“India’s influence in Sri Lankan elections cannot be ignored. India is important in regional politics and several sectors see mutual involvement of both India and Sri Lanka. We cannot ignore India’s influence. We cannot ignore India,” says Namal in an exclusive interview to The News Minute (TNM).
Months after his defeat to former aide Maithripala Sirisena, the senior Rajapaksa reportedly told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, “It was very open, Americans, the Norwegians, Europeans were openly working against me. And RAW (India’s Research Analysis Wing). Both the US and India openly used their embassies to bring me down.” Reuters, however, reported that the former President had claimed he was not aware of all the facts.
Namal denies that his father made this statement but paints the same allegation with a broader brush, “It is the popular belief in Sri Lanka that India and US worked against President Rajapaksa in the last elections. Majority still believe that. He (Mahinda) never mentioned that India is partly responsible. People know that India had a major role. It was the situation between the two countries at that time. I am talking about the statements and behaviour of certain diplomats in Sri Lanka.”
It was widely reported after the fall of the Rajapaksa Government that a RAW official was instrumental in uniting rival political parties — the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) — against him during the polls. The official allegedly helped gather support for Sirisena. He was reportedly transferred but the Indian Government had called it ‘routine’.
When pressed further for names, the 31-year-old Parliamentarian says “We saw through the media that the Indian High Commissioner and ambassador were with Sirisena and certain media said they favour them. I am not saying they are responsible. But certain behaviours and statements might have affected (the elections), is what people believe.”
India has involved itself in the internal politics of the island nation before. The Congress Government had sent its troops to Sri Lanka in 1987 to broker peace between the Government and the LTTE. This time around, however, it is reported that the ‘influence’ asserted was to counter another regional rival that has increasingly threatened the country’s stronghold in South Asia – China.
Multiple factors are said to have been responsible for India’s growing discontent with the Rajapaksa government. The first was when India was stunned in 2014 when Chinese submarines docked in Sri Lanka on two separate occasions. India saw it as part of Beijing’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy to secure a foothold in South Asia and fulfil its desire to gain increasing maritime access through the Indian Ocean.
Namal, however, refutes that the Rajapaksa Government was compromising on India’s security interests.
“During our Government’s tenure, my father was very clear that Sri Lankan soil will not be used against India or any other neighbour,” he claims.
But it was not just this blatant aggression that China was displaying, investments became another route for them to gain more control over Sri Lankan assets.
During his rule, Rajapaksa got $8 billion in loans from China to build a road network and infrastructure in Hambantota district and the Colombo Port City which is an offshore city built on a manmade island. (Colombo Gazette)