Ranil’s Worst Betrayal: Giving Trincomalee To India

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is about to give Trincomalee to the Indians—and by this (upcoming) Vesak! According to the Political Column of a respected English-language Sunday paper, he rejected the mild concerns of two SLFP Ministers, derisively addressing the pair in Sinhala as “Oi!” at the last Cabinet meeting.

The imminent ceding of strategic Trincomalee is summarized by Meera Srinivasan in The Hindu:

 “India and Sri Lanka have, in principle, agreed to jointly operate the World War-era oil storage facility in Trincomalee, the strategically advantaged port town located on the island’s east coast…Both the nations are hoping to firm up the deal before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled second official visit to the island in early May.

 

 

Indian Oil Corporation subsidiary Lanka IOC, engaged in bunkering operations, runs 15 out of the 99 storage tanks in the lower oil tank farm in Trincomalee. The proposed joint venture pertains to the remaining 84 tanks in the upper farm, but Sri Lanka would retain 10 of those for use by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation…

 

 

During his visit to Sri Lanka in March 2015, Mr. Modi had said the project to develop the upper tank farm in Trincomalee would help the coastal town become a regional petroleum hub.” (‘Sri Lanka, India to develop Trincomalee oil tank farm’, The Hindu, April 9th)

Retaining a mere 10 out of 99 oil tanks i.e. a measly 10%, means giving the oil tank farm to India. Given the other agreements about ‘developing’ the Port, an oil refinery and highways with India means ceding Trincomalee to India—a country of which the state of Tamil Nadu, just a few miles away, is a major stakeholder.

Ceding Trincomalee gives the Indians a footprint and a foothold in that strategically vital port, ethnically sensitive border area and former warzone. India, like any big power, will now have a strategic reason for entrenching itself and ‘protecting’ what it has been conceded; its stake. Its warships will constantly visit Trinco; there will be a security presence to guard the oil tank farm from Islamic terrorists, etc. India will never leave. Trincomalee will become an Indian base and mini-colony.

With a large Indian footprint in Trincomalee there will be an ethnic power-shift in the North and multiethnic East, marginalizing the Sinhalese. The Government’s draft for the new Constitution will be presented in May and will propose the transfer of all land and Police powers to the Provinces as well as the abolition of the Concurrent List and the neutering of the Governor. This and the Indian entrenchment in Trincomalee are sufficient conditions for the erection of Tamil Eelam. Any administration in Delhi can be pressurized someday by the Tamil populace of the North and East as well as the electorally crucial Tamils of Tamil Nadu, to carve out a separate entity (a la Kosovo and Iraqi Kurdistan) in our North and East.

Did our military men fight and die, defeating the Tigers, for Trincomalee to be given to the Indians (and ETCA signed)? Can one think of a worse betrayal?

From DS Senanayake on, our governments protected us as much as they could from India, knowing the impact of an Indian presence on the island’s ethnic balance and domestic geopolitics. A great patriotic UNP leader Ranasinghe Premadasa pushed the Indians out of Sri Lanka. By contrast, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is not only facilitating Indian expansionism on our soil but will be responsible for the long term consequences for the country and especially the Sinhalese community (most particularly in the East). One can imagine what his distant relative Ravi Jayewardene would have said and done! I can hardly think of a more heinous historic crime than the one about to be committed by the Yahapalana Government.

But what can be done?

The administration of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe rests on one factor alone: the schism within the ranks of the broad anti-UNP forces and the SLFP in particular. He has learned from his father, Esmond, and his distant uncle JR Jayewardene, the strategic value of a split in the center-Left and especially within the SLFP –and how best to exploit it.

The SLFP was not split by Mahinda Rajapaksa and his loyalists. In August 2015 at a crucial strategy meeting, I incurred the ire of Susil Premjayanth and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa by urging President Rajapaksa in the presence of the Feb 18th ‘Mahinda Movement’ leaders, to rupture with and contest separately from the SLFP because (1) we could preserve the militant spirit of the Mahinda Movement without dilution (2) the country was seeking something new and (3) MR would be under the official SLFP leadership whatever the election result. Mahinda demurred.

From my early meeting with defeated President Rajapaksa at the residence of the Speaker, his brother Chamal, on January 10th 2015 through to the Feb 18th 2015 meeting at Nugegoda, I had been part of the fight-back at a time when some prominent SLFP (now SLPP) personages had decamped from Sri Lanka.

Of those at the August 2015 meeting at MR’s residence in Mirihana, only two of us took the same position on fielding a separate list—Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and I– and we did so independently of one another. Neither of us wanted to be taken for a ride, or more crucially, for Mahinda and his supporters to be taken for a ride. We wanted to be politically self-reliant, not dependent on the decision-making of other power centers. But no one else supported us (apart from some friends, close loyalists and well-wishers of MR who came in as the meeting was dispersing)—not even Basil Rajapaksa or the present JO and SLPP personalities. Mahinda just did not want to split the SLFP and nor did they. Days later, when a dispute erupted over the able and loyal young Prasanna Ranatunga, MR was ready to split, but I thought that was too personal an issue over which to do so, after morale had been raised by the unified SLFP slate.

One might then ask why I seem to be opposing the SLFP split now. I am not! Even in Feb-August 2015, addressing grassroots audiences throughout the country, my line was that we should break with the collaborationist faction of the SLFP, establish our independent identity in Parliament, and then unite with the SLFP in a single front—not a party—against the UNP. That is still my line. I am opposed to a combined list at the upcoming PC and PS elections, but I am for joint non-UNP administrations afterwards.

The SLFP was not split by the formation of the SLPP. The SLFP split because—and when–the party leadership decided (or agreed with CBK) to overrule the mandate obtained by the SLFP at the August 2015 parliamentary election. That explicit mandate was to reject a coalition with the UNP. Ignoring it, the party leadership hived off 40 plus SLFP MPs, having appointed through the National List quite a few who failed to secure preference votes, and ‘leased’ them out as a prop for the UNP.

Every betrayal exacts a price in terms of blowback. The formation of the new party, the SLPP, was an inevitable response to the August 2015 “morning after” betrayal. It also meets the requirements for an alternative or substitute for the collaborationist SLFP and an electoral option for the pro-MR caucus of SLFPers who have refused to collaborate with the UNP. If not for the SLPP, the SLFPers who are faithful to the popular mandate of August 2015 could be blackmailed by the threat of expulsion and political homelessness. So it’s mostly good. But the SLPP’s political line needs to be clarified and rectified. Antonio Gramsci explains that “Lenin said…‘separate yourselves from Turati and then form an alliance with him.’ ” That is precisely what the JO/SLPP must do in relation to President Sirisena’s SLFP.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is about to give Trincomalee to the Indians. According to the Political Column of a respected English-language Sunday paper, he rejected the mild concerns of two SLFP Ministers, derisively addressing the pairin Sinhala as “Oi!” at the last Cabinet meeting.The imminent ceding of strategic Trincomalee is summarized by Meera Srinivasan in The Hindu:
“India and Sri Lanka have, in principle, agreed to jointly operate the World War-era oil storage facility in Trincomalee, the strategically advantaged port town located on the island’s east coast…Both the nations are hoping to firm up the deal before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled second official visit to the island in early May.

 
Indian Oil Corporation subsidiary Lanka IOC, engaged in bunkering operations, runs 15 out of the 99 storage tanks in the lower oil tank farm in Trincomalee.The proposed joint venture pertains to the remaining 84 tanks in the upper farm, but Sri Lanka would retain 10 of those for use by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation…

 

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