Wednesday, Nov 21, 2018 | Last Update : 04:56 PM IST

Sacking of Sri Lanka PM seen as setback

THE ASIAN AGE. | SRIDHAR KUMARASWAMI
Published : Oct 27, 2018, 1:24 am IST
Updated : Oct 27, 2018, 1:24 am IST

The developments are bound to cause considerable concern to India, which is closely watching the developments in its southern maritime neighbour.

Ranil Wickremesinghe (Photo: AFP)
 Ranil Wickremesinghe (Photo: AFP)

New Delhi: The sudden sacking of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was widely seen to be pro-India, by President Maithripala Sirisena and his (Mr Wickremesinghe) being replaced by the pro-China former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister is being seen as a setback for New Delhi and a huge boost to Beijing who are both jostling for influence in the island nation.

The developments are bound to cause considerable concern to India, which is closely watching the developments in its southern maritime neighbour.

New Delhi is believed to be viewing the recent political developments as the “internal developments” of Colombo but the significance of what has happened is not lost on it, particularly since Mr Wickremesinghe was sacked by the president just about a week after his visit to New Delhi.

Ironically, Mr Rajapaksa had earlier been defeated in the Presidential polls by the same man — Mr Sirisena — who has now appointed him as PM. The rapprochement between Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Sirisena — who had become fierce rivals — has taken even Sri Lankans by surprise. It remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka, under its new dispensation, distances itself politically from New Delhi and moves back closer to China.

Mr Rajapaksa, as president earlier, had won accolades on the island nation for the military campaign during his tenure that led to the defeat and decimation of the rebel secessionist LTTE. Mr Rajapaksa was seen to be openly pro-China in his approach and during his tenure, New Delhi had become alarmed over the frequent movement of Chinese submarines around Sri Lanka. Beijing had also undertaken infrastructure and connectivity projects in Sri Lanka at that time which vastly boosted its economic influence. In fact, Mr Wickremesinghe was being seen as standing up to Chinese clout, which added to his pro-India image.

The countdown to Friday’s developments started with differences between Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe in the past few weeks. Speculation was agog in Sri Lankan media circles when President Sirisena was suddenly seen to be making anti-India statements.

But matters reached a head with reports—-subsequently denied—that Sri Lankan President Sirisena had accused an Indian intelligence agency of being involved in a plot to assassinate him. President Sirisena had also—in what was seen as a damage-control exercise—swiftly called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi to personally deny the reports. But the episode had New Delhi worried, since it was seen as a fallout of rivalry between Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe in which New Delhi was being unnecessarily dragged into.

Soon after that, just last week, Mr. Wickremesinghe visited New Delhi on an official visit and held talks with PM Modi during which the two leaders had “discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and ways to further deepen the historically close and friendly relations between the two countries”. The two leaders had also “exchanged views on regional and global issues” apart from taking stock of the progress of development projects in Sri Lanka which are being carried out with Indian assistance. But barely a week after that, Mr. Wickremesinghe was sacked.

Tags: ranil wickremesinghe, maithripala sirisena
Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi