March 27, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Sri Lankan PM calls India ‘closest friend’; Expressed confidence of improving the economic situation soon

4 min read

Colombo: 72-year-old Dinesh Gunawardene, a veteran of Sri Lankan politics, is known for his simple talk. He is a close confidante of former Prime Minister and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He, as joint opposition leader, held the opposition flag high during the regimes of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe between 2015 and 2019. By a stroke of luck, he is now serving as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, against whom he fought politically for decades while in opposition. Interestingly, both Gunawardene and Wickremesinghe studied together at the prestigious Royal College in Colombo 50 years ago. While Ranil Wickremesinghe is known as a supporter of a free economy, Dinesh Gunawardene is recognized as a nationalist politician with a socialist ideology.

Educated in the United States and the Netherlands, Dinesh Gunawardene is a trade union leader and a strong political fighter like his great father Philip Gunawardene, who is known as the father of socialism in Sri Lanka. Philip Gunawardene’s love for India and efforts towards independence against imperial subjugation began in America in the early 1920s. He was a classmate of Jayaprakash Narayan and VK Krishna Menon at the University of Wisconsin, where he advocated independence from imperialism in American political circles, and later led the Anti-Imperialist League of India in London. But very few people know that his family has close links with India and the entire family has support for New Delhi.

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Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardene’s father Philip and mother Kusuma immigrated to India after escaping from Sri Lanka (then a British colony called Ceylon) during World War II. He joined the underground activists who were fighting for freedom and escaped arrest for some time. Both of them were captured by British intelligence in 1943 and kept in the Arthur Road Jail in Bombay. A year later, both were deported to Sri Lanka and released only after the end of the war. In an exclusive conversation with Network18 at his office in Colombo, Dinesh Gunawardene advocated strong India-Lanka ties and expressed hope that the Sri Lankan economy would revive at the earliest.

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What did Prime Minister Gunawardene say on Sri Lanka’s relations with India?
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardene said, India-Sri Lanka relations are centuries old. We see our cultural and religious ties as the strongest foundation. We have had these relations and exchanged cultural programs…religious events have contributed to its strengthening. The participation of citizens in both countries is very large. As you mentioned, in the last two centuries we have had good relations with the leaders of our freedom struggle and they have given strength to the Sri Lankan movements. Sri Lankans have also gone to India for help. They became friends while they were studying or met as friends while they were abroad. Our education system was influenced by India before the Second World War. Most of the people went to either Bombay or Calcutta (now Mumbai and Kolkata) or other centers of education for higher education.

India has always been helpful during every crisis in Sri Lanka. More recently, during COVID-19 and floods, India stood by us. Before that, there was a tsunami and India helped us rebuild. India has provided maximum possible assistance in the oil and fuel sectors. This is very important, Sri Lanka has got tremendous support from India. As I said, our relationship extends to the economic system as well as investment. Whichever government has been in power in India, it has provided assistance in investment and development in Sri Lanka, even India has given training to officers, employees to develop our industry in many areas. India has been our closest friend, is now and will continue to be.

When can we expect the economic condition of Sri Lanka to improve?
When will the economic situation of Sri Lanka improve? In response to this question, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardene said, we are in talks with the IMF and India is one of our biggest lenders. Sri Lanka has to work with India and other countries and also with the IMF. At present, talks are going on with the IMF. We hope that we will be able to stabilize first, followed by slow economic growth. Some sectors are opening now. On the plantation front, we are looking forward to Maha Mausam (Northeast Monsoon). Sri Lanka should recover from the economic crisis by this winter. I will not exaggerate, but we will be able to meet the demands as we are in discussions with the IMF, the World Bank and other investing countries. Apart from this, Sri Lanka will also have to repay its debt. India has always been supportive of Sri Lanka. The more we invest in the country, the more it will help Sri Lanka in the programs that have been announced by the President.

Tags: economic crisis, Economic Reform, Sri lanka

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