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Modi & India savours JRJ moment

| by A M Katha

( May 18, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mr Modi and India now have the 1977 J R Jayewardene moment - maybe there are lessons from Sri Lanka and clearly Sri Lanka will need to observe closely. Mr Modi has defeated a deeply unpopular government led by a dynasty which at that time was not responsive to the population’s need. In 1977 there was rationing, people were groaning under the difficult economic circumstances and the rulers were simply not listening; corruption was an undercurrent though not as flagrant as now in India.

And so what happened after 1977? The freedom given to the long-suppressed economy resulted in a huge spurt of growth of uncontrolled private sector (at times totally inappropriate - did we require "snow scrapers for windscreens" that were seen in Bamabalapitiya shop windows?). There were clearly benefits to the people and consumerism embedded itself in the Sri Lankan character. JRJ himself was supremely confident that Sri Lankans could handle "the Robber Barons" that would come from abroad and the country would benefit. However, it was not the commonsense of democracy and trust in the people that prevailed, but manipulation through referendum - the notorious one of 1982. To cement the power of the Grand Old Party, the monster of proportional representation replaced the aged but still reasonable "first past the post" by JRJ. 

With Mr Modi, it was 33.5 percent that delivered the 280+ seats for BJP but that is still an absolute majority. The biggest component was "Other" which was 38.7 percent. There was Mr/Mrs NOTA (None Of The Above) which captured 5 million votes. However the National Democratic Alliance of Mr Modi will not have the five sixths majority of JRJ.

And then came the early 1980s and the debacle of ignoring legitimate Tamil grievances which allowed the illegitimate monsters to grow. Power was the solution JRJ said, and that mindset meandered 20 years until it was effectively implemented with a helpful big dose of self-destruction by the Tiger itself.

And so what for Mr Modi? The economy will expand - the businessman in India are already licking their lips. Sri Lanka should be able to ride on the coattails of that economic expansion but only if the Indian winds blow South. However the Sri Lankan winds are not directly blowing North at present.

As for ethnic harmony, it is likely that whatever has been said earlier, there will be equal opportunity as the Indian constitution is too strong to be folded sideways; Mr Modi himself on this issue may turn out to be a statesman rather than a politician. Sadly in Sri Lanka it was the opposite.

And so for foreign policy, where the JRJ got the worst marks - tweaking India’s nose (the face of 1 billion people) with the toothpick of 16 million Lankans was guaranteed to land the country in the mire of ethnic conflict for 2 decades. Will Mr Modi himself fall into the trap of aggressive and inappropriate foreign policy, although the 1 billion behind him will make every country listen. Or will he be the only leader in India who can command the respect and credibility to deal with Pakistan and China. Remember, it was Richard Nixon (the right wing Republican President) who was able to make the opening to Red Communist China without fear of being accused of being a "soft on communism"

Perhaps for Sri Lanka, the most appropriate saying would be from Africa "When the elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled". It will be interesting times ahead and to remember the saying "(for countries) there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies but permanent iInterests."