Wijaya Kumaratunga Memorial Oration EXERPTS
These are two excerpts from the Memorial Oration delivered by President and CEO of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s on ‘The Crisis in Governance in South Asia,’ commemorating the 25th death anniversary of Wijaya Kumaratunga.
“I am just quoting a passage from the great German historian Heinrich Meyer from a biography of Julius Caesar. This passage will remind you of so many South Asian politicians, It certainly reminds me of Indira Gandhi, very vividly, and many other State leaders. Heinrich Meyer describes Caesar as, being insensitive to political institutions and to the way they operate. He was unable to see them as autonomous entities. He could see them only as instruments of his power or as instruments in an interplay of forces. He had no feeling for the power of institutions, to guarantee law and safety. But he had only feelings for what he found troublesome about them! In Caesar’s eyes no one existed or no institution existed, except if it was useful as it were for him “The people were not the people; they were either supporters or opponents. The scene was thus denuded of any impersonal institutions; and politics became a fight for the leader’s own rights”. This authoritarian temptation is very prevalent in South Asian politics. I don’t think it represents the majority public opinion. But when you have the best lacking all conviction, you can see the temptation to have things as it were as politicians speak things up. So how do we move the equilibrium back to a political culture which understands institutions. It is going to be the second big challenge of democracy. Public opinion and Institutions are the two backbones of democracy if you get these two wrong, everything else follows”
“My confidence comes from the fact that, if you talk to young people, even if they do not articulate it, they are ready for a paradigm shift in our politics. From old administrative practices to new administrative practices; from identities being prisons, to identities being freely chosen. And from looking upon the world as a place they can go out and conquer, I am using conquer metaphorically, rather than as a place that is beating them down and keeping them in that place. I think nothing would perhaps serve Wijaya Kumaratunga’s memory better than if he had actually seized the promise of this moment; all our elites, political, bureaucratic, civil, military, and recognize that South Asia can now move beyond being a perpetual under achiever. That we can create a civilization that lives like Wijaya Kumaratunga’s will not be cut short by political violence; that each of us gets to write our own story, sing our own song and enjoy the exuberance which so manifestly comes out in his movies but which is alas so much at variance with the politics we experience”.