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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2792

Has the 21stCentury Overtaken Rajiv Gandhi? - CBK on elite panel discussion

Colombo, 27 February, ( Chandrika Kumaratunga former President of Sri Lanka attended launch of the recent book ‘A Time of Transition’ by Mani Shankar Iyer.

Sri Lanka’s former Head of State was later on a TV panel which debated the topic ‘Has the 21stCentury Overtaken Rajiv Gandhi?’ Some of the other distinguished persons in the group were former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, BJP leader Arun Jaitley, Sitaram Yechury General Secretary of the CPI, Dr. Shashi Tharoor former UN under Secretary and the Editor in Chief of the Indian Express Shekhar Gupta. NDTV’s Burkha Dutt moderated the discussion.

Ms.Kumaratunga expressed her views on the five major principles the author Iyar believes ruled the ideologies of Rajiv Gandhi, in his new book’. She focussed on democracy and secularism which she said were in grave danger today in many parts of the world, especially in South Asia as well as the Islamic world.

Ethnic, religious and gender based extremism has seized many societies; she said in our modern knowledge based world, the acceptance of the rights of diverse communities should be an accepted fact. But what we see is an increase in intolerance of diversity and violent rejection of that which is different. This invariably leads to denial of other’s rights and freedoms.

Talking of democracy, she said I know of no other concept yet created by mankind, that is best suited to meet the challenges of -

a) the policies of dominance and intolerance, than the vision of an inclusive and secular society,

b) the threats posed by the increasing limitation of space for the free functioning of the Fundamental Rights of the citizen than the strengthening of representative democracy and people's power through creating strong and effectively functioning people's institutions. Mani Shankar Aiyar calls it the Panchayati Raj she stated.

Rajiv Gandhi's vision of Secularism and Democracy has had a lasting effect on Sri Lankan politics. His stated solution for the bloody ethnic conflict in my country was a power sharing arrangement, with devolution of power to the regions. I strongly believe, to this day, that is the only viable alternative to the continuing conflict in Sri Lanka. If the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 to bring a limited devolution of power to Provincial Councils had not been consistently sabotaged by various governments and if they had ensured the effective operation of this agreement, the ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka would have been long over.

Today the present Government has achieved significant success on the ground in the war against the LTTE. They will win the war. ‘ But Can Peace be Won’, without a clear proposition for a negotiated political solution that takes into account the root causes of this problem- the historic ethno-cultural and political aspects?

Special emphasis must be laid on the politics of terror practiced by the LTTE as well as some governments against the Tamil people; this has caused immense suffering and consequent anger and hatred on both sides of the divide. This is a concern of many, who are capable of seeing beyond the massive government media campaigns, in a country where media freedom has become a rare privilege.

The Sri Lankan polity is becoming increasingly polarized with the majority community in one camp and the rest in the other. The bedrock of a stable, modern society is a secular State in which the rights of all citizens are equally guaranteed and respected. We in Sri Lanka are not alone in dangerously moving away from this fundamental truth. South Asia is in the midst of a flourishing sectarian and extremist movement. The alarm bells must ring fast, loud and clear.

India’s strength has been its deep commitment to a secular and democratic State. This was the vision of the Mahatma, Panditji and Rajiv.

Peace she said has never been known to be won without a Nation where diversity is positively accepted and even celebrated by the State, by its government and it judicial and political institutions.

Governments and their leaders must have the ability to comprehend the difference between terrorism and the Tamil Question. The just rights of the Tamil people must be given, whilst terrorism is dealt with. We only need to consider how India has managed its Nation composed of myriad ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. The recognition and respect of diversity and granting the right to all communities to manage their affairs within a Federal State, has forged a strong democratic and dynamic India. We have many lessons to learn from you.

Ms.Kumaratunga also expressed some thoughts on the principles of non alignment.

- Asian Tribune -

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