The ruling Bharathiya Janatha Party ( BJP) and the Congress Party in India were shocked by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement to the Indian media that Sri Lanka would shoot Indian fishermen who poached into Sri Lankan waters. Ranil portrayed himself as a close friend of India in recent times and campaigned in favour of India’s stand to recognize the 13+ as the solution to the Tamil problem in his country.
During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration, Ranil took the lead to attack Chinese funded projects like the Colombo Port City to win over India. Diplomatic circles look baffled about the sudden change in Ranil with the latter deciding to launch attacks on India. This sudden change in Ranil’s stance is viewed by some as a measure to dismiss claims that he is a pro-Indian puppet in a drama while attacking Chinese interests in his country. However, the Rajapaksas never threatened to shoot the Indian fishermen in the manner that Ranil has done.
Ranil’s sudden change
There could be some reasons for Ranil’s sudden change. Ranil was duly recognized during the days of the Congress administration in India. The Indian Congress viewed Ranil as an alternate leader to Mahinda. The Congress never wanted to oust Mahinda by exerting pressure or force. However, India looked dismayed over the inability of Ranil as Opposition leader to defeat Mahinda. When the BJP took office in India, it viewed Mahinda’s dealings with China as a threat to India. Hence, the BJP Government was in favour of witnessing the defeat of Mahinda’s Government. The BJP was disgusted over the lethargic attitude of Ranil as Opposition leader to execute obligations. After Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, Ranil visited India several times to meet Modi but those attempts proved futile. Though the BJP and the UNP had historical links, Modi did not meet Ranil and the latter was annoyed over that position of the BJP.
Tamil National Alliance
When the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) stood firm opposing Ranil’s attempt to become the candidate at the last presidential election, it confused Ranil. TNA claimed that if Ranil contested Mahinda, Ranil would be defeated. It was the TNA which halted Ranil’s run to contest the presidency. Ranil may be guessing that India was behind the TNA stand. When the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) brought the genocide resolution before the Council, Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran spoke against Ranil and his cousin Ruwan Wijewardene who is the State Minister for Defence. Following is an extract of Wigneswaran’s speech at the NPC: “I view the assurance given by Ruwan Wijewardena recently when he met the Army in Jaffna that the Army camps would not be removed as being the expression of view of his uncle through nephew. Not only that, when I met his uncle Ranil Wickremesinghe after the elections this is what he told me: “We are going to assure Mahanayake Theras that we would not be removing any Army camps in the North”. After telling me this, he, who never smiles like his uncle J.R. Jayewardene, smiled a bit. What I understood from that was ‘I am going to keep cool the minds of the Mahanayake Theras, in order to win the forthcoming general elections’.
“When Ruwan Wijewardena expressed the same view before the Army recently I got alarmed. We requested to release at least 5,000 acres of land out of the 6,500 acres occupied by the Army. But the statement made by Ruwan Wijewardena makes us to believe that the Army is not having adequate land space for their accommodation and that there is no attempt to remove even a single soldier, who had been enjoying a cosy lifestyle in the 6,500 acres of land.”
“The new government’s message to the Sinhala people was that they were not going to reduce the Army and not going to remove their camps. I wish to ask the Prime Minister, who is acclaimed as democrat, as to why he is submerged in an obsolete (Patham Pasali) old political tactics. Because of this reason only I am bringing this motion hurriedly in spite of myself suffering as a result of an unfit physical condition.”
Ranil lost the presidency
Following Ruwan’s visit to the North, Wigneswaran arrived in Colombo to meet Maithripala. It was after that meeting, Maithri clipped Ruwan’s wings in the latter’s ministry. Ranil launched severe attacks on Wigneswaran during his interview with the Indian media. Ranil was a person who appeared as the saviour of the TNA and the Tamil people. However, Ranil lost the presidency on four occasions because of northern politics. In 1999, Ranil lost the presidential poll because Prabhakaran exploded a bomb at a meeting in which Chandrika was injured in the eye. In 2005, Prabhakaran prevented the voters in the North from exercising their franchise and Ranil lost. In 2010, Ranil was labelled as a LTTE supporter and the TNA said Ranil will not be able to muster the Sinhala Buddhist vote. Ranil was a person who was labelled as a pro-Indian and a Western supporter.
Therefore, India and the West viewed Ranil as one who could never win an election. It is not clear that Ranil is attacking India and Wigneswaran as a measure of revenge. He knows that a general election is in the offing and is aware that he should be the hero among the Sinhalese to win that election. The Tamil votes will go the TNA. That could be the reason he has decided to play a new character in current politics.