The world is shocked about what is happening in Sri Lanka after President Maithripala Sirisena has appointed his predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse as the new Prime Minister after sacking Ranil Wickremesinghe last Friday ending in a constitutional crisis. The New York Times described the aftermath of the situation in these words: “The country’s political system has fallen apart in a matter of days, threatening to upend its emergence from decades of civil war.”
It is surprising why New Delhi is simply saying it is “closely watching” the developments while the United States, European Union and others have observed that constitution must be followed. Interestingly, Tamil Nadu, which is just 28 miles as the crow flies from Sri Lanka, has commented on the developments. Indulging in domestic politics, the DMK chief M K Stalin promptly blamed the Modi government for not taking care of the interests of the Sri Lankan Tamils. With no tall leader in the state like Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi, Stalin has taken the lead in criticising the Centre. Though the ruling AIADMK has not said anything so far, there is always competition among the Dravidian parties on India’s Sri Lanka policy. Insiders say that the BJP is bargaining with the DMK for a possible post-poll alliance in return for early Assembly elections (due in 2020), which Stalin wants. Stalin is raising his price using the Sri Lankan issue.
Tamil Nadu should understand that Sri Lanka is changing, as the issue is no longer Sinhalese versus Tamils. The Tamils in the northern part of Lanka are still recovering from the havoc. There is no leader to take up the Tamil cause as things have changed so much now. The LTTE is finished and there are no other big leaders despite rumours about the LTTE regrouping. Within the Sri Lankan Tamil political parties, there is no unity on approach towards reconciliation. The TNA is considered moderate, whereas the Northern Province Chief Minister CV Vigneswaran (who has formed sometime ago a new outfit), has drifted away from TNA. Interestingly, Rajapakse has gone ahead to make an alliance with Tamils projecting Muslims as their common enemy. Even when he met Prime Minister Modi last month in New Delhi, he found demonising Muslims as the common ground.
How did Sri Lankan affairs reach such an impasse? It is no big secret that the relations between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena have not been good. Their parties have been traditional rivals and they came together in 2015 for the sake of power. The President was also critical of investigations into human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, which ended in 2009. It reached a fever pitch recently when Ranil defeated the Sirisena-inspired no confidence motion against him.
The coup was planned in complete secrecy. Prior to that, Wickremesinghe’s official visit to India from October 18 to 20 was to reassure New Delhi that it will remain as an important trade and development partner for Sri Lanka, despite the turbulent internal politics. It is not known whether Ranil knew about the possible coup and whether he discussed it with Modi.
No clarity on why Sirisena and Rajapakse did not choose the constitutional path to remove Wickremsinghe. Obviously, the Sirisena-Rajapakse meeting earlier this month might have paved the way for the coup when Rajapakse convinced the President that they should not fight among themselves and suggested a power-sharing scheme by which he has now been appointed as the PM.
Ranil has dug in his heels and insists that he remains the PM and would prove his majority in Parliament. Technically, he is right that after the Nineteenth Amendment in 2015, the prime minister can only go out of office by death, resignation, by ceasing to be a member of parliament, or if the government as a whole has lost the confidence of parliament. Sirisena has cleverly prorogued the Parliament until November 15 perhaps to give enough time to Rajapakse to poach on other parties as he has only 95 votes while Ranil has 106 votes. Wickremesinghe may have to struggle to keep his flock together. The Rajapakse camp claims that 21 members of UNP are ready to defect. Meanwhile, Rauff Hakeem the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said his party would firmly back Wickremesinghe. Two other constituent party leaders from minority Tamil and Muslim parties have also said they support Wickremesinghe. So the number game is on.
The Sri Lankan crisis may continue for some more time. Until Rajapakse or Wickremesinghe can demonstrate that he has the confidence of parliament and force the president to accept the will of parliament, the crisis will not be resolved. There is a possibility of the presidential and parliamentary polls being preponed. As for India, ultimately we have to deal with whoever wins. New Delhi should deal with the crisis with confidence and think of what is best in our interests. We have many levers and New Delhi should make use of all of them. (IPA)