‘The ground situation in Sri Lanka is more favorable today than it ever was for democratic decentralization’
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 72April 28, 2015, 5:51 pm
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Prof. Ashwani K. Sharma strongly recommends democratic decentralization in post-war Sri Lanka. Sharma, now with the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS), at the Colombo University, believes that the ground situation in Sri Lanka was more favorable today than it ever was. The Indian - funded CCIS came into being, in 2012, following an agreement between the University of Colombo and the High Commission of India in Colombo.
Prof Sharma said: "The long civil-war has ended and the process of reconciliation and reconstruction has begun. It is an appropriate time for the Sri Lankan government to devolve more financial and other powers to the provinces. It would make a positive contribution to the reconciliation and development process."
The visiting academician discussed a range of contentious issues in an interview with The Island recently. The following is the excerpts of the interview.
(Q) Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, recently declared that Sri Lanka couldn’t have eradicated the LTTE without India’s support. The Sri Lankan Army brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009. In an exclusive with Hahiharan, of Tamil Nadu’s Thanthi TV, Wickremesinghe emphasized that India threw its weight behind the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa government, during Eelam War IV, to ensure the LTTE’s defeat. When the interviewer pointed out that India had categorically denied helping the Rajapaksa government, to defeat the LTTE, a smiling Premier Wickremesinghe said: "amnesia is, you know, very common among politicians."
Both India and Sri Lanka cannot ignore very serious accusation made by former President Rajapaksa that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) worked closely with the US and British intelligence services to engineer his defeat at the Jan. 8, 2015, presidential poll. Rajapaksa’s accusation should be examined in the backdrop of his extremely close relationship with Beijing. Would you believe New Delhi would find it much easier to communicate with Colombo in the wake of Rajapaksa’s defeat?
(A) It was for the first time that all the Presidents/Prime Ministers of all the SAARC countries were invited to the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister of a new regime in India. President Rajapaksa also attended the ceremony. I do not think that there has been any issue of communication between India and Sri Lanka either in the previous regime or the new regime. This goodwill gesture by the new Indian regime is also reflective of its commitment to close cooperation with its neighbors.
(Q) Indian Premier, Narendra Modi, during his two -day official visit here, reiterated India’s call for implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, as prescribed by the Congress, nearly 30 years ago. Modi urged Sri Lanka to go beyond the 13th Amendment to ensure peaceful resolution of the conflict. Would it be to the advantage of Premier Modi/India to pursue the failed Congress strategy in Sri Lanka? Would you you believe in the possibility of negotiating a brand new agreement/formula to address Sri Lanka’s national issue?
(A) Liberal democracy in pluralist societies is undergoing changes and throwing up new challenges all across the world. Scotland in the UK and Quebec in Canada are examples from the western world. In South Asia, issue of identity politics is acquiring increasing salience, and regions of nation-state are demanding more autonomy and freedom in running their own affairs. In India, for example, states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh were bifurcated because of identity (regional identity) issue. The most recent example of bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh is illustrative of the issues involved. One part of the state dominated the other part: socially, politically and economically. Separate statehood had been a long standing demand of Telengana region in Andhra Pradesh. It was rightly granted statehood and now it has an identity of its own, in the country and in national politics. It also hopes to bring in good governance and faster growth and development than before.
A very significant development in India this year has been that states are given more financial autonomy. This move of the central government has a strong rational basis. First, the states in India have over the years performed better than the central government in managing their finances: states have had less deficit in their budget than the central government. Second, states ought to be given more autonomy in pursuing their own development priorities rather than the Centre imposing it on them. This move towards democratic decentralization will strengthen democracy and would also take care of identity issue.
The crux of the 13th Amendment is devolution of power to the regions/provinces in Sri Lanka. It is part of democratic decentralization in a pluralist society with liberal democracy. Governance through democratic decentralization is more relevant in the contemporary world than it ever was. It would not only contribute to good governance but also enable the regions/provinces to prioritize their social, economic, and cultural development. Importantly, it would also address the issue of identity. In sum, acceptance of diversity, pluralism, multiculturalism, and political culture of democratic decentralization is the norm for contemporary liberal democracies.
(Q) India forced the 13A on the then JRJ government, in accordance with the Indo-Lanka accord of July, 1987. India intervened as the Sri Lankan Army was on the verge of finishing off the LTTE, in the Jaffna peninsula. It was New Delhi’s remedy to an unprecedented security/political crisis caused by the then government of India. No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary, J.N.Dixit, faulted the then Premier Indira Gandhi for Indian military intervention here (Dixit’s memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’).Could Modi/India justify its push for 13 A/13A plus ignoring the total change in the ground situation?
(A) As an academic, I would strongly support democratic decentralization. The ground situation in Sri Lanka is more favorable today than it ever was. The long civil-war has ended and the process of reconciliation and reconstruction has begun. It is an appropriate time for Sri Lankan government to devolve more financial and other powers to the provinces. It would make a positive contribution to the reconciliation and development process.
At the national level, the current government is moving towards democratic decentralization. Executive powers so far vested in the President are proposed to be shared between the President and the Prime Minister. A logical step forward in this process of democratic decentralization would be to devolve more powers to the provinces also. And it would be ideal to create an ‘Upper House’/’Senate’ through which provinces can participate in national political decision-making.
(Q) What would be PM Modi’s foreign policy focus? Would his foreign policy focus, too, be dominated by China and Pakistan?
(A) Let me begin with a theoretical perspective that I am currently in the process of developing for analyzing foreign policy focus of any country in an intensely globalizing world; including that of India and China. It will provide a context and make the focus of foreign policy of India more intelligible.
There is a paradigmatic shift in global politics from geopolitics to geo-economics. Geopolitics had been the dominant paradigm since the World War II and continued to be so until the beginning of the new millennium. With the intensification of the processes of globalization in the last decade of the twentieth century and in the new millennium, geo-economics is gaining ascendency over geopolitics. And this development of significance necessitates re-conceptualization of ‘Security’ in general and particularly in South Asia.
The context to the movement from geopolitics to geo-economics is provided by the contemporary phase of globalization, which according to many analysts, began in the early 1960s. The intensification of the processes of globalization in the 1990s and in the new millennium facilitated the paradigmatic shift towards geo-economics. The ending of the cold war provided space, time, focus and environment conducive to this shift in paradigm in global politics.
Geopolitics is both a theoretical approach to understanding international relations as well as method of analyzing foreign policy behavior based on geographical variable such as size of the nation-state, physical location, demography, climate, natural resources and technological advances. The fundamentals of this approach are conditioned by security concerns, relative strength, conflicts, and alliances in international relations. The crucial determinants of this approach are power and how the game of balance of power is played out in international relations. Although the approach does take into account economic variables but only to the extent that it adds to the relative military strength (traditional national defense) and that of self-sufficiency of the nation-state. Thus, economic variables are taken into account but as adjunct to political variables. In other words, economic issues are considered as ‘low politics’.
The concept ‘geoeconomics’, like geopolitics, is both a branch of cognition and the reality it studies. The fundamentals of this approach to the understanding of international relations are conditioned by economic variables such as economic growth, development, trade, investment, natural resources, human and technological resources, and economic dependence. It accords primacy to ‘economic security’ in relation to traditional conceptualization of security exclusively in terms of ‘military security’. Economic security has not displaced military security but has eclipsed it in strategic calculations of foreign policy responses in international relations. As a result, regions with growing economic strength are increasingly becoming salient in foreign policy matrix of nation-states. In sum, economic issues are considered as ‘high politics’.
‘Growth and Development’ and ‘Make in India’ are the twin objectives that India’s foreign policy is currently focusing on. PM Modi’s visits to the growing economic regions of the world substantiates the point I have made. Mutually beneficial economic cooperation, free flow of foreign direct investment into India, and Indian investment in other countries, is the main theme of India’s foreign policy. The response from countries across the world has been overwhelming. However, emphasis on geo-economics does not preclude the importance that India accords to geopolitical and geo-strategic issues in its foreign policy.
China and India are the two fastest growing economies in the world that has 212 countries. China is India’s competitor in world trade. India as well as China understand the paradigm shift in global politics and are therefore becoming healthy competitors in trade in goods, investment, and services. The border dispute between India and China has slid to the back burner. The focus is now on mutual trade and healthy competition in the global economy. Both the countries stand to gain from this approach.
(Q) Could you explain the status of the Indo-Lanka civil nuclear cooperation and whether Sri Lanka will receive some tangible benefits through it?
(A) India-Sri Lanka civil nuclear cooperation focuses on "exchange of knowledge and expertise, sharing of resources, capacity building and training of personnel in peaceful uses of nuclear energy". In addition, India would also provide Sri Lanka with small nuclear reactors. Sri Lanka has preferred India over China and Pakistan for civil nuclear cooperation.
There is a broader context to the issue. There are four pillars of ‘Human Security’: food security, water security, energy security, and environmental security. It is common knowledge that there is a global energy crisis. This crisis is all the more acute in South Asia. All the South Asian states suffer from energy insecurity.
The demand for energy is increasing exponentially in Sri Lanka as well as India. This is because of requirements of economic growth and development. Economic growth leads to higher demand for energy in industrial establishments, commercial establishment, agriculture, health care industry, and households. India as well as Sri Lanka has more than 1/5 of the population below the poverty line. For poverty alleviation and raising the standard of living of the people, it is imperative for both the countries to grow in double digits. And this would require higher and higher levels of uninterrupted supply of energy.
There are three sources of energy supply in Sri Lanka: hydro power (58%), thermal power (40%), and wind, solar, bio-mass, etc. (2%). Hydro power is a clean and renewable source of energy but can vary with the amount of seasonal rain. Higher rain would lead to higher production and a lean season of rain would lead to lower production of power. Thermal power plants use coal, oils, and gas as fuel for generating power. All the fuels for thermal power generation are imported in Sri Lanka. Known reserves of all these fuels in the world are limited and exhaustible. Therefore, the prices of these fuels are expected to keep moving up in the medium and long term. This would create heavy pressure on the balance-of payments of Sri Lanka. As per the 2012-13 official figures, Sri Lanka exports were worth $10 billion and imports worth $19 billion. There is already a huge balance of payment deficit.
Huge amount of investment in Research & Development has taken place in the last forty years across the world in making energy production from solar, wind, and tidal waves commercially/economically viable. There has not been any success so far to register.
The only alternative left for future energy security in Sri Lanka is nuclear energy. India was in a similar situation. India opted for nuclear energy as part of its ‘energy mix’. Sri Lanka should also go in for nuclear energy as part of its energy mix. Here, it needs to be added that if the explorative gas find in wells off the Coast of Mannar Island becomes commercially successful, it will definitely contribute to Sri Lankan energy security.
Nuclear science is also of immense utility in medical science: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), radiotherapy, nuclear medicine for thyroid treatment are well known uses of nuclear science. Radiation and radioisotopes are used for diagnosis and therapy in medical science. If medical science has to progress in Sri Lanka, then, nuclear science has to be given a boost. And Indo-Sri Lankan civil nuclear cooperation would precisely provide that much needed boost.
In addition, there are innumerable uses of nuclear science in industry and agriculture. Industrial as well as agricultural development requires parallel development in nuclear science.