In a parlour game, a wheel is spun around a circular table. The dial comes to rest next to an individual, who is then declared out. Government after government that came to power in Sri Lanka mismanaged the economy, thereby making a collapse inevitable. This was the year that it happened, and as fate would have it, the government at the time was a collection of members of the Rajapaksa clan. In an earlier avatar, when Mahinda was the President and Gotabaya the Defence Secretary, the government was similarly filled with members of the Rajapaksa family. The profusion of relatives appointed to high positions by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was among the factors that led to his defeat. In the next round of Rajapaksa family rule, the present President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, repeated the mistake that had been made earlier by Mahinda, and populated the government with close relatives. Even a family-ruled country such as is found within the Gulf Cooperation Council would not have as high a proportion of ruling family members as was the case in Sri Lanka until the crisis struck and the streets filled with angry crowds calling for the removal of the Rajapaksas from office. Only then did President Gotabaya ensure that all relatives with the exception of his brother Mahinda (the Prime Minister) were made to resign. As for Mahinda, given the hold that he still retains over his supporters, it is unlikely that a motion of no confidence in him moved by Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa would succeed. Small wonder that despite calling on both the Rajapaksa brothers to resign, Sajith has yet to bring forward a formal “no confidence” vote in the Sri Lankan Parliament. Even worse than losing such a vote would be to win it, for the Leader of the Opposition, known for his India-phobic views, is hardly the person to persuade New Delhi to expend even more resources than it already has in trying to prevent the Sri Lankan economy from sinking under the weight of past policies. Gotabaya bears very little responsibility for them, his main focus in the past being the elimination of the LTTE, but it is on his head that the responsibility for the present debacle has landed. The good news is that the current President of Sri Lanka is capable of very bold decisions, and these are what will be needed if Sri Lanka and its people are to be rescued from the situation that they are enduring.
Given its proximity to India and its strategic location within the Indo-Pacific, Sri Lanka is a natural partner of India. While ties with China could benefit the elites, only partnering with India would be able to ensure development in a manner that reaches the entirety of Sri Lankan society, whether they be Tamil or Sinhala. Only when shipping companies from or to India feel comfortable docking at Hambantota will that port create financial surpluses. As long as it remains under PRC control, such a development is unlikely. In the case of Colombo, although there has been much spent on the port out of loans on commercial terms offered by China, traffic is likely to shrink in future as a consequence of Beijing being given control of the new port facilities. Successive governments in Sri Lanka have allowed the country to be used as a pawn in the game of dominance that is being played, principally between China and the US, but which also involves India. Just as a good relationship with the Russian Federation is essential for a stable Ukraine, a close partnership with India is critical to a stable and prosperous future for Sri Lanka. Debts that are financially impossible to pay without causing immense misery to the populace need to be repudiated, especially loans given on commercial terms. Any extraterritorial rights given to a country in lieu of loan repayment should be withdrawn. Should President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ensure that Sri Lanka is positioned on the side of the democracies rather than allowed to sail together with the authoritarians, that decision would be a significant step towards a healthy economy and therefore society. A wise step has been taken in removing all relatives except the Prime Minister from positions of authority. The Prime Minister should only be removed if he has lost the majority in Parliament and not before. Once correct geopolitical decisions get taken and implemented by the Sri Lankan President and Prime Minister, India needs to convene an informal working group comprising its partners in the Quadrilateral Security Alliance and other friendly countries to work out ways of pulling Sri Lanka from the economic morass that it has landed into.