Indian hand in South Sudan constitution

July 7th, 2011 - 3:02 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 7 (IANS) As South Sudan celebrates its formal birth as Africa’s newest nation on July 9, its constitution, in the process of being drafted, will have an Indian hand in it.

“South Sudan has watched the political and constitutional developments in India with great interest and believe that there is a lot that a country like South Sudan can gain from that experience,” said Sandeep Shastri, pro vice-chancellor at Bangalore’s Jain University who is helping draft the statute of the country.

“South Sudan is looking at the experience of democracies like India,” Shastri told IANS in a telephonic interview from his office in Bangalore, India’s IT hub.

An international consultant with the Forum of Federations, a Canada-based think-tank, Shastri is the only Indian involved with public debates being held across South Sudan, a country of over 8 million people, in the run-up to framing the constitution.

Interestingly, India’s first election commissioner Sukumar Sen conducted elections in undivided Sudan nearly 60 years ago.

The Republic of South Sudan, that came into being after residents of the land-locked territory voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to secede from the rest of Sudan, will officially celebrate the founding of the nation July 9 (Saturday) in its capital Juba as Africa’s 54th nation.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari will represent India at the celebrations.

Shastri said he had an intensive dialogue with political parties including the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in South Sudan, on the federal process and underlined that federalism could be a solution to challenges faced by multi-ethnic, multi-religious, plural societies.

Shastri, whose interest in Sudan was kindled way back when he struck friendship with Sudanese while studying in Afghanistan in the seventies, said the powers-that-be in South Sudan were looking at the Indian constitution and the Indian experience, with a special focus on federalism.

“Like the Indian constitution, the interim constitution does not refer to the country as federal even though (like in India) all the features of a typical federal system are enshrined in the constitutional document,” he said.

He pointed out to an intense debate in South Sudan on a feature of their interim constitution which permits the president to dismiss the state governments, which is very much similar to Article 356 in the Indian constitution.

With capacity building a major thrust of India’s Africa policy, Shastri plans to host a two-year MA in Public Administration to officials from African countries at Jain University, a deemed university.

“Bureaucrats, civil society activists and young politicians are enthusiastic of looking to countries like India as they believe that experience of societies like India would be very useful to them,” he said.

Some sceptics have voiced doubts that given formidable developmental challenges, South Sudan, whose territory is roughly the size of France but lacks in roads and basic infratructure, may not survive for long as an independent nation.

But such cynicism is not for Shastri. “I would prefer to be an `incorrigible optimist` on this point and believe that South Sudan has a great future as a nation,” he said.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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