“The bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law and that means we have to have an independent judiciary, judges who can make decisions independent of the political winds that are blowing”.
Extremists of both corners of the political spectrum, in India as well as in Sri Lanka, must still be celebrating the conviction of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. While in power, Jayalalithaa Jeyaram managed to rouse the base instincts of both Tamils in India and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. But moderates in the two neighbouring nations must be equally enamoured by the sheer audacity of a robust, vigorous and independent Judiciary without which no country, especially a democratic republic, could advance the cause of freedom and liberty for all people.
Jayalalithaa’s politics in particular and that of Tamil Nadu in general, has never been acceptable to a majority in Sri Lanka. This is true whether one is Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim. Utterly partisan and polarising both in substance and execution of politicking, Tamil Nadu, has been a thorn in Sri Lanka’s politics since the early years of Ceylon’s nationhood in the centuries after the Christian Era began and the battles and wars fought between Lanka and the Cholas and Pandyans of South India.
History apart, the animosities, rivalries and plain emotions of enmity and hatred between the Sinhalese and invading armies of South India, contributed to suspicion between the two peoples, reaching a crescendo in 2009 in the total annihilation of a militant arm of the northern Tamils led by the LTTE whose main backer was the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu. The mutual dependence that developed between the local Tamils and Tamil Nadu ultimately worked for their mutual disadvantage, both politically and socially.
Yet the close identification with one another could not be disturbed. Although the social and economic circumstances surrounding the two communities — Tamils in Tamil Nadu and those in Sri Lanka’s North and East — could be comparable, the social stature the northern Tamils hold themselves in as against that of Tamils in South India and the contempt in which the Sri Lankan Jaffna Tamils hold the Indian counterparts didn’t allow for a warm brotherhood. But a common thread has been found since of late since the time both countries became colonies under the British rule or the time they became minorities in their respective countries.
Nonetheless, while Jayalalithaa’s supporters in Tamil Nadu must be mourning the fate that befell their Chief Minister, the political elements in Sri Lanka must be celebrating her political demise though that demise might be short-lived.
But the most significant lesson that one could extract from the conviction of the former Chief Minister is the very existence and workings of India’s exemplary and bold Judiciary which has been showing signs of ruthless independence and devotion to the concept of equality whatever the position of those who seek justice and fair-play from it could be. In a background of fast declining socio-political morals, the independence of a powerful Judiciary is the last bastion any people could pray for.
That and that alone could be a ray of hope for a superficially satisfied population which is habitually indulging in comfortable thoughts and misty dreams though their day-to-day demands are too great to while away their time in sophisticated notions such as the independence of the Judiciary, freedom of expression and right to information.
What we lack here in our country, is an independent and fearless judiciary.
The Jayalalithaa conviction is not an isolated case of justice dispensed in a swift and decisive manner. India, a melting pot of hundreds of local dialects, dozens of religious sects, distinctly identifiable ethnic groupings and a multitude of political parties, has withstood the storms of religious diversion and ethnic violence and it has endured many a political scandal and social upheaval. Yet it has stood her ground as a formidably strong democracy and a fast-developing economy mainly because it has chosen to give its people the fundamental right of being equal before the law. A constitution that was drafted by the brilliant and scholarly legal mind of Ambedkar — an ‘untouchable’ by birth — has gifted not only his legal principles to the Indian society, his constitutional masterpiece has made provisions for tempering violent eruptions with ruthless enforcement of the law; the very cold nature of the law is being manifestly reflected in the way in which an independent judiciary could function without any fear or pressure from those who wield political power.
While India is notorious for corruption and nepotism both at State and National levels and its Police force is branded as stooges of politicians, India’s judiciary has withstood many political pressures and come out victorious each time a decision is sought, whether landmark or ordinary. To show such sophisticated poise and inner stoicism in the face of internally-generated violence and chaos is a remarkable quality of a nation whose mechanics of governance must truly be extraordinary.
What we need to learn from India is this inner strength with which she responds to a crisis each time she plunges into an abyss. Such national character is not born out of nothing; no man or woman, or for that matter, a nation responds automatically. They respond subject to the objective and subjective conditions that have been placed on them by the necessary social, economic and political thoughts and structures. By erecting such a formidable structure of a superior judiciary, India has shown the world that despite being branded as backward and steeped in superstition, she could hold her own among modern giants.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, seems to be taking a totally different route. The Legislature is getting weaker by the day; the Judiciary is increasingly becoming a tool in the hands of the Executive and the Executive, by virtue of the 18th Amendment to our Constitution, is fast becoming, if it is not already so, completely impenetrable and unapproachable.
The day that it becomes a law unto itself is nearing with each episode such as the Sajin Vaas/Chris Nonis affair. When those who wield power become exceedingly stubborn and indefensible, the isolationism that shrouds them makes it doubly difficult for the average man to understand and respond in a reasonable way. That isolationism which gripped the tenure of the 1970-1977 regime of Sirimavo Bandaranaike stands as a forbidding example of this particular mindset of a ruling circle. Yet there is time for them to recover and adopt corrective measures. The Uva PC elections could be taken as an ideal eye-opener. But history is on the other side. Rulers learn their lessons too late and more often than not, they never learn at all. After all, the invisible message of the Jayalalitha episode might go waste.