Content writer Malaka Premasiri watches gruesome footage on his television in the hill station of Candy, Sri Lanka, as he watched protesters vent their anger as they ransacked the presidential estate to overthrow President Gotabaya. He is disappointed that the Sri Lankan Parliament chose Ranil Wickremesinghe who until recently was Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and resigned for the election of a new Prime Minister and President. The island nation has lacked a strong leader for years and has seen a swing of leadership change hands since gaining independence from the British.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, I have traveled to various countries and also met people of foreign origin in India. The people I met over the past two months were foreigners from the west as well as citizens of our neighboring countries. In the dark times of the world of 2022, as the planet plunges into an overheated summer, the war in Ukraine, global inflation and a looming financial crisis, every country faces an uncertain future, including developed countries.
As the United States struggles with its diminished influence in the world, the United Kingdom is busy choosing its next Prime Minister, Russia is burning Ukraine under the helpless gaze of Europe, and the Indian neighborhood is ablaze with political instability calling into question the future of these countries. Pakistan has just overthrown Imran Khan following a vote of no confidence, installing Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif as Pakistan’s 23rd Prime Minister. Imran Khan’s long-awaited tenure, which began with the promise of ‘Naya Pakistan’, ended as a dud amid a soaring budget deficit, balance-of-payments crisis and… a shrinking current account deficit. Although he is trying to relaunch his political career, the political stability of our bitter neighbor seems far-fetched.
Since Bidya Devi Bhandari was sworn in on October 28, 2015, she has seen five prime ministers in seven years in Nepal. The oft-repeated Prime Minister of Nepal, Sher Bahadur Deuba took office on July 13, 2021 and is the current Prime Minister. His predecessor Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s closeness to China did not bode well for his relations with India. Nepal has traditionally lacked a strong and visionary leader to lead the mountainous country on the path to progress. On India’s far right, Afghanistan has a historical set of problems of its own that never allow the country to develop. The return of the Taliban and harsh Islamic rule set the country back more than twenty years, undoing all the social advances made by progressive administrations after the overthrow of the Taliban. As the West has abandoned Afghanistan to its fate, after perpetuating a war decades ago, the country is rapidly receding into oblivion.
The most recent and famous case is that of Sri Lanka where their President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore via the Maldives after plunging the country into unprecedented chaos. Sweeping decisions in 2019 sealed the fate of Sri Lanka, which relies heavily on tourism and exports to keep its balance of payments under control. Although the country has been bailed out by the IMF several times since 1965, another bailout appears to be the only option despite India’s billions as a line of credit. India’s political stability has been a source of inspiration and envy to neighboring South Asian economies that have lacked visionary leadership since their inception.
India has had a remarkable journey from Nehru to Modi, a glorious history of 75 years. As we enter our 75th Independence Day celebrations, a recap of the political stability provided by India’s rulers since 1947 has become one of India’s greatest strengths. Although Nehru became the Deputy Chairman of the Viceroy’s Executive Council from September 2, 1946 to August 15, 1947, he became the first Indian Prime Minister of the Dominion of India from August 15, 1947 to January 26, 1950 and after that India became a republic, he became the Prime Minister of the Republic of India on January 26, 1950 and wielded unchallenged power until his death from a heart attack on May 27, 1964. Indeed, Nehru was the central figure of governance in India from September 2, 1946 to May 27, 1964, which is 6478 days or 17 years, 8 months, 26 days. Such a long tenure helped Nehru provide initial stability to India and establish IITs, IIMs, space research, atomic research, banking, education, dams, hydel projects and other projects infrastructure to lay the foundations of the Indian state. Compared to Nehru’s 17-year stability, Pakistan had seven prime ministers from 1947 to 1958 and four presidents (position started in 1958) in 1964. Sri Lanka claimed seven prime ministers from 1947 to 1964 and Nepal had fifteen prime ministers ministers from 1947 to 1964! Having stable leadership in its early years over long periods of time is always beneficial for the new country.
After Nehru, Indira Gandhi was at the helm for 15 years and 350 days in two periods while Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao took office for five years each. In the era of coalition politics, AB Vajpayee managed the difficult task of managing a 27-party government under the National Democratic Alliance which ruled the country for a total of 6 years and 80 days until 2004. Manmohan Singh who is credited with taking the Indian economy to its first trillion ruled India for 10 years and 4 days in a delicate multi-party coalition under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and has yet managed to lead India to its zenith with the highest GDP growth in his tenure. Narendra Modi wowed India with his impressive election victory in 2014 and provided a full majority with stability for two successive terms with his 8th year underway. In all, India has seen 14 Prime Ministerial terms since 1947 while Sri Lanka has had 26 Prime Ministerial terms with rotating leadership of key figures while Nepal has seen 55 Prime Ministerial terms since 1947 with the Pakistan with 23 terms of their Prime Minister!
Despite the failures of its coalition, caretaker prime ministers and short governments in 1978-80, 1989-91, 1996-98, India was blessed with the steady and progressive leadership of prime ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, AB Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi. Frequent changes of government and political leaders have taken their toll on our neighbours, but India’s pride in this 75th year of independence is its political stability.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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