a) Back to the chessboard?

Sri Lanka’s local government election held on February 10 has become more than a mid-term poll that usually helps the opposition. Rather, it has led to an immediate political crisis of sorts, threatening the stability of the present government.

While the disunited ruling coalition, jointly headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has lost the election badly, the newly formed Sri Lanka People’s Front, unofficially backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has secured a sweeping victory in provinces except in the north and east.

Pressure points

There are two dimensions to the crisis. The first is the pressure from the Rajapaksa camp for the Wickremesinghe government to resign, interpreting the local government election as a on the government as well as a loss of its popular mandate of 2015. The government can easily dismiss that pressure by showing that Mr. Rajapaksa’s new party polled only 44% of the referendum popular vote this time while the parties that were partners in the coalition that brought them into power in 2015 have nearly 52% of votes between them.

Besides, the outcome of the local government election has no direct bearing on the government’s parliamentary majority. Mr. Rajapaksa has only about 50 MPs. Thus, the balance of power within Parliament has not been altered, and it is likely to remain that way unless the ruling coalition breaks up.

It is in that sense that the second dimension is more serious than the first. The hostility and disunity between the two centres of power of the ruling coalition — one headed by Mr. Sirisena and the other by Mr. Wickremesinghe — has shaken the very foundations of the government. Mr. Wickremesinghe heads the United National Party (UNP), which is the largest component of the coalition with 106 MPs. Mr. Sirisena heads the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), with only 37 MPs with him in the coalition government. The local election showed 32% voter support for Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP —and Mr. Sirisena’s UPFA and SLFP polled a low 12%.

The discord build-up

The discord between the President and the Prime Minister has been building up for over a year on a mixture of policy and personal issues. The President has been open in saying that Mr. Wickremesinghe and his ministers had been mishandling the economy, slowing down the investigation into alleged corruption by the Rajapaksa family, and even engaging in large-scale corruption while preaching clean governance. Mr. Sirisena also felt that Mr. Wickremesinghe has been ignoring him on policy issues. Thus, due to the simmering disharmony, bitterness and mutual distrust, the Sirisena and Wickremesinghe camps of the government could not even contest this election as a coalition. Once in the fray as competitors, the two main parties of the coalition quickly transformed themselves into rivals and adversaries.

In the backdrop of the escalating cold war between the two leaders was a major policy failure of the government — a massive financial fraud that was committed during the central bank’s bond sales in 2015. This was under the new government, within three months of its coming to power on a platform of corruption-free good governance.

Much of the blame for the bond sales fraud was laid at the door of the Prime Minister by the opposition and the media for allowing it to happen and then attempting a cover-up. Amidst a public outcry, Mr. Sirisena appointed a commission last year to investigate the fraud. In its report, submitted to the President late last year, the commission recommended the prosecution of the bank’s former Governor, his son-in-law and their accomplices. This was a blow against the government, and caused further deterioration of relations between the President and the Prime Minister.

The issue dominated campaigning for the local government election, which began early in December, with Mr. Sirisena targeting the UNP. He also pledged that he was going to clean up the government after the election, indirectly suggesting a change in the composition of the cabinet.

It is this conflict that exploded in February 11 soon after the election results showed Mr. Rajapaksa’s new party winning comfortably. Mr. Sirisena began to search for a replacement for Mr. Wickremesinghe, despite not having the constitutional authority to sack or appoint the Prime Minister or members of the cabinet. Mr. Sirisena failed to make any headway after two days of manoeuvring. Alive to the threat, UNP Ministers and MPs, even amidst fresh divisions, have now closed ranks against Mr. Sirisena. By the night of February 13, the UNP began a line of action independent of Mr. Sirisena and his SLFP/UPFA and then to reconstitute the coalition government.

In this scenario, the UNP envisages an outcome in which Mr. Wickremesinghe will continue as the Prime Minister of a reconfigured coalition government, with a much weakened Mr. Sirisena as President. Mr. Wickremesinghe has 106 UNP MPs in the 225-member Parliament.

There is speculation that nearly a dozen SLFP Ministers, who are currently with Mr. Sirisena, are ready to join Mr. Wickremesinghe’s new government in case of a clear split between the two leaders. There is also speculation that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is ready to offer conditional outside support to Mr. Wickremesinghe. Devolution, peace building and constitutional reform are sure to be the themes of those conditions.

There is another scenario in which Mr. Sirisena will continue to insist on Mr. Wickremesinghe’s resignation as Prime Minister. This will certainly deepen the crisis because the UNP is no mood to lose the power struggle. As mentioned earlier, the President is reported to be searching for a replacement for Mr. Wickremesinghe from among senior members of the UNP, but with limited success. A part of Mr. Sirisena’s strategy would also be to create dissent within the UNP with a view to weakening Mr. Wickremesinghe.

Thus, the political crisis that has been precipitated by the election seems to be intensifying but is expected to end with the significant step of re-constitution of the government.

Difficulties ahead

Whatever happens, the undeclared power struggle between the two main coalition partners will have to come to an end in a new configuration of coalition forces. As things stand now, the two leaders do not seem to be giving way in the battle for supremacy within the coalition government. Reconciliation between the two coalition leaders is not in the realm of immediate possibilities, but they will have to find a framework of cohabitation given that the Rajapaksa family is waiting to move in. However, the political drama that began on February 10 is unlikely to end soon. Buoyed by the surprise win for its party which was formed just a year ago, the Rajapaksa family will continue to stake claim to power both within and outside Parliament. It will also have another chance of consolidating its newly gained electoral power in the Provincial Council elections to be held later this year. After this, presidential elections will have to be held by end-2019, followed by parliamentary elections. Sri Lanka watchers can expect more political surprises ahead.

Meanwhile, if the President and the Prime Minister do not find a framework of constructive reconciliation between them, governance in Sri Lanka will crawl along for two years. Worse still, the much-valued programme of constitutional and political reform, peace building, inter-ethnic reconciliation and democratic consolidation will enter an extended state of stalemate. Its resurgence, sadly and ironically, might require another phase of democratic setback.

  1. b) Mind the perimeter: On J&K terror attacks

The number of casualties in the terror attack on the Sunjuwan Army base in Jammu has risen to seven after clearing operations. The garrison of the 36 Brigade of Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry was attacked last Saturday by a small group of heavily armed terrorists that managed to enter the residential quarters of soldiers. While three terrorists were killed, six soldiers and a civilian lost their lives. Many more sustained injuries. This is the latest in a series of attacks on military installations over the last few years. The worrisome aspect is the repeated success of terrorists in infiltrating high-security military complexes. As in every case, the Army will conduct a court of inquiry into the incident to identify lapses. However, the Sunjuwan attack exposes the vulnerabilities in perimeter security and the scant progress made in improving the security protocol since the attack on the Pathankot Air Force station in January 2016. Since then, there have been major attacks in Uri, Handwara, Nagrota and Panzgam, with significant casualties. In the aftermath of Pathankot, a committee headed by a former Army vice chief, Lt General Philip Campose, undertook a security audit of all military bases across the country. It identified sensitive installations and recommended measures to fortify them. In addition, in July 2017 the government delegated substantial financial powers to the three services to strengthen perimeter security at military installations. The Sunjuwan attack underscores the need for speedy measures on the ground, beyond the inquiries and policy announcements, to overhaul the system.

As the terror attack in Jammu was under way, the Defence Ministry sanctioned ₹1,487 crore to strengthen sensitive military installations across the country as per the recommendations of a 2016 audit. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has also directed the Army to complete its implementation by the end of the year. This impetus is welcome, but the implementation must be broad-based, and go beyond ad hoc measures. It must be borne in mind that a successful attack does not necessarily mean that the soldier on the ground is lax in performing his duties. Many bases along the border are located in tough terrain, and are in close proximity to civilian dwellings, demanding care from the soldier to avoid civilian casualties in crossfire while adhering to the standard operating procedures. For a country that takes pride in its modern, technologically advanced military, India still relies heavily on putting more boots on the ground and on the calibre of the soldier. It is time the Defence Ministry adopted a holistic approach, making sure that the soldier is fully backed by technology and calibrated security drills. Preventing terrorists from scoring a strike is the best defence.


1) Coalition

Meaning: A temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government.

Example: “A coalition between Liberals and Conservatives”

Synonyms: Alliance, Union

2) Sweeping

Meaning: Wide in range or effect.

Example: “We cannot recommend any sweeping alterations”

Synonyms: Extensive, Wide-ranging

Antonyms: Narrow, Restricted, Limited

3) Referendum

Meaning: A general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.

Example: “He called for a referendum on the death penalty”

Synonyms: Public vote, Plebiscite

4) Hostility

Meaning: Hostile behaviour; unfriendliness or opposition.

Example: “Their hostility to all outsiders”

Synonyms: Antagonism, Unfriendliness

Antonyms: Friendliness, Approval

5) Discord

Meaning: Disagreement between people.

Example: “A prosperous family who showed no signs of discord”

Synonyms: Strife, Conflict

Antonyms: Agreement, Accord,

6) Alleged

Meaning: Said, without proof, to have taken place or to have a specified illegal or undesirable quality.

Example: “The alleged conspirators”

Synonyms: Supposed, So-called

7) Preaching

Meaning: Give moral advice to someone in a pompously self-righteous way.

Example: “Viewers want to be entertained, not preached at”

Synonyms: Moralize, Be moralistic

8) Simmering

Meaning: Show or feel barely suppressed anger or other strong emotion.

Example: “She was simmering with resentment”

Synonyms: Be furious, Be enraged

9) Fray

Meaning: A situation of intense competitive activity.

Example: “Ten companies intend to bid for the contract, with three more expected to enter the fray”

10) Adversaries

Meaning: One’s opponent in a contest, conflict, or dispute.

Example: “Davis beat his old adversary in the quarter-finals”

Synonyms: Opponent, Rival

Antonyms: Ally, Supporter

11) Escalating

Meaning: Increase rapidly.

Example: “The price of tickets escalated”

Synonyms: Increase rapidly, Soar

Antonyms: Plunge

12) Cold war

Meaning: A state of extreme unfriendliness existing between countries, especially countries with opposing political systems, that expresses itself not through fighting but through political pressure and threats. The expression is usually used of the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union after the Second World War.

13) Prosecution

Meaning: The institution and conducting of legal proceedings against someone in respect of a criminal charge.

Example: “The organizers are facing prosecution for noise nuisance”

14) Deterioration

Meaning: The process of becoming progressively worse.

Example: “A deterioration in the condition of the patient”

Synonyms: Worsening, Decline

Antonyms: Improvement

15) Clean up

Meaning: An act of putting an end to immorality or crime.

Example: “A clean-up of the more open violence had begun”

16) Amidst

Meaning: Surrounded by; in the middle of.

Example: “Our dream home, set amid magnificent rolling countryside”

Synonyms: In the middle of, surrounded by

Antonyms: Surrounding

17) Reconstitute

Meaning: Build up again from parts; reconstruct.

Example: “His skeleton was reconstituted and exhibited in University College”

18) Envisages

Meaning: Contemplate or conceive of as a possibility or a desirable future event.

Example: “The Rome Treaty envisaged free movement across frontiers”

Synonyms: Foresee, Predict

19) Speculation

Meaning: The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.

Example: “There has been widespread speculation that he plans to quit”

Synonyms: Conjecture, Theorizing

20) Devolution

Meaning: The transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration.

Example: “Demands for electoral reform and devolution”

Synonyms: Decentralization, Delegation

21) Insist on

Meaning: To keep doing something, even if it annoys other people, or people think it is not good for you.

Example: “I don’t know why you insist on talking about it”

22) Dissent

Meaning: The holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held.

Example: “There was no dissent from this view”

Synonyms: Disagreement, Lack of agreement

Antonyms: Agreement, Acceptance

23) Precipitated

Meaning: Cause (an event or situation, typically one that is undesirable) to happen suddenly, unexpectedly, or prematurely.

Example: “The incident precipitated a political crisis”

Synonyms: Bring about, Bring on

24) Reconciliation

Meaning: The restoration of friendly relations.

Example: “His reconciliation with your uncle”

Synonyms: Reuniting, Reunion

Antonyms: Estrangement, Alienation

25) Realm

Meaning: A field or domain of activity or interest.

Example: “The realm of applied chemistry”

Synonyms: Domain, Sphere

26) Cohabitation

Meaning: The state or fact of living or existing at the same time or in the same place.

Example: “A harmonious cohabitation with other living creatures”

27) Buoyed

Meaning: Make (someone) cheerful and confident.

Example: “She was buoyed up by his praise”

Synonyms: Cheer up, Brighten up

Antonyms: Depress

28) Crawl

Meaning: Behave obsequiously or ingratiatingly in the hope of gaining someone’s favour.

Example: “A reporter’s job can involve crawling to objectionable people”

Synonyms: Grovel to, Be obsequious towards

29) Stalemate

Meaning: A situation in which further action or progress by opposing or competing parties seems impossible.

Example: “The war had again reached stalemate”

Synonyms: Deadlock, Impasse

30) Resurgence

Meaning: An increase or revival after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence.

Example: “A resurgence of interest in religion”

Synonyms: Renewal, Revival

31) Casualties

Meaning: A person or thing badly affected by an event or situation.

Example: “The building industry has been one of the casualties of the recession”

Synonyms: Victim, Sufferer

32) Worrisome

Meaning: Causing anxiety or concern.

Example: “A worrisome problem”

Synonyms: Worrying, Daunting

33) Aftermath

Meaning: The consequences or after-effects of a significant unpleasant event.

Example: “Food prices soared in the aftermath of the drought”

Synonyms: Repercussions, After-effects, By-product

34) Fortify

Meaning: Strengthen (someone) mentally or physically.

Example: “The girl was fortified by her religious faith”

Synonyms: Invigorate, Strengthen

Antonyms: Sedate, Subdue

35) Overhaul

Meaning: Analyse and improve (a system).

Example: “Moves to overhaul the income tax system”

36) Impetus

Meaning: Something that makes a process or activity happen or happen more quickly.

Example: “The ending of the Cold War gave new impetus to idealism”

Synonyms: Motivation, Stimulus

37) Ad hoc

Meaning: Created or done for a particular purpose as necessary.

Example: “The discussions were on an ad hoc basis”

Synonyms: Impromptu, Extempore

38) Lax

Meaning: Not sufficiently strict, severe, or careful.

Example: “Lax security arrangements at the airport”

Synonyms: Slack, Slipshod

Antonyms: Stern, Careful

39) Crossfire

Meaning: Gunfire from two or more directions passing through the same area.

Example: “A photographer was killed in crossfire”

40) Boots on the ground

Meaning: Ground troops who are on active service in a military operation.

Example: “They could have gone to their allies and got more boots on the ground”

Check the previous edition of THE HINDU Editorial to learn more words and to ace the English section in the forthcoming exams.




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