By Arun Kumar Shrivastav
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s bravado and brinkmanship turned fatal last Saturday. Not only was he reported missing from his office and residence, but the palatial President’s house in Colombo was also invaded by the protestors. Twitter is flooded with amusing pictures and videos of the incident. Protestors taking a plunge into the swimming pool at the President’s house and some showing his dirty undergarment were instant hits on social media.
By all accounts, Sri Lanka has now entered a phase of political instability. About 24 hours after the incident, US ambassador to Colombo Julie Chung released a statement. “This is a fragile and substantial moment in Sri Lanka’s history, and we urge restrain and respect from all directions to allow the Sri Lankan parliament to approach this juncture with a commitment to the betterment of the nation – not any one political party,” she said.
Besides the extreme economic crisis, Sri Lanka now faces political instability that may further hamper and delay measures that can bring the country back to normalcy. As part of the Neighbourhood First policy, India has been helping Sri Lanka since October 2021 when the economic crisis began to unfold. “India has delivered aid of around 3.5 billion dollars which has been given through currency swap, financing of food, and fuel, medicines and fertilisers,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on July 7. 2022.
Since the invasion of the President’s house, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena in a televised announcement informed that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would resign on July 13. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also offered to resign and make way for an all-party government. But the protestors did not spare him and barged into his private home in Colombo and set it to fire.
Some media reports suggest that India has sent its troops to maintain peace and order, a claim that Indian High Commission in Colombo has strongly refuted. The claims of Indian troops’ presence in Sri Lanka have surfaced for the second time in the last few months.
What’s remarkable about Sri Lankan protests so far is that it has been largely bloodless. Despite so much hardship, people have resorted to only peaceful protests while the ruling elite continues to provoke the people by promising to pull the country out of bankruptcy. Now, an all-party government is likely to take over but it will have few options as Ranil Wickremesinghe earlier mentioned when he said the economy has collapsed.
The saga of economic collapse began much earlier in Sri Lanka but it could never be addressed effectively because the Rajapaksa clan held most of the important constitutional posts. And, apparently, there was no unanimity on important economic issues among them.
Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was unhappy at the way he thought he was being sidelined by President Gotabaya. It was more painful for him because he believed he helped Gotabaya become the President. Meanwhile, Gotabaya Rajapaksa thought his younger brother and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa messed up things beyond recovery. Basil Rajapaksa who was responsible for the country’s economy to come to this pass resigned as the finance minister in January and fled the country soon after.
For example, the ruling elite in the Gotabaya government believed until January 2022 that the economy would return to normal without any support from IMF while some economists had advised the government to seek immediate help from IMF as early as 2020. Similarly, during the two years of the pandemic, the country would print new notes to keep the interest rates low in the name of providing stimulus to the sinking economy.
Many people in India claim that the Indian economy is in no better condition than that of Sri Lanka a few months back. The collapse of the Sri Lankan economy, which is dependent on tourism for its foreign exchange earnings, is majorly due to the hit it took from the pandemic. And, another big contributor to the problem was the failure of agriculture whose contribution to the Sri Lankan GDP is 84%.
In the case of India, agriculture is on a more reliable footing and the economy is more broad-based than that of Sri Lanka. However, what can be a matter of concern for India is the financial stability of individual states as some of them are said to be in a tight spot. Overall, India may not be a case of sudden extreme economic crisis, the situation warrants a more calibrated approach to the economy. (IPA Service)