India turns tables: Lessons for Lanka – Editorial

M_Id_391375_ModiIn what analysts describe as a historic day and the beginning of a new era for India, the world’s largest democracy, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the charismatic 63-year-old Narendra Modi yesterday swept to the biggest landslide victory in 30 years. Most independent analysts and opinion polls during the past few months had indicated a victory for the hardliner Hindu BJP.  But the magnitude of the victory, when the results were announced yesterday, was astounding. For developing countries such as Sri Lanka, the people’s revolution in India has many important lessons and warnings.

Most independent analysts and political scientists believe that the main reasons for the Narendra Modi avalanche included sluggish economic growth, a widening gap between the rich and the poor, the rampant corruption and scandals which were exposed mainly after the Freedom of Information Act was implemented some years ago. While the national growth rate dropped from about nine percent to five percent during the past two years, Narendra Modi’s business-friendly and anti-corruption policies produced a stunning growth rate of more than ten percent in his home state of Gujarat. Thus, analysts believe that the Gujarat development model will become the model for the economy of the whole of India whose population of about 1.2 billion is one sixth of the world’s population.

Another important signal from the marathon six-week General Election in India was that it may be the beginning of the end for dynastic politics, inheritance or entitlement politics. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has dominated Indian politics since Independence in 1947, was battered to its worst ever defeat with less than fifty seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha or the lower house of parliament. In contrast, Modi’s BJP on its own was heading for victory in more than 275 seats while the total with its election allies is likely to be more than 335. The 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, a somewhat reluctant Crown Prince of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty had to fight hard to retain even the family electorate of Amethi in the state of Uttar Pradesh.  However his mother and Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi was poised to win her seat of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, by 279,000 votes.

Though India often shows a glamorous face including Bollywood and the high-tech elite of Bangalore, the real story is different with hundreds of millions of people surviving on or below the poverty line.  For instance, according to a report issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as many as 600 million people in India are forced into open defecation because there are no toilets.  “…this is the root cause of so many diseases,” according to Bruce Gordon, acting coordinator of the WHO’s Centre for Sanitation and Health. Speaking at the launching of a study on drinking water and sanitation, he said societies that practiced open defecation – putting them at risk from cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid — tended to have large income disparities and the world’s highest number of deaths of children under five.

In the afterglow of Vesak, Sri Lanka’s ruling party leaders need to seriously reflect on India’s revolution against corruption, the plunder of public resources by political leaders and a growing trend of dynastic or inheritance politics

In the afterglow of Vesak, Sri Lanka’s ruling party leaders need to seriously reflect on India’s revolution against corruption, the plunder of public resources by political leaders and a growing trend of dynastic or inheritance politics. Most observers believe there may be a honeymoon period of a few months but the hardliner Modi is reported to have made dangerous claims that Tamils living in any part of the world, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Fiji are part of India. In addition, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam led by hardliner chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram is leading in 37 of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu. For the past five years since the end of the war Sri Lanka’s relationship with India has been changing like the weather across the Palk Strait. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brothers and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga have been handling ties with India in one way while External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris has been focusing on his “look Africa” policy which appears to be backfiring. The Sri Lankan leaders need to get their act together and work out a clear-cut strategy before India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa Jayaram start pushing and poaching or even think of doing what Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is doing in Crimea and other parts of Eastern Ukraine.