N Sathiya Moorthy

Bol India Bol – 28 February 2024

Sri Lanka’s Leader of the Opposition and SJB presidential aspirant Sajith Premadasa lashes out in this manner. But in suddenly shrugging  off his slumber of the past months to question how those who had tried to bomb Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, housing Buddhism’s ‘Tooth Relic’ could now want a mandate to re-build the nation, he was signalling his concern over India’s perceived wooing of the JVP. In 1989, the militant Janatha Vimukta Perumana (JVP)  had plotted the Kandy bombing at the height of their ‘second insurgency’.  ?

Only days after Premadasa’s dig, former minister Wimal Weerawansa, once the JVP’s up and coming propaganda secretary after the centre-left party chose the democratic path in the nineties, targeted the JVP for purportedly agreeing to give away ‘national assets’ to India’s private sector Adani Group. His one-time ministerial colleague and centre-right PHU leader Udaya Gammanpila has now moved a private member bill in Parliament for taking away ‘Police powers’ for Provinces under the 13thAmendment to the Constitution, initiated under Indian facilitation back in 1987. ??

All three statements and initiatives have one thing in common. They want to embarrass the JVP, whose presidential candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake(AKD) is closer to getting the top job than at any other time in the history of the party. ?

What’s more, the fact that the JVP could be close is the talk of Colombo after Team AKD’s recent India visit, that too on an official invitation. India’s ever-busy External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and all-important National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Kumar Doval found the time to meet with the JVP team for ‘a free and frank exchange of views on issues of bilateral interests and cooperation’.

?‘Hegemonic’ or what ?

Establishment India clearly did not want to be caught napping if Sri Lanka elected Anura as President. New Delhi was completely caught off-guard when the present President Mohamed Muizzu emerged as the Opposition candidate literally at the last minute in common neighbour Maldives in August last. One month down the line he was elected President in a two-phase election. India and other nations did not have the time to get to know the man, his mission and vision for the nation for them to re-adjust and re-focus on the nation’s new priorities under a new leader.

?But for the likes of Premadasa, Weerawansa and Gamanpilla – and there are more – India’s official invitation by itself was being perceived as a signal of sorts that New Delhi favoured the JVP and its leader Anura Dissanayake for the top post. Or, are their  reactions indicative of perceptions about India that are not founded in reality? Due to mutual suspicion –based on the JVP’s antagonism towards India – the two sides have seldom had any close interaction. ?

The one brief window came about two decades ago, when under Indian High Commissioner Nirupam Sen, the JVP did meet with Team India in Colombo. After Sen left office in 2004 after a two-year stint, the JVP clamped up, with the then leadership of Somawansa Amarasinghe under attack from within the party echelons for a so-called ‘sell out’ to ‘hegemonic’ India. ?

Test(s) by fire ?

The leftist JVP’s perceived warmth towards India and its past and present domestic conduct are a sign it is testing the waters as it gets closer to the seat of power than it has ever done before. But there are no guarantees the JVP can win either the presidential poll or parliamentary election on its own steam.  ?

Even if Dissanayake wins the nation-wide presidential poll, it is doubtful if the party has enough credible candidates they can field in parliamentary elections in at least 170 of 196 elected seats in a total of 225. The final figure includes nominated ‘National List’ MPs, allotted on the basis of poll percentages.  And the party does not seem to be in a hurry to promote grassroots-level support even in Sinhala areas where it once had a strong or substantial presence. ?

Most analysts see a possible dichotomy in which a JVP President will have to work with a non-JVP / anti-JVP Parliament. A whisper campaign is already being anticipated, where the message would be to ask the voters if they wanted a government in permanent ‘dead-lock’.

The worst case scenario would be if an anti-JVP Parliament seeks to impeach a JVP President just for the fun of doing so, as the House would then have the right to choose a President to serve out the remaining term of the incumbent President. If so, it would be a repeat of the present situation, where incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped into the shoes of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had to bow out in disgrace, post-Aragalaya protests.

The Neighbourhood: Is India building bridges with the JVP in Sri Lanka? (bolindiabol.live) 

(The writer is a Chennai-based Policy Analyst & Political Commentator. Email: sathiyam54@nsathiyamoorthy.com)