“…To establish land connectivity between Sri Lanka and India for developing land access to the ports of Trincomalee and Colombo…”
– India-Sri Lanka Economic Partnership Vision, July 21st 2023, New Delhi –
Whose island is this anyway? The recently UNESCO-registered Mahavamsa may record that on 21 July 2023 (or its equivalent in Buddha varsha) an unelected, accidental ruler named Ranil Wickremesinghe sold Sri Lanka for adoption to the ruler of the neighbouring giant, India. It will also surely record the dialectic of resistance until the island’s identity and independent destiny, its autonomous path and story, the sovereignty of its people over their island-home, are restored.
President J.R. Jayewardene notoriously said that as executive president there was nothing he couldn’t do other than turn a man into a woman and vice versa. Unelected President Ranil Wickremesinghe has done better. He is trying to change a protective geographic reality of millennia with one stroke of the pen: the island character of Sri Lanka which has not only afforded us protection but more importantly permitted, our island to evolve its distinctive identity, civilisation, culture and way of being.
“Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said land connectivity between India and Sri Lanka was proposed by Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The President came up with the same proposal for the construction of a bridge between the two countries when he was the Prime Minister between 2002 and 2004. Making his remarks at a press conference in New Delhi, the Indian Foreign Secretary said that in terms of connectivity projects, the idea was proposed by the Sri Lankan President.” (Land connectivity proposal came from SL President- Indian Foreign Secretary – Top Story | Daily Mirror)
In The Iliad of Asia, the Ramayana, the mythical monkey-God Hanuman had to build an artificial bridge between India and the island of Lanka so that a hostile force could cross and defeat Ravana, the great Lankan leader. Hanuman’s bridge was the equivalent of Ulysses’ Trojan Horse.
Had this island been physically contiguous with the subcontinent, Buddhism would not have found a durable refuge here when it had been reversed in India after the glorious Ashokan era, and the Mahavamsa would have had a more tragic tale to tell or may not have existed at all.
The people never voted for Wickremesinghe as Sri Lanka’s leader because they never trusted him with the country’s destiny, especially after his infamous Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) which abjectly appeased Prabhakaran and the Tigers. Now he has gone one worse. He has pretty much ceded the strategically sensitive and multiethnic Trincomalee—the district not just the port—to India, and enmeshed Sri Lanka’s infrastructure, economy, energy supplies, digitalisation and higher education in a total relationship of dependency to such a degree that the island’s destiny has been vested with India. We sent away the IPKF and can always shuffle-off the IMF yoke, but our island will be dangling from the many Indian economic and energy infrastructural hooks that Ranil is impaling it on.
Did the Sri Lankan military, supported by the vast majority of the Sri Lankan people, fight and win a long war against secession, only to hand over nodal points of the North and East to India, enabling it to be the predominant power in that part of the island, while also connecting the former battleground provinces to Tamil Nadu, the erstwhile rear-base of the separatist LTTE?
In an extremely bitter irony of history, President Mahinda Rajapaksa who gave political leadership to the victorious war and safeguarded Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity is also the leader whose Pohottuwa installed Wickremesinghe, unelected even to parliament, in the Presidency from which he is reversing Mahinda’s and the military’s reunification of the island.
The historic Delhi declaration, the equivalent of the Kandyan Convention ceding the island to the British in 1815, is entitled Promoting Connectivity, Catalysing Prosperity: India-Sri Lanka Economic Partnership Vision (July 21, 2023). Key takeaways follow:
“…The leaders [Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi and the President of Sri Lanka H.E. Ranil Wickremesinghe] underlined the cardinal importance of promoting and strengthening connectivity in all its dimensions as the key enabler.”
“…To establish a high-capacity power grid interconnection between India and Sri Lanka…”
“…That ongoing cooperation in development of Trincomalee Tank Farms is a reflection of our endeavour to develop mutually beneficial cooperation projects in Trincomalee area, and agreed to further develop Trincomalee as a national and regional hub of industry, energy and economic activity on the basis of mutual understanding…”
“To cooperate for construction of a multi-product petroleum pipeline from Southern part of India to Sri Lanka with an aim to ensure affordable and reliable supply of energy resources to Sri Lanka…”
“To undertake mutually agreed joint exploration and production of hydrocarbons in Sri Lanka’s offshore basins with an aim to develop Sri Lanka’s upstream petroleum sector”.
“… To facilitate investments from India in the divestment of Sri Lankan State-owned Enterprises and in manufacturing/economic zones in various sectors in Sri Lanka…”
“…That India’s rapid digitalization is an important force-multiplier for ongoing transformational changes in India, both in economic development and governance, and agreed to leverage India’s Digital Public Infrastructure in accordance with Sri Lanka’s requirements and priorities towards effective and efficient delivery of citizen-centric services to the people of Sri Lanka…”
“…To expand cooperation between research and academic institutes in areas of mutual interests such as agriculture, aquaculture, IT, business, finance and management, health and medicine, earth and marine sciences, oceanography, space applications, as well as history, culture, languages, literature, religious studies and other humanities…”
“…To establish land connectivity between Sri Lanka and India for developing land access to the ports of Trincomalee and Colombo, propelling economic growth and prosperity in both Sri Lanka and India, and further consolidating millennia old relationship between the two countries…”
President Wickremesinghe has acceded to or suggested multiple connections which integrate the Tamil majority North and East of Sri Lanka with the ethnic kin-state of Tamil Nadu much more than with this island’s South.
“…To cooperate in development of ports and logistics infrastructure at Colombo, Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai with an aim to consolidate regional logistics and shipping, as per mutual understanding…
“To resume passenger ferry services between Nagapattinam in India and Kankesanthurai in Sri Lanka and work towards early resumption of ferry services between Rameshwaram and Talaimannar, and other mutually agreed places.”
“That resumption of flights between Jaffna and Chennai have enhanced people-to-people ties and agreed to further expand it to Colombo as well as explore connectivity between Chennai and Trincomalee, Batticaloa and other destinations in Sri Lanka”
“To encourage and strengthen investment and cooperation in civil aviation, including augmentation of airport infrastructure at Palaly for greater economic benefits to the people…”
This cannot but have a long-term impact of economic enosis—irredentist economic fusion of the island’s North and East with India’s South.
(I)The centre of economic gravity of Sri Lanka will shift; it will no longer be located in the strategically defensible Southern two-thirds but in the strategically vulnerable North and East.
(II)Plugging Sri Lanka’s North and East i.e., the recently secessionist Tamil-majority cone of this small island with its Tamil minority, into India’s massive South containing Tamil Nadu, an economic powerhouse with 80 million Tamils, will tilt the power-balance of ‘domestic geopolitics’ on this small island.
(III)Over time, the multi-dimensional integration of Sri Lanka with India cannot but be a channel for the projection of Indian power patterns and demographic configuration upon and within Sri Lanka itself.
(IV)Our entire character, the essence of our existence, evolved over millennia will be transformed by in a manner that diminishes rather than enhances our independence, sovereignty and autonomy. We shall no longer be what we are or have been. We shall become a dependency; a peripheral unit of India’s economy.
(V)If Ranil’s overall ‘vision’ and these MoUs are implemented, Sri Lanka will be a de-facto state of the Indian Union. The Sri Lankan citizenry will no longer collectively own this island. The logic of vast economic asymmetry will ensure that most islanders are turned into wage-slaves and a few corporate collaborators into junior partners of Indian big capital.
If we are to recover our independence and self-determination as a nation, Presidential election 2024 will have to be a battle for national liberation and the installation of a leader who retrieves sovereignty as did D.S. Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa.
There are ‘triple evils’ threatening the island:
b)Majoritarian and minoritarian hegemonism within this island, and
c)Hindutva hegemonism and Indian monopoly capitalist dominance over it
These triple evils must be resisted.
If Ranil has an impression of Indian underwriting or having Delhi locked-in by giving it an enlarged footprint covering the strategic nodes of the island’s geo-economy, he may be tempted to try a Myanmar; ‘postpone’ Presidential election 2024. With democracy deleted, Civil War-4 will follow ‘as the wheel follows the oxcart’.
13A and Economic Eelamisation
President Wickremesinghe placed a reasonable proposal on the table before the Tamil political parties. It’s ‘swap’ formula was decided upon by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the basis of postwar talks with the TNA, at an after-dinner policy debate chaired by him at foreign minister Prof GL Peiris’ residence in 2011. I participated actively. Among those present were Aruni Wijewardena, currently Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, and Basil Rajapaksa.
President Wickremesinghe’s formula is:
Implementation of 13th amendment:
a)Constitutional amendment to safeguard the full powers of the Provincial Council under List 1 (with the exception of Police powers) and
b)To include specified functions in List III in the Provincial Councils list subject to agreement of political parties in parliament.
MR’s 2011 formula collapsed because, despite the defeat of the Tigers, the TNA strove to alter the complex, carefully negotiated formulation with regard to land in the 13th amendment and wanted the Chief Minister to authorise use of state land.
Ranil is the last person who should try to re-load MR’s realistic 2011 formula without a popular mandate.
Typically, Tamil political leaders beginning with the most senior, R. Sampanthan, have rejected it, not because Ranil has no popular mandate, but because they took exception to what was, and wasn’t, on the table.
Conflating ‘implementation of the 13th amendment’ with ‘building on the 13th amendment’, and ‘building on the 13th amendment’ with ‘the consistent mandate for federalism’, Sampanthan creates a continuum between the implementation of the 13th amendment and federalism—thereby making 13A implementation a harder sell. The smart play would be to nail down an early date for resuscitating PCs through elections and take it from there with a newly elected President and parliament.
Today, post-July 21st 2023, it’s a whole new ball-game. The 13th amendment and the degree of devolution to the North-East have to be holistically reconsidered and strategically recalibrated in the context of economic Indianisation of the area which would stretch autonomy way beyond ‘13 Plus’ and even federalism, to an adjunct of Tamil Nadu or an ‘Economic Eelam’.
The results of the latest opinion poll reveal that every political leader is unpopular but some are less unpopular than others, which means some are more popular than others. Anura Kumara Dissanayake is the least unpopular of them all, followed by Sajith Premadasa. Sajith is more popular than Ranil Wickremesinghe. At the bottom of the barrel is Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is on 90% unpopularity today. (Major Political Party Leaders More Unpopular Than Ever – Groundviews)
Ranil’s unpopularity rating is 52%, second only to Gotabaya’s 90%. Ranil is more popular/less unpopular than only Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
This leaves Anura Kumara and Sajith Premadasa the front-runners, which is heartening because whichever wins, it will mean an overdue generational shift, 75 years after Independence.
NPP-JVP leader Anura Dissanayake is doing something right to be the least unpopular, i.e., relatively the most popular. Unlike Sajith who seems imprisoned in the parliamentary play-pen, AKD does his due diligence, addresses public audiences frequently and regularly, communicating a critique of establishment decadence and the heart-rending social crisis, with a hope of renewal through change and a disciplined determination to drive that change. It’s not just Anura. Bimal Ratnayake delivered an excellent oration to a ‘Socialist Youth’ audience at an open-air remembrance on the 40th anniversary of Black July’83.
In stark contradistinction, the SJB, has had no open-air mass rallies, large auditorium meetings or street demonstrations since 1 May.
The NPP-JVP and Anura have yet to come up with a credible alternative economic and social policy, and a viable team to manage the country’s affairs—a shadow Cabinet of a counter-hegemonic elite. Uditha Devapriya aptly suggested Prof. Howard Nicholas as chief economist.
Anura needs to be seen to lead a united front. A coalition which denotes an openness, a widening unity, is something that the JVP-NPP hardcore may be uncomfortable with, but Sri Lankan voters are familiar with and will find reassuring, given the JVP’s history and residual image issues. It would reprofile the NPP-JVP as leading a progressive, centre-left coalition — 21st century ‘pink’ (a la Latin America), rather than 20th century ‘red’.
The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. HNS (Neville) Karunatilake was a positive factor in President Premadasa’s development drive. By dodging the vote and giving the CBSL ‘independence’ Bill a free pass, Sajith hampered his chances to follow-through on his father’s development programs.
One can never know how the SJB will vote in Parliament, or whether it will vote, until the vote has been taken– and there isn’t an explanation afterwards. The SJB trajectory looks like the zig-zagging tire-tracks of a drunken driver.
Next year, in a flat-out fight against Ranil, will the SJB blink? AKD and the NPP-JVP won’t. In 1988 Ranasinghe Premadasa had prepared to run for President with or without his party (the UNP). Even as UNP candidate he eschewed green for a different colour, orange, which he had cannily used to paint the bridges he built while PM.
Ranil’s handover of Sri Lanka to India for adoption will be a defining issue in 2024. One does not know what stand Sajith Premadasa will take, but History records the stand Ranasinghe Premadasa took in defence of national independence and sovereignty in the 1980s. Will the SJB position be closer that of Gamini Dissanayake than Ranasinghe Premadasa?
Those who want a clearcut alternative to Ranil’s agenda rather than a substitute for it, are unlikely to find it in the shillyshallying SJB which has been trying live down President Premadasa when it should be trying to live up to him.