Sri Lanka has been thrown into a vortex of chaos, with protesters continuing to occupy the Prime Minister’s office and the President House, even as former President Gotabaya Rajapakse and his wife, on Thursday, left Maldives on a Saudi Airlines flight to Singapore. They were escorted to the plane by special forces of the Maldivian army.
The Parliament session that was scheduled on Friday has been cancelled due to huge protests several kilometres outside the building by thousands of people. The main road leading to Parliament has been blocked by army to prevent protesters from entering the Parliament complex.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and former minister Basil Rajapakse have told the Supreme Court that they will not leave the country till the petition against them on Fundamental Rights is disposed of. The opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party has said, it will bring a no-confidence motion in Parliament against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is now acting as President.
There have been reports of clashes, with the Army alleging that violent protesters brutally assaulted two soldiers on Wednesday night and took away two T-56 automatic assault rifles along with the magazines from them. 84 people were injured in clashes and they have been hospitalized.
Curfew has been imposed again in Colombo from 12 noon on Thursday till 5 am on Friday, and protesters have been asked to leave public places, but the protesters, mostly youths, have ignored these announcements. Meanwhile, the Speaker Mahinda Abeywardena has said that he has not yet received the resignation letter from the President Gotabaya Rajapakse.
The protesters are angry with the acting President Wickremesinghe over the escape of President Gotabaya Rajapakse from the country. Soon after Wickremesinghe took over, he proclaimed emergency and imposed curfew in Colombo. Army and police have been asked to deal with protesters firmly, but in most of the places, army and policemen were found watching the protests silently. As of now, there is no government worth the name in Sri Lanka, and all levers of governance are at a standstill.
India TV correspondent T. Raghavan met many of the protesters who demanded a complete transformation in government. They were particularly angry with the Rajapakse family members, who have been ruling the country, and brought it to such a sorry state.
In my primetime show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed how thousands of protesters have taken over the President House and Prime Minister’s office. Their anger exploded on Wednesday morning when news came that Gotabaya Rajapakse along with his office fled Sri Lanka in an Air Force transport plane.
The plane was initially not allowed to land in Male by Air Traffic Control, but after the Maldives Speaker Mohammed Nasheed intervened, the plane was allowed to land, and Rajapakse and his wife were whisked away to a secret destination in a convoy. In Colombo, protesters forcibly entered the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation headquarters and the telecast on the state-owned television was abruptly stopped. One of the protesters appeared speaking from the news presenter’s table, before it was taken off air.
Many of the protesters appeared to be supporters of opposition parties like Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Janata Vimukti Peramuna. The ruling United National Party led by Rajapakse family is now in tatters. Common Sri Lankans are angry over the massive corruption that took place during the regime of Rajapakse family. They are incensed over Gotabaya Rajapakse, first promising to resign and then saying that he has left on a foreign visit and has temporarily appointed Wickremesinghe as interim president.
The Sri Lankan Air Force had to issue a statement to explain that Gotabaya as President had demanded that an air force plane be brought for him, for visiting Maldives. The Maldivian Speaker Mohammed Nasheed, who helped Gotabaya and his wife to land, is the one whose family members were given political asylum in Sri Lanka, when he faced turbulence in Maldives.
The Rajapakse family had given asylum to Mohammed Nasheed’s wife and daughters in their own palace. Now that the Rajapakse family is facing trouble, Mohammed Nasheed has stepped in to help the family.
Sri Lanka now faces an uncertain future. Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has requested the Speaker to get the Parliament elect a new Prime Minister, who can be acceptable to the people, and both the ruling and opposition parties.
There is not an iota of doubt that even if a new dispensation comes into place in Sri Lanka, the economic condition will take a long time to improve. Sri Lanka needs massive investment along with prudent fiscal policies, to achieve a minimum growth rate. The country is facing a Rs 4 lakh crore debt burden, out of which it has to repay nearly Rs 2 lakh crore by 2026 to lenders. This year, Sri Lanka will have to repay Rs 56,000 crore loans. The foreign exchange reserves have dipped to a paltry Rs 250 crore.
This, in a nutshell, is the state of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. India, on its part, has provided assistance to Sri Lanka in the form of medicines, fertilizers, fuel and foodgrains, which it needs desperately. India has said that it will stand with the Sri Lankan people in its hour of crisis.
Unless the present chaotic state ends, and a new government takes over, nothing can be said definitely about the future course. Let us hope that political stability returns and the neighbouring island nation limps to normalcy.
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