ECONOMYNEXT – The visit of Sri Lanka’s Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader to India on an official invitation has led to a new wave of anti-Indian sentiment with political and religious leaders raising concerns over the aim of the New Delhi ahead of the island nation’s presidential elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Indian government in an unprecedented invited JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka for a five-day official visit which included meetings with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan among many others.
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 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.
The JVP has strongly protested an Indian agreement with Sri Lanka and many Indian projects citing they are part of Indian expansionism and will lead to deprive opportunity for Sri Lankans.
“We feel there is some deal,” Walahahengunawewe Dhammaratana Thera, Chief Incumbent of Mihintale Raja Maha Viharaya told reporters on Wednesday.
“We ask Anura (JVP leader) if you questioned the Indian leaders over Sri Lanka being included in the Indian map as part of India, if you spoke against the power deals violating Sri Lanka’s sovereignty,” he questioned.
The JVP-led protests have halted many Indian investments in Sri Lanka while it has questioned India after securing lands, not using all the oil tanks in Sri Lanka’s strategic Trincomalee tanks farm which was once planned to be the oil hub of South Asia with the Indian help.
India has been increasingly investing in Sri Lanka’s energy sector. It has proposed direct oil and gas pipeline connectivity between the two countries while buying excess electricity if generated with the Indian renewable energy projects in Sri Lanka.
“What is the stance your party took over India keeping Trincomalee oil tanks?” Dhammaratana Thera questioned the JVP leader.
“What is the deal with Ajih Dowal who made Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Indian secret service puppets? Did you take or give an election bribe of $10 million from Indian businessmen? What did you speak about Adani’s renewable energy project which is looting? What is the role played by the US ambassador on getting Indian money or backing for your next election?”
AHEAD OF POLLS
Anura Kumara Dissanayaka’s visit comes as Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has signaled to hold presidential polls in October this year and Parliamentary polls in early 2025.
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 the poll, analysts say.
Anil Hewaththa Neththikumara, a ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna trade unionist at the state-run Sri Lanka Telecom said the Indian invitation is ahead of a possible Indian deal with Sri Lanka Telecom.
Sri Lanka has chosen Jio Platforms Ltd of India and Gortune International Investment Holding Ltd of Amsterdam as the two pre-qualified bidders for Sri Lanka Telecom under the State Owned Enterprises Structuring programme.
“All know that JVP is the radical outfit which organizes protest campaigns. An Indian firm is going to buy the Sri Lanka Telecom in the near future and this is just to make sure there is consensus over the deal and there are protests against that,” Neththikumara told reporters on Wednesday.
Analysts say Sri Lanka’s nationalist and leftist politicians have used anti-Indian sentiment to win votes when they face elections. Some of such moves have strained diplomatic relations with India in the past.
However, India helped when the island nation faced its worst ever economic crisis with a sovereign debt default in 2022.
Nationalist politician Udaya Gammanpila, leader of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, welcomed the JVP move.
“JVP banned all Indian products except the Buddhism in the past. We appreciate the JVP’s change,” he said.
Wimal Weerawansa, another nationalist politician and leader of a JVP-breakaway party said the latest Indian invitation to the Marxist party is to sign the Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA) deal which is opposed by the majority of Sri Lankans. “As per information we have got, India is to sign an ETCA deal with Sri Lanka very soon. ETCA means opening both the Sri Lankan trade and labour market to India. That means depriving the opportunity for Sri Lankans,” Weerawansa told reporters.
“When they (India) want to make this (country) as a colony, they want to control all the political parties like kittens,” he said.
“I am not talking only about Anura Kumara Dissanayaka’s invitation. The next will be the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, the main opposition. What India wants is to give is a leg massage and keep (Sri Lanka) people happy and say don’t interfere on what they do.” (Colombo/Feb 08/2024)