What Narendra Modi should learn from Mahinda Rajapaksa's shock defeat

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The surprising loss of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the just held presidential election in Sri Lanka leaves behind a very significant lesson for the rulers and followers in any democratic set-up.

Does the result in Lanka hold any relevance for neighbour India? Does Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi need to think over the growing political undercurrent that threw away a powerful incumbent like Rajapaksa?


Of course, he needs to along with his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which stormed into power last May after reducing almost every opponent into ashes.

The BJP's landslide victory brought the days of single-party majority back in India after three long decades and the saffron party's good run continued even in subsequent elections in various states of the Union.

The BJP formed governments in states like Maharashtra and Haryana for the first time and also bagged the highest vote-share in Jammu and Kashmir.

Does majority politics guarantee success in a democracy always?

But does majority politics secure the ruler's future in a democracy where first-past-the-post system rules?

Sri Lanka showed it doesn't. Rajapaksa's growing authoritarianism and nepotism did not get a decisive approval in the election even though he had the resources at his disposal and rather the mandate sought opening up of the democratic space despite his majority-centric appeal.

Sri Lanka rejected majoritarianism nationalism of Rajapaksa regime

Sri Lanka clearly rejected the tendency towards a centralised rule, the domination of the majoritarian nationalism and instead expressed its preference for multiculturalism and accommodation of the minorities and allowing voices outside the shadow of the presidency to have a say in affairs of governance.

Appeasing the majority too much also leads to the ruler's fall in a democracy

The mandate was also a rejection of the Rajapaksa regime's indifference towards the issue of human rights and choosing a collision course with the West and trying to balance the situation with an excessive tilting towards China.

Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa's challenger, benefitted from this sentiment.

Modi is not authoritarian but the saffron camp's aggressive majoritarianism is worrying

Modi certainly is not a Rajapaksa in terms of the centralising tendency, at least his first seven months in office hasn't hint at such a development.

But the saffron camp's visibly going overboard while displaying an aggressive brand of cultural nationalism centred around a monolithic identity is definitely a reason to feel worried about.

Modi's rise to power was facilitated by the previous regime's failure in governance and the general hopelessness about its leadership.

Both Rajapaksa and Modi rose in a period of hopelessness

The former Gujarat chief minister, thanks to an unmatched campaign mission, emerged as the only viable alternative to a beleaguered regime.

In Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa's rise in 2005 was also aided by similar circumstances of chaos and pessimism that strengthened his hands and he emerged as an unchallenged leader of the nation to rule it for a decade.

Rajapaksa didn't try using his political power for reconciliation

But Rajapaksa's fall was made imminent by his own politics which only catered to its majority Sinhalese base and did not bother to take the minority Tamils along with him.

Members of Modi's party are often going overboard about cultural and communal superiority

In case of Modi, the reckless speeches made by his own ministers and MPs to appease the majority sentiments and the snowballing controversy on religious conversions across the country are certainly not going to help the prime minister's image in the days to come.

For many, Modi has become the prime minister for at least a decade for there is no alternative before the country now to replace him.

But as we have just seen in Sri Lanka, even numerical and communal majority do not always ensure a prolonged stay in power and Modi must ensure that the massive mandate that his party received in the last general election is utilised to deepen the cultural democracy in the country and not widen the fault lines.

That will be a disaster for the world's biggest democracy.

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