Tens of thousands of protesters broke police barriers blocking the President’s House today where Rajapaksa has been housed since late March when the island-wide protests raged calling for his resignation.
At least seven persons, including 2 policemen, were injured and admitted to the Colombo national hospital on Saturday, officials said. The police fired tear gas at two access roads to the President’s House — Chatham Street and Lotus Road, but the protesters continued. The protesters also clashed with the railway authorities in provincial towns of Galle, Kandy, and Matara as the demonstrators forced authorities to operate trains to Colombo. Large contingents of police, special task force, and the Army had been deployed around the area. Protesters said they won’t relent until Rajapaksa quits the presidency.
Sri Lankan Police had earlier in the day lifted the curfew imposed in seven positions in the country’s Western Province, including Colombo, before these planned anti-government protests, after coming under sustained pressure from top lawyers’ associations, human rights groups, and political parties.
The police curfew was imposed to quell the weekend protest rally march to Colombo from around the country planned over the weekend by religious leaders, political parties, medical practitioners, teachers, civil rights activists, farmers, and fishermen on Saturday demanding the resignation of the President as well as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. They blame Rajapaksa for the country’s economic condition.
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Last week, Wickremesinghe announced in Parliament that Sri Lanka would present a debt restructuring program to the IMF by August to secure a bailout package while underlining that negotiations with the global lender were more complex and challenging than in the past because the country was bankrupt. But political and economic instability could potentially derail Sri Lanka’s much-awaited USD 3 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.
What India can do to help Sri Lanka?
As a friendly neighbor, India has multiple roles assigned by anxious citizens for Sri Lanka’s political stability, economic recovery, and strategic security. It owes not only to India’s own needs, as often wrongly surmised in Sri Lanka but owes even more to Indian concerns that Sri Lanka does not end up with a ‘failed state’ tag as many had branded Pakistan in the neighborhood.
As the new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe should have the courage to own up for having introduced lop-sided economic reforms in 1978. This caused imported dairy products from New Zealand and Australia to kill the local village-based industry. India has the successful ‘Anand’ model that could help re-create the Sri Lankan dairy industry. This could restore the confidence of the rural population in the changing times, also put some cash into their pockets, and possibly also cut down import-bill by a certain degree. India also had an agreement for bi-annual gifting of 25,000 cattle-heads to Upcountry Tamils of recent Indian origin, or ‘Estate’ Tamils. New Delhi can revive the project and extend the scheme to all parts of Sri Lanka, as fast as it can.
Tea, incidentally linked to the lives and livelihoods of the ‘Estate Tamils’, is another export commodity that has been badly hit by Gota’s ‘organic fertilizer’ scheme. With no forex reserve to import cloth from Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka’s value-added textile exports have also been hit. Indications are that Indian suppliers, especially from the South, have benefited. While the new Sri Lankan government helps restore market confidence in the nation, India too may have to work with its industries, to see if the re-routed global trade did not adversely impact the neighborhood economy more than already. These require grassroots-level discussions and adjustments at multiple levels.
Tourism is the third Sri Lankan forex earner and a major one at that. It’s the one worst hit, beginning with the 2019 Easter serial blasts, followed by the global COVID-19 lockdowns. The current phase of unending political instability, in the face of the forex crisis, food and fuel shortage, hitting both the hospitality industry and transport sector, has worsened the situation when the nation was on the road to recovery. Using Sri Lanka’s current tourism plight, and Maldives’ successful recovery mode, the Indian industry can be encouraged to build the elusive tourism-hub model, to which Bhutan and Nepal too can be added in due course.
In the post-war era, the government of then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited reputed Indian agronomists and also IT czars, to re-build the former and create an IT/ITE industry, for local and export markets. Under threats from pan-Tamil elements in South India, they backed out. The government filled the agriculture revival in the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka. This, New Delhi can revive across that country and also look at joint IT sector development.
Can a merger be a solution?
The whole crisis can be blamed on one single factor i.e. the Rajapaksa clan who have worked against the interests of Sri Lanka to promote their own and China’s interests just like the Gandhi dynasty in India. Refer here which explains the crucial role played by Sonia in strengthening China at the cost of India’s interests. Merging with India will not only help Sri-Lankans get rid of the corrupt, anti-national Rajapaksa clan but also save them from Chinese predatory Imperialism.
India is a democratic country unlike China, Russia, or Saudi. Hence, the Sri-Lankans will have their rightful stake in the Governance just as the other states of India in accordance to their population. India is a federal country (on similar lines as US or Germany). This will ensure that the Sri-Lankan Govt will have its rightful stake in Parliament. Unlike China or Russia or Pakistan which force their own language (Russian, Chinese, or Urdu) on linguistic minorities, India has an elaborate eight schedule where all major languages are listed and states have the right to propagate their own language. Sinhalese (the major language spoken in Sri Lanka) can be listed in the Eighth Schedule.
Sri-Lankans are Hindus (who worship the Buddha, the Ninth avatar of Lord Vishnu) and hence have deep religious and cultural ties with India. China has long set its predatory eyes on Sri Lanka. With Sri-Lanka merging with India, China’s influence in the Indian Ocean will go down and hence Sri-Lanka will be guaranteed freedom from Chinese colonialism.
Last, but not least: Rajapaksa amended Sri Lanka’s constitution to give himself more power (similar to what Indira Gandhi did during an emergency). With the Indian constitution being applied to them, the Sri-Lankans won’t have to face these types of political mavericks.
In nutshell, Sri-Lankans will have more rights as a citizen if they merge with India.
The food, petrol, and energy crisis will become a thing of the past. Why? India is a big country. If any such problem arises, resources from other states in India will be pushed and Sri-Lankans will never face such a crisis. Sri-Lankans will get a big market to export and import and hence will be benefited financially. The mainstay of Sri-Lankans’ livelihood is tourism. Sri Lanka is a very beautiful place. With no travel restrictions, Indians can freely move to Sri Lanka and vice-versa
How can it be done?
Sri-Lankans should kick out the Chinese agent (Rajapaksa clan) just as Indians kicked out the Congress (and the clan) in 2014. After a referendum, apply the Indian constitution with exceptions in article 371 as provided to many other states. Split the Tamil-speaking areas of Sri Lanka and merge them with Tamil Nadu. Make the rest of Sri Lanka a state of India just like other states like UP or Odisha or Kerala. However, if India will ever do it, will be a matter of discussion.
While most Sri Lankans, of various ethnicities, languages, and other internal divisions, are thankful for India’s live-saving gesture of the past weeks, there are still those that do benefit from New Delhi’s help and yet continue with their traditional anti-India posturing, without any justification.
In this background, and given the added complexities of the hour, nations, not excluding India, would do well not to go to Sri Lankans with their textbook template models for ‘problem-solving’ and ‘conflict-resolution’, militant or otherwise. India, Norway, and to a lesser extent Japan burnt their fingers over facilitating peace talks to the decades-old ethnic crisis, as local stakeholders ended up accusing the facilitator of taking the other side. India also paid a heavy price in the life of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, for their perception of his failed role in the Sri Lankan peace process, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and the induction of the IPKF (both in 1987). Over 1,500 Indian soldiers lost their lives in a call of duty that was not theirs, to begin with. So India will have to be careful while taking any big step.