New Delhi: Archimedes is said to have said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I’ll move the world.” What he meant was that there was no still point in the universe. The universe was in perpetual motion. Henry Kissinger used Archimedes in one of his books to suggest that revolutions consume their own. It can also be applied to geopolitics in that geopolitics is never stationery and changes minute to minute. India may be forgetting or disregarding this axiom in respect of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is a muddled state and it is in a greater muddle than before. Since the Easter Sunday bombings of 21st April this year, the island nation has been torn apart by majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist violence against its Muslim minorities. It has brought out into the open the power struggle between president Maithripala Sirisena, an incompetent bungler, and his well-meaning and respected prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sirisena was warned of the bombings by India but neither took preventive measures nor informed Wickremesinghe.

The bombings proved to be the handiwork of the Islamic State avenging defeat in Syria. Well-to-do Sri Lankan Muslims from business families were converted to the Islamic State cause against the West and both financed and personally perpetrated the Easter Sunday attack killing over two hundred and fifty Christians and tourists in churches and hotels. Although the United States had been negotiating with Sri Lanka to expand its military footprint in the island before, it somehow got prominence after the bombings, and played into the headlines when Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, cancelled his visit to Colombo planned as an extension to his India tour. A proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Sri Lanka was deferred as well.

Sri Lanka has a major Chinese presence. Heavily indebted to China because it was trapped in BRI investments, Sri Lanka had to give up Hambantota port to a Chinese company which is also building one of Colombo port’s container terminals, an industrial zone in Hambantota, and a financial district in Colombo. The company holds ninety-nine year leases on the lands and a thirty-five year BOT on the Colombo container terminal. Sri Lanka offered the projects to India which declined those seeing little profits. China will draw military benefits from its commercial ventures notwithstanding denials to the contrary. Waking to the threat late, India can do little.

Equally worried as India about the growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka, the United States, however, is actively contemplating steps to challenge Beijing. Washington has its eyes set on Trincomalee port in North East Sri Lanka, a World War II naval base partly destroyed in a Kamikaze attack, which has one of the finest natural harbours in these parts. Sri Lanka offered it and the surrounding lands good for tourism to India for development without getting a response. Together with Japan, India showed interest in developing parts of Colombo port not taken by China, but it’s stuck there.

However, with Trincomalee coming in the US radar, India is alarmed but cannot openly express its apprehensions. It is hiding behind Sri Lankan opposition to the US SOFA which gives rather widespread sanction to American military presence in the island although there is no suggestion of an American base. At least for the moment, the United States would seem well satisfied with stationing an aircraft carrier and support ships in Trincomalee while Sri Lanka services their logistics and provides R & R. Military expansion though is clearly indicated in the draft SOFA leaked to Sri Lankan newspapers.

The trouble with concealing behind Sri Lankan opposition to SOFA is that the opposition may not survive the present term of government or even a changed administration. The Sri Lankan military is ambivalent because it has benefitted from US military assistance in the war with Tamils and has also received funding. Politicians are equally irresolute. Shaken by the Easter Sunday attack and the communal frenzy it has unleashed, some of them might see a US presence as stabilizing and calming. Some others, especially in the Mahinda Rajapaksa clan, former rulers, are so implicated in war crimes that they can be easily arm-twisted by a Great Power. An US presence will also undeniably contain Chinese expansion in the island and in the Indian Ocean.

India’s problem is that it has not given a thought to the options in Sri Lanka. Obviously, the status quo won’t last. With the heavy militarization of the South China Sea, it has to be the turn of the Indian Ocean before long. Although the United States may not commit itself too readily or too soon to establishing a base in Sri Lanka, it cannot be stopped for long from fulfilling any reasoned calculation to have a considerable expeditionary presence on the island. Seeing US activity, the Chinese will react. India has to get a sense of what is going on and act. Procrastination is dangerous. There is neither a still point in the universe nor can you step into the same river twice.

Editor’s Note: Before he was abruptly and suspiciously transferred from his post as inspector general of police (crime), Ahfad-ul-Mujtaba had sought enhanced punishments for those convicted in the Kathua outrage and conviction for a discharged accused. Mujtaba had brilliantly and diligently coordinated the Kathua rape and murder investigation despite facing political adversities. His new posting as managing director of the J and K Police Housing Corporation has demoralized the state police force. The defence of the transfer by the security advisor to the J and K governor is scarcely convincing. At a time when the POSCO law has been amended to award death to a child’s rapist, what message does it send to weaken the prosecution in the Kathua case? Does the Kathua child not deserve full and manifest justice? Can the conscience of the nation live with less?