Lanka Lesson

SRI Lanka’s once all-powerful President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has fled the island nation, which is reeling under an unprecedented economic crisis. He boarded a military aircraft and landed in neighbouring Maldives from where he has headed to Singapore in a Saudi plane. His younger brother and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is a dual citizen with an American passport, is also believed to have fled the country after his initial attempts to leave through Colombo airport were foiled by the immigration authorities. Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is believed to be still in the country. The downfall of the Rajapaksa family has been spectacular. Until last year, the Rajapaksa brothers were considered heroes for the success of the government run by them to defeat the Tamil insurgency and recapture the area which for around decades was a de-facto independent Tamil state in the island nation. But the Rajpaksa family’s instant fall from grace has been brought about by the prevailing economic crisis in the country.

The last few months have pushed the country to the verge of economic ruin.  The country has faced a severe shortage of foreign currency leaving it unable to pay for essential imports, including fuel. This has led to power cuts lasting up to 15 hours. The country is also beset with shortages and soaring inflation. Though country is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan programme, devaluing its currency in the process, there has been no headway so far.

One of the major aggravating factors has also been the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has triggered worldwide inflation and a shortage of fuel and food supplies. And this is happening at a time when the world economy was gradually recovering from the debilitating fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. The countries were slowly opening up and letting the economy function normally. International travel was also returning to pre-pandemic levels. Take for instance India which was taking steps toward a self-reliant economy also called Atmanirbharta. But the war has unraveled it all somewhat.  It has set off destabilizing factors that are beyond any country’s control as long as the war continues.  More so, in case of the smaller, fragile states like Sri-Lanka. On the ground, this has translated into loss of lakhs of jobs  at a time when the country was already reeling from rampant unemployment. Coupled with inflation, this has made for  a combustible situation leading to nationwide protests and occupation of the residences of the president Rajapaksa. The country has plunged into a state of chaos. If anything, the desperate state of affairs in Sri Lanka should be a wake-up call for us in India. The Ukraine war has also affected us badly, triggering steep inflation. The union government needs to get its act right if we are to prevent the situation from getting any worse.

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