crisis builds

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 30 Oct 2018 14:15:47

THE intensity of the political crisis in Sri Lanka is building up fast and is likely to embroil the neighbourhood in diplomatic battles that may embitter minds for long. The international ramifications of the Sri Lankan crisis are fairly serious, involving the United States and the United Kingdom as well as China and India. The current development -- of continued recognition of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister by Parliament’s Speaker Mr. Karu Jayasuria -- even as China welcomed the return of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, cannot be taken only as an internal storm in a tea cup. It will impact the international relations in oceanic neighbourhood in a big way. That is the reason India is playing its cards cautiously, refusing to make any specific comment except that it hopes that democracy would survive in Sri Lanka. 

Ever since China started viewing Sri Lanka as an important location for fulfillment of its policy of strategic encirclement of India in the Indian Ocean region, the island nation assumed an altogether different criticality. Though China had earned an initial success in garnering a toe-hold in Sri Lanka when Mr. Rajapaksa was at the helm, the subsequent development of Mr. Wickremesinghe’s rise to the top had made things rather difficult for China. As against that, India gained a little say in the strategic matters. All these dimensions may change if Mr. Rajapaksa manages to stay on.

Speaker Mr. Jayasuria’s intervention has made matters difficult for President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena who sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe and brought in Mr. Rajapaksa. Constitutionally, the Speaker’s action may not carry much weight, but he has nevertheless driven a wedge in the President’s political scheme of things. The numbers seem to favour Mr. Wickremesinghe. But if international operators step in, which they are sure to, then Sri Lankan politics may not favour Indian strategic interests.

It is obvious that China wishes to establish a hegemonistic control over the Indian Ocean region stretching east-ward to the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea. Sri Lanka can be a critical cog in China’s military-diplomatic machine. It has already garnered enough foot-hold in Sri Lanka, but would want to have more of it and better of it. The change of guards in Sri Lanka, thus, will help China in its policy of encirclement.

For India, it has been a matter of concern. In Maldives, too, China stepped in to disturb democratic system a few months ago. At that time, it had demonstrated the temerity to issue a warning to India to keep off Maldives. Despite that, India played its cards well and earned appreciation. So good was the Indian approach that former Maldivian President Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was released from prison recently, went on record about India’s “positive role” in restoration of democracy by exerting right pressure on the regime. India may have to play similarly smartly in Sri Lanka as well so that it always has a foot in the door of all international developments in the oceanic region.

Still, the Sri Lankan engagement may have some other and more serious dimensions that may unfold in succeeding times. Things have gone rather too far and too wide as well from the core.

This development has come about almost without much notice. The extreme step by President Mr. Sirisena to sack Prime Minister Mr. Wickremesinghe, particularly against the background of political realities of the land, was really unprecedented, and smacked of political vested interests. India’s current position of wait-and-watch is the only option it has in hand. The hurry with which China welcomed the return of Mr. Rajapaksa bared a lot of things in the international arena. But patience has been a special Indian virtue that has helped New Delhi a lot of times. Here, too, a similar outcome can be expected.