The crisis in Sri Lanka has worsened, with civil unrest in Colombo devolving into violence and spreading throughout the island nation. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa persuaded his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to quit as prime minister on Monday, in a gesture aimed at soothing protesters and investigating the possibility of forming a national unity administration. However, Mahinda’s supporters increased the ante and allegedly stormed the Galle Face location of civic protests in full view of the police. The retaliation was swift. Civilians, who had been exemplary in their protests, turned on the ruling party officials, setting fire to their houses and businesses.
The Rajapaksas’ family house outside Hambantota was set ablaze, forcing Mahinda and his family to evacuate in a Navy chopper, according to reports. Since Monday, seven people have died and 190 have been injured in the violence, which has intensified protestors’ demand that Gotabaya resign as well. The fragmented opposition has ignored Gotabaya’s outreach: The largest opposition party, Sajith Premadasa’s Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), wants the government to be voted out, the incumbent president impeached, and the executive presidency abolished. The chances of political reconciliation look to be slim.
The events of the previous several days have highlighted the breadth and depth of public opposition to the Rajapaksas. In fact, the Rajapaksas have become the face of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, with the phrase “Go, Gota, Go” resonating for days in public protests. The Easter bombs, which occurred before Gotabaya took office, and Covid, which shut down the tourism sector, a major source of foreign currency, were black swan events that wreaked havoc on the Sri Lankan economy. Accumulated foreign debt, resource mismanagement, populist policies, and other factors all had a role in the emergence of the crisis, which has resulted in a spiralling increase in the price of commodities such as cereals, pharmaceuticals, milk powder, and cooking gas.
India has contributed money and vital supplies ($3.5 billion this year), while Colombo is negotiating a bailout plan with the IMF. However, if political unrest persists, economic recovery would be hampered: tourism is unlikely to pick up in the current climate, and investors are likely to remain away. With public opinion against the Rajpaksas, Gotabaya faces a difficult challenge. To restore public trust in the administration, he may need the assistance of the entire opposition.
India has acted as a thoughtful and helpful neighbour without interfering in the political issue. It should continue to do so, because New Delhi’s commitment is to the people of Sri Lanka, not to any political party or family, as it has declared repeatedly.
Aryan Jakhar works as an Editor-in-Chief at The Shining Media. Also, he is an editor at YouthPolitician (digital media situated in Taiwan). He writes his opinions on social issues at YouthKiAwaaz and also on his blogger website.