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Enduring Legacy of Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh*

A long and difficult election journey for uncountable numbers of Sri Lankan politicians and for party supporters of Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP) had proceeded in June 1994. That year was a turning point in Sri Lanka’s politics as well as for the SLFP led by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) the daughter of two Sri Lankan Prime Ministers. Chandrika won the presidential elections by 62.28 percent and where the People’s Alliance (PA), a coalition with SLFP won electorates winning the race in 159 constituencies out of the 160. Immediately, after her swearing in as President, Chandrika seized the initiative and formed a coalition government with leftist parties led by the People’s Alliance (PA). She thus became the Chairperson of the SLFP. Concerns about Sri Lanka’s international legitimacy played an integral role in Chandrika’s policy priorities as soon she became President. At that time, the ethnic conflict and socio-economic well-being of the Sri Lankan multi-cultural society were the fundamental underlying questions the country was facing. Former Sri Lankan President was always grateful for any ideas to solve the ethnic problem no matter where the suggestion came from. Given these features and trends, former Sri Lankan President immediately aspired to solidify the Sri Lankan Foreign Policy. In this context, the Bandaranaike – Nehru and Gandhi relations has been one of the main features in Indo – Lanka relations for the past seventy years.

In all of this, President Chandrika appeared to have reflected both perspectives of the rural masses in which she had lived during much of her time in the Island nation and Bandaranaike’s family legacy which she had grown up. In Sri Lanka, within the political traditions, the cultural values of majoritarianism are embedded deeply especially within the Sinhalese society. At the same time, Chandrika was aware about the high level of popular political situation about the national question among the Sri Lankan voters. Chandrika persuaded mainly the Sinhalese voters to go for a peaceful settlement with the Tamil community mainly living in the North and Eastern provinces. Her government held several rounds of peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also known as Tamil Tigers which lasted for a short time.

The Sri Lankan government feared about stumbling into a full scale confrontation after the fragile peace talks collapsed. In 1995, Sri Lankan forces captured the strategically important Jaffna Peninsula. Hence, this topic among Sri Lankan politicians were bitterly debated. Despite the enormous challenges, Former President Kumaratunga took on her two term Presidency and gracefully transferred her presidential powers to the next leader. Even today, this democratic transition of presidency is still considered an overwhelming success for Sri Lanka. However, her Presidency has been slow to respond to new realities due to various reasons.

During the December 1999 presidential election, an unanticipated event played a critical role for the first time since 1994 with a bomb blast and assassination attempt on the former president by the Tamil Tigers. The Presidential election process was severally damaged in the final stages of People’s Alliance (PA) election campaign even before a new President was sworn in. Few days later, amidst emotional support Chandrika won the second term. The issue of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka above all topped the list of voter’s concerns. Nevertheless, the major efforts of Chandrika to solve the ethnic problem encountered immovable opposition mainly from UNP. The Parliament’s reaction to the peaceful settlement towards the ethnic question split along predicable ethno geographic and party lines especially with SLFP and UNP Parliamentarians.

When Mangala Moonesinghe chaired a parliamentary Select Committee on the ethnic conflict, the proposal to solve the national problem was rejected mainly by the opposition, the United National Party (UNP). The UNP’s rhetoric strategy to solve the national question was a fiasco at that time. In addition, Chandrika’s government was having difficulties in bringing a peaceful solution to the country’s security situation due to constant attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In 2001, former president’s popularity continued to sour. The UNP leadership under Premier Ranil Wickramsinghe came into power in 2001. President Kumaratunga could not escape the association with the new Prime Minister Wickramsinghe’s UNP government from 2001 to 2003. For the first time in Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary history, sharing power between two opposing parties was therefore an unfamiliar experience. During this period, a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE with the facilitation of the Norwegians. Three years later, a realignment with PA- Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) formed the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in 2004. In the general election of April 2004, the former president’s party regained power and Mahinda Rajapaksha was appointed as Prime Minister. Despite the enormous challenges during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s presidency was still considered an overwhelming democratic success.

Over the years, these strong linkages have proved most enduring and have taken several forms. Under the leadership of president Kumaratunga after signing the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) set the stage for Sri Lanka to increase the bilateral trade figures to US$ 5.2 billion in the coming decades. It seems probably that Sri Lanka under the leadership of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga prepared the ground for stable Indo-Sri Lanka relations and a conducive environment for a possible trading bloc.  Hence, one could argue that her presidency represents Bandaranaike and Gandhi’s legacy. In late years of her presidential era the SLFP’s interparty unity was weakened. Her immediate successor was Mahinda Rajapaksha.

Looking back at her path to presidency was not very easy. In 1959, Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the father of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was assassinated by Talduwe Somarma Thero, a Buddhist monk. This attempt on her father reinforced the socialist democratic forces to bring her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike into politics. She was a close family friend of the then Indian Prime Minister Nehru and Indira Gandhi. After the defeat of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and SLFP in 1978, the party returned to power in 1994 after a gap of seventeen years. Unfortunately, history repeats itself after the assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1988, her film star husband Vijaya Kumaranatunga was assassinated by the Marxist rebels. This day was called as the black Thursday in Sri Lanka’s political history. On the day of the Vijay Kumaratunga’s funeral, over 200,000 people came to express their grief in solidarity with Kumaratunga’s legacy. The emotional situation catapulted her to be a suitable alternative political leader and a force to break the deadlock of UNP’s autocratic rule. Mrs. Kumaratunga’s road to greater prominence in Sri Lanka’s politics began as the Chief Minister of Western Provincial council.

The decisions of yesterday Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took or implemented during her presidency from 1995 to 2005 are only the starting points of Sri Lanka getting adjusted to a new trend in executive presidency to unite the nation under a democratic system. If one is to analyze these three Presidents SLFP had produced so far, Chandrika Kumaratunga was one of the most pragmatic political visionaries who was able to influence Sri Lanka’s democratic transition foreign policy and uplift the well-being of the rural masses in the South Asian island nation.

In the general election of August 2015, this relatively stable party system changed dramatically and new trend in parties arose. One of the major consequences of the fragmented party system in Sri Lanka and declining UNP-SLFP main stream national party hegemony has been the growing concerns to produce stable governance system within a democratic system for the island nation. Today, there is further subdivision with the main national level parties. The consequence was that the relatively stable UNP, SLFP, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party model gave away to new parties like SLPP led by Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Tamil People’s Alliance (TPA), a break-away of TNA led by C.V. Vigneswaran. For example, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, a break-away of SLFP party policies overlaps considerably with Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) mandate. However, over the years due to these divisions there has been contrasting views from certain section of the SLFP members about Chandrika’s leadership.

Hence, it is a time for discussion and consultation among the SLFPs and the followers of the Bandaranaike’s party doctrine. The SLFP must produce simple solutions to simple problems that is affecting the stability of Sri Lanka. Chandrika Bandaranaike tenure as president of Sri Lanka distinguished above all by her foreign Policy and also attempting to reconcile with all communities living in South Asian island nation.

* Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.

Research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa

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South Asia

India – Nepal bilateral relations stripped by China’s hegemonic theme in South Asia

Debadatta Mishra

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During this amid global pandemic, India meets particular strain from its northern neighbors’ country’s foreign policy. India and China have a significant disparity over the border issue. India is standing up to china by standstill the economic activities in both countries. India and Nepal have a strong bilateral relation performed was a significant role in Himalayan frontiers. India and Nepal shared deep cultural, economic, social, and political relations over many centuries. The ties between both countries frayed slowly started from the border disputes that arose after defense minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a crucial road going through lipulekh to Kailash and Manasarovar, that route could quickly build connectivity within India with the Tibetan Plateau. The Nepal government protested that it could challenge the national sovereignty and status quo and fueled the #back of India movement in Nepal, which became a principal reason for bilateral instability in both countries. Nepal proclaims 400 sq km of Indian land in Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as part of Nepal territory. Kathmandu sends the new political map to the United Nations and Google for international recognition. India and Nepal claim the same disputed territory on their political map. India was the primary trade partner of Nepal, more than 65% of Nepal’s trade deals are possible through the Indian ports, so India dominated a larger scale in Nepal import and export sectors. In the meantime, China attempts to replace India’s position in Nepal’s economic and political domain. Recently Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “China and Nepal have always treated each other as equals,” although China revived the rail project between Nepal and China, the project cost estimate over USD 300 Million, with the determined deadline of completion in 2025. After the Rail connectivity, China ultimately became a lager trade partner in Nepal overthrow India. The domestic politics of Nepal, Currently Nepal ruling party Nepal Communist Party (NCP), is looking for political interest through China. Nepal is tilting towards China under the leadership of Prime Minister K P Oli and his Nepal Communist Party. Nepal took actions including banned Indian private news network broadcasting in Nepal, changed its citizen’s law, which makes disconcerted for India and constructed a helipad in a disputed location. China people liberation army (PLA) recently deploy the troops in Lipulekh pass, which currently disputed land between India and Nepal border. China mainly intervenes with India and Nepal’s disputes to obtain Nepal support accomplished to constrain India. China played a pivotal role in generating the anti-Indian rhetoric approach in Nepal’s internal domain.

Why is Nepal significant for China’s expansionism?

In Contemporary world politics, Dragon adopted an encroach approach upon neighbors’ countries. Nepal became a preeminent part of Chinese command and strategies to contend with India in every possible channel. Although the ambitious project of China to revive the ancient silk route and became the dominant financial capital in south Asia, it could be possible by Nepal’s proximity. China is striving to stimulate and tempt Nepal with multiple aids, economic growth, and acquisition by coordinating with the current ruling party of Nepal. On 2nd July 2018, The Business Standard published an article that highlights “by throwing money at Nepal, China limiting India influence in the region” for an extended period, China was invested in Nepal to gain political backing. Nepal is undoubtedly an essential aspect of the security of Indian’s borders. China’s military troops frequently entered in Indian territory (northeast state), and Nepal always became a barrier for such expansionism footsteps towards India’s territory. The border dispute was not new between both countries started from the Sugauli Treaty to kali river disputes, and both nations resolve such issues with bilateral negotiations. India also needs to ensure and revitalize the peace treaty between both countries. As sooner India solve the border dispute, it ultimately creates less chance to china’s intervene.

Since the dispute occurred, India and Nepal finally agreed for a custom high-level meeting regarding address the connectivity and development in both countries. India needs to adopt soft power diplomacy to maintain goodwill political relations with Nepal. As this global pandemic circumstances, India provided pharmaceutical and financial assistance to Nepal citizens. As a democratic ethics laden nation, Nepal – India border issue is easily solvable, with the restoration of the peace treaty with the modernized canvas. India requires adopting a new foreign policy to retrieve peaceful treaties with a new approach to cooperation with Nepal. India always admired the neighborhood’s first policy. The regional cooperation in the south Asian region necessitated fostering by India. India requires to get its act together and promote the regional cooperation structures with an inter-governmental organization that would unite the southern Asia region, such as the SAARC and BIMSTEC.

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Rethinking “Naya” Pakistan

Ashish Dangwal

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“We (Pakistan) will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own (Atom bomb), We have no other choice!” said ZA Bhutto, the then President of Pakistan. Almost 55 years have passed since then and Pakistan now, is on the verge of getting a title of ‘a failing nation’. The whole journey of this nation is full of ups and downs. Prime Minister Imran Khan came into power by promising to create a “Naya Pakistan”, however almost 2 years have passed and there is no sign of any major development in the country. From the last two decades, Pakistan is being labelled as the failed nation and has suffered bankruptcy along with bad governance-related issues. Although having an alliance with U.S.A (earlier) and now with China has helped the nation to overcome these Situations but nothing major can be pointed out. The current Prime Minister Imran Khan followed the same modus operandi of any other political party, i.e. to criticize the previous governments for the economic downturn and didn’t achieve anything significant in the process of reviving Pakistan’s economy. The economic downturn can be seen with the multiplicity of other factors such as the low foreign exchange reserves, low exports and high inflation. During his election rallies, PM Imran Khan promised to put the nation on the path of development and even expressed his views to promote the relations with India. However, during his tenure, the relations with India has only worsened. From domestic affairs to international affairs, the involvement of the Pakistani Army in the policymaking has increased in recent years. Gopalaswami Parthasarathy once said that “Every country has an army but in Pakistan, an army has a country”, this very simple statement shows the deep involvement of the Pakistani army in the domestic issues.

Let’s discuss the major challenges of Pakistan has facing now

Economic Challenges

India and Pakistan went different ways when India got independence from Britishers. However, the countries suffered the same fate in the early years with their same socio-economic conditions; with nearly half of the population under poverty. Both nations shared the same economic challenges but where one side India’s gradual economic development attracted foreign investors, Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan war, the emergence of religious parties and domination of army in domestic affairs made Pakistan’s economic development arduous. From 1988, Pakistan has sought assistance from the IMF more than 10 times, which indicates its bad economic policies and planning. Pakistan has always shared its GDP’s lion share to its Army and nuclear programs, unfortunately, this made Pakistan’s economic planning incompetent. According to the budget of the fiscal year 2019-20 of Pakistan, all the major economic indicators have shown a downward movement like the growth indicator went down almost by 50% from 6.2 % to 3.3 % and even the inflation indicator is expected to go down by 13%. These figures are all-time low in the last 10 years and the recent bailout package worth $ 6 billion from IMF needs strong political will power in policymaking.

Religious Minorities

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees “fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before the law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to the law and public morality” to its citizens. Many years have passed but none of these rights were ever given to the minorities of Pakistan. In 2018, Imran Khan promised that “PTI will protect the civil, social and religious rights of minorities; their places of worship, property and institutions as laid down in the Constitution.” But according to the USCIRF 2020 report, the continuous negative trends show the systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, and authorities’ failure to address forced conversions of religious minorities—including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs—to Islam, indicating the severely restricted freedom of religion or belief. Pakistan has a rich culture because of the different religious communities but the increasing persecution and atrocities cases on the minorities shows the worrisome disparity in the society. In 2019, a Hindu veterinarian has been charged with the blasphemy against Islam and protestors even burned down the shops of many Hindu shop owners. Increasing extremism and intolerance towards minorities in Pakistan is one of the major concerns for international organisations. In the same report of USCIRF mentioned that around 80 people were imprisoned for blasphemy, and half of them are facing the life sentence or death. This law has been used as the major tool for hardliners to marginalize the minority communities and over 70 people had been lynched to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges since 1990. All these cases raise the questions on the current government and its efforts to promote a safe society.

Judicial Corruption

All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous Judiciary.” Said Andrew Jackson.

Having an independent judiciary system is one of the most important pillars for any democratic nation but in the case of Pakistan, it’s just another tool for oppression and abuse of power. Recently Pakistan got 120th rank in the rule of law 2020 index out of 128 countries, the three major indicators went down negative. In 2019, a video went viral in which a NAB judge was discussing how he convicted the former prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif for owning unexplained properties in London, delivered his decision under coercion. Since 1973, Armed forces targeted the independence of the judiciary to manipulate the decisions in their favour. In 2018, Islamabad high court judge was sacked for accusing the ISI as he said that country’s intelligence agency was manipulating the judicial proceedings to get the favourable decisions. This was not the first time where the involvement of ISIS undermined the independence of the judiciary system of this nation. Unfortunately, this was the case that happened during the making of so-called Naya Pakistan of Imran Khan.

Way forward

These are not the only areas where Pakistan is suffering but even the corrupt bureaucratic system and bad foreign policy choices put the country on the path to isolation in the international arena. The continuous obsession over Kashmir and growing extremism in the country can be seen in the policymaking process. People of Pakistan need to rethink about the idea of “Naya Pakistan” and the constant military involvement in their domestic affairs. Though PM Imran khan has tried to make some positive efforts towards religious minorities but he has failed to bring out any major changes in the society. As the Pakistani economy is already struggling, the recent COVID outbreak will soon put the nation on the ventilator support. One can decipher that the Imran Khan government will soon be facing major challenges in front of him and the only way forward would be taking difficult decisions such as to reform the existing economic and foreign policy. 

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South Asia

Independence and Beyond: The Indian Subcontinent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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As Mr. Lincoln might have said …three-score and thirteen years ago the Indian subcontinent gained independence (August 14/15, 1947) from the British — although Indians were even then substantially running the country.  The Indian Civil Service and its administrators, the police and the military were all Indian, as were many members of the Viceroy’s council — the viceroy as the British government’s representative having ultimate say.  Thus the day-to-day running of the country was essentially being managed by Indians themselves.

The Hindu nationalist ideas of the Narendra Modi government are uniquely (and mistakenly) revanchist for Hindus were involved in government during the Mughal era.  A proud country treasures its history; not Mr. Modi’s BJP Party.  It and its goons instigated mobs and participated in the destruction of the Babri Mosque, where last week Mr. Modi was at a ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a Hindu temple on the Mosque site, believed by some Hindus to be the birthplace of the god Rama.

Introduced in the epic Ramayana, he is its central figure, and while it is mentioned he was born in Ayodhya, nowhere does it say where in Ayodhya.  The epic also features a monkey king Hanuman and a monkey army that helped Rama in the story.  Beliefs are beliefs and if all of this clashes with modern rationality just consider some of the ardent beliefs of other religions. 

Of course a harmonious solution for the site might have opted for the structure to be either utilized by both religions or moved to a nearby location. 

If religious structures offend, why not convert them for your own use?  That is precisely what President Erdogan has done — in the process turning Turkey’s secular tradition upside down,  In fact, he led the first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia, a mosque now by Erdogan edict that was the former Byzantine cathedral museum and a popular tourist site in Istanbul.  Modern Turkey’s secular founder Kamal Ataturk is probably turning over in his grave. 

No such luck for the early 16th century Babri mosque, it was razed to the ground, a signal to Indian minority religions (Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, even atheists and humanists) of the primacy of Hinduism.  The ones who strived so long and hard for India’s independence, namely the secular Fabian socialist Nehru and the inclusive Gandhi would be doing the same as Ataturk, had they not been cremated.

With all its conflicts, any wonder that India hovers precariously near the bottom of the World Happiness Index, as does Delhi as one of the world’s least happy cities — about as nice to live in as Gaza.  If Pakistan (number 66 near Japan at 62) and its cities are much higher in the Happiness Index, it has its own problems … like the disappearance of activists.  The latest, a human rights activist (Idris Khattak) turned up after three months without a word to the families from the security agencies holding him.  Some are not so lucky — they never turn up.  Moreover, religious extremism has spawned anti-blasphemy laws that border on censorship and serve as a gag on free speech.  The founder of the country was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, an accomplished lawyer who had practised before the Privy Council.  A defender of democratic principles and the rule of law, suave, suited by Henry Poole of Savile Row and partial to a whisky before dinner, he would be appalled.  

Bangladesh the perennial disaster area is now suffering the triple whammy of its usual flooding, plus the new covid-19 and the consequent lost livelihoods.  It is at number 107 on the World Happiness Index, much happier than India ranked 144 and now one of the worst places to live in the world. 

In the age of management consultants, experts, specialists and private equity companies with special expertise in turnarounds, perhaps India (perhaps the subcontinent as a whole) could do worse than invite the British back and pay them to run the place.  At the very least, it is likely to make life bearable in Kashmir.

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