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Sri Lanka crisis: Familiar but ‘Go Ranil Go’ keeps Delhi guarded

It remains to be seen whether PM Narendra Modi congratulates Wickremesinghe on his win
Ranil Wickremesinghe
Ranil Wickremesinghe
File Photo

Anita Joshua   |   New Delhi   |   Published 21.07.22, 02:04 AM

India on Wednesday adopted a guarded approach to the election of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Sri Lanka’s executive President, evidently mindful of the continuing “Go Ranil Go” chant against the six-time Prime Minister who is seen as part of the old order the protesters have been rallying against for months now.

“The Parliament of Sri Lanka, in exercise of the provisions of the Sri Lankan Constitution, has today elected H.E. Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President of Sri Lanka. As a close friend and neighbour of Sri Lanka and a fellow democracy, we will continue to be supportive of the quest of the people of Sri Lanka for stability and economic recovery, through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional framework,” the Indian high commission in Sri Lanka tweeted in the afternoon.

Of the three contenders for the post, India is most familiar with Wickremesinghe, having dealt with him during his six stints as Prime Minister and also as leader of the Opposition during a political career spanning nearly five decades.

But given the circumstances in which he won the election, it remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulates Wickremesinghe on his win.

Unlike 2015 when Modi had congratulated Wickremesinghe after he was sworn in as Premier, no such greeting was offered when the latter assumed the office in May this year after predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to step down by the protesters.

Protesters sporting “Ranil Go Home” bands continued to occupy the President’s House, saying they did not accept Wickremesinghe as the head of state.

But reports from Colombo suggest the numbers on the streets have thinned. “In recent days, there have been reports of differences between various groups of protesters. Ranil, shrewd politician that he is, can be expected to play on these differences,” N. Sathiya Moorthy, a Chennai-based commentator on Sri Lankan politics, told The Telegraph.

Already, police have secured a court order prohibiting anyone from assembling within a 50-metre radius of the S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake statue at Galle Face, the epicentre of the protests in Colombo.

At the policy level, Sathiya Moorthy does not anticipate any major change of course on Wickremesinghe’s watch as far as India is concerned.

Although the Rajapaksas are generally perceived as more pro-China, they had attempted to balance the equation with India in recent years, awarding it a project to develop the Western Container Terminal at the Colombo port, inking a long-pending deal with Indian Oil Corporation for joint development of the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm, and awarding renewable energy projects to the Adani Group.

As for the Tamil question, the 10-member Tamil National Alliance’s refusal to back Wickremesinghe in the presidential election is likely to affect its campaign for implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution for devolution of powers to the provinces.

On Wednesday, the Indian high commission had to again get into rumour-dousing mode following media reports that India was trying to influence political leaders in Sri Lanka on how to vote in the presidential election.

“We have seen baseless and purely speculative media reports about efforts at political-level from India to influence political leaders in Sri Lanka regarding elections in the Sri Lankan Parliament to the post of the President of Sri Lanka,” the Indian high commission tweeted.

“We categorically deny these media reports as completely false. They are clearly a figment of someone’s imagination. It is reiterated that India supports the realisation of aspirations of the people of Sri Lanka in accordance with democratic means and values, established institutions as well as constitutional provisions, and doesn’t interfere in internal affairs and democratic processes of another country.”

The TNA leader and MP for Jaffna and Killinochchi electoral district, M.A. Sumanthiran, also sought to trash a media report. “Today’s Kalaikathir story that an @IndiainSL Diplomat told the #TNA Parliamentary Group how they should vote on my ‘speaker phone’ is absolutely false,” he tweeted, referring to a media outlet.

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