MonitorsPublished on Oct 22, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 42

Sri Lanka: What does presidential polls mean for India

N Sathiya Moorthy Basil Rajapaksas, the chief campaign strategist and poll manager of brother Gotabhaya R in the Sri Lankan presidential polls, recently told The Hindu in an interview that ”India is our number one friend and neighbour, so we have to always go with India, in political and security matters, but in economic and other matters, you can’t forget China.” In a way, the position of the duos of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the more successful breakaway faction of the older Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of outgoing President Maithripala Sirisena, has always held on to the theme, “India for security, China for development funds.” Their brother and two-term President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom Basil now described as the “spiritual leader of the country” (Sri Lanka), had held on to the same view and expressed in no unclear terms while in office. Yet, when Mahinda Rajapaksa lost to Sirisena, who quit his government and party to become the common Opposition candidate in the presidential polls of January 2015, the former blamed Indian security agencies, for conspiring with their western counterparts to ensure his defeat. However, months later Mahinda conceded that he did not have any evidence to the effect. Months later, he also visited New Delhi along with his aspiring parliamentarian-son Namal Rajapaksa, and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Personally, I have no evidence that India or any other country supported them (the Opposition coalition),” Basil Rajapaksa too has told The Hindu since. Clearly, the Rajapaksas seem wanting to put the lid on all controversies of the kind, and begin their India relations afresh, especially if they were to return to power. With Mahinda declaring that he would be the Prime Minister in a future government of theirs, even before the SLPP-JO confirmed Gota, his war-time Defence Secretary, as their presidential candidate, it is now clear what a Gota presidency could have in store for India. It is equally so for the West too, with which the Rajapaksas had linked India in the past – and also China, the other, permanent factor in a future Sri Lanka. “We have very well understood what went wrong,” Basil Rajapaksa told The Hindu. “If they had worked to change our government earlier, we have corrected the situation (now),” he added. In context, The Hindu quoted him saying that “no international actor will try to interfere in... the presidential polls.” According to him, “ethically, that is how it should be”. Clearly, he was indicating a “shift in the international community’s ‘role’ in Sri Lanka’s national politics”.

Unknown factor

If, however, the Rajapaksas were also cautioning the international community (read: West) not to interfere with the nation’s domestic politics, that anyway seems to be the case. Having near-openly campaigned and canvassed for the Sirisena ticket, both before and after the choice of the joint Opposition candidate in 2015, the West seems to have understood the complexity of domestic politics in the island-nation. Their worst fears came true when President Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, purportedly the favourite of the West, in October last, creating a constitutional crisis. The worst was when Sirisena made friend-turned-foe, Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the time the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, as his new Prime Minister. If, however, all of it did not lead to fresh parliamentary polls, it owed to the strong intervention by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in December last. Though Wickremesinghe’s UNP-UNF government was thus restored, the schism between the top two in what began as the ‘Government of National Unity’ (GNU) has left the ‘international community’ bewildered and more confused than already. Still worse was possibly reserved at least for sections of the West when the UNP chose party deputy leader and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa as their presidential candidate, over the repeated claims of party leader and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. What should have come as a greater surprise for them was the near-unanimous baking that Premadasa got from the GoP’s long-term allies, both from the majority Sinhala-Buddhist and minority community parties, representing Muslims, Upcountry Tamils of ‘recent Indian origin’. Today, for the West, Sajith Premadasa is as much an ‘unknown factor’ as Sirisena was in 2015. In the case of Sirisena, they at least had ‘trusted’ Wickremesinghe’s say-so, but not necessarily in the case of the other. If anything, there are also doubts if a Premadasa presidency would have Wickremesinghe as their permanent and continuing Prime Minister through its full five years, whatever the current promise and/or impression. Better or worse still, for the West, as also the Tamil community, Sajith is the son of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, slain by the LTTE, after the two had colluded with each other to have the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF), requisitioned by predecessor President J R Jayewardene, to ensure security for the Tamils. They still seem to have some hesitation in accepting that Sajith could still belong to a different generation, could hold a different perception, on the ethnic issue and international relations, etc. India, however, does not seem to suffer from such perceptions, based mostly on the prevailing conditions from the war-time past, which are no more relevant in any which way. If the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), representing the interests and aspirations of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamils’ (SLT), which was at the centre of the decades-old ethnic strife, war and violence, had sympathies for Wickremesinghe, they did not say it so loudly once they felt the larger UNP mood and methods. The four-party TNA, reduced to three between 2015 and now, has joined up with two other Tamil parties, including the breakaway group of their ‘failed’ Northern Province Chief Minister, C V Wigneswaran, has put up a five-party Tamil alliance, since. The idea is for the five-party combine to hold talks to the two main candidates and their respective poll managers, to see how far would either of them concede and remain committed to the ‘Tamil demand’ for recognising them as a ‘separate sovereign identity’ to be able to work within a ‘united Sri Lanka’. The chances are that neither of the main contenders for the presidency would risk committing themselves to anything that could even be remotely misunderstood by their core Sinhala-Buddhist majority community as their blessing ‘secessionism’ of any kind. From an Indian perspective, indpendent of political changes in New Delhi over the past three decades and more, and independent of the relative influence’ of the pan-Tamil ‘Dravidian polity’ from southern Tamil Nadu on the Central leadership from time to time, India has always held on to the position of a ‘political solution to the ethnic issue within a united Sri Lanka’. The Indian position may have only consolidated on these lines even more after the TNA, the post-LTTE self-styled ‘sole representative’ of the SLT community, began consciously drifting away from ‘Indian protection’ into the waiting hands of the latter’s new-found western allies, without actually realising the inherent differences and distinctions between the two.

‘Chennai connect...’

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian VVIP to visit Sri Lanka on a bilateral in more than 25 years after Rajiv Gandhi’s 1987 visit to sign the ‘Indo-Sri Lanka Accord’, India has since been circumspect in its assessment of Sri Lankan ground situation and Colombo’s foreign relations. New Delhi continues to have greater concerns about a future Sri Lankan government providing more strategic space for China, especially, but then the past five years of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe rule seems to have convinced India that it has nothing to choose either between the two of them, or when compared to the Rajapaksas. As India discovered for itself, if the Rajapaksa government earlier facilitated China building the Hambantota port and also the ‘still-unused’ Matala airport, apart from scores of expressways across the country, and the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo were expected to reverse as much of it as possible, it was not to be. Instead, the duo, while working together, readily converted the Hambantota deal to a ‘debt-to-equity’ arrangement, for the Rajapaksas too to criticise heavily. If Hambantota thus involved China coming in possession of ‘Sri Lankan territory’ for close to 100 years, Wickremesinghe also went back on his voluntary pre-poll commitment to cancel the China-funded ‘Colombo Port City’ project, to one of modified clearance. Better or worse still from a purely Indian perspective, after blaming the predecessor Rajapaksa government for pushing the nation into a ‘debt-trap’, the by-now split leadership of Sirisena and Wickremesinghe went about accepting fresh Chinese loans for poor housing ($ 300 m, for Sirisena) and $ 1 billion (new highways, Wickremesinghe). There is nothing to suggest that either Gota or Sajith as President would do anything that would hurt Indian interests and/or sentiments vis a vis China or Pakistan, as might have been the case in the past. Yet, India also cannot expect anything more than a political commitment of some kind from a future government in Colombo on the China front especially, after PM Modi has had his recent tete tete with President Xi Jinping, and also talked about “Wuhan spirit to Chennai connect’, the reference being to the two leaders’ ‘informal summits’ over the past couple of years.

Country Reports


Poll results this week

The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) has confirmed that the announcement of the preliminary results of the Presidential Election will be postponed by a week in order to count the votes of the quarantined ballot boxes of the provinces and the capital. Alice Wells, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, had earlier stated that the US will be in full support of the IEC’s decision about the timing of release of the preliminary results.

Foreign funding

The Afghan Senate House has introduced Humayoun Qayoumi, the acting Minister of Finance to the Attorney-General’s Office, after reports were published accusing him of having received payments from the American Institute for State Effectiveness while serving as a government official. According to the reports Qayoumi has received $ 105,000 in 2016 and another $ 2,55,000 in 2017. The Institute was founded in 2014 and made significant profits from government contracts in recent years.


Defence deals with US

The US has expressed its desire to sign two defence agreements with Bangladesh. The US informed about the wish after Bangladesh showed interest in buying advanced equipment from that country to modernise the military by 2030. The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Acquisition Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) are the two deals under mention.

BBG-BSF tension

In a rare incident, a personnel of India’s Border Security Guard was killed and another injured after Bangladesh Border Guards opened fire on them. BSF had gone into Bangladesh to discuss the issue of the release of Indian fishermen caught by the BGB while fishing in that country’s territory. India and Bangladesh share friendly relations and border management cooperation is considered to the best in the region. Security and foreign policy analysts of the two countries have expressed deep concerns over the incident.  The two governments have ordered separate inquiries into  the incident.

Growth forecast

The World Bank this week forecasted that Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) likely to grow at 7.2 percent this fiscal year and 7.3 percent the following year.  The projection was made in the Bank's its recent edition of the ‘South Asia Economic Focus, Making (De) centralisation Work’s. Bangladesh growth expected to be second in South Asia. Bhutan expected to top the list in GDP growth in South Asia.   World Bank projection is far below the estimate of the government.  The government targeted the GDP to grow at 8.2 percent. The fiscal year in Bangladesh is accounted from 1 July to 30 June.

5G knowhow by 2021

Bangladesh Telecom Regulator Commission (BTRC) has informed about its plans to introduce 5G cellular technology by 2021.  The BTRC said the 5G service would be available in all district headquarters in the country.  5G service will be available to the entire country by 2026. Md Shahidul Alam, director-general for spectrum management of the BTRC, informed that a committee has been formed to prepare guidelines and fix the spectrum prices. He made this comment during a conference on “5G in Bangladesh” in Dhaka this week.


Parking space

A designated parking space with a capacity to accommodate more than 600 trucks was opened on 16 October at Changrabandha in India solving the problem of parking space for trucks, both Bhutanese and Indian, ferrying boulders and minerals from Bhutan to Bangladesh via Changrabandha-Burimari border. The seven-acre parking space is located just about a kilometre away from Burimari, Bangladesh and it provides added advantage to the drivers and exporters. The general secretary of BEA, Tshering Yeshi, said such space was not a requirement before as the trucks would return the same day, but now the export trend has changed requiring a designated parking space for truckers.

RMA surplus

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) handed over its highest ever-annual surplus of Nu 3.001 billion, from the  realisation gain on net sale of foreign assets and RMA’s regular net operating profit, to the finance ministry. The net surplus saw an increase of Nu 1.46B from Nu 1.55B incurred by the central bank last year. This, 100 percent increase in surplus reflected the change in accounting policy, which is a national landmark approach. The central bank has adopted the Bhutanese Accounting Standard (BAS) with the technical assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Collaboration with India

A new collaboration between Bhutan and India will be exhibited in the field of fashion and textile heritage of the two countries. In an effort to encourage traditional textiles and weaving, both a forte of the two countries and to foster collaboration between the traditional textile artisans and designers, a textile presentation called Khadi-Thagzo will be held on 16 October at Royal Textile Academy (RTA) in Thimphu. Four leading Bhutanese designers and three Indian designers will be displaying some 48 ensembles made using Khadi and traditional Bhutanese fabric. The event celebrates Bhutan-India friendship and commemorates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.


‘Ayodhya case’ hearing ends

The 40-day-long hearing of the Ayodhya  land dispute case was concluded on 16 October after the Supreme Court finished hearing all arguments in the case one hour before the deadline. The court now reserves the judgement on the case. The Court has asked parties to submit written notes on moulding of reliefs within three days.

India-born wins Nobel

Indian-American Abhijit Banerjee, his wife Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer jointly won the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize on 14 October “for their experiential approach to alleviating global poverty”. Banerjee, 58, was educated at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Harvard University, where he received his PhD in 1988. Indian leaders President Kovind, Prime Minister Modi, Former Prime Minister Dr Singh, Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee congratulated Dr Banerjee for his achievement.


Illegal migrants

Thousands of undocumented migrant workers filled up the national stadium in Malé on Saturday morning as the economic development ministry resumed its “regularisation programme” after a week-long hiatus. The government launched the six-month programme to register irregular migrants last month after banning the recruitment of unskilled Bangladeshi workers for one year. An estimated 63,000 foreign nationals work in the Maldives illegally out of a migrant worker population of 144,600, predominantly Bangladeshi and Indian men who work in the construction and tourism industries. According to the Maldives Independent, “After long lines stretched outside its registration office in the capital, the economic development ministry started using the Galolhu stadium on Saturdays. But the registration progress did not continue last Saturday and hundreds of workers resumed queuing outside the office...”

U-turn on impeachment

Parliament’s judiciary committee on Thursday voted to revoke its decision from the previous day to begin impeachment proceedings for dismissing Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham. According to media reports, MP Jeehan Mahmood proposed annulling the decision on the grounds that it was pushed through in violation of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s rules, which requires its parliamentary group to vote on such decisions. MDP MP Moosa Siraj, whose proposal to launch an impeachment inquiry was passed on Wednesday, was reportedly absent from Thursday’s meeting. The ruling MDP of President Ibrahim Solih controls nearly a three-quarters majority of the 87-member House.

CJ takes on JSC

The Judicial Service Commission lacks the constitutional mandate to investigate Supreme Court justices over the top court’s decisions, Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi insisted on Wednesday, three days after the watchdog served notice of its decision to launch a probe. The JSC could only investigate complaints of ethical misconduct, Didi contended in a press statement. The  10-member oversight body for the judiciary launched its inquiry in light of a report compiled in August that flagged 17 instances where the Supreme Court violated the constitution or usurped the powers of the executive, parliament and independent state institutions.


FDI touches $ 14 m

Yangon Region Investment Committee has allowed foreign investments worth over 14.47 million US dollars and citizen investments worth over Ks 2,440 million. The region investment committee approved 11 foreign investments and two citizen investments in accordance with Myanmar Investment Law. China topped the list of foreign investments with 85 businesses, according to the region investment committee.

Parliament session

Myanmar's Parliament, made up of two Houses, will resume its 14th session on 4 November. During its last session, which ran from July 15 to September 19, 3,765 stipulations of Myanmar's state constitution-2008 were proposed by the Constitution Amendment Joint Committee (CAJC) to the Union Parliament for amendment, revoking and addition respectively.

Fighter plane crash

Two military F-7 fighter jets crashed due to bad weather while practising in the air. The plane crashed in a village in Magwe, central Burma. One crashed near the village area and another one crashed near the Sarpwet creek in Minbu town around 7:30am.


President in Tokyo

President Bidya Devi Bhandari of Nepal is on an official visit to Japan to attend the Enthronement Ceremony of the Emperor of Japan, Naruhito. This visit of greater significance as a meeting with the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, have also been scheduled. It would be interesting for Nepal to engage with distant neighbours like Japan for strategic engagements in the future.

Pipeline functional

The Motihari-Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline has become fully functional and an integral part of the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC). This is a crucial note because previously the NOC used to import oil from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India for areas like Bhairahawa and Biratnagar. The pipeline has been financially supported by Indian grant and is now reducing the extremely high import cost as well as reducing traffic jams as created by the heavy movement of oil tankers.


Journalist barred

Recently, the Pakistan immigration authorities have barred the Programme Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists Steven Butler’s from entering Pakistan. According to reports a border officer at the Allama Iqbal International Airport at Lahore told that although his journalist visa was valid, it had been voided because his name was on a blacklist managed by the Ministry of Interior. Butler’s passport was confiscated and he was forced to board a return flight that was bound for Doha.

India, ‘threat to stability’

Speaking at the Air University, the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that India’s hegemonic aspirations were a threat for Pakistan and the region’s security. On the other hand Pakistan’s moves to strengthen its defence were aimed at maintaining deterrence. The Minister also spoke on Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities and also noted that South Asia was being affected by “major power rivalries, regional tensions, unresolved disputes and hegemonic ambitions.” India’s aggression against neighbours is a significant danger.

Sri Lanka

International airport

The Palay airport, once used exclusively for military purposes through the LTTE war and later returned to civilian status, has acquired international status with the landing of first trial flight connecting Jaffna to Chennai, India. President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu and Tamil politi8cal and societal leaders in the North were present to receive the first flight. Regular flights at Palaly, re-developed with Indian assistance, in November. An avoidable political controversy erupted after some Sinhala politicians claimed that it was wrong to have the name of the airport in Tamil at the top of the name-board, to be followed by those in Sinhala and English. However, officials have since clarified that under the relevant constitutional provisions, Tamil has to come on the top of official name-boards, etc, in Tamil areas of the country.

Tamil tie-up, dilemma

With only a month left for the 16 November presidential polls, the three-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) signed an agreement with breakaway EPRLF constituent and the group led by former party chief minister of the Northern Province, C V Wigneswaran, to form a five-party combine, to negotiate support with the main contenders. Indications are that the combine may hold its cards to the chest after talks with UNP’s Sajith Premadasa, considered the favourite and rival SLPP nominee, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, war-time Defence Secretary and brother of then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to news reports, they do not want their public, publicised support for Premadasa to spoil his chances among his majority Sinhala-Buddhist electorate.



Opinion Pieces Roya Mahboob, “Empower and Educate Afghanistan’s Youth to Ensure a Peaceful Future”, The New York Times, 17 October 2019 Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Public Concerns over Rise of Criminal Offences in Crowded Cities of Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 17 October 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Afghan Taliban; An Unreliable Terrorist Group”, 16 October 2019 Afghanistan Times, “Talks’ revival warrants catalytic role”, 14 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Badiul Alam Majumdar, “Politics of Exploitation”, The Daily Star, 18 October 2019 A K M Nuruzzaman, “Poverty in Bangladesh: Where to focus and how?”, The Daily Star, 18 October 2018 Saleemul Huq, “Real development needs nature-based solutions”, The Daily Star, 16 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Pempa Tshering, “Exploring investment opportunities”, Kuensel, 12 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Varghese K George, “The dominant caste dilemma”, The Hindu, 18 October 2019 Yashovardhan Azad, “A law alone will not serve as a panacea against torture by Police in India”, The Indian Express, 18 October 2019 Suhas Palshikar, “In Maharastra, BJP works on constructing all-India politics while also appropriating the regional space”, The Indian Express, 18 October 2019 Arghya Sengupta, “The complex history of Article 370”, The Telegraph, 18 October 2019 Swapan Dasgupta, “Gandhi, the resurrected saint”, The Telegraph, 17 October 2019 Mrityunjay Kumar, “Under Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pardesh is making a break from its past”, The Indian Express, 17 October 2019 Harsh Mander, “Lynching, the scourge of new India”, The Hindu, 16 October 2019 Pulapre BalaKrishnan, “Financial stability and the RBI”, The Hindu, 15 October 2019


The Hindu, “Awaiting the verdict: On Ayodhya dispute”, 18 October 2019 The Indian Express, “Chipping away RTI”, 18 October 2019 The Telegraph, “The Central government shows no urgency in addressing the economy”, 18 October 2019 The Hindu, “Refusing to recuse: On Justice Arun Mishra”, 17 October 2019 The Telegraph, “A homelessness study whose findings should unsettle us”, 17 October 2019 The Hindu, “Agents of change: On investing in women’s education”, 17 October 2019 The Hindu, “Get back to talks: On transport workers strike in Telangana”, 16 October 2019 The Indian Express, “Erasing the slate”, 16 October 2019 The Hindu, “The man for all seasons: On BCCI president-elect Sourav Ganguly”, 15 October 2019 The Indian Express, “Privacy rights and wrongs”, 11 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Solih Govt expending energy on avoidable distractions”,, 17 October 209 Dr Arvind Mathur, WHO Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, “World Mental Health Day: Mind the mind now”, Maldives Independent, 17 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Tin Htet Paing, “How China pushes its agenda in Myanmar media”, Mizzima, 15 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Narayan Koirala, “Cybersecurity: A strategic imperative for Nepal”, The Kathmandu Post, 18 October 2019 Naba Raj Gurung, “Making NRNA meaningful”, Republica, 17 October 2019 Nishan Kafle, “Together against climate crisis”, Republica, 15 October 2019


The Himalayan Times, “Crime and punishment”, 18 October 2019 The Kathmandu Post, “The government must undertake development activities for its citizens”, 14 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, “Young, poor Baloch”, Dawn, 18 October 2019 Moonis Ahmar, “Islamabad March: is history repeating itself?”, The Express Tribune, 18 October 2019


Dawn, “Doctors’ protest”, 18 October 2019 The Express Tribune, “Imran in Iran and Saudi Arabia”, 18 October 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Tissaranee Gunaratne, “The resistible rise of Gotabaya Rajapaksa”, The Island, 20 October 2019 D B S Jeyaraj, “Who is afraid of Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 October 2019 Kusal Perera, “Third force and AKD as presidential candidate,” Daily Mirror Online, 18 October 2019 M S M Ayub, “Will Tamils boycott the election?”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 October 2019 Kelum Bandara, “TNA keeps presidential candidates in a spot”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 October 2019 Malinda Seneviratne, “Which candidate can bell the Muslim fundamentalist cat?”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 October 2019 Ravi Nagahawatte, “Former rebels attempting unlikely union”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 October 2018 Capt Elmo Jayawardena, “Palaly comes to life again”, Daily Mirror Online, 16 October 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Why numbers don’t add up”, Ceylon Today, 15 October 2019 Harim Peris, “Sajith and Gota – A study in contrasts”, The Island, 15 October 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Does Elpitiya hold the key?”, Colombo Gazette, 14 October 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak
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