Photo credit Twitter Ranil Vickremesinghe

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, June 10: There was a sigh of relief among the Indian diplomatic community after Ranil Vickremesinghe became Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

Colombo had already defaulted on serving its foreign debt of over USD 50 billion.

Gala Face protest had turned violent. The mansion of his predecessor Mahinda Rakpaksa had already been burnt, sending him in hiding at the island nation’s navy base.

GoGotaGo war cry ran through Sri Lanka. People seemed not willing to rest until the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa quit.

But Sri Lanka now appears on path to peace and recovery. Indian line of credit to procure the basic essentials remains the cushion for Colombo to come out of the crisis. The World Bank too is steeping in, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has experience of bailing out the island nation on previous occasions.

Vickremesinghe is a lone member of his party, United National Party, in the Parliament. In fact, he’s a nominated member of Parliament. He had his party had lost the 2020 Parliamentary elections in the country.

On being appointed PM of the country at a time when the nation was on the verge of financial collapse and its rupee in freefall, with one USD costing over 200 Sri Lankan rupees, Vickremesinghe had his Winston Churchill moment.

Vickremesinghe told a British broadcaster on the irony of a nominated MP becoming PM of a nation in deep crisis that even Churchill had become the Prime Minister of his country while only four MPs were supporting him. The German fighter jets were flying the British airspace and seemed determined to bombard the most powerful European country into oblivion.

Gopal Baglay, Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, was quick to call on Vickremesinghe after he was appointed the Prime Minister by Gotabaya Rajpaksa. Baglay has been seen proactively identifying areas of immediate attention, with the Indian relief being provided to hospital chains, to mitigate the humanitarian crisis in the island nation.

Sri Lanka was left with not enough foreign currency reserves to meet imports and service its debts before it plunged into unprecedented crisis.

The 2019 Easter Sunday blasts and the subsequent outbreak of the Covid-19 destroyed the Sri Lankan economy. The blasts had already scared away the island nation, which was limping back to normalcy after decades of civil war, and the pandemic cut its lifeline of the remittances sent by the expatriates, who had to return the country after the global economy went into deeper corrections.

China had already spread its debt tentacles over Sri Lanka, ballooning its foreign loans for serving the infrastructure projects, including port development, which were hardly its priority but served Beijing’s strategic interests. Sri Lanka emerged the perfect example of the Chinese debt-trap.

While Mahinda Rajpaksa had to his credit the credentials of leading his country against the LTTE (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), Vickremesinghe has been Sri Lanka’s financial saviour.

The incumbent PM had even in the past secured the IMF bailout package to avert deep financial crisis. His networking skill in the international financial institutions has been well known.

He has been well known in New Delhi. While India had dropped deep anchor even before he be came the PM, New Delhi has been on an overdrive to ensure that Sri Lanka is saved from slipping into anarchy.

With the timely support from India, Sri Lanka is on course of restoring the availability of electricity, LPG cylinders, fertilizers, fuels and the foodgrains.

Incidentally, Sri Lankan crisis aggravated at a time when China was busy with its ‘Zero COVID Policy’, with almost half of its region under restrictive lockdown, pushing its own citizens to hunger and deprivation. Beijing had no time to think of Colombo.

The world order was in flux when Beijing shut its door to the world to address domestic issues and also making gains from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Indian outreach to the island nations was on an overdrive. There seemed an urgency to push away Beijing from India’s immediate neighbourhood.

In Vickremesinghe, India found a partner to work with trust. The grip of the Rajpaksa family also began loosening, with two of the brothers of Gotabaya Rajpaksa now out of the government.

Reforms are on anvil in Sri Lanka with the 21st Constitution amendment and also dilution of the Presidential Executive power.

Vickremesinghe as a crisis manager has taken to transparent communication, telling the nation and parliament the honest assessment of the financial health of the country and the prospects of the road ahead.

The people got the true sense that the country is on the verge of collapse, but the new man can steer the boat to the safety.

Besides tourism, Sri Lanka banks on plantation. It will be a while before Sri Lankan economy stands on its feet again since the nation is now also faced with global outflow of capital in the face of inflation. Vickremesinghe will need to diversify Sri Lankan economy while he takes his country on a reform path.

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