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Election sends a chilling message



Sri Lanka rides a Gotabhaya surge and blends to a Sinhala-Buddhist ethos

by Kumar David

Let everyone first congratulate Deshapriya, Hoole, N.J. Abeysekara and the election staff for conducting a truly first-rate election under trying circumstances – COVID, political interference, a not very helpful AG and numerous court challenges by different interest groups against each other. We will be the poorer when their term expires and I dread to think who their replacements will be.

Recently I read somewhere that Abraham Lincoln mused “Elections belong to the people. If they choose to turn their back on the fire and burn their rumps they will have to sit on their blisters”. On August 5 the people of Sri Lanka singed their bums rather badly. The outcome is nothing to be happy about. In broad summary the results point to this:

a) We are a land soaked in Rajapaksa mystique and sodden in Sinhala-Buddhism.

b) The SLPP held on to 72% of the Sinhala-Buddhist vote and will form a strong government with MR as prime minister.

c) GR-MR have cobbled together enough for a new constitution without cross-overs or the need for Sajith who has now been rendered redundant. In this the siblings have defied predictions including even Basil’s; the way is clear for a constitutional dictatorship.

d) Sajith has wiped the floor with Ranil’s shirt and pants. He is in a position to take over the UNP name, Sri Kotha and the Elephant symbol if he is so inclined.

e) Sajith will be ineffective against Mahinda and Gota; he is no fighter. The anti-authoritarian space in Sri Lanka is a vacant lot.

f) A further reason for (e) is that the Sajith-UNP is hobbled by tensions between populists (Champika, Rajitha, Harin, Kiriella) and neo-liberals (Malik, Eran, Harsha, Fowzie). The Sajith-UNP, or SJB if it does not take over the UNP, will replace the Ranil-UNP as the focus of liberalism. From Champika to Fowzie and incorporating Sajith’s mild support of Tamil-rights that’s inevitable. In the 21-st Century liberalism will not dissolve into the village.

g) The poor performance of the JVP-NPP makes mobilisation against authoritarianism an uphill task (Sajith is of limited use for this purpose, but better he is in than out).

This and the next paragraph say things that has been on my mind for a long time but I could not utter due to electoral exigencies. That is, that there is empathy between the politico-cultural character of the people (mainly but not only the Sinhalese) and the Rajapaksa phenomenon (mystique and siblings). There is an intrinsic connection between the ethos of the people and Rajapaksaism. What the Rajapaksas signify and evoke are what Sri Lanka is; it is as comfortable a blend as fish and water. It is too simplistic to reckon that war victory enamoured Gotabhaya to the masses. No, it’s a deeper psyche than that; what the Rajapaksas denote is what the Sinhala masses are; they gel. Despite much corruption, alleged criminality, excesses of the clan and ugly crudeness “They are us; they our ours”. This landslide election victory cannot be assimilated without sensitivity to that nexus.

The formal UNP has been wiped out NOT because of corruption, ineptitude and the bond-scam. There are far bigger and bolder rogues per square centimetre in the SLPP than the UNP or in Sajith’s bandwagon. The seamless blending of Gotabhaya mystique into Sinhala consciousness, the symbiosis of the personal with the political-cultural, this is the true choreography of the drama. What the Rajapaksas emanate is what Sri Lankan polity breathes today. The motto of the government going forward will be Gotabhaya adoration more than Sinhala-Buddhism.

The small upside (c) is tempered by the realisation that MPs can and will if needed be purchased. The big downside is (g). An implacable Executive leaning on an obedient military whose loyalty to the Constitution remains untested, now supplemented by a pliant Legislature, in the context of a feeble Judiciary and a chaotic Court situation is no pretty sight. I am surprised that not many see what I see ‘darkness at noon’. Responses like Mangala Samaraweerra’s Radical Centre (RC) launched on 6 August are inadequate to the task. RC envisages a middle way of democratic decentralised governance, abolishing distrust between communities, and flourishing in pluralism and secularism. “RC is where all can discover a common humanity beyond race, creed and caste”. Decentralisation, that is devolution of administrative and political power is good, and I am pleased by RC’s call for pluralism and secularism. Mangala’s denunciation of saffron-robbed thugs and Harin Fernando’s exposure of the cardinal trickery of the Anti-Christ are in line with my own outlook. It’s high time we in Sri Lanka stood up and denounced these Neanderthal cave dwellers. But . . .

My concern is that a liberal stance will not be adequate to counter the emerging authoritarian threat. Although there are no pogroms or race riots right now, no Kristallnacht and only some state sponsored demonization of Muslims and “Eelamists”, the state of affairs in this country today is more serious than in Germany after the 1932 election. In the April 1932 presidential elections, Hitler polled 1/3 of the votes, but was defeated by Hindenburg in the July runoff. Even in the March 1933, two months after the Nazi seizure of power and after storm troopers unleashed a campaign of violence and terror, the Nazi’s could only muster 44% of the vote in federal elections. The 72% Sinhala Buddhist landslide to the SLPP last week sends a chilling message about what kind of society we are going to be. Have the days of pluralism, multi ethnicity and multi faith been buried? Of greater significance is that this is a repeat message, first broadcast at the November 2019 presidential election. Both left and liberals stand on the common ground of pluralism, but the frightening difference with Nazi Germany is that pluralism in Sri Lanka is being buried not by fascists but by the mass of the Sinhala-Buddhist population. (“Father forgive them for they know not what they do”).

What needs to be done urgently is for the minority communities, the masses who voted for the SJB and will eschew a sell-out, and the left to all pull together on a minimum programme to resist the worst, and the worst is yet to come. The economy will grind down in the coming period and a kilo of onions whether you ask for it in Sinhala, Tamil or Arabic will cost the same. Up to a million jobs will disappear by mid-2021. Whether the government defaults on foreign debt servicing remains to be seen (if it does the rupee will collapse). This is the scenario that the state is preparing to meet and deal with by repression. The people have chosen to turn their backs to a raging fire and to embrace racism, to indulge in adoration of the Rajapaksa cult and to revere antiquated cultural baggage. To use Lincoln’s terminology, they will have their posteriors fried.

Ranil is finished. At this time of writing not all the results are known but it is being said that he may not win a seat at all. The performance of the Sajith-UNP too is surprisingly poor, just 20% to 25% even in some traditional UNP strongholds. The cry of Gotabhayaism and Sinhala Buddhism was not something the Sajith-UNP could withstand. The UNPers who went with Sajith, not Ranil, are traditional greens. It’s as simple as that.

The left was quite unable to withstand the Rajapaksa tidal wave. There was no animosity that I felt during the campaign on the count that we were not Sinhala-Buddhist enough, there was no backlash of that nature at all. (I was on the NPP-JVP platform). It was much simpler, thousands said how wonderful the JVP had been in parliament but then went right ahead and voted otherwise. Ninety-five of every one hundred I spoke to were scathing in their scorn of SLPP and UNP “bloody crooks”. And of that 95%, ninety four proceeded to vote for these crooks. It’s a schizophrenia that I have not seen anywhere else in the world.

The last matter of interest that I will reserve for another day after more information leaks out is how the MR-GR dynamic is panning out. It’s more than a MR-GR thing, its about the balance and sharing of power between Cabinet-Parliament and Executive – Military-Viyathmaga cabals. This tension will be a source of friction in the early months until the new normal settles into place. The elections have strengthened MR’s hand as he is the custodian of Parliament but his health does not seem to be very good to judge from public appearances.


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development



There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka



By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?



Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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