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India-bashing wasn't the campaign flavour

Sri Lanka’s closest and largest neighbour India has a history of influencing politics and then receiving flak for it in the island nation.

world Updated: Jan 25, 2010 18:00 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Sri Lanka’s closest and largest neighbour India has a history of influencing politics and then receiving flak for it in the island nation. Presidents and political parties have made their mark by whipping up Sinhala nationalism and anti-India rhetoric. But in the run-up to Tuesday’s crucial poll, political parties and their protagonists seemed to have deliberately kept away from criticising India.

Neither the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) or the combined opposition coalition, United National Front (UNF) – including the stringently anti-India Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) -- made India or its economic and regional foreign policy an issue during the campaign.

One reason for that is India is not being seen here as openly backing either of the two closest contenders, President Mahinda Rajapaksa or general Sarath Fonseka.

It was also expected that the ruling UPFA would not try to whip up anti-India rhetoric without any reason as India had supported the government in its fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Of course, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s secretary, L Weeratunge recently said that Rajapaksa fought and won Congress’ war against the LTTE. The comment probably was a signal that the ruling Congress could do well to remember that favour and not go against the incumbent Rajapaksa.

But what was surprising to many was the complete silence of the JVP, a radical Marxist party, on India.

JVP is one of the moving forces behind Sarath Fonseka’s candidature. Broadly, India for JVP is what the United States is for the Indian Left parties – an evil, capitalist empire out to gobble up smaller economies in the neighbourhood. JVP’s anti-India policy is one of its essential doctrines.

One example could make the point. At the May Day rally in 2008, JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe had whipped up anti-Indian sentiments calling for protests against what he labeled as ``Indian hegemonic foreign policy.’’ He had sworn to protect Sri Lanka against India’s murky geo-political and economic interests in the region.

But the politics seems to have changed. ``We are not always anti (India). If they support Sri Lanka, we do not oppose India. When India acts anti-Sri Lanka, only then we oppose,’’ JVP MP Vijitha Herath said on Monday.

The Marxists’ softening of heart could be interpreted as tactical. ``Our main aim now is to defeat Rajapaksa,’’ Herath said. To achieve that aim, JVP will quietly go along with the largest opposition party, UNP, in supporting Fonseka.

``Both candidates need India. Both candidates have wooed India. And both candidates are in touch with New Delhi,’’ a political analyst, who did not wish to be named, said.

``India is also not being seen as overtly interfering in the election. And, the UNP is a large part of the opposition and is not known to be anti-India. The fact that UNP and JVP are on the same platform itself is radical,’’ historian Silan Kadirgamar said.

As long as India is not seen as hurting Lankan nationalism, anti-Indian feelings would remain dormant.

``It is a good sign that India has not been attacked in the campaign. Maybe, India is doing a good job here,’’ a diplomat said. As for which Presidential candidate India is supporting, the running joke in political circles here is India would support the winner.