India is betting on the crisis in Sri Lanka to regain the ground it lost to China

The downfall of the Rajapaksa ‘family’, which has just been engulfed amid the turmoil of an unprecedented popular revolution in Sri Lanka, is a golden opportunity for India to regain its influence on the island. Even if no Indian leader said it in these terms, this possibility is based on a concrete reality: the “clan” of the ousted president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, made it possible for China to strengthen its presence in South Asia. Sri Lanka, whose relationship with New Delhi is traditionally close but not without complexity, has constituted an important “war prize” for Beijing in the context of its rivalry with India. ” This crisis is undoubtedly a way to improve our relationship with Sri Lanka.”confirms an Indian diplomatic source who welcomes the fact that his country is currently benefiting from ” for a positive image in Colombo.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government rushed to breach at the start of the year, while Sri Lanka’s economy was teetering on the edge: New Delhi launched credit lines for the island worth $3.8 billion to purchase basic commodities and fuel. and fertilizer. India also provided humanitarian aid.

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holding hands

This outstretched hand is part of a policy first district [« le voisinage en premier »] New Delhi seeks to restore its influence in the region, especially in Sri Lanka, where China has imposed itself through infrastructure projects within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative – the famous “New Silk Roads”.

Under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015) – who became prime minister of his brother Gotabaya after the latter’s victory in the 2019 presidential election – Sri Lanka has been largely indebted to Beijing. The disproportionate projects of a head of state suffering from delusions of grandeur have led to a resounding failure. The most visible example of these “white elephants” was the construction of a port terminal and an international airport on the indigenous lands of Rajapaksa, in Hambantota, in the south of the country.

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The port has never attracted cargo ships, more than airport planes. As a result, Sri Lanka was forced to cede the port terminal, for a period of ninety-nine years, to state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings, in exchange for canceling a loan to China of just over $1 billion. Since the crisis reached its climax in mid-July, with the shameful escape of “Gotha” – the nickname of the ousted president – forced to leave his residence after it was invaded by hostile masses, China has remained silent. Leaving the field open for the time being for India and giving the last chance to push its pawns on the chessboard in the regional “Great Game”. India has already done a lot for Sri Lanka and made tremendous financial efforts during the last six months. This contrasts with the relative absence of China since the beginning of this crisis.”Constantino Xavier, Research Associate at the Center for Social and Economic Advancement, a New Delhi-based think tank, confirms.

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