Representation and Stability: Experiences of the Indian and the Sri...

Representation and Stability: Experiences of the Indian and the Sri Lankan Constitutions

High Commission of India in Sri Lanka and Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS), University of Colombo celebrated the Constitution Day of India on 25 November 2016 at the Senate Hall, University of Colombo. To commemorate the occasion, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Founding Chair of LIRNEasia, delivered a speech on “Representation and Stability: Experiences of the Indian and the Sri Lankan Constitutions”. Mr. Y.K. Sinha, High Commissioner of India, Colombo was the Chief Guest. Senior Professor Lakshman Dissanayake, Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo was the Guest of Honour. Mr. Arindam Bagchi, Deputy High Commissioner of India; Professor Nayani Melegoda, Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies; Professor Sandagomi Coperahewa, Director – CCIS; senior officials of the High Commission of India; other invitees from various walks of life; serving and retired Professors from the University and many students attended the event.

2.            On the occasion, an extract from the movie “Constitution”, directed by noted filmmaker Shyam Benegal, was also screened. The movie clip depicted the concluding address by Dr B R Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, to the Constituent Assembly members, where he shared his vision of the Constitution of India.

3.            High Commissioner Mr Y K Sinha highlighted the importance of the Constitution Day and elaborated upon the constitution making process in India leading to the adoption the Constitution, which forms the bedrock of Indian democracy today.  High Commissioner said that the immediate challenge confronting Indians at the time of independence was to frame a document which would govern the socio-politico-legal architecture of India in the years ahead. The task was given to the Constituent Assembly to deliberate upon and come out with a document which would shape the future of India. The Constituent Assembly consisted of about 300 men and women representing various shades of political opinion, cultures, religions and ethnicities and was derived from different parts of India. Highlighting the elaborate debates during the constitution making process, High Commissioner said that it was a democratic process to discuss pertinent issues arising out of the cultural practices prevalent at that time. These included issues such as the relationship between centre and states, sharing of resources and separation of powers between the legislature, judiciary and executive. High Commissioner credited the Constituent Assembly for coming out with a dynamic and living document, the Constitution of India, which not only nurtures the democratic traditions of India but also celebrates its rich cultural diversity. High Commissioner remarked that the Indian constitution making process was a lengthy one as it deliberated on all issues concerning the future of Indian citizens. 

4.            Speaking on “Representation and stability: Experiences of the Indian and Sri Lankan Constitutions” Prof. Rohan Samarajiva highlighted the relevance of the Constitution making process, as Sri Lanka herself is undergoing through the process of Constitutional and electoral reforms. Prof Samarajiva pointed out the importance of Constitutional and electoral reforms and mentioned that during the 2015 Presidential Elections, both presidential candidates emphasized electoral reforms in their manifestoes. Prof Samarajiva termed the Constitution of India as a living document as, since its adoption through a broadly consultative process, it has been amended a hundred and one times and a body of interpretation and customs has been built up around it. Elaborating on the balance between Representation and Stability, Prof Samarajiva discussed the merits and demerits of First Past the Post and Proportional Representation systems. Prof Samarajiva also mentioned that the current Constitutional reform process in Sri Lanka can draw useful lessons from the Indian Constitution with regard to the overall architecture and the manner in which different elements interact to produce an effective polity.  He further mentioned that stability cannot be narrowly defined as the ability to form a government that can pass a budget or survive a no-confidence motion, and a Constitution that alienates a significant proportion of the citizenry, to the extent of causing them to seek to secede or to violently overthrow the state, cannot be described as contributing to stability. Bringing forth the importance of the Second House, Prof Samarajiva mentioned that continuance of sub-national governments merits serious consideration for a Second House as this could be the foundation of effective center-province coordination, which are dysfunctional at present. Prof Samarajiva concluded that “With regard to the discussions on how to balance representation and stability, the Indian Constitution’s relevance is not in terms of the electoral system per se, but is in terms of the overall architecture.  Including all three levels of government, clearly specifying how they relate to each other and how responsibilities are divided up would be useful.  Most importantly, Sri Lanka should consider restoring the bicameral legislature it abandoned in 1971 by including a second house to ensure adequate representation of the provinces and the geographically dispersed minorities.  It is through effective representation embedded in an intelligently designed Constitutional architecture that a democratic polity ensures stability.” 

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