End of crisis

Wickremesinghe's reinstatement is a positive for Sri Lanka as well as India

With Ranil Wickremesinghe’s swearing in as Sri Lanka’s prime minister on Sunday the seven-week-long political crisis in the neighbouring Sri Lanka has come to an end. Wickremesinghe made a remarkable comeback weeks after being ousted by president Maithripala Sirisena under controversial circumstances.

With the majority of lawmakers in the 225-member Sri Lankan Parliament refusing to accept Mahindra Rajapaksa as the prime minister and the Supreme Court vetoing his appointment, all doors to grab the PM’s post were shut on him.

In the process, President Sirisena’s attempt to replace Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa through a political realignment of sorts has come to naught. And now Sirisena will have no option but to work with him and his UNP-led council of ministers. Rajapaksa’s coup of sorts to get into saddle through back door failed as Parliament voted him down twice. Also, the Supreme Court didn’t accept his appointment after Wickremesinghe challenged the move under 19th amendment to the Sri Lanka’s Constitution. The Supreme Court’s directive to stall the mid-term elections put paid to behind-the-scene political maneuvering by Sirisena who broke off with UNP and Wickremesinghe.

Reports suggested that the Chinese leadership in Beijing brokered a patch up deal between one-time archrivals Sirisena and Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa, as an authoritarian president was accused of being responsible for suppressing Tamil-origin peoples’ demand for equitable treatment vis-à-vis other citizens through a reign of terror. Several reports also pointed to corruption during his regime.

Wickremesinghe’s return to office may understandably bring smiles to diplomats and top officials in Indian establishment. Constitutional and political crisis that unfolded in the Indian Ocean state had threatened to weaken India’s strategic and economic interests in the South Asian region. Political and civilian unrest in Sri Lanka or mid-term polls could not have served substantive positive purpose for the country struggling to make a mark in the league of developing countries.

Wickremesinghe’s government had fallen few days after he had met prime minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. In particular, his statement on tardy progress with regards to Indian projects had sealed his fate back home.

Given the Rajapaksa’s open dalliance with the Chinese administration and president Xi Jinping, India was on the verge of losing out. New Delhi seems to have treaded cautiously after having invested a lot of good will, resources and linkages with the Wickremesinghe government.

Securing the country’s security interests in the Indian Ocean had been the biggest concern for New Delhi given Chinese navy’s huge presence in Sri Lanka. The $1.5 billion Chinese investment in the Hambantota Port and later entering into a 99-year lease with a state-run company to run the port had accentuated even economic risks for India. Chinese investments and evolution of closer military ties between the two countries had been a sore point for New Delhi.

Sri Lanka will have to shake off the adverse impact of temporary political destabilisation and move forward. At the same time, India will have to emerge as an unwavering partner in Lanka’s economic development. Sri Lanka and India have had unalienable linkages from the Vedic period that have gone through twists and turns when New Delhi had dispatched a peace keeping force.  There’s no reason why both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe can’t become friends again to provide a stable government that’s equidistant with both China and India. Such a policy should work fine for India, which is pushing for peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region in active partnership with Japan and the US.