It was barely three weeks ago (January 1) that all public servants were asked to take an oath to uphold the pledges in the election manifesto of the ruling coalition. Controversial as it was, demanding public servants swear by a political party’s agenda, has now come to boomerang on the very authors of that document [...]


Govt. caught between devil and deep blue sea


It was barely three weeks ago (January 1) that all public servants were asked to take an oath to uphold the pledges in the election manifesto of the ruling coalition. Controversial as it was, demanding public servants swear by a political party’s agenda, has now come to boomerang on the very authors of that document accused of breaking their own oath.

Included in that manifesto was a specific reference to the Colombo Port as a “national asset”.  From public platforms there were solemn promises to not ‘sell’ national assets. But plans to grant 49 percent of the port’s ECT (East Container Terminal) to an Indian company have become a bone of contention between the Government and the united front of unions and others branding themselves as ‘patriotic forces’.

The Indian company is admittedly close to the powers-that-be in New Delhi. That the Indian Government despatched its Foreign Minister to press home the company’s interest with the authorities in Colombo, and demand a public statement that the handover of the shares amounts to a PPP (Public Private Partnership) demonstrates the clout the company has with New Delhi’s Administration.

That clout has put the Government in Colombo in a spot of bother with its own backers.

This is not a case of foreign investment. It is a case of ‘geopolitics’, pure and simple. So said the previous Government which originally opened the doors to India (and Japan) to invest in the ECT, and so says this Government. The foreign investment argument is a mere red herring, and everyone recognises that.

The Indian Establishment has long been jittery, and justifiably so, that its underbelly or southern flank has been exposed to enemy forces currently making inroads into Sri Lanka’s body politic. This uneasiness had reached peak levels ever since the previous Rajapaksa Administration permitted Chinese submarines to dock at Colombo. India was taken by surprise then even though Colombo insisted they were kept informed. India wanted none of that ever again. Giving the Hambantota port for 99 years to China was then the last straw.

That is why no tenders were called for the ECT because if they were, Chinese companies already well entrenched in Sri Lanka, including at the Colombo Port would probably have been the best bidder. India and the ECT were the quid-pro-quo for all of this ‘Chinese take-away’.

The broad front of unions opposing the Government’s moves ask some legitimate questions to counter the ‘foreign investment’ argument. They argue succinctly why a country in need of every dollar it can find is granting a dollar-earning ‘cash cow’ to a foreign company when it has been shown that the Ports Authority itself can self-finance the project and rake in those crucial dollars. As for the ‘geopolitics’ argument, they ask what will happen when there is a regime change in Delhi, or if the company sells its shares to an inimical foe of this country.

The Government has got itself into an unenviable position. It is between the ‘devil’ and the deep blue sea. The nationalistic forces corralled by the ruling coalition to win popular support have now come to bite back.

The visiting Indian Minister exhibited some desperation in saying Chinese spies are in Sri Lanka instigating these protests. That accusation was never made public, nor has it been denied. The Chinese themselves have kept unusually silent.

It is a public secret that all big powers have their Intelligence agents in every country they feel is important enough to deploy them. Leaders of this Government in their previous avatar were quick to accuse Indian Intelligence of orchestrating their defeat in 2015.

Today, the Sri Lankan Government is faced with Hobson’s Choice.  They will probably have to sacrifice the unions and their one-time supporters at the altar of ‘geopolitics’. Negotiations are on next week to fix the problem. It is less of a problem to deal with local pressure than to withstand the pressure from across the seas, especially when one is seeking financial assistance from them.

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is getting activated and the non-issue of Kachchativu is surfacing once again. This week, the Indian Government issued a diplomatic note condemning the action of the Sri Lanka Navy over an incident in Sri Lankan waters with poaching Indian fishermen. India’s acolytes in Sri Lanka’s north are being heard and encouraged to press for greater autonomy. It’s a familiar story.

For India, should the unions eventually succeed, or not, anti-India feeling is bound to escalate and all the bridge building that had happened since the separatist insurgency was sponsored by it in Sri Lanka, may be lost. For the Government it is a question of how to cut this Gordian knot.

 UNHRC: Here they come, again

If the Government has worries on dealing with the unions at the Colombo Port, the looming demands from the foreign front can be equally, if not more daunting.

A new Commission of Inquiry will delve into the findings of all previous Commissions that have already gone into great detail on issues and fallacies that confront the country before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. How much of this new Commission the UNHRC will buy into is to be seen.

The latest UNHRC report on Sri Lanka is a harsh one (page 1 story). The Foreign Secretary in his interview with this newspaper last week complained that the UNHRC kept changing its ‘shopping list’ of demands from Sri Lanka. Changing the ‘goal-posts’ is the obvious name of the game when a country is targeted. The UNHRC is not about human rights. It is politics. Otherwise, India would not have got Argentina to sponsor the early resolutions (1980s) against Sri Lanka; Sri Lanka voted against Argentina and in support of Britain in the UN vote on the invasion of the Malvinas (Falklands). Now, Britain is showing its gratitude by sponsoring a UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka.

This is one big farce, but a farce that the Government cannot easily ignore. It has penal consequences and must be taken seriously and clinically challenged. India’s support, or otherwise, for a beleaguered Sri Lanka will be of interest in the circumstances.

As Sri Lanka marks its 73rd anniversary of Independence the week after, the nagging question remains; how much is this nation ‘in-dependence’ to the whims and fancies of foreign forces, still.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.