By Kumar David –
Is Lanka important enough for international actors such as India, China, America, Britain, Japan and the QUAD to squabble over? The answer seems to be a surprising yes. In the case of India it is expected. Recall that America threatened nuclear war when Cuba stationed Soviet missiles, and now Russia is apoplectic at the thought of NATO getting its fingers around its neck (Georgia, Ukraine and Finland). No great or regional power will allow foreign bases near its land borders or its littoral waters.
India’s anxiety of British (post-Independence period), American (JR’s time) and more recently Chinese bases comes as no surprise. But such concerns do not easily passage to more distant China, America and Europe. Sri Lanka has little relevance to the Quad strategy of encircling China and is entirely irrelevant to NATO’s scheme to suffocate Russia. Furthermore the so-called Indian Ocean strategic zone is a myth. The explanation it follows is not strategic but partly political and partly psychological. The psychological facet is that though we know we are a bunch of s.o.bs, foreigners, poor sods, have affection for our island, and believe it or not, its undeserving dwellers. Let’s not spoil this advantage; let’s keep the charm of genuine non-alignment alive. Competition for mating-rights gets us, petrol, cooking-gas, milk-powder, pharmaceuticals and dhal. It will help if we slaughter fewer Tamils and refrain from locking up too many Muslims on trumped-up charges.
The political side is more complex. Sure, Lanka is no dream democracy. It is the site of public and state-terrorism, crass military-police human rights abuse at the instigation of the JR, R. Premadasa and Mahinda regimes and Gotabaya’s military. It has been a locale of brazen plunder by political leaders, not only in the Paksa years. Racism is widespread among the people, but then ethnic intolerance is a global pandemic. However, though I grant that in many ways Lanka is the depths there is another side; Lanka is one of few post-colonial outposts where constitutional governance, admittedly imperfect, survives. Our giant neighbour India is another. This is different from Burma, Pakistan, Cambodia, Thailand (never colonised) and 30+ countries across Africa. Constitutional governance endures in very few countries across that immense continent.
Here then is my hypothesis: India, the West and even the IMF, though they will be tough about economic reforms (IMF, West) and political changes (India), will not allow Lanka to collapse into anarchy and chaos. Ranil is a lucky bugger! The uncles and aunties crowding over Lanka’s crib will throw him a lifeline before we asphyxiate; the old fox will survive for now unless he does a bad balls-up. This is a different hypothesis from those who say that there is no international economic fix for democracy in Lanka. Maybe, but there is plaster and Band-Aid to avert anarchy and chaos. Of course our congenital problems will persist but sudden death will be averted for now. Can you imagine India, the IMF or even China standing by and doing bugger-all if Lanka sinks into chaotic bedlam? We do not deserve a reprieve, but political and psychological unknowns – I mean known unknowns, not unknown unknowns – will play out to RW’s profit. I am talking four months to one year.
The mid-term, beyond that depends on getting a decent economic recovery programme. Punishing corrupt Paksa Era leaders and trimming wealth inequality will go down well with the less well-off four-fifths, but that’s not a development programme for raising output, enhancing productivity and modernising state, society and system. Ranil’s Interim Administration even if it included competent people (which it does not) has no mandate for a three to five year national development programme. The alternate capitalist party the SJB has been outfoxed. The Left is in two segments: One is clueless with nothing to offer but anarchy, the other is preparing itself for when its day comes; it must strengthening itself in the domains in which it is weak. The urgent tasks are for Ranil to beg for alms more diligently, parliament to enact a tougher 21A and for Lanka to hold general elections soon. If Gota is kicked out pronto that will be a bonus. The people of India and indeed all our friends all over the world could, apart from unloading much needed emergency aid, by example and by precept encourage the maturing of social democratic understanding and intelligence in Lanka.