Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Tiny with titanic crisis

Sri Lanka, a country of around 2.19 crore people has turned into a battle zone of sorts after mobs went on a rampage for weeks in the wake of the tiny island nation facing severe economic crisis for over a month. The economic crisis that has plunged Sri Lanka into the vortex of near anarchy has led to arson and consequent clashes with police and security that has left scores dead and over 200 injured. The economic crisis has led to acute shortages of fuel, medicines and electricity supply as prices of all commodities sky rocketed. Sri Lanka is now experiencing its greatest economic crisis since independence from British rule in 1948. The slump is blamed on currency shortages caused by the travel ban imposed during the Covid-19 epidemic. This has resulted in the nation’s inability to purchase sufficient fuel, resulting in an extreme shortage of food and essential commodities such as heating fuel and gas. However many in Sri Lanka have blamed the Rajpaksas for their country’s worsening economic woes. The Rajpaksas were instrumental in eliminating the then dreaded LTTE in the 90s and have since 2016 exercised a firm grip on the dynastic government. The Rajapaksas were ousted in 2015 when Mahinda lost the presidential election but they were back in power by 2019 when Gotabaya became the president and soon, one by one, the brothers and other family members were back in the business of government. The Rajapaksa family, members include Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda and President Gotbaya besides other siblings. The others in the ruling party include 70-year-old Basil Rohana Rajapaksa who was sworn in as finance minister of Sri Lanka on July 2021 to become the fifth Rajapaksa to join the Lankan cabinet of ministers. The oldest is 78-year-old, eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa, who is the minister of irrigation. The public protests turned violent after supporters of the Rajpaksas attacked the protestors. The resultant reaction turned into a virtual battle between the anti-government and pro-government mobs. The ancestral house of the Rajapaksa family and the homes of several other ministers and ex-ministers were attacked and set on fire. Anti-government protestors accuse the Rajpaksas of milking the country through corruption by fattening their family pockets. A dissident leader, Ranawaka described the Rajpaksas clan as an oligarchy and accused them of robbing Sri Lanka. According to the Ranawaka , during the tenure of the Rajpaksas between 2004-2014, the family siphoned off USD 19 billion, as per the reports from the various agencies. He said the family got a huge amount of money from international financial markets, international sovereign bonds, and Sri Lanka development bonds as a result of which the country is in a serious problem to repay these short term loans. Sri Lanka’s economic crisis may have begun with loans given by Chinese for various projects worth billions of dollars. According to R Ramakumar, a Professor of Economics at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the genesis was China’s “debt-trap” policy that has been singularly responsible for the dire economic situation of Sri Lanka. He said Sri Lanka’s economic relations with China are the main driver behind the crisis. The United States has called this phenomenon debt-trap diplomacy. Dynastic politics in Sri Lanka as well as in other parts of the world has acted against the principle of justice and equality and perhaps Sri Lanka serves as another reminder.

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