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Sri Lanka crisis: Is the country on brink of another civil war?

Arti Ghargi

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The tussle between Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksha has thrown Sri Lanka in a political, constitutional and economic crisis.

 

On the eve of October 26, the island nation of Shri Lanka witnessed an unprecedented development. In a dramatic sequence of events, Shri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister of the nation while the ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was on a tour of southern Shri Lanka. The live broadcast of President Sirisena swearing-in the new Prime Minister Rajapaksha in a show of power was no less than a high-pitch political drama potent of unsettling the geopolitics of South-east Asia. Rajapaksa was sworn in at about 7 p.m. in the presence of the representatives of the navy, air force and army who stood in the room and quietly watch the hasty ceremony unfold.

The situation in Sri Lanka, now widely regarded as a “major constitutional crisis”, has been since deteriorating. Many cabinet ministers strongly objected to the President’s decision to appoint new Prime Minister as an “undemocratic coup”. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera tweeted that Mr Rajapaksa’s appointment was “unconstitutional and illegal. This is an anti-democratic coup.”

On the other hand, Wickremesinghe has refused to budge and step down from the post of Prime Minister. He addressed the media in Colombo, a few hours after Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as Prime Minister and declared that he is still the Prime Minister of the country.  “Since I have a majority I remain as the Prime Minister and I will function as the Prime Minister,” he said.

Meanwhile, as the news spread the protestors stormed the nation’s capital. The supporters of both leaders Rajapaksha and Wickremesinghe staged a protest against each other in a display of power. The tension escalated on Sunday as one person was killed by the bodyguard of the Petroleum Minister Arjun Ranatunga after a scuffle broke out between Ranatunga’s security personnel and the supporters of Rajapaksha who tried to lay a siege at his office building.

With the suspension of the parliament by President Sirisena until November 16, the chances of restoring political stability in the country soon are bleak.

Why did President Sirisena unseat Wickremesinghe?

A day after swearing-in the Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, President Sirisena conducted a televised address justifying his act. He said that in the wake of recent political developments the only alternative he was left with to establish a new government was to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.

Sirisena blamed the political crisis on Ranil Wickremesinghe’s “stubborn decisions” and the fundamental differences between him and Wickremesinghe. “There was also a policy conflict between Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe and me, during the last three and a half years. Apart from policy differences, I noted that there were also differences of culture between Mr Wickremesinghe and me. I believe that all those differences in policy, culture, personality and conduct aggravated this political and economic crisis,” he said.

Sri lanka

Image source: Web

Defending his decision as “constitutional”, Sirisena said that the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister was totally in accordance with the Constitution and on the advice of legal experts. He further blamed Wickremesinghe’s lackadaisical approach towards an investigation into the plot to assassinate the President for his decision to unseat him. “Under these political problems, economic troubles and the strong plot to assassinate me, the only alternative open to me was to invite former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and appoint him as Prime Minister to form a new government,” Sirisena clarified.

Interestingly, during the Presidential election in 2015, Sirisena had sought the support of political rival Wickremesinghe’s UNP to contest election against Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sirisena had held a cabinet berth in Rajapaksha’s government that lasted for 10 years.

What does the Sri Lankan constitution say?

While Sirisena calls the move completely “in accordance with the constitution”, his opponents and media outlets have constantly highlighted that his act is anti-constitution. Sirisena has pointed to another constitutional article that allows the president to appoint as prime minister any MP who, “in the president’s opinion”, is most likely to command the confidence of parliament.

Sri Lanka

However, the Wickremesinghe faction has pointed out to the 2015 amendment which prevented the president from sacking any prime minister unless they had died, resigned or lost the confidence of parliament. The Article 46 (2) of the 19th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution cites, the Prime Minister continues to hold office — throughout the period during which the Cabinet of Ministers continues to function under the provisions of the Constitution — unless he: (a) resigns by writing or, (b) ceases to be a Member of Parliament.

What is the road ahead for the crisis?

The ride to the solution of the Sri Lankan crisis seems a turbulent one. Whether the appointment of Rajapaksha was constitutional or not has to be decided by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. However, the courts in Sri Lanka are considered to be politically influenced. Additionally, a case is yet to be brought before the apex court.

Sri lanka

Clashes break out between security forces and protestors. (Image Source: Web)

Another way to end the crisis is ascertaining who exactly is the Prime Minister of the country by holding a vote of confidence in the parliament. Wickremesinghe undoubtedly holds a majority in the parliament. However, he is seven short of the magic number. On the other hand, Sirisena and Rajapaksha faction even considered together fall way short of the required number. This is also why; Sirisena may have decided to suspend the parliament working by November 16. This may provide Rajapaksha with the necessary time to convince the MPs to support him. The ruling coalition United National Front allies have already expressed their support to Wickremesinghe excluding Sirisena’s party. Reportedly, two MPs have defected to Srisena-Rajapaksha so far.

Meanwhile, Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that he will start occupying PM office from today. He is also expected to appoint his own cabinet.

On a brink of another civil war?

It has been just a decade since the civil war in Sri Lanka came to an end. The government declared the defeat of LTTE and establishment of peace in conflict areas. The political and constitutional crisis the country is facing right now can perilously snowball in a civil war if it is not addressed in time. The speaker of the Parliament Karu Jayasuriya warned today that the power vacuum at the centre is dangerous and can turn into a “bloodbath”. He said, “We should settle this through parliament, but if we take it out to the streets, there will be a huge bloodbath.”

Sri lanka

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The political turbulence has already led to clashes in the capital which have already claimed one life. The citizens are uncertain who among the two their Prime Minister is while both claims to be one. The political crisis has also affected the markets. As reported by Bloomberg, Sri Lanka’s 6.75 per cent 2028 dollar bonds fell 3 cents to a record low of 87.8 cents on the dollar, the most since the debt was sold in April, and the rupee slid 0.7 per cent to a lifetime low of 174.15 per dollar.

The power struggle between Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksha has thrown the country in a crisis on political, constitutional and economic fronts. With the politicians openly warning of “bloodbath”, Sri Lanka seems to be on the brink of another civil war. It is up to the three political leaders to prevent it.

Opinion

Is Modi government playing with fire with the Savarna Reservation?

Arti Ghargi

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We have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster.

 

On Monday, the Modi cabinet raised the heat amidst the ongoing winter session of parliament by clearing 10% reservation for the economically weaker upper castes. The cabinet decided to amend the Constitution so that the “economically backward” upper castes will get 10% reservation in direct recruitment in government services and admission to higher educational institutions.

The proposed reservation will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation enjoyed by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 per cent. Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other Upper Castes.

As the news took over the TV screens and print columns, it was projected as a “Master Stroke” by the Modi government. Some even called it a “Surgical Strike” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Considering the Savarna backlash that the government received over the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (amendment) act, this might have been a last-ditch attempt by the ruling BJP to save its Upper Caste voters. Incidentally, the upper caste Hindus are its core vote banks. Thus, this move was being seen as vote bank motivated.

The question, however, remains whether it is actually effective or ground? Whether it will pay the electoral dividends the party is hoping for? Will the move achieve consolidation of both, Dalit and Savarna voters in favour of BJP?

BJP may hope the answer is in affirmative. But a quick scanning of pages of India’s political history can easily tell that it is otherwise. On the contrary, we have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster in the immediate elections.

Karpoori Thakur:

Karpoori Thakur was the first political leader to have felt the heat on the ballot box due to his decisions regarding the reservation policies. The socialist leader who was Bihar’s first non-Congress Chief minister first introduced the reservation for the economically backward upper castes in the country. His decision was based on the findings of the Mungeri Lal Commission. This commission had suggested a total 26% reservation in the state, of which 20% were for the OBC, 3% for the women of any background and 3% reservation for the poor Savarnas.

Karpoori Thakur decided to implement the reservation formula in Bihar in November 1978. However, he decided to divide the OBC category into two other sub-categories for the distribution of quotas, i.e. Extreme Backward Class (EBC) and Backward Class (BC). While EBC were allotted 12% quota, BC was allotted 8%.

Electorally, it proved to be disastrous for the leader. He had to endure major upper caste backlash for this move. Within a week, he had to vacate the CM chair. The reservation policy he introduced is popularly known as “Karpoori Thakur Formula”. The policy was halted in 1992-93 until the Supreme Court quashed it. However, with the Modi government’s new reservation card, the demand for implementing the formula in government jobs and educational opportunities has started gaining pace in Bihar.

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VP Singh:

Who can forget the political debacle VP Singh brought upon himself by announcing the implementation of Mandal commission report. Not only the country burned for months following violent protests but the controversial move proved to be a fatal blow to VP Singh’s political career.

In August 1990, seven years after the Mandal Commission report on the identification of OBC’s based on 11 parameters, VP Singh in his independence day address declared his intention of implementing the commission’s suggestions. The report proposed OBCs to be given 27% reservation making the total number of reservation go up to 49%.

This move sparked a series of student protest. The Self-immolation committed by more than 50 students across the country and suicide attempts by more than 100 people marked the end of the VP Singh’s minority government. Just 11 months after he took oath as the Prime Minister, VP Singh had to step down and was succeeded by Chandra Shekhar.

reservation

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Bhupinder Huda:

Having witnessed the fire sparked by the controversial reservation policies, Congress (UPA) for most of its term kept the reservation off its priority. Until 2014, when it made a last-ditch attempt to win the election, touched the reservation issue.

On the face of elections, Congress proposed to include Jats in Other Backward Class category. The Jat reservation only resulted in violent protests and hartals in the state. The Supreme Court eventually rejected it. The Congress, as we know, was reduced to only 1 seat.

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Prithviraj Chavan:

The Congress-NCP coalition government in the state of Maharashtra too followed the suite off Haryana government. The Prithviraj Chavan-led coalition government announced 16% reservation for the Marathas who have been demanding reservation since long. The move did not prove much fruitful as the coalition had to face dismal numbers in the immediate assembly election.

Image Source: Web

These and many other cases in the past prove that any decision with regards to the reservation is equal to playing with fire. Thus, it begs a question whether the Modi government has learnt the time and again tested lesson provided by Indian Politics. With the recent decision, it seems it hasn’t or perhaps, it has chosen to ignore it.

Will it turn out to be political suicide for Modi government as well? Or will he be successful in breaking the jinx?

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Opinion

Don’t need Congress, SP-BSP strong enough to defeat BJP in UP: Kiranmoy Nanda

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SP-BSP

Kolkata | Samajwadi Party (SP) national vice-president Kiranmoy Nanda on Sunday said his party, together with the BSP, is strong enough to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming general election and there is no need of an “insignificant” force like the Congress to make it happen.

He, however, hinted that the SP-BSP alliance might just leave aside the Rae Bareli and Amethi constituencies, represented in the Lok Sabha by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi respectively.

“In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is an insignificant force, so we are not even thinking of including or excluding it. The SP-BSP alliance is the main force which will take on the BJP. The Congress might be there in one or two seats, it is for the Congress to decide what position it wishes to see itself in,” Nanda told PTI in an interview.

His comments came two days after Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav moved closer to finalise a seat-sharing formula, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Both the leaders held a meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

Nanda felt the Congress was yet to adjust to the mantra of “alliance politics” as it was unwilling to “leave even an inch to its allies in states where it is strong, but expects others to share their pound of flesh with it in states where it is a weak force”.

Asked whether keeping the Congress out of the alliance in Uttar Pradesh would be an advantage for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said, “From our past experiences, we can say, in cases where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP alliance, we did not face any problem in defeating the BJP. The Congress’s vote share is completely insignificant.

“Rather there have been instances where the Congress had not put up its candidate in a seat and the BJP got its vote share.”

Nanda cited the examples of the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP nominees, but that did not deter the alliance from defeating the BJP.

Referring to the recently-held Assembly polls in five states, he said had the Congress worked out an alliance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP would have faced a complete ouster in the two states.

“Did the Congress go for a pre-poll alliance with the SP-BSP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? The answer is no. The Congress’s policy is it will take benefits from everybody, but when it gets an opportunity, it does not want to share it with others,” Nanda said.

The former fisheries minister of West Bengal during the Left Front regime asserted that the SP-BSP alliance would be a “gamechanger” in the general election in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats.

“Going by the current situation, it is clear that the SP-BSP alliance will sweep Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP will be ousted. The SP will play a vital role in the next government formation at the Centre, but we are not in the prime ministerial race,” he maintained.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, along with its allies, had secured 73 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, whereas the SP had won five and the Congress just two seats.

Nanda also refuted the claims that Shivpal Singh Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) might play a spoilsport for the SP-BSP alliance in the Hindi heartland state.

“New parties crop up prior to the Lok Sabha polls in politically sensitive Uttar Pradesh, but they fail to create any impact,” he asserted.

Talking about the choice of prime ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance, Nanda said the matter would be decided on the basis of consensus after the polls.

“We are not averse to anyone for the prime minister’s post but that issue will be decided after the polls, following a discussion with all the parties,” he added.

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Opinion

Is “Pliable” offensive because Rahul Gandhi said it?

Arti Ghargi

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As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means.

 

Many of our journalists on ever-buzzing Indian Twitter are outraging over the word “Pliable”. For those who are completely unaware of how this fairly innocuous-seeming word offended many of my colleagues, let me give you a brief background.

It was on Thursday that Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a press conference sought to take a swipe at Prime Minister Modi’s interview with ANI editor Smita Prakash as being “staged” and lampooning the interviewer as “Pliable”. His remarks were followed by a prompt rebuttal by the ANI chief calling it a “Cheap Shot” and “downright absurd”. “Not expected of a president of the oldest political party in the country,” she tweeted. Many journalists and even politicians (read BJP leaders) came out in her support and slammed Rahul Gandhi for his comments.

“The Grandson of the ‘Emergency dictator’ displays his real DNA – attacks and intimidates an independent Editor,” tweeted Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Adding a question on the silence of “pseudo-liberals” (Wait. The Irony just died). On the other hand, many others disagreed and saw nothing wrong with Rahul Gandhi’s comment. As the debate around “Pliable” heated, the IT cells of both parties aided their respective sides by releasing interview videos of Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi- which is supposed to be a commentary on how certain journalists suck up to the rival parties and what “Pliable” journalism looks like.

As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means. According to Google, Pliable means easily bent; flexible or easily influenced. The Cambridge dictionary elaborates a little more- (often disapproving) A pliable person is easily influenced and controlled by other people. Now, going by the literal meaning of the word, it is hardly offensive. But as what’s offensive or what’s not is subjective, let us consider for a moment that it was indeed offensive to some. But the subjective cannot be selective.

Was it a standalone incident where politicians indulged in name calling? Hell No! Many journalists on regular basis are subjected to uncivilized criticism just for doing their job. The range of cuss words used to discredit journalists and their work is innumerable. Not to mention the few which you would see in very often which degrade the standard of public discourse. I am sure many of us have been called “Presstitute, Dalal, Baazaru” and what not. And while Mr Jaitley is busy pointing fingers at Rahul Gandhi. Here is how his own cabinet colleague described the journalists as:

 Not to forget the Modi interview to Smita Prakash in which he terms some journalists as “News Traders”.

Now, after the furore, Editors Guild and other journalistic bodies stepped in and condemned Rahul Gandhi for “words” used by him to criticise the ANI chief. Though it wasn’t a standalone case of politicians name-calling journalists, in this particular case the guild stepped in. The promptness is definitely noteworthy.

In the next few lines, the guild raises the question on the objectionable language used by senior BJP leaders and AAP leaders to criticise the journalists and media at large in the past. This condemnation in retrospect hardly seems genuine and comes across as an effort to escape the whataboutery. The guild says that journalists aren’t immune to the civil criticism. Going by this statement, Pliable is more civil than “Presstitute”, “Dalal” or “Baazaru”.

So what was the outrage for? Was it really because of the use of word Pliable? If it is so, why the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy calling journalists “News Traders” doesn’t incite such response? Or was the outrage because it was Rahul Gandhi who said it. Which then means two things: either the fraternity thinks they do not merit criticism from Rahul Gandhi (or any politician, for that matter) or Rahul Gandhi is too civil in his conduct that we as journalists don’t expect him to use such words. The standard for judging Rahul Gandhi is higher than it is for his contemporaries.

In my opinion, politicians should be the last ones criticizing the journalists. But should they be barred from criticizing the media completely? Not at all. But if we are to condemn them for their comments the ground should be the same for every politician.

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