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Reluctance to hand over power

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Cass has been a couch potato these last ten days with BBC and CNN unspooling the presidential election results in the US of America. A nail-biting cliff hanger – the counting of ballots. Finally, the oldest man to contest the American presidency received the highest number of votes ever, creating double history. As if that were not enough, he selected as running mate an Indian-Jamaican woman, knowing full well that if anything drastic were to happen to him, she would be Prez of the US of A. Further, if he decides not to run for a second term, his present age of 77 being against him, she may become the first woman President – BlackAsian. Ooh La La!

As expected with the man, Trump was his true self: nasty, obstreperous and stubborn. He jumped the gun the day after polls closed and counting had just began with the announcement to all and sundry that he had won and hence further vote counting must stop. And up until the time of writing, Wednesday 11 November, he is limpet-like declaring he remains in the White House and will bring cases of fraud to oust the Prez elect. He has not listened to the insignificant bleating of Melania to throw in the towel and concede victory to Biden, chorusing many others. He has not listened even to his beloved daughter and her husband Kushner, his personal assistant. We will watch the unfolding drama, as Biden starts working on his policy priority number 1: pandemic control and the Hump, sorry, Trump, goes off continuously to play golf. The TIME magazine used its name as part of its current cover title: TIME …To Go.

 

Messy handing overs in this Paradise

We have had our fair share of refusal of incumbents to vacate the highest post and resorting to abnormal manoeuvres. The worst of the stink was puppeteered by former accused killer of him and enacted solely by President Maitripala Sirisena on October 26, 2018. As usual he bungled badly and brought international scorn on this fair isle.

His UPFA decided under his orders to withdraw from the shaky coalition government. Shortly after, SLPP MP Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as Prime Minister by President Sirisena. PM Ranil Wickremasinghe refused to vacate his position and Temple Trees. Both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa contended they commanded majority numbers in Parliament. However, before a floor vote could be called, the Prez prorogued Parliament.

So Free Sri Lanka notched another aberrated uniqueness on the international map. The man who was accused of putting him six feet under if he lost, and he betrayed after breaking egg hoppers with, to sneak to enemy lines to be crowned Prez of Sri Lanka, got so buddy that he tried to push the legitimate PM off his chair and install Mahinda R. Rightly Ranil stuck to his seat, with loads loyal to him at Temple Trees. The Speaker, Karu J and judges of the Supreme Court righted wrongs and the country was back to ‘as before’ with the two Heads of the coalition government now with openly drawn daggers. Thrust to greatness in 2015, Sirisena is supposed to have said he would continue addressing Ranil as ‘Sir’ but soon enough was holding a menacing sword in his hand. He nearly dug his political grave in three years. And the great favour he did Mahinda R did not earn him even a Cabinet post this year, though he executed a 360 degree turn in loyalty – his kind.

What we, the proles and plebs of Free Sri Lanka will never forget is the atrociously despicable behaviour of UPFA MPs becoming criminal hooligans in the House by the Diyawanne at the unconstitutional move. Those looking to the welfare of farmers of the land now; industries; highways and holding the Whip; and the woman who attempted to do a sacrificial act of patriotically sailing to sea in a clay pot, behaved the worst. Cass heard that when the Navy and others were striving to push to deeper waters those sharks and dolphins who stranded themselves on our western shores, they – the creatures – mustered last gasps of strength and crawled back to deeper sea. They said, it is imagined, that sonic booms of warships of four nations playing ‘Let’s Pretend War at Sea’ games were a less evil than braving a VIP potted dame.

 

1950s

Trouble erupted soon after Independence when the PM fell off his horse and died. Governor Lord Soulbury, overlooking the two next most senior: John Kots and SWRDB, appointed Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister on March 26, 1952. Kotelawala flew to his retreat in Kent to sulk but not before penning the scathing Premier Stakes. And SWRD walked in revenge across the old Parliament aisle and formed a new Party – the SLFP. As an aside Cass says sadly that both Parties seem to be annihilated by human hands. The Green Elephant is down on his knees, shorn of power, long life and solidity; and the Blue Party floundering, its wings clipped by Pohottuwa. From 2015 to 2019 the wrestling started early with Sirisena getting hoity toity and power hungry and Ranil becoming more stubborn and intolerable.

Dudley S was PM from 1952 to 53 after which he called a general election. He was greatly troubled and both physically and mentally affected by the hartal of 1953. Crafty Sir Oliver Goonetilake, Gov Gen, negotiated peace between the two men: Dudley and John. Being gentlemen of the old school, and yes, patriots too, they made up and Dudley promoted John Kotelawala as P M. They say Dudley S was too humane, weak in other words. Allowance has to be made for a health condition from birth – stomach complaint which flared up when stressed. Sirimavo Bandaranaike entered the political arena as the Weeping Widow and ended quite the only man in her Cabinet. But she became intolerant of criticism; nationalized Lake House and lost her earlier halo. Elections were due in 1974 but she clung on for more than two years. Crushed by JRJ’s landslide, she however clung on as leader of her Party and when daughter Chandrika became Prez was brought in as PM, a completely lame one. It was rumoured that visiting chief guest Prince Charles left the 4 February Independence parade grounds early as he preferred to be whisked to Jaffna rather than sit through proceedings near a silent PM with a stiff neck, a half disabled Defence Secy and a fainting IGP! D B Wijetunge had power thrust on him by the evil of the LTTE assassination of Prez Premadasa on May 1 1993. He was by far the most accommodating politician, and yes, gracious. The moment the UNP lost the November 1994 election, although Ranil W could have cobbled a coalition government under Prez Wijetunge, he opted to hand over power to CBK and moved out of President’s House, not summarily like W Dahanayake giving up premiership and travelling by train home to Galle with one little suitcase. Dubbed Dearly Beloved, the short lived Prez retired gracefully to his home in Pilimatalawa near Kandy.

The longest standee in the political wings, J R Jayawardene, was, notwithstanding his cunning, a statesman. He pushed Ceylon out of economic doldrums by opening up the country and recognised ability and nurtured it; not annihilating it as some others were wont to do. Thus the meteoric rise of young Gamini D and Lalith A. Most vilify JRJ for his pot/ lamp referendum on December 22 1982. Cass for one, who wholeheartedly voted for a continuation of the 1976 UNP government, was surprised at how friends of hers were so angry about the unconstitutionality of it. Cass believed JRJ wanted to proceed on his development plans with no interruption of a general election, which of course the UNP would have won but depleted of the majority of 1976. JRJ was another statesman to admire as regards his willing retirement in 1989.

The last reluctant man in power to leave it and the hot seat is Mahinda Rajapakss following his loss to Sirisena in 2015.

Remembered is his helicopter descent to his Medamulane home, (but not to obscurity as later events proved), and standing within a window frame to address a miniscule of plebs who were gathered to welcome him.

Turmoil, turmoil, trouble, bubble. We have certainly not seen the last of limpet Heads masquerading as statesmen. The main question is when will Trump go – permanently lumbering to his golf course and business tricks!


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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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

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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?

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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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