New Delhi: The election of Maithripala Sirisena as the new president of Sri Lanka could pave the way for the island nation—castigated by Western nations for its human rights record—to open a new chapter in ties with India and the world, analysts say.
Sirisena, a former health minister in outgoing President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government, was declared elected on Friday with 51.28% of the vote share to Rajapakse’s 47.58% after a bitterly fought election. He is expected to reach out to the minority Tamils in his country, a move that could ease pressure from Western nations.
In India’s case, this outreach to the Sri Lankan Tamils—who share close cultural ties with Tamils in India—could result in Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying an early visit to the country in a bid to shore up ties that had frayed due to Rajapakse’s tenure, when Colombo pursued closer links with China and Pakistan, say analysts.
"Quite obviously the (Sri Lankan) Tamils have voted for him in large numbers; now Sirisena can be a man of reconciliation," said K.C. Singh, former special secretary in the ministry of external affairs. “He can be the man who finally closes that sordid chapter in the history of Sri Lanka or he can continue (with Rajapakse’s policies)," said Singh, referring to the three-decade-long civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The war ended in May 2009 with the death of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant group’s leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran. The civil war in Sri Lanka was triggered by a sense of alienation among the Tamils, a sentiment that the LTTE exploited to demand a separate state for the Tamils in the north and the east of the country.
Singh is of the view that Sirisena “must certainly adopt a new line to devolve power to the Tamils. If he starts a reconciliation process (between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils), that helps India in taking the subject off the Indian domestic political scene. Then it becomes really a Sri Lankan issue.
“All the politicians in Tamil Nadu have wanted is that people of Tamil origin should not be maltreated, they should be well adjusted, there should be autonomy...if Sirisena does that, India would be on board," Singh said.
The treatment of Tamils is a politically sensitive issue in India with political parties in Tamil Nadu vying with each other to champion their cause. India has been leaning on the Rajapakse government to include Tamils in the Sri Lankan political mainstream and this has caused friction with the Rajapakse administration.
This has been seen as one of the reasons for Sri Lanka attempting to forge closer links with China and Pakistan—who share uneasy and hostile relations with India.
According to Dayan Jayathilleka, a former Sri Lankan diplomat, “New Delhi will be pleased" with Sirisena’s election and “relieved" that the former government’s pro-China policy is likely to change.
“I dont think the special relations that we saw between Sri Lanka and China will be replicated in the new situation.If Sirisena brings the Tamils on board and the West eases the pressure of sanctions, then “Sri Lanka’s reliance on China can be expected to be reduced," he said.