of action as soon Gotabaya takes office.
A major political development is certainly in the offing which may also entail reconstitution of the existing cabinet and council of ministers in next few days. A number of senior ministers have resigned from the government. The focus will be on new ministerial entrants as also the civil service. The next couple of months will arguably be busy times for the Rajapaksa think-tank to ensure that the country moves forward rapidly towards economic stability and development.
(PM Heblikar is Managing Trustee, Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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