As the Indian election juggernaut begins to roll and churn later this week, its progress and resolution would be keenly scrutinised by its neighbour across the choppy waters of the Palk Strait.
The academic and strategic circles of Colombo are busy talking not only about J Jayalalithaa, they have their own take on “Dalit leader Mayawati’’ and the “rise of the Narendra Modi-type rightist Hindu’’ politics. The other point of discussion is the rise of regional parties and the nuances of a party in minority running a coalition in New Delhi.
But what does Colombo want from India once the new government is in place in New Delhi?
India has been wary of getting directly involved in Sri Lanka since the late 1980s’ when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) first came on the island. It was followed by the assassination of former PM Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE suicide bomber. The group was subsequently banned in India.
Over the next decade or so, India’s policy in Lanka became more and more aligned with the policies of whoever was in power in Colombo. India took an overt anti-LTTE position marinated with, what some term strategic, sympathy for the Tamil civilians affected and displaced by the bloody conflict.
“In the 70’s and 80’s, India wanted to destabilise Sri Lanka because it was unable to make it another Bhutan. But it has had a hands’ off policy (in Sri Lanka) since the IPKF came and went," K Godage, a former diplomat who has served in India, said.
He added that for Lanka, it would now be best to have close relationship with whoever is in power in India. The contours of the new government, Godage added, would only be clear after the results were out. “I do not think Sri Lanka needs to worry even if there is a strong presence of Tamil Nadu in New Delhi. There is a sophisticated administrative system in place (in India) which would counter any move to change its current policy of allowing Sri Lanka to tackle its own problems," Godage said.
An expert on regional politics pointed out that whichever coalition comes to power, India has to counter the influence of China and Pakistan in Sri Lanka.