Upul Joseph Fernando
When the Chinese naval submarine ‘Great Wall 329’ arrived at the Colombo Port, Mahinda Rajapaksa may have not dreamt that even his royal astrologer, Sumanadasa Abeygunawardene’s prediction may prove wrong about his victory. Also, having declared a presidential election and when he travelled to Lord Venkateswara Temple, India, Mahinda may not have felt that the correct Temple to worship was the Temple at South Block, New Delhi. Be that as it may, Mahinda’s destiny was not changed by Maithripala who had hoppers and left him, but by the Chinese submarine ‘Great Wall 329’.
When the first Chinese submarine came to Colombo, India summoned then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to New Delhi. Gotabhaya was told that the presence of Chinese submarines was a threat to India’s security. But Gotabhaya decided to ignore the Indian advice. ‘Great Wall 329’ was the second Chinese submarine. India lost cool. When Indian Premier, Narendra Modi, met Mahinda in Nepal at the SAARC Summit, he issued the ‘Red Notice’.
Mahinda placed his faith in his son, the crown prince Namal’s Indian friends. So Mahinda thought that Bollywood Star Salman Khan who topped Namal’s list of Indian friends could change Modi’s mind. ‘Indian intelligence misleads Modi. Namal has close relations with those close to Modi. Namal is beautifully handling the side of Modi’, Mahinda told those who warned him about India and Mahinda asked what could India do against him? That was the substance of what Mahinda told those who inquired about the Indian stance on Sri Lanka. As Indian foreign policy analysts believed that after the LTTE was crushed India lost her grip over Sri Lanka, Mahinda may have had thought on those lines.
The Rajapaksa’s thought: “India cannot pressurize us because the LTTE is no more. But we have the Chinese card to pressurize India”. China took advantage of that situation not knowing much about Sri Lankan politics. China thought that Rajapaksas’ who won the LTTE war could not be defeated by the opposition. China’s relations with the opposition in Sri Lanka were limited. China did not wish to distance Rajapaksa and get close to the opposition. During the Uva provincial elections, Chinese President Jin Ping arrived in Colombo to strengthen the Rajapaksas’ and offered funds to provide economic relief to the people.
India viewed those developments with anxiety. India knew the ground politics of Sri Lanka for decades. The Sri Lankan opposition had close links with India. Moreover, it is India who holds the key to pressurize minority political parties here. In contrast, the Rajapaksas’ behaved in a manner where they ignored the fact of the rights of the minorities too contribute at elections to elect a president. From 2005, the deciding factor to elect a president was in the hands of the Sinhala Buddhist population. The Sinhala Buddhists were with Mahinda. Hence it was difficult to break that grip. However, with the exit of Maithripala, the scenario changed. Thus, the opportunity fell into the laps of the minorities.
Mahinda was defeated on 8 January. Mahinda’s defeat is viewed by India as a defeat of China and a victory for India. Mahinda lost due to the strength of the minorities. It has also enhanced the scope for India to gain an upper hand over Sri Lanka, after the LTTE was crushed. The Chinese “String of Pearls” are scattered across the ocean. Rajapaksas’ may be feeling that they pinched the “Sleeping Giant’ (India). This is a good lesson for decades to come, not only for Sri Lanka, but also for other leaders in South Asia.