Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena is visiting New Delhi on February 16, his first port of call after becoming President.
Narendra Modi’s spectacular rise as a national leader from the sidelines of Gujarat state, hopping over seniors in the party hierarchy, to lead the nation is a real life example for many ambitious politicians to emulate.
Did Modi provide a role model for the newly elected Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s success?
It would seem so if we see Sirisena’s surprise victory against the two-term President of Sri Lanka and his long term party colleague Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the recently concluded presidential election.
Four months ago nobody would have imagined Sirisena, a senior minister who was seen only in the shadow of Rajapaksa, would reduce the President’s bid for a third term to an unfulfilled dream.
Skepticism about Modi was initially just as bad; even many of the BJP stalwarts weren’t sure of Modi delivering 272 seats in parliament he promised.
Even if Modi was not a role model, his success probably gave Sirisena the courage to contest against Rajapaksa, the most powerful presidents Sri Lanka had produced after the first president JR Jayawardane.
Both took their first steps in politics with strong ideological convictions. At a young age RSS attracted Modi while young Sirisena was attracted to communism for a short while before he changed his mind and joined the left-of-centre Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Modi migrated from RSS to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After that both never changed their party affiliations. While Modi became the general secretary of the BJP, Sirisena remained the general secretary of the SLFP for over a decade.
Both went to the poll with a clear agenda and deadlines to implement their agenda. Modi set six months for his basic agenda while Sirisena is implementing the opposition’s 100-day action plan. Both are trying to clean up governance, bring to book the corrupt and restructure the way the government rules.
Maithripala has chosen New Delhi as his first foreign destination after coming to power. That underlines his strong expectation of support from India. But he will have to satisfy Modi that though he had been a close aide of Rajapaksa’s policies including the former president’s unfulfilled promises to India on implementing the 13th amendment to the Constitution and resuming the political reconciliation process with Tamil leaders.
Sirisena’s agenda in New Delhi that could include a few items. First is to win back India’s confidence by correcting Rajapaksa’s “China tilt” that had soured India. He is making visible moves to achieve balance in Sri Lanka’ relations with the two Asian nations.
Secondly, he would try to muster India’s support in the UN Human Rights Commission which is meeting next month. Sri Lanka fears it could be embarrassed by the discussion there on Rajapaksa’s refusal to implement UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes and human rights excesses. India’s influence can be useful in buying time for Sirisena to work out a face saving solution. Of course, he will have to convince India he is sincerely trying to address as Modi is likely to raise this issue.
Thirdly, India has influence over Tamil National Alliance, which can swing Tamil votes in Sirisena’s favour in the general elections in April 2015. India can also help resuscitate Sri Lankan economy and bring in more investment. That would give strength to Sirisena in dealing with China.
So whether Modi is role model or not, common political perspectives on governance and structural changes in governance between the two leaders can help Sirisena in having a fruitful meeting with Modi. This is important as he is going to China next month.