- Sputnik International, 1920, 24.01.2023
Find top stories and features from Asia and the Pacific region. Keep updated on major political stories and analyses from Asia and the Pacific. All you want to know about China, Japan, North and South Korea, India and Pakistan, Southeast Asia and Oceania.

How Does Political Instability in Sri Lanka Pose a Threat to India?

© AFP 2023 / -Demonstrators and government supporters clash outside the President's office in Colombo on May 9, 2022
Demonstrators and government supporters clash outside the President's office in Colombo on May 9, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.05.2022
As Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has crippled everyday life due to shortages of fuel, food and other emergency items, New Delhi has responded generously to Colombo’s appeals for help. India’s economic assistance package to Sri Lanka has amounted to $3.5 billion, more than any other nation.
When Ranil Wikremesinghe took the oath as Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister on Thursday evening, India was the first country to laud the development.

“The High Commission of India hopes for political stability and looks forward to working with the Government of Sri Lanka, formed following democratic processes according to the swearing-in of Ranil Wikremesinghe as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka," the Indian mission in Colombo stated on Thursday.

On Friday, Wikremesinghe also met the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay, as per a statement by the Indian mission.
"(They) discussed continued cooperation for economic recovery and stability in Sri Lanka through democratic processes towards the well being of all the people of Sri Lanka," the Indian High Commission tweeted.
Colonel (Retd.) Ramani Hariharan, who headed the Indian intelligence when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) intervened in Sri Lanka in 1987, says that the economic crisis in Sri Lanka has brought into focus the “indispensability” of New Delhi for Colombo.

While Hariharan notes that stepping down of ex-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa this week might be “welcomed” in India, New Delhi would be wise to wait for an assessment of the overall fallout from recent turmoil on the island.

India had expressed concerns about Colombo’s growing economic proximity with Beijing under Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served both as President as well as Prime Minister.
He notes that Colombo and Beijing intensified economic and defence ties under Mahinda Rajapaksa, much to the chagrin of Delhi.
Sputnik: What are the implications of a politically unstable Sri Lanka, as far as India is concerned?
Hariharan: It is very clear than an unstable Sri Lanka will be a very big headache for India. India is so proximate to Sri Lanka that refugees will start landing up here (in the event of a major crisis). It has already happened in 1983, when a couple of lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of Tamil refugees came here due to the anti-Tamil riots there.
Then, there was an exodus of refugees from Sri Lanka in 1990 and between 1995 till 2002, which was when the hostilities between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was at its peak. Then, there were refugees from Sri Lanka during the final stages of the LTTE war in 2008-09.
Some refugees even landed up in India in the current episode, but, luckily, it wasn’t not on the same dimension as then.

India is helping in a very big way because it doesn’t want a destabilised Sri Lanka. India didn’t want an unstable Afghanistan, which has already happened. Pakistan is also on the brink of political instability. Then, there is political crisis in Myanmar, which is on India’s eastern border.

All of this tends to distracts India’s attention.
Sputnik: What are the options for China now, which is a huge investor in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure projects? Are we going to see India-China rivalry play out in Sri Lanka?
Hariharan: China has invested on a massive scale in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in Sri Lanka. The projections (about the success of the Chinese investments) could not succeed… At the same time, China could not step in when asked for an economic assistance package by Sri Lanka in order to alleviate its economic crisis.
Sri Lankan university students shouts slogans against government during a protest over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades as they climb the wall of the residence of prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo, Sri Lanka - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.04.2022
'Debt Trap is a Myth': China Rejects Allegations Blaming It for Sri Lankan Economic Crisis
Previously, both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa were seen as very close to China.
So, China is very much present in Sri Lanka, be it through its involvement in the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) project (and Colombo International Financial City), which is entirely in Beijing’s control.
Colombo also awarded a controlling stake (and a 99-year lease) in the Hambantota port to a Chinese state company in 2017.
India’s problem is that the Colombo port also has a terminal that’s very important for New Delhi’s inward and outward trade. Around 70 per cent of the ships from and bound for India do their sorting in Colombo. Two terminals at the Colombo port are also managed by China. So, the Chinese have a direct control over India’s strategic interests.
But Chinese concerns about India are set to increase as New Delhi aims to redevelop its presence in Tricomalee, another major port. One major advantage that India has over China is the geographical proximity. The Chinese have to traverse 2,000 kilometres to access the Indian Ocean.
So, they have developed a presence in ports like Hambantota and Gwadar (Pakistan), which at present are not military bases. But if it comes to the pinch of confrontation, one can’t rule out the risks.
India will be carefully watching China’s activities in Sri Lanka now.
Sputnik: So, political instability in Sri Lanka is of concern to India because of the possible flow of refugees and due to a potentially increasing military role that Beijing could play amid a politically volatile situation.
Hariharan: There is also a third dimension, which is an internal one. When the peaceful protesters in Galle and Colombo were attacked by supporters of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on 9 May, a big reaction from the trade unions ensued.
The Frontiline Socialist Party, a very small party representing the trade unions and mostly based in urban areas, spearheaded the public reaction to the protests. To me, the violence against government lawmakers, officials and the torching of properties was carried out by backers of this party, not the peaceful protesters. The response to violence was very systematic and swift.
This systematic threat signifies the failure of Sri Lankan intelligence.
So, the Army is watching these developments and could move to step in if it sees that the trade unions continue to influence the protests. We must remember that President Gotabaya enjoys strong support of the Sri Lankan Army.
Sputnik: Washington has been stepping up its role in Sri Lanka and the broader South Asian region in recent years, possibly to counter growing Chinese influence in the region. How do you view America’s role in the region?
Hariharan: The US is a very silent player in Sri Lanka. It has been pressuring Sri Lanka in many ways. The US has commented on the crackdown on the public (anti-government protesters), which took place on 10 May.
India, on the other hand, can’t comment on that as openly as the US did. While the US is not present in the region in a big way, we must remember that it is part of the Quad. So, the US is very much in the region watching the situation closely.
And so is Japan, which is a close developmental partner of Sri Lanka and carries out joint projects with India in Sri Lanka.
Sputnik: President Gotabaya has said that he is ready to dilute the powers of the executive presidency and enact the 19th Amendment. Is this a welcome development for India as well?
Hariharan: Very right. It is part of the democratic process. Not only India, even the UN Human Rights Commission and the US has supported this.
India has consistently advised Sri Lanka to devolve powers from the executive presidency, a provision which was also part of India-Sri Lanka Accords in 1987.
To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала