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Midweek Review

Death of a President: rush to judgment



UNP’s Defeat-III

By Jayantha Somasundaram

“An attack upon a King is considered to be parricide against the state, and the jury and the witnesses, even the judges are the children. It is fit on that account that there should be a solemn pause before we rush to judgement”

Lord Chancellor Thomas Erskine

By 1993, the UNP had been wracked by internecine warfare that had seen its leader locked in a destructive frenzy.

On 23 April 1993, while addressing an election meeting Lalith Athulathmudali was shot and killed. His funeral was a replay of Denzil Kobbekaduwa’s; opposition supporters turned ugly, attacking supporters of Premadasa and his government. “The assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali has removed from the Sri Lankan scene the politician most hated by President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Few observers of Sri Lankan affairs were surprised at the speed with which the authorities discovered the corpse of the alleged gunman, who just happened to be carrying his identity papers which showed he was a member of the Tamil Tigers. Athulathmudali’s family were not impressed by the diligence of the police. They refused to permit either Premadasa or any of his cohorts to mourn at their house.” (The Independent, London 27/4/93)

“First they pick on an underworld gunman, reputedly the best marksman of the lot, and train him on the firing ranges of the STF. Then you kidnap an innocent helpless Tamil…when Athulathmudali is killed you bump off Ragunathan and dump him identity card and all, close to the spot where the shooting took place.” (Editorial The Observer 24/4/96)

“Scepticism was widespread and anti-government violence broke out during Athulathmudali’s funeral. Anonymous leaflets sent to embassies alleged that a government minister had hired two professional killers to do the job…After Premadasa’s death many Sri Lankans clearly felt that a kind of justice had been done.” (Far Eastern Economic Review 13/5/93)

Radhika Coomaraswamy recalled that Lakshman Kadirgamar “was loyal to friends – when Lalith Athulathmudali was assassinated he stood firmly by his widow, interrogating and questioning Scotland Yard as they had been put in charge of the investigations, insisting that it was not the LTTE but another force that had killed his friend.” ( 13/8/15)

Mrs Srimani Athulathmudali “called for a commission to probe her husband’s death because she believed that President Premadasa was the force behind the assassination.” (Daily News 13/1/98) On the basis of the commission’s findings four accused, including a UNP Provincial Council Minister and two members of the police were charged but were released in 2003 due to the lack of evidence.

Agence France-Presse reported on 7 October 1997, “An investigation into the killings of former minister Lalith Athulathmudali and army General Denzil Kobbekaduwa found that President Premadasa was “directly responsible for the two killings.”

Fatal Mistake

The assassinations of Athulathmudali and Kobbekaduwa were fatal mistakes. Both leaders commanded the loyalty of the military hierarchy, Athulathmudali going back to his time as Minster of National Security. Many in the military were bitter about Premadasa arming the LTTE. “Every time one of my men gets his leg blown off,” said an army captain in 1990,”I think of our president.” (Asiaweek 12/5/93)

The response was therefore immediate as it was devastating. A week after the Athulathmudali assassination on May Day, Premadasa, his supporters and his security detail including Ronnie Gunasinghe were killed in a massive bomb blast in Colombo. It was not an assassination. It was the obliteration of Premadasa by his detractors.

At the inquest DIG CID Amarasena Rajapaksa, who was an eye witness said, “I was under the impression that the President had been taken away to safety. That was because the President’s vehicle and his security staff (including Ronnie Gunasinghe) were missing.” Only Premadasa’s wristwatch survived.

Evidence if any was immediately removed. “A mysterious force ordered the washing of the murder scene as soon as my father was assassinated,” complained Premadasa’s son Sajith, “critical of the conduct of the UNP-led government after the assassination.” (BBC 31/8/05)

Premadasa’s supporters vented their fury on the opposition. “Opposition supporters in Mount Lavinia complained of attacks apparently by government supporters,” reported the London Times. “Mount Lavinia was the stronghold of Athulathmudali, who was assassinated just over a week ago. Lalith’s party had blamed the government for his murder.” Newsweek (10/5/93) said “Premadasa’s assassination may have been in retaliation for Athulathmudali’s.”

The Opposition celebrated. “When his death was announced hundreds across the country lit firecrackers,” reported Asiaweek (12/5/93) “Police were quick to blame the Tamil Tiger separatists for both assassinations. But many people suspected the President’s men killed Athulathmudali and these same people are ready to believe that Athulathmudali’s followers murdered the President in revenge.

“There is growing suspicion among grief-stricken Sri Lankans that the two political leaders … were killed by one another’s supporters,” concluded Asian commentator Andre Malan in The West Australian (4/5/93)

“A statement from the opposition party, the Democratic Front, issued by Gamini Dissanayake, a former government minister, said: “This is a culmination of a process of violence which has accumulated during the last four years (Premadasa was President of Sri Lanka from 2 January 1989 to 1 May 1993). The fact that very valuable men were victims of that violence will perhaps be the epitaph of this regime.” (The New York Times 2/5/93)

Premadasa’s death was not mere murder it was a political coup. The vacuous Wijetunga became President but it was Ranil Wickremesinghe, who stepped in as prime minister, retaking power for the UNP’s Govigama establishment. Every Premadasa loyalist from Cooray downwards was stripped of office. All Premadasas functionaries in the police from DIG A. C. Lawrence downwards were neutralised. Gamini Dissanayake returned to lead the UNP and the following year and was selected as the UNP candidate for the presidential election. However, Premadasa propagandists reserve their bitterest invective for Ranil, sensing that he was the fifth column planted by the Govigama establishment inside Premadasa’s inner circle.

Conspiracy Theories

On October 24th 1994 Gamini Dissanayake along with 53 others, many of them his close supporters, were killed by a bomb explosion. The Economist (29/10/94) speculated that “possible suspects include Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists (who assassinated Mrs Kumaratunga’s father in 1959), senior army officers (who tried to stage a military coup just before August parliamentary elections) and anti-Tiger paramilitary groups. After three decades of frequently controversial political activity, Mr Dissanayake also had made many enemies, some of them within the UNP itself. In most countries, such possibilities would be dismissed as conspiracy theories. But in Sri Lanka the customs of civilised democratic life have yet to recover from a decade of violence and dislocation.”

“Sri Lankan investigators have closed probes into the assassinations of Ranasinghe Premadasa and Gamini Dissanayake … while the Premadasa assassination probe was dropped as ‘there was no evidence to indict any of the suspects,’ the Dissanayake case was ‘abandoned’ as all the ‘files had been lost.’” (The Hindu 5/9/05)

The UNP had disintegrated in a brutal internecine struggle to the death which decimated its leadership. The party had effectively consumed itself. No one from the UNP has since been able to secure the presidency that Jayewardene crafted for his party. So, the first time it was a tragedy with the score in 1994 at half time reading one nil.

The UNP leadership devolved on Wickremesinghe while the Premadasa loyalists never returned to the UNP; they distanced themselves from the party. That is until Sajith Premadasa entered politics. He marked time for two decades waiting for Wickremesinghe to step down so that he could claim what he considered his birthright. When this prospect grew dimmer the tussle of the past began to re-emerge with a haunting familiarity.

After a shabby term in office the UNP handed Premadasa Junior a poisoned chalice in 2019, when he was given the UNP nomination for the Presidential Election. It was almost as if the UNP old guard wanted the young man to lose and discredit himself and thereby permanently undermining his claims to party leadership.

Nine months later when the Parliamentary Elections came around in August 2020 the UNP compelled Sajith Premadasa to go it on his own, denying him the political imprimatur of the Grand Old Party. Perhaps, the motive was to ensure that Premadasa failed a second time and would be humiliated and discredited so that his challenge to the prevailing UNP leadership would be squashed and rendered no longer credible.

But on August 5th the tables were cynically turned. While Premadasa and his freshly minted party proved no match for the Rajapaksa juggernaut, he emerged unquestioningly as the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament to be. And it was Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP that suffered a crushing fatal defeat, greater than 1956; being virtually driven out of national politics.

It was almost as if history repeated itself, but this time as farce.

In August 2020, it is the final whistle and the score reads one each.




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Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’



It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.


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Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits



By Satyajith Andradi


Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.


Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.


Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.


Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).


Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.


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Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough



By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?


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