Colombo, February 8: The visit of a delegation of the Sri Lankan leftist political alliance, the National Peoples’ Power (NPP),to India at the invitation of the Indian government, has raised a lot of interest in Sri Lanka. Commentators are wondering if this means a significant shift in India’s policy vis-à-vis political parties in Si Lanka.
Thus far, India has regularly interacted only with the large, mainstream political parties like the United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), besides the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Indian Tamil and Muslim parties. The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which is the main constituent of the NPP, was taboo because it had been rabidly and consistently anti-Indian.
The JVP had lambasted the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and India’s solution of the problem of the Tamil minority through the full implementation of the 13 th. Constitutional Amendment which gives a modicum of autonomy to the Tamil-speaking provinces.
The JVP had opposed India’s plans to enter into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with Sri Lanka.
But since Anura Kumara Dissanayaka took charge of the party in 2014, there has been a change. He had personally told the capitalist class that his leftist party stood for private enterprise too.
With the corruption and misrule characterising the regimes of Mahinda Rajapaksa, MaitripalaSirisena, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the rise in prices associated with the rule of RanilWickremesinghe, people began to yearn for a new leader and a new party. There is therefore a tendency to name the JVP as a possible alternative.
According to the January survey conducted by the Institute of Health Policy, a Colombo-based research institution, 50% of the respondents said they would vote for Dissanayaka, 33% chose the Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa and only 9% chose President Ranil Wickramasinghe in the coming Presidential election, expected in September 2024.
However, according to political commentator V.Thanabalasingham, it is very difficult to believe that Dissanayaka, who got only a 3% of the vote in the 2019 Presidential election, will be able to increase his vote base to cross the required 50% in the coming Presidential election.
However, since there is a high possibility of the JVP (or its alliance NPP) getting a fair number of seats in the parliamentary electionswhich would follow the Presidential poll.
It is in view of these possibilities that India and the US started cultivating the JVP/NPP. US Ambassador Julie Chung had a meeting with Dissanayaka. This was followed by an invitation from India to visit New Delhi, Gujarat and Kerala. In New Delhi, Dissanayaka met the Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Dissanayaka also interacted with researchers in the pro-government security oriented think tank Vivekananda Foundation.
During his trip to Gujarat, he met the Chief Minister Bhupendrabhai Patel, who showcased the economic achievements of his state, known for private enterprise. Dissanayaka’s visit to Kerala, was meant to show how a communist-ruled State is successfully running a government following liberal policies.
Jaishankar, Kwatra and Doval would have impressed upon Dissanayaka, India’s concerns about developments in the Indian Ocean region with the Chinese imposing their will on the littoral states including Sri Lanka, and how Chinese investments could chain these countries to Chinese interests.
They would have impressed upon the Sri Lankan visitor the advantages in tying up with democratic India instead of authoritarian and opaque China.
Some commentators in Sri Lanka feel that India is wooing the JVP/NPP because it wants to look for an alternative party to support to ensure their interests are served. But it appears that the Wickremesinghe government is fully backing Dissanayaka’s Delhi trip. The President is keen on securing the JVP/NPP’s cooperation for his economic policies and the IMF package so that Sri Lanka merges form the economic mire it got into in 2022. These chime with India’s interests.
Wickremesinghe told parliament that he was seeking JVP’s help since in 2015-2019 it cooperated with the Maithripala Sirisena government for the common good. He appealed to the Samagi Janata Balavegaya and the JVP to “unite in the pursuit of our nation building dream.”
India would like a united and stable Sri Lanka with consistent policies so that it can collaborate with it to reach common goals. If all parties have the same commitment to facilitate foreign investments on sound principles and follow security policies taking into consideration India’s interests, it would be ideal for New Delhi.
Just as President Wickremesinghe is seeking the cooperation of all parties, India is also attempting to secure the same to further its interests in Sri Lanka.
However, Tamil public opinion is hostile to India’s dalliance with the JVP as the latter has consistently opposed a federal system and even the mild federalism in the 13 th.Amendment. The Tamils see the JVP as a majoritarian Sinhala chauvinist party.
But an argument in favour of India’s cultivating the JVP is that India may be able to change the outlook of the JVP in favour of the Tamils in course of time.
Of course, as stated earlier, India has its own over-riding interests, which are primarily economic and geopolitical. It has to stem China’s intrusions into its backyard and for this, it needs the cooperation of all Sri Lankan parties including the JV/NPP.