The Sri Lankan parliament descended into chaos last week as supporters of newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa attacked the opposition. It was the latest twist in the two-week-old political turmoil that has rocked the country. Mint analyses what this means for India.
How does the crisis affect India?
The crisis in the island nation means the end of the political coalition that was said to have been formed with Indian encouragement in 2015. It comprised key opposition figures in an alliance against Rajapaksa, who was perceived as leaning towards China at the cost of India’s concerns, including over the rehabilitation of Tamils displaced by the long-running Sri Lankan civil war. While the former president was credited with ending the civil war, the painfully slow pace of rehabilitation of Tamil refugees was a sore point with India, as was his closeness to Beijing.
Does China have a stake in the political crisis in the island nation?
China does have a stake in the current crisis. The Chinese envoy to Sri Lanka was the first to call on Rajapaksa and congratulate him on his appointment as prime minister. Chinese President Xi Jinping also lost no time sending his congratulations to Rajapaksa. China has signed up for several infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka as part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Once confined to the southern parts of the country, Chinese projects have now slowly crept up to the northern and central parts of Sri Lanka into rubber, tea and coconut plantations.
Who are the main figures in this political drama?
President Maithripala Sirisena, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are the key figures in this political drama.
Will a resolution of the crises in Sri Lanka and the Maldives limit China’s presence in the Indian Ocean region?
India seems to have come to accept that Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean is here to stay. However, India needs to ensure that in countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives, where it has a specific interest, it is not squeezed out, that is, not too much of strategic space is conceded to China. At the least these countries should keep Indian sensitivities in mind and include New Delhi in the loop when engaging with China.
What is the primary issue for India in Sri Lanka?
For India, the rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils is the primary issue. New Delhi is expected to raise this issue with the Sri Lankan government till it is resolved. The Sri Lankan Tamil minority and the Tamils in Tamil Nadu share strong linguistic, cultural and kinship bonds. According to Indian analysts, Sri Lankan Tamils still look to India to help resolve their problems with the Sri Lankan government.