Sri Lankan armed forces and law enforcers ordered by new President Ranil Wickremasinghe swooped down on the temporary camps set up by the protesters numbering in thousands and arrested hundreds. It was the first hit back by the state after the elections. Once state forces move in, crowds can’t sustain, unless the state itself is undergoing a transition. In Sri Lanka, it’s probably a continuation of the old regime in a new form that is on.
Although there was much cheering when the Presidents and cronies fled as the Rajapakse regime crumbled, there was genuine concern that Sri Lanka was facing “anarchy” or sorts. If the crowds prevail, talks with fresh donors and lenders including the IMF would not happen. The army looked like the only force that had clout. By taking over the national TV and radio station, the army began protecting the establishment and the state. Now with the arrests, the next step has been taken.
Crowds vs the formal state ?
Most of the military top brass are actually protégés of the Rajapakses. Kamal Guneratne, the spokesperson of the army, was a top field commander in the final battle that defeated the Tamil Tigers movement in 2009. His superior at the time was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now the ex -President. So it’s obvious that senior commanders have many common grounds. It’s they who ensured a safe flight to the ex-Prez.
On July 10, NDTV of India reported that the Sri Lankan Army chief General Shavendra Silva had sought people's support to maintain peace. On July 13, the Sri Lanka army took over the state Television, radio stations and took up strategic positions. On 20th of July came the elections, Ranil came to power despite crowd protests that he had termed: fascists”. Two days later the crowd clearing began led by the army and supported by the police .
“It’s always the economics, stupid”
Sri Lanka’s struggle is with economics, a fact many ignore in the face of the political drama. On top of that it has become the new battle ground of Indo-China rivalry. New Delhi has so far given about $1.5 billion (€1.47 billion) to Colombo for funding imports of food, fuel, medicines and fertilizers. Plus another $3.8 billion in assistance in the form of currency swaps and credit lines.
Beijing has given some 500 million yuan ($75 million, €73.35 million) in humanitarian aid and has promised to "play a positive role" in Sri Lanka's talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) But they are not seen as enough. China has also yet to respond to Colombo's appeal for debt relief.
China is not interested in writing off its debt and the West certainly has been effective in demonizing China as the “Great debtor”. And India is working hard to be seen as Sri Lanka’s friend number one. It has got several contracts in Trincomalee and Colombo port zone making its return as a player possible.
Sri Lanka has chosen to turn to India, the West and the IMF for relief. “Wickremesinghe is still hoping to form an India-China-West consortium to devise a recovery plan for Sri Lanka. But India and China are unlikely to be part of the same team, given their competing interests in Sri Lanka, “ says journalist P.K. Balachandran, based in Colombo.
Both Sri Lanka and India are banking on the IMF bailout package. However, China is not about to give up easily though it’s playing with its cards close to the chest. Given the global economic scenario, expecting too much from the IMF seems unwise. But expecting China to give in what it sees as a foothold in the region is even less wise.
Meanwhile the state seems more in control after a few months of extreme turmoil.