Presidential elections were held in Sri Lanka on Saturday. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was elected as the 7th executive President of the country, after getting 52.25 % of the votes cast. He had declared that he would take oath of office in the Sri Lankan city of Anuradhapura. World leaders including Indian Prime Minister have congratulated Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his victory.
Prime Minister Modi in his message to Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed his commitment to work closely with the newly elected Sri Lankan President to deepen the ties between India and Sri Lanka. Conveying the good wishes on behalf of the people of India and on his own behalf, the Prime Minister expressed confidence that under the able leadership of Mr. Rajapaksa the people of Sri Lanka will progress further on the path of peace and prosperity and fraternal, cultural, historical and civilizational ties between India and Sri Lanka will be further strengthened. The Prime Minister reiterated India’s commitment to continue to work with the incoming government of Sri Lanka to these ends. Mr. Rajapaksa too expressed his readiness to work closely with India to ensure development and security.
India has emerged as a crucial partner of Sri Lanka by providing developmental and security assistance. Yet, Indo-Lankan relations had seen strains during the second tenure of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. The mutual understanding between the two governments was restored during the National Unity Government (2015-19) of the island nation. To give effect to their commitment for strengthening the bilateral relationship, India and Sri Lanka have signed several MoUs. Many of these MoUs could not be implemented due to domestic opposition and administrative hurdles within Sri Lanka. Fate of those MoUs now depend on the approach and attitude of Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his administration.
Several issues of concern such as delay in the implementation of Indian developmental projects in Sri Lanka, increasing Chinese strategic presence in Sri Lanka which might affect India’s security sensitivities and lack of political reconciliation of the Sri Lankan Tamils, have affected India-Sri Lanka relations.
With the victory of Mr. Gotabaya, Rajapaksa, his family is expected to play a key role in governance. It is to be seen how the new administration that would comprise of some of the Rajapaksa brothers deal with major issues of concerns. The Rajapaksas are known also for their closeness to Beijing. During the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, in which Gotabaya was the Defence Secretary, Sri Lanka was seen to have ignored India’s security concerns. The Rajapaksas, however, later accepted their mistakes and gave commitment to rectify those, if elected back to power.As Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had played a crucial role during 2005-2009 to defeat the LTTE. However, he was accused of violation of human rights and backing the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist extremist groups and their communal activities. In the 2019 Presidential elections, it has been observed that a large chunk of the Sri Lankan minority votes have gone to his contender Sajith Premadasa. However, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said, he would be President for all Sri Lankans.
In his first address after the electoral victory, Gotabaya has said that he would focus on building up the economy of the nation which is under stress especially after the Easter Sunday bombings. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s approach towards the Tamil question as President, will be watched keenly in India, as this has been one of the major issues of concern in the Indo-Lankan relationship.
In the realm of security, stronger ties are expected between New Delhi and Colombo under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s leadership. Mutual understanding and cooperation between the two governments are required in all sectors of bilateral relationship to consolidate and strengthen India-Sri Lanka ties. Domestic factors have always impacted the bilateral relations. Therefore, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s approach towards the minorities, human rights issue and reconciliation mechanism will have an impact on India-Sri Lanka relations. The future of Indo-Lankan ties will also depend on the ability and willingness of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration to follow a balanced foreign policy without showing biases towards any particular country for its political, economic and security assistance.
Script: Dr. Gulbin Sultana, Research Analyst, IDSA