Sri Lanka: Ranil, beware the Greeks bearing gifts

The hyping up of Modi and his BJP government as a world power by Western nations could probably be due to its potential as the only effective countervailing force against China, the rising financial and military superpower.

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Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe during his official visit to Sri Lanka , July 11, 2023. [Photo: President's office Colombo]

Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra’s ‘short official visit’ to Sri Lanka was to prepare and work out arrangements for President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s upcoming visit to India, official Lankan government reports said.

New Delhi is a capital visited frequently by leaders of world powers and its Foreign Ministry usually handles such visits quite routinely without prior visits of the Foreign Secretary to countries of leaders arriving there. At a media briefing in Colombo, the Indian Foreign Secretary reportedly said: A very warm welcome awaits the arrival of the Sri Lankan President in India while eagerly looking forward to his visit and making it a success both of his visit and the relationship between India and Sri Lanka.

Reports said a meeting held between President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Secretary Mohan Kwatra focused on enhancing bilateral relations and working towards social goals that would benefit both countries.

Sri Lankan leaders being accorded warm welcomes in New Delhi such as that being worked out for President Wickremesinghe has not been a regular feature and needs close scrutiny.

Wickremesinghe’s visit takes place against the backdrop of India making a generous USD 4 billion loan to rescue Lanka from a financial crisis precipitated by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, resulting in the country declaring itself bankrupt and Rajapaksa fleeing the country. India has also helped with moves in the IMF in the disbursement of Lanka’s debt. India is continuing to help by relaxing the time limits for their billion-dollar loans to be repaid.

Despite Indian generosity, as pointed out in our earlier commentaries, India’s Sri Lankan policy as well as its development projects involve enhancing Indian influence in the internal affairs of this country as well as promoting Indian security interests to the detriment of our security and sovereignty.

The Narendra Modi government, like previous governments, insists on the full implementation of the Sri Lankan Constitution’s 13th Amendment which the then government was compelled to accept with the unannounced landing of an Indian Peace Keeping force. The resistance to this legislation is too well known and needs no repetition.

Meanwhile, Modi’s India is being hailed as a new world power with the bloc of Western nations called the international community citing its growth in population, ‘the fastest in the world’ and its economic growth which is also claimed to be the world’s best — 8.7 percent.

However, in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2022, India was the 107th country out of 121 countries, and its level of hunger was described as ‘serious’.

The hyping up of Modi and his BJP government as a world power by Western nations could probably be due to its potential as the only effective countervailing force against China, the rising financial and military superpower.

But the interests of Western nations are intertwined in many dimensions with China. That is perhaps why President Joe Biden, despite his harsh rhetoric directed at China in recent weeks, sent Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Beijing in an attempt to bring about better understanding between the superpowers, commentators speculated.

India joining the Quadrilateral Defence Agreement with US, Australia and Japan for the Asia-Pacific region has most probably been given proxy powers by the alliance over South Asian countries.

Modi through his former foreign secretary and now his mouthpiece as foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar recently announced his plans for South Asia. He wants to share India’s prosperity with the Indian Ocean Islands and other countries on the subcontinent. The kind of prosperity he wants to share is contradicted by the Global Hunger Index for India cited above.

Ranil Wickremesinghe who has been establishing unprecedented good relations with India since he became the Prime Minister and later the president is much appreciated in India. But as a seasoned politician, he cannot be carried away by an overwhelming reception and enter into agreements that will barter away our national interests and sovereignty.

Under Wickremesinghe’s presidency, some degree of stability has been established with the provision of vital necessities such as fuel with Indian assistance and the use of military and police forces to suppress the forces of the Aragalaya that made Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and his cabinet of ministers to resign. But the country is in a state of political and financial instability because of the rising cost of living, thousands of poor workers losing their jobs, the controversial legislation enacted, and the threat of enacting more repressive legislation. Inflation has been curbed but the prices of essential commodities have not come down making it a living hell for the poor.

What Wickremesinghe got to take care of is not agreeing to foreign investments in institutions that are considered of national interest. It is likely that Indian foreign investment agreements would be proposed particularly on projects such as sea ports, airports, railways and profit-making ventures.

Wickremesinghe is a president without a mandate of the people.

The legitimacy of his election to premiership and later presidency by a president who fled the country and a government whose cabinet of ministers resigned and is sustained by a junior team of legislators has been questioned. Whether he could commit the country to long-standing agreements is highly in doubt.

Wickremesinghe should bear in mind the famed story of the Trojan Horse and the saying that goes with it: Beware the Greeks Bearing Gifts.

Gamini Weerakoon

Gamini Weerakoon is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island, and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader.

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