ECONOMYNEXT – India’s unprecedented invitation to Sri Lanka’s Marxists Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) for an official visit is seen as positive to proceed with Delhi’s plans in the island nation without resistance but also has raised political concerns ahead of presidential polls this year.
The JVP-led coalition National People’s Power (NPP) has gained more popularity in the recent past after the 2022 mass protests that forced former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and his brother, ex-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, to resign amid an unprecedented economic crisis.
Political analysts and diplomats say JVP has now become a formidable political force in Sri Lanka after the policies of two main parties with center-right and center-left thoughts have failed the nation in their 76 years of ruling since the 1948 independence.
Though the island nation does not have accurate surveys on the popularity of political parties, informal surveys show people may elect a JVP-led government. The JVP has been a populour party in the past Sri Lankan elections as well, but it failed to capitalize it to win poll, analysts say.
JVP has promised to end corruption, ensure a new governance system, punish corrupt politicians and government officials, and change policies to improve the livelihoods of lower income groups.
The JVP was involved in two armed uprisings against the Sri Lankan government in 1971 and 1987-89. The motive for both uprisings was to establish a socialist state. However, both insurgencies were defeated with annihilation of Marxists youth.
The party, which earlier had trained militants, is currently led by 55-year-old Anura Kumara Dissanayaka who has been in the parliament for more than 23 years and once held cabinet minister portfolios for 14 months in 2004/5 period.
AGAINST INDIAN EXPANSIONISM
Dissanayaka and his party members have always raised concerns and protested against successive Sri Lankan governments’ decision to award key infrastructure projects to neighbour India.
The JVP strongly protested against an agreement between both Sri Lanka and India in 1987, citing that the move was infringing the island nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while allowing an Indian Expansionism.
India, for the first time in its history, invited a JVP leader for an official visit.
Dissanayaka and his team members met Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan among many others.
“..We discussed regional security and bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and India,” Dissanayaka said in X (Twitter) platform after meeting Doval.
Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said he held a “good discussion” on the bilateral relationship and the mutual benefits from its further deepening”.
“Also spoke about Sri Lanka’s economic challenges and the path ahead. India, with its Neighbourhood First and SAGAR policies will always be a reliable friend and trusted partner of Sri Lanka,” Jaishankar said in his X platform.
The visit comes as Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has signaled to hold presidential polls in October this year and Parliamentary polls in early 2025.
The official invitation has been also offered as India is in the move to proceed with ambitious renewable wind and solar power projects, Investment Zone in Trincomalee, oil and gas pipeline deals which is expected to ensure continuous fuel supply to Sri Lanka, and airports among many others.
Dissanayaka’s JVP members have been resisting most Indian projects stating that India has been siphoning Sri Lanka’s wealth through such projects. India has denied the JVP claims.
ANTI-INDIA TO PRO-INDIA?
“It’s good that they discuss, understand, and realize the truth (on Indian projects) instead of coming up with a lot of fake allegations,” Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told reporters on Tuesday (06) when asked about Dissanayaka’s Indian visit.
“I see it in a positive way,” he said.
“I like it because we have been continuously saying that India is our neighbour with a large market of 1.4 billion people. India will be the focal point of development in the future. We also have to partner in that development and grab the opportunity.”
Indian media on Dissanayake’s visit said the JVP leader taking a pro-India position comes in stark contrast to the stance taken by his party in late 1980s.
Dissanayake acknowledged the shift in the JVP’s stance and stated that any decision that the island nation makes should be done so in keeping view of the impact it has on India, they reported.
“We do know that India, who is our closest neighbour, has become a major political and economic centre. So, when we take economic and political decisions, we will always care about how it will impact India,” Dissanayake was quoted as saying by Indian newspaper The Hindu last year.
The Hindu said Dissanayaka’s visit, and meetings assume greater significance, coinciding with his rising popularity in the domestic political sphere in a crucial election year.
Sri Lanka’s ruling party MP Namal Rajapaksa, son of former President Mahinda welcomed Dissanayake’s Indian visit, stating that it signals a potential shift in the JVP stance on Indian investments which the JVP had for years criticized and neglected.
“The JVP has now reached a different view and has engaged in a tour to India, which is a good thing,” Namal was quoted as saying in Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror.
The Marxists, who have leaned towards protectionism, have also opposed Chinese deals as well including Colombo Port City and Hambantota Port which are given to China on a 99-year lease. (Colombo/Feb 07/2024)