The one good thing about Sri Lanka is that both the protestors and the military have been conducting themselves with considerable restraint. Of course, there was the exception of the mob putting the torch to prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe's personal house, including his library. Otherwise, the agitation has by and large been peaceful and orderly. Nobody could have imagined that the Rajapaksa family which ruled the country for 15 years would be so hated that they even fear to remain on the island. One reason why President Gotabaya Rajapaksa failed to resign as promised was the fear that he might not get certain privileges while fleeing from the country if he quit. His appointment of Wickramasinghe as the acting president could only be seen as a last-ditch attempt to rule by proxy.
Politically, the only way out is to let Parliament elect a new president, possibly next week. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeyawardena may lose his credibility if he is unable to ensure that the Rajapaksa family has no control over the post-Gotabaya dispensation. This is easier said than done as Parliament, from which the new president has to emerge, is dominated by the party owing allegiance to the controversial family. While an all-party government will be the best option till elections are possible, what is abhorred is the presidential system of government which alone allowed so many from the same family to hold so many key posts in the government. This needs replacement of the Constitution with one that promises a better democratic system. All this requires time – but that is what the island nation does not have.
Sri Lanka needs a new government that can provide relief to the people by controlling the country's unbridled inflation and making available direly needed essential commodities. India played a significant role in shoring up the economy by providing credit and commodities. That India is with the people of Sri Lanka and not the discredited Rajapaksa family is obvious from the fact that the president’s choice of destination did not include India but the US, Maldives, Singapore and Saudi Arabia (not necessarily in that order).
It is in India’s own interests that the Sri Lankan crisis is ended. Any escalation could lead to mass migration, with India as the destination. What happened in Sri Lanka is mismanagement of the economy by those who thought that they could brush aside any opposition because of the political support they enjoyed. They kept on borrowing till they found that they could not repay. By then it was too late and the creditors stopped supplying credit and goods. The country has certainly enough resources to support a population of 22 million. What it needs is a political leadership that is attuned to the needs of the people, rather than its own power and pelf.
Bold initiatives a must to control prices
Inflation continues to worry, though there is a marginal decline in it from 7.04 per cent in May to 7.01 per cent in June, according to the latest available Consumer Price Index (CPI) figures. The decrease can be attributed to the fall in the price of cooking oil, hit hard by the Ukraine war. The steps taken by the Reserve Bank also helped. What is distressing is that the prices of at least nine out of the 12 items in the food and beverages basket remain very high for the common man. Added to it is the continued plummeting of the rupee vis-a-vis the dollar which would make the import bill high, especially of crude oil. The recent adjustments made in the GST rates will only increase the prices of certain items. The recent increase in the price of cooking gas for both domestic and commercial uses add to the inflationary spiral.
Inflation is now a global phenomenon. The inflation figures in the US are way above India’s at 9 per cent. Reports suggest that the Americans are already grumbling about the high prices. In India, more than grumbling, people will stop buying items that they find unaffordable, and this will cause public health issues in the long run. The present crisis has been brought about by the war in Ukraine and the resultant impact on the world oil price. Passing on the additional burden to the consumers may appear to balance the inflow and the outflow of money from the government coffers, but it is not good politics. The effort should be to reduce the CPI to at least 6 per cent, if not lower. This is possible only if the government makes concerted efforts to reduce the inflationary pressures on the economy. In short, it needs to reduce the prices of essential commodities.