India showed the world last week how she has transcended her entrenched social barriers and let a tribal flower from the mire bloom in a new Indian sun. Last Sunday afternoon, 64 year old Draupadi Murmu took her oaths as the 15th President of India and became the First Citizen of 1.4 billion people and [...]


Tribal flower blooms from mire to carry the flame of India’s fire


India showed the world last week how she has transcended her entrenched social barriers and let a tribal flower from the mire bloom in a new Indian sun.

Last Sunday afternoon, 64 year old Draupadi Murmu took her oaths as the 15th President of India and became the First Citizen of 1.4 billion people and the Commander in Chief of her Armed Forces after being elected to the highest office by an Electoral College representing both Houses of Parliament and the legislative assemblies of India’s 28 states and 8 Union territories, all of which are directly elected by the people.

It is the second time the nation has chosen a woman to be its constitutional, ceremonial Head of State, more or less in the same position as the Queen of England. She represents the nation but she does not rule. She is its symbol, the ultimate seal by which the nation’s decisions receive the force of law.

In her role as President, Murmu is constitutionally bound to act on the advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as long as the advice does not violate the constitution. But she is no dressed-up mascot either. She has a onetime right of veto for bills passed in Parliament.

All the pomp and pageantry of high office and its attendant powers of state must have seemed an alien world when she was born to a tribal family of Santals in a small rural hamlet in backwater Odisha, still one of the poorest Indian states.  But though born to hardship and toil, fortune’s smile had blessed her at birth. It opened the window of education and she became the first girl in her tribal village to attend the Ramadevi Women’s College, now the Ramadevi Women’s University in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

Unlike her Prime Minister, who shares a similar rags-to-power tale, she did not spend her time eking out a living, plying tea to bus travellers in the State’s capital but became a teacher at Odisha’s Sri Eurobond Education Centre. Later she worked as a junior assistant in the irrigation and power department of the Odisha government. This led her to acquire a taste for politics and to enter the political world.

She recorded many successes in her now chosen career but in 2009 came the first setback when she lost at the hustings in a Biju Janata Dal (BJD) stronghold, when her party, the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), cut its electoral ties with it and went its separate way.

But if the electoral defeat was to shatter her dreams, she was in line to mourn even a greater loss in her personal life. Between 2009 and 2015, tragedy struck without remit. Her eldest son died in mysterious circumstances. Her younger son was killed in a car crash in 2013. In the following year, her husband died in a sudden heart attack. And if that was not enough grief for a person to bear within four years, her mother and brother, too, died to make the tragedy replete.

She was soon drifting into a state of depression and, to come to terms with her grief, she embraced the Brahma Kumaris, a stoic spiritual movement in India for the ‘Daughters of Brahma’.

After BJP’s sweeping win in 2015 which made Modi Prime Minister, Murmu was appointed as the Governor of Jharkhand, the 15th largest state of India boasting 30,000 square miles. The appointment was to test her mettle.  In 2015, the BJP State Government planned to amend two old tribal land transfer Acts that prevented tribal land from being transferred outside the tribal circle. These amendments were to ensure easy transfer of lands to anyone for commercial use.

After widespread protests by the Adivasi tribe, Murmu went against her own party’s interest and refused to give her assent as Governor to the bill. The bill was later withdrawn in August 2017. Her defiant stand catapulted her to national spotlight. With her six-year tenure as Governor ending in 2021, Modi’s BJP nominated her as their candidate for the 2022 Presidential race.

On 21 July 2022, Murmu secured a clear majority in the 2022 Presidential election defeating the common opposition candidate with 676,000 electoral votes, bagging 64 percent of the vote to be sworn in as India’s youngest President. In her maiden presidential speech she declared:

‘For us, nation-building is a constant endeavour. When we won independence, the exploitation of colonial rule had left us in utter poverty, but in seventy-five years, we have made impressive progress.’

India has certainly come a long way since her independence in 1947. While the Indian people showed – by the Gandhi inspired mass struggle to force the British to ‘quit India – they had the stomach to fight the good fight and pay for her freedom with blood, the neighbouring lotus eaters of the teardrop island, Lanka, revealed its soft underbelly and remained content to gratuitously receive her birth right.

India went on from strength to strength to build on her winnings and made capital use of democracy to emerge as Asia’s first secular state. For a nation of a billion people awash with many faiths, divided by many tongues, and separated by diverse cultures, this was no mean feat. India succeeded in forcing back the tide of religious bigotry and narrow racial chauvinism and to emerge with one common national identity: Indian.

Today she is an emerging superpower, a regional giant with her economy ranked, in 2020, as the world’s fastest-growing economy. This is not to say that all is well and hunky dory. No nation can boast of that accolade.

But despite the rampant poverty that still dogs, the entrenched caste system that blocks, the various social classes that still inhibit the untrammelled rise of the nation, mystic spiritual India, which has long recognised the supremacy of the individual, has demonstrated – as she did this Sunday – that, for all its warts, the worthy of whatever race, caste, religion or gender, in poverty or in riches, can aspire and lay claim to the highest public offices in the land.

Has Lanka any lesson to learn from India’s 75 years of independence? Plenty. But we have snubbed her example and instead have looked to Singapore as our model nation. In our yearnings to have a Hitler to instil discipline in us, we have hankered after a Lee Kuan Yew, naively believing an autocrat with an iron fist ruling for thirty continuous years will wreak the miracle of Asia on Lankan soil.

Perhaps Lankans, who live today by the grace of India, would have been wiser to have followed the Indian example; and held as their role model one of the founding fathers of independent India: the truly democratic, incorruptible, Cambridge-educated Inner Temple Barrister, the non-racist freedom fighter Jawaharlal Nehru who became India’s first Prime Minister in 1947 until his death in 1964.

And taken cognizance of his observation when, staring at Anuradhapura’s magnificent stupas built by Sinhala kings of yore, he reportedly mused: ‘In the midst of the glorious past, I see a bleak future.’

Emergency laws rule OkThe emergency laws that laid siege on July 17 were ratified and extended for another month by Parliament on Wednesday, with 120 MPs voting for it and 63 against. A significant 41 MPs opted to stay on the fence rather than reveal their preference in this open ballot.

As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said of British politics, the fast-changing political landscape in Lanka showed that a week can be a long time in Lankan politics also. Only last week the same 225 MPs had voted somewhat differently in the secret ballot held to make Rail interim President.

Then 134 MPs had said aye to Ranil while 63 had voted for the opposition candidate Dullas. This week Ranil had lost 14 MPs from his 134 last week who failed to vote for his emergency laws while Dullas had lost 19 from his last week tally of 82. Who shifted allegiances swiftly to the winning side in this cross-voting will, alas, remain forever a Parliamentary ‘who dun it’.

The new President lost no time in using the Parliamentary conferred ‘executive powers of the people’ — normally granted under the constitution to the Executive directly elected by the people but this time by 134 MPs — to launch a crackdown on Galle Face Green protesters. The following days saw an intensified search and arrest of the leading activists. With the protest all but over, the Government seems confident it can now focus on resolving the major economic crisis.

But can it? Beneath the lulling calm, there lurks a dreadful disquiet.

A statement issued by the President’s Office late Friday said, in reference to IMF talks, that a conclusive plan on debt sustainability had been hampered by the recent political instability in the country. It further added: ‘At present, a politically stable government has been formed under President Ranil Wickremesinghe’.

Though to all appearances, a stable Government has indeed been formed in Parliament, the true measure of a nation’s political stability can only be gauged by the stability extant on the nation’s streets. Even in Parliament, 134 MPs voted to elect Ranil as President on July 20 but a week later only 120 voted to ratify his emergency laws, only 7 votes more than the required majority of 113.

If only Wimal Weerawansa, who had ferociously attacked Ranil and, along with the independent group of 10 SLPP MPs, had publicly pledged to vote against electing Ranil in July 20th’ secret ballot, had stuck fast to their ever-changing principles for a week more, the Government’s bid to extend the emergency would have failed for want of a simple majority of 113 votes. And that is without accounting Maithripala’s 12 SLFP MPs who abstained from voting at all.

Ranil’s power base in Parliament is the Rajapaksa-controlled SLPP of which Basil Rajapaksa is the national organiser. Its chairman G.L. Peiris publicly backed Dullas in the Presidential election in the House and voted against the Emergency ratification bill. The SLPP rank and file blatantly show that they are interested only in receiving compensation for their burnt homes and being further incentivised by cabinet or state ministerships or otherwise.

What value is a stable government in Parliament when its seeming stability is dependent upon the fickle vote of SLPP MPs which is based on the size of the bait, bill by bill? Especially when the Rasputin in the House, the maverick Wimal has emerged as the kingmaker to save Ranil’s bacon?

As Lanka’s distant dawn becomes further distant, it must be borne in mind that Parliament electing Ranil President or MPs changing their voting patterns or the imposition of the Emergency or the crackdown on protesters have all been studiously done according to the strict letter of the constitution. MPs had followed the law to a fault.

It is also wise for MPs et al to ponder the words vaguely attributed to one of America’s founding fathers, Patrick Henry: ‘The Constitution is not a document for the government to restrain the people: it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.’

Lanka’s first home-made electric car to hit the road

MOKSHA, Sri Lanka’s first home-made electric car made its debut entrance this week and may well be the nation’s answer for liberation from fuel dependency when she takes to the roads shortly as planned.

Unveiled by pioneering automaker Nalin Welgama’s Ideal Motors on Thursday at a launch ceremony held at JAIC Hilton, the ‘people’s EV car,’ has been modelled on the iconic Austin Mini Moke and boasts the potential to attract her 4.5 million target customers.

MOKSHA: Lanka’s 1st People EV car is aimed at a 4.5 million target group

The smart, chic and compact four-door wonder is designed to carry four, including the driver, and can do a marathon 200km on a single overnight charge, coming as it does with a special 22 kilowatt hour Lithium battery. The air-conditioned interior, comes with a 7 inch multimedia touchscreen that users can access information and music to better enjoy the drive.

The world’s first modern-day electric car was the Tesla Roadster, a battery electric sports car modelled on the Lotus, made by Tesla Motors in 2008. Ideal’s Moksha — heaven or liberation in Sanskrit — has not lagged far behind but has come hard on the wheels of Tesla’s Roadster to join the new wave of electric cars.

Ideal Motors of the Ideal Group says it hopes the eco-friendly electric car will make a substantial contribution towards a sustainable carbon neutral future. The only question left to ask is who left the gates of heaven open for this electrified miracle to drive out?


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