Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Sri Lanka, the island nation is our immediate southeastern neighbour, nicknamed as Pearl of the Indian Ocean and teardrop of India, beyond its ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, is a home of a large variety of animals, dwindling tea industry and agricultural production due to political and economic upheaving with the highest literacy rate in the South Asia.
It has been once again been in for the bad news for poor suffering masses throwing away the corrupt, inefficient and insensitive political leadership that led the country suffer from high inflation, unemployment, and non-availability of essentials goods like food, medicines and fuel. Reasons for the Present Serious Crises Protests started in the capital, Colombo, in April 2022 and spread across the country as the people had been struggling with daily power cuts, shortages of basics such as fuel, food and lifesaving drugs and basic medicines with high inflation breaking sky rocketing barriers due to multiple complex factors responsible for non-generation of money creation, unsound shift to organic or biological farming, the Easter bombings in 2019, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and country wide political corruption leading to economic hardships forcing massive people protests wanting President Gotabaya who escaped to Singapore via Maldives, tendering his resignation and the Prime Minister Ranil Wikramsinghe now officiating acting President to resign. Protestors having sieged the Presidential House, vacated it only after Gotabaya had resigned on 14 Jul. 2022 while the Prime Minister’s house was put on fire. He had declared emergency in the country and imposed curfew Western Sri Lanka to contain situation but the protestors stormed his office demanding his resignation.
Many feel that the large scale Chinese investments in countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka are actually part of the Chinese ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ for permanent hold as part of its expansionist policies to counter the US, India, Western powers and Indo-Pacific region countries who have pledged all support to Sri Lankan people in their crises while China did send a large consignment of rice to Sri Lanka, it is silent on the monetary aid to bail out the country from the present economic mess probably with shifting strategic interests in Africa and Southeast Asia.
What India should do to help Sri Lanka in present crises?
Rightly, unlike the past when then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, sent Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to muddle in island’s internal security, while keeping a close watch as an immediate neighbour with historical ties, India has rightly kept out from its internal mess and helping in bailing out country needing between $3 billion to $4 billion as the country has stopped external debt payments to ensure it has some reserves for fuel, medicines and food.
IMF feels country’s situation is unsustainable and India should persuade IMF and other developed countries to bail out Sri Lanka out of present economic mess. India has always followed ‘neighbour hood First policy’ whether it was earthquake in Nepal or floods and Covid-19 pandemic menace in Pakistan. Likewise, we seek regional cooperation beyond Southeast Asia despite Pak- China nexus to destabilize our country.
There is power and political vacuum in the country and formation of stable functioning government to tackle the financial crisis should be the top priority of world community without getting involved in the internal political setting keeping the Chinese influence and interference at bay. The country owes more than $51bn to foreign lenders, including $6.5bn to China, which has begun discussions about restructuring its loans.
The affluent G7 group of countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and the US along with India, Russia and China should step in to reduce country’s debt repayments. The Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and India ($1.9bn) are lending Sri Lanka $600m. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is discussing a possible $3bn (£2.5bn) loan. But it would require a stable government that could tackle political and economic mess.
With stability tea, tourism and agriculture production with uses of chemical manures over a period would let peace and stability return in the country and its armed forces, police, judiciary economists, administrators, tea, tourism and agriculture net to get back on rails faster the better. The relationship between the two countries is more than 2,500 years old and both sides have built upon a legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interaction. Any turmoil in Sri Lanka could cause a major disruption to the normal functioning of the Colombo Port which handles over 30 per cent of India’s container traffic and 60 per cent of its trans-shipment. Sri Lanka is India’s largest trade partner in South Asia while India is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner internationally.
Lessons Learnt from Sri Lankan Crises
•No place for corrupt politicians or political corruption.
•In a democracy government elected is by the people, for the people and of the people. When people are replaced by corrupt and inefficient politicians with vested interests, sooner or later such dooms would fall in future too on any country or society.
• National security cannot be achieved without economic, industrial, agricultural and social advancement and fair distribution of wealth. Falling rupee value for dollar and high inflation must be contained. Money MUST be spent on ‘Must and ‘Should projects’ and wastage saved on could projects.
• Large numbers of Indian Origin (PIOs) got settled in Sri Lanka after the partition in 1947 and are engaged in various business ventures. Though their numbers are much lesser as compared to Indian Origin Tamils (IOTs),
they are economically prosperous and are well placed and blending well with local Singhalese. All must merge as good citizens of the country or else communal disharmony would swell.
• The IOTs are mostly employed in both tea and rubber plantations. They felt ill treatment and formed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-a militant separatist group fighting for an independent homeland for Hindu Tamils in Northeastern Sri Lanka. Once Tamil militancy has been controlled and aspirations of separatist met, IOTs contribution to Sri Lankan economy has been commendable.
• Opposition must play its role constructively and ruling party must take all political parties in confidence on matters of national security, economic development and secularism. While Modi ji is famous for coining slogans like – sabka sath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, the minorities especially the Muslims and political opponents feel most insecure in Hindutva politics while there is need to develop secular Hinduism way of living or else communal and class threats like Arab Spring or one in Sri Lanka will keep looming on horizon.
• Any unrest in Sri Lanka can lead to transmigration of Tamils to our southern states leading to unrest, economic burden of refugees and also affecting our national security.
• last but not the least, India must aid Sri Lanka as, the geo-strategic location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean overlooking high volume of shipping traffic, Sri Lanka needs to be all round strong or else being vulnerable could easily be naval base of the power contrary to our national and regional security.