Again and again we are served reminders in world history that violence has a generative quality. Each partisan has a view of war as a necessary expedient to further a just cause. But what one sees is an endless, cyclical renewal of violence—rather than some fairy-tale ending of ‘good’ vanquishing ‘evil’.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa now rises as a half-familiar regnal figure in Sri Lanka and enters his name on the register of ‘strongmen’ who rule countries—even as the list of such countries grows. A figure of authority in whom the Buddhist Sinhalese part of Sri Lanka saw succour after the sanguinary Easter terror bombings this year, with its Islamist stamp. The new President too earned the aura around his name with plenty blood spilt, serving as defence chief during his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decade-long reign from 2005-15—a phase variously seen as one that fully and finally decimated the spectre of LTTE, and also as one of massive extrajudi-cial massacres and war crimes. It was Gotabaya who oversaw that policy on the ground—a fact for which his family itself conferred on him the sobriq-uet ‘Terminator’.
New Delhi has another cause for worry. From the time of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, when it behaved as a regional power playing in its natural ‘arc of influence’ (J N Dixit as high commissioner was called “The Viceroy”), Colombo has been seeking to liberate itself from that force-field. The last Rajapaksa reign saw the most visible act of defiance when it hitched its wagon to China, enabling the latter’s ‘encirclement policy’ vis-a-vis India. That has itself proved a kind of albatross now for Colombo: It has had to lease out Hambantota port to the Chinese for 99 years, besides an enslaving debt trap. A U-turn would be mutually beneficial, but tricky to accomplish. If there’s a time for S Jaishankar’s soft skills to be demonstrated, it’s now.