By Amila Muthukutti –
Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of the National People’s Power (NPP) was officially invited for a visit by the Indian government at a time when his popularity is unprecedentedly on the rise, due to the fact that the two major political parties that were in power from time to time, have done nothing but making the nation economically bankrupt, resulting in a situation where the citizens cannot fulfil even their basic needs, that is also to the minimum standard.
Being a strategically located tiny island, Sri Lanka plays a very pivotal role in the South Asian region. Even though it is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement, the nation’s biasedness towards China under the Rajapaksa regime had posed some geopolitical threats to its neighbor, India. Furthermore, certain Chinese investments like Hambantota port and the Port City aggravated the situation. This conflict was obvious, when China voted against anti-Sri Lankan resolution tabled at UNHRC in 2021, while India abstained. It is even at the present that Indian and Chinese companies are battling to acquire Sri Lanka Telecom PLC, the largest telecommunication provider in the country.
Needles to note that it is strategically important for India to prevent countries in the South Asian region from getting economically and geopolitically involved by its rivals, especially China. Therefore, India had launched its “neighborhood first” policy, it is, in my opinion, likely due to the fact that bigger threats can come from one’s neighbors. Nevertheless, Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s Foreign Minister, recently stated that ties with its neighbors are not transactional, India’s aid to Sri Lanka was not contingent on any reciprocity or ‘favor’ to be performed at a later date. It was simply an effort to help a struggling neighbor.
It is by all accounts that India’s official invitation to the leader of NPP implies their possible victory at forthcoming elections, given their popularity among the public. People of the country seem to be ready to test the untested, as their tested experiments failed again and again. Otherwise, the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – People’s Liberation Front), that led Anti-Indian campaign during 1980s, called “Indian Expansionism” and also representing only three seats at the parliament is highly unlikely to be invited by India. A survey recently conducted by an organization called the Institute for Health Policy says that Anura Kumara Dissanayake is the most preferred candidate to win at the presidential election, gaining support from half of the likely voters (51%).
Political revolutions lead to political evolution. In other words, politics changes in response to current affairs. However, MP Namal Rajapakae said that the JVP that followed anti-India rhetoric, has now reached a different view, and has engaged in a tour to India, which is a good thing. following their visit to India, the JVP will support investors coming into Sri Lanka. In my opinion, if politicians extend their support for investments conflicting with national interests, just because they enjoyed the hospitality, such politicians should never come into power.
In an interview with a YouTube channel, Anura Kumara Dissanayake was questioned about acquiring private properties, if they would come into the power. His reply was, when that policy was declared in 1980, the world was clearly divided into two camps as capitalist and socialist. When the then government followed capitalist camp, the JVP presented the policies politically in line with the Soviet Union – Socialist camp, most importantly, because of the fact that the Soviet Union helped their followers with industrial projects and technical know-how. However, that is for that time only, as the world has evolved, leaving only one camp powerful. In my view, the same reply can be applied to this shift from “Anti-Indian Expansionism” to pro-Indian stance.
The future belongs to the people who change, not to the people who exercise the same oppression like in 1970s and 1980s, because the past is past. Strength of the relations between countries depends on the country’s profile, not on the individual’s profile. Consequently, building the nation economically is important, so that citizens can proudly say “I am Sri Lankan” anywhere in the world, in stead of a situation where citizens do not even raise their national flag even on their Independence Day.
Regardless of the political party that will come into power, ties with India should be strong, while keeping the state of Non-Aligned, as it is. Balanced foreign policy is very important for an economically less powerful country like Sri Lanka. Specially, as a political party founded based on socialism, the NPP led by JVP should build its ties with western allies, while strengthening ties with their socialist counterparties. In that sense, Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s official visit to India can in my view be considered paramount important for its possible victory at the forthcoming election and for the country at large.