The Rajapaksa government should be sitting pretty after its military victory over the LTTE two years ago and the sweeping victories at the presidential and parliamentary elections thereafter.
While the leaders are still crowing over these victories and thereafter on winning local government elections, storm clouds are gathering over the seas on the horizon and President Rajapaksa and his powerful brother Gotabhaya convey the impression that they do not give a toss about these looming threats overseas.
The Rajapaksa government did right when they sought assistance from China when Sri Lanka’s traditional friends in the West disagreed with the military option pursued in the terrorist war and refused to sell us arms. With assistance in armaments and finance from China the government accomplished what had been declared impossible by Western military pundits: winning a non-conventional war. Thereafter heavy financial borrowing continued – mainly loans – for infrastructure development.
Friendship with China which is not much liked by the West has come at a cost particularly after the construction of the Hambantota port which is considered to be a pearl in China’s String of Pearls spread across the Indian Ocean as a part of its strategy to project China’s naval power. Other projects launched by China here have firmly placed Sri Lanka in China’s sphere of influence, whatever we or China may say.
Sri Lankan governments, including the Rajapaksa government, have been stressing ad nauseam that friendship with India should be the corner stone of this country’s foreign policy and have been paying pooja to New Delhi at every given opportunity. But obviously New Delhi does not take kindly to this new port, so close to international shipping lines and a very short distance from the Southern tip of the Indian sub continent.
Compounding the problem is the emergence of Jayalalitha Jeyaram as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu whose main political plank is extending support to what remains of the LTTE and demanding that the Congress government persuades the UN to take President Rajapaksa to the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
President Rajapaksa grates on the New Delhi Foreign Ministry, the Congress Party and Jayalalitha by treating Tamil parties in the North and East with disdain while ignoring New Delhi’s pleas to grant a fair degree of devolution of power to the Tamils such as the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which was included by President Jayewardene under pressure following the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. The Congress government led by Sonia Gandhi is now under severe pressure by Tamil Nadu politicians as is evident by the wrangling that is now going on for the non implementation of the death sentence on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins passed by the Indian Supreme Court and approved by the Indian President.
President Rajapaksa has also treated with nonchalance the strong appeals made by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan security forces in the war on terrorism. This move to investigate has been strongly backed by the Western powers— United States, Britain, European Union and other Western allies—and is likely to come up at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which is scheduled to meet in Geneva this month. The last time a resolution was moved at the UNHRC to have Sri Lanka condemned on the war crimes issue it was defeated with the support extended by India which was able to persuade Non Aligned members of the Council to vote against it. With Indo–Sri Lanka relations having deteriorated since the last time the issue was discussed, it is highly unlikely that Indian support would be forthcoming again.
Last week’s surprise announcement by President Rajapaksa not to renew the Emergency Regulations and to let it lapse could be a move to appease New Delhi; the recommendation for removal of these regulations having been made many times by India. But it is unlikely to cut any ice with the Indians or Western powers because the Rajapaksa government has clearly stated that these very same regulations will be enacted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The lapsing of Emergency regulations will have no impact on the main impositions that resulted from these regulations such as keeping 6000 LTTE cadres in custody without being charged before courts, removal of high security zones or proscription of the LTTE. This move is likely to be viewed as another form of duplicity by the Sri Lanka government and will certainly not make New Delhi or the Western powers look at Sri Lanka benignly.
Meanwhile government leaders are cawing economic statistics of the Central Bank with glee, studiously avoiding the impact of China’s economic munificence that has to be repaid at high rates of interest. They cite the growth of the GNP, the volume of external reserves, strengthening of the rupee against the dollar, influx of tourists, foreign investments, per capita income which places Sri Lanka in the grade of middle income countries and low rate of inflation etc. Ask a lower income or middle income earner whether his ‘per capita income’ has increased and inflation has been negligible and the answer given will be: ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’.
The billions caused by government stupidity or corruption such as the cost involved in the blasting of a rock at the entrance to the celebrated harbour, billions lost on the petroleum hedging deal, billions spent on construction of cricket stadia which now remain closed for most days of the year, the millions if not billions lost on Mihin Lanka and the cost of maintaining a security force (armed services and police) comprising well over a 100,000 personnel even though the ‘war’ has been won, need not be accounted for.
Those floating on ‘statistical euphoria’ should realise that they are living in a dangerous paradise. If there is condemnation at the Geneva UNHRC meeting this month, the consequences could be severe and these Humpty Dumptys’ could have a great fall.
T20 World Cup