What lessons are there for India?
Yes, there seem to be some lessons India can learn from Sri Lanka
The just concluded Sri Lankan general elections were more than an election in India’s neighbouring nation.
Sri Lanka ,many Indians may not know, why even in other countries might not know had the most Westminster-type Constitution in the world, of course just outside the UK. The most distinguished Constitution expert, the late Ivor Jennings, we students from the Commonwealth countries studied in the UK universities was so famous in our times.
In fact, Jennings also wrote the first Constitution of Pakistan. When we were students at Oxford in the late 1950s there were many students from Sri Lanka and Pakistan and in fact some of my contemporaries went on to become great political leaders in their respective countries. This was true for Sri Lanka and also for Pakistan.
Also for Africa.
In my time, I once invited the late distinguished journalist, Kingsly Martin to speak to the Indian students and he wrote back to advise me to invite the “Pakistanis”, Pakistani students had their “Majlis” and they happily responded to my invitation and that meeting address by Kindly Martin, the great friend of India and Pakistan remains in my memory as one of the most successful India-Pakistan students get-together.
Now we read for our Constitutional History course many distinguished Constitutional experts and Oxford had plenty of them and one was clearly Sir Ivor Jennings.
When I was in Colombo recently I found Jennings’ books everywhere and he remained as Vice-Chancellor of Colombo university as well.
Now, the point I was to draw the readers to be that lately Sri Lanka, like many other Commonwealth countries including Pakistan, didn’t live with its original Constitution.
This is in sharp contrast to the Indian Constitution which was drafted fully with Indian talent and as such it survived all the other Constitutions that were drafted by outsider talent!
Does this statement say anything about the Indian Constitution or the Indian talent?
I am of the view that why a country’s Constitution succeeds of fails is a difficult question to answer so straightaway.
India had leaders who, again, were shaped by a different type of leadership qualities. Both Gandhiji and Pandit Nehru were also of different types of human beings.
May be, who knows, that the Indian people, their psychology, their past history, in particular their history under the British rule and may be their religion, their culture, the often-quoted, unity in diversity and much else might have contributed to the success of the working of the Indian Constitution and also the Indian democracy.
Now, the one lesson I want to draw to the attention of the Indian people is that lately Sri Lanka had undergone a great transformation. The government there under President Mahindra Rajapaksha had won a bloody civil war that ranged for over 30 long years. Given Sri Lanka’s geography, its proximity to India, Tamil Nadu, the war won by the Sri Lankan government had traumatised the Sri Lankan citizens, both the Tamils and the Sinhala population beyond easy description.
Also, the Sri Lankan electoral scene had produced a state that is still not normal and also the political parties, big and small are all so polarised and the present election saw that the electoral process had become a sort of basically a Presidential election.
Two candidates are only in the public domain and on the one side the ruling party, may be one or two other allies (I don’t know for sure), on the Opposition we see a clear unity among the various Opposition parties, Chandrika Kuamaratunga and Ranail Wickeramasinghe and other Tamil and other leading politicians who defected from the ruling party and thus, there were two clear cut alignment into two political forces supporting two candidates.
Whatever be the outcome, the Sri Lankan democracy is now almost run on the Presidential form of government. Certain sophistications are needed here. But the broad theme is cearl.
What I want to say here in comparing the Indian general elections of, say, the 2014 Indian election, is that Mr.Narendra Modi emerged in India all of a sudden from nowhere, so to say, by isolating his own senior rivals from within the BJP and threw a challenge directly at Rahul Gandhi.
Ironically, the Congress party of 130 year history, an all India spread party network almost collapsed at the first knock of Mr.Modi!
In fact, the Congress found itself isolated and depleted of all support even from within itself!
The other parties that aligned with the Congress or those who fought at the state level, like the AIADMK or the BJD or even the Trinamool, didn’t make much impact and they, these state level parties. politically became irrelevant.
The votes in a sense were “wasted”. Now, my suggestion for the Indian political system and for the parties, big and small, is in future the Opposition parties now must join together and announce support for a common candidate as the Opposition candidate against the ruling party’s candidate.
This is important also for another reason. The Congress under Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi is run like a family fiefdom and as such is already a weak unit.
It has no chance, it seems, any future in terms of electoral prospects. There is also no indication the Congress will reform itself. May be it has to be isolated by the emergence of other parties or alliances like the imagined Janata Parivar.
It is also unlikely given the age and diverse temperaments of the leaders. So, the next elections can be experimented by my suggestion. Let us zero in on one candidate who has the stature, all India acceptability, capability, vision and personal charisma and of course the ultimate test of standing up to Mr.Modi’s many qualities of mobilising big money and also distorting ground level realities. His current mantras or slogans: Development, Governance and Clean India, Make in India.
All these could end up as mere bluster and bluff, after all. Where is the intellectual foundation? Ideology?
One thought lingers, however. After Gandhi and Nehru even the Indian National Congress could get an ideology. All was slogans and also just promises.
So, what basis is there for Modi to provide an alternative?