DC Edit | India can help Sri Lanka more

Having defaulted on debt, it’s time for the rulers to first keep the people fed

The most prominent of the Rajapaksas, President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda, are determined to hang on to their posts as their island nation is in the throes of its worst ever economic crisis. Their government is in a minority but secure enough in the face of a disunited Opposition that has just started making its moves in Parliament to pressure the ruling duo, whose innumerable kin, too, had been in positions of power or posts but have all left or been sacked.

The greatest threat to the Rajapaksas is, however, the public anger against their corrupt and nepotism-ridden family rule that has been building into a kind of “Colombo Spring” kind of civil unrest as the people feel the heat of shortages of everything, from essentials like food, fuel, medicines and electricity. The Chinese, the greatest benefactors of Sri Lanka in the days when Mahinda as President danced into the dragon’s embrace, are reluctant to commit much more in terms of credit because of a backlash from the majority Sinhalese who may have seen through the Chinese debt trap.

As irony would have it, the minorities and the Sinhalese now find themselves on the same page, which may have prompted the Rajapaksas to actively seek better Indian ties. Opportunity has never been greater in transforming the geopolitics of the region. India can get the island rulers to see reality and try to win them over to stronger ties with the stable democracies of the world like India and its Quad partners. Sri Lanka may already be aware that leaning on the US can help even if it has owned up that an IMF loan of around $4 bn is the best way out of the mess, regardless of such a bailout not coming without strings and long-term implications for the battered economy.

Since the Rajapaksas are determined to ride out the storm, they have to set right the privation of shortages first, which takes priority over part repaying $51 bn loans, including the cost of the war to quell the Tamil Tigers movement. Having defaulted on debt, it’s time for the rulers to first keep the people fed. India can move even further in alleviating their plight, towards which the Tamil Nadu CM’s idea of rushing food and medicines from a southern port close to Sri Lanka is practical.

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