By Dr Srimal Fernando
The 2020-2021 coronavirus outbreak in South Asia has caused severe impacts on the South Asian countries, including the disruption of economies, food insecurity, and economic uncertainties, amongst others. Ever since the onset of the pandemic, the economies of South Asian countries have experienced the harshest economic conditions since the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the global economic crisis. However, the South Asian economy is set to expand seven per cent in 2021 (World Bank). These prospects can arguably be described as the region’s strongest post-recession of the century. Notably, these regional prospects are still subject to several potential uncertainties, such as the unpredictable Covid-19 waves and its potential downsides on the economies of South Asian countries.
Given these realities, various regional and international players have committed to supporting the recovery of South Asian nations to continue promoting the growth and development of the region. As of May 2021, the World Bank has obligated the vaccination purchase and rollout efforts in several South Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. As of June 2020, US$ 2.75 billion was obligated to support India’s recovery aid response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The organization also obligated $500 million to support the recovery of over 550,000 Indian Small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) who the economic impacts of the pandemic had hard hit.
Apart from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to South Asian countries, the pandemic has also overwhelmed the South Asian health systems and affected the availability of quality healthcare services amongst South Asian countries. The pandemic has also caused significant public health resources to be directed towards providing basic healthcare services. For example, the second wave of the coronavirus weakened India’s healthcare systems and with the government struggling to contain the increased number of deaths with inadequate healthcare resources. However, India has received support from global powers such as the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) in the form of healthcare resources and vaccines to help manage the new surge of the coronavirus. Notably, the emerging wave of COVID-19 infections has disrupted the economic recovery efforts of South Asian economies.
In light of these developments, the United Nations (UN) has also taken initiative to address the impacts of the pandemic in South Asia. As of 21st May 2021, the UN had obligated US $164 million to help purchase personal protective gear and other COVID-19 management resources to help South Asian countries extricate themselves from the devastating impacts of the newly emerging waves of coronavirus infections in the region. In Nepal, UN agencies have called for the implementation of a national response plan that is estimated to cost about $83.7 million. These resources are mean to finance the COVID-19 response in Nepal by addressing the humanitarian needs arising from the impacts of the pandemic and preventing the loss of lives through logistic support and response in healthcare. UN agencies have also been actively involved in the response and recovery initiatives in the region in other South Asian countries, such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bhutan.
With large investments from international organisations and the South Asian governments, a huge part of these response and recovery initiatives are country-specific. For instance, the World Bank has obligated $153 million to support Pakistan’s COVID-19 vaccination initiatives and over a billion dollars to support the same efforts in Bangladesh. Overall, the COVID-19 response and recovery initiatives as of June 2021 are estimated to be around $8.9 billion. Over 28 initiatives have been implemented to this end.
Policymakers across the region have been focused on mitigating the near-term impacts of the pandemic on their economies. But going by experience from past recessions, the pandemic is set to create long-term impacts on the fragile economies of South Asian countries. The long-term economic effects of the pandemic are likely to be severe for South Asian countries that are dependent on tourism and other services that require person-to-person contact. For instance, in Sri Lanka, the tourism sector is the second largest export earner accounting for close to 55 percent of GDP before the pandemic. The Maldives also heavily relies on tourism which accounts for 39 percent of the nation’s Gross domestic product (GDP)
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the projected economic prospects of the broader Asian Pacific region are optimistic. However, the new surges of Covid-19 infections in countries such as India are a major concern. As new waves of infections continue to emerge and the impact of the pandemic continues to grow, so will the need for collective efforts amongst South Asian economies with support from international players and regional players such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). As a result, shifts beyond country-specific initiatives will be likely, as will be increasing investment in economic recovery and response plans for the region. While the investments aimed at supporting the health systems and vaccination amongst the South Asian countries are of the essence, investments in the economy are equally important.
About the Author:
Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Adviser/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union.’
Keeping an Even Keel
Excerpted from the memoirs of Chandra Wickramasinghe, Retired Additional Secretary to the President
Having worked in the public service for 44 years, of which, 22 were spent working for four Presidents, retirement came almost imperceptibly in November 2005.
In these reminiscences, I will endeavour to describe anecdotally (to sustain the reader’s interest), some of the more interesting episodes in my career in the public service from 1961 to 2005. I also propose to deal with the distinct and distinguishing personality traits of the Presidents, and Ministers I had the privilege of serving (reflecting on both, their particular strengths as well as their foibles). I shall additionally, attempt to outline the principles, norms and standards that guided me in the work I performed, as a public officer working under these Heads of State , Ministers and Secretaries to Ministries .
My appointment as Assistant Commissioner of National Housing
It is certainly no easy task going back forty odd years trying to recollect one’s feelings,the excitement and the elation one would have experienced, getting into a good staff position in the Public Service. I only recall being happy but not particularly exhilarated on receiving the news of my appointment by PSC letter under the hand of the Secretary of that office.I recall distinctly that I was, at the time house –bound and too miserably ill with chicken pox, to jump for joy on hearing the good news.
After the mandated quarantine period, which I spent productively, reading Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, I reported for work at the Department of National Housing where I was to function as Assistant Commissioner. My boss, the
Commissioner, was Mr. K.M.D. Jayanetti, a jolly bureaucrat with an impish sense of humour , who on seeing me remarked that my face did not seem too much disfigured by the attack of chicken pox.
He outlined the work of the Department as comprising the construction of Flats and Housing schemes (the State Engineering Corporation was the contractor) for middle income and lower middle income categories and maintaining them once they were given out on rent. He also said that he was assigning me to work initially, in the different sections of the Dept. for a period of one month in order to acquaint myself with the work I will have to handle.
Induction training within the Dept.
Accordingly, I worked in the different sections and obtained first hand, an insight into the inner workings of the Department. I was also able to interact with the officers of the different branches who were at the time a smart, intelligent and disciplined lot, thoroughly conversant with and fully involved in, the tasks assigned to them.
I further, spent this interim period gainfully, studying the National Housing Act very closely and reading all the Departmental circulars. Later on when I was transferred to other Govt. Depts.,the first thing I did before assuming duties, was to obtain a copy of the relevant Statute and study it thoroughly and also read up all the available Departmental Circulars. This gave me the confidence I needed to take on and handle whatever assignments given to me.
This was the standard approach I was taught to follow religiously by some senior mentors of mine in the Public Service, who assured me that once this was done, one was reasonably well equipped to handle competently the different situations and the problems one would have to face in the particular Dept./Ministry I was posted to. Leelananda de Silva, my good friend from school days and who was already holding the post of District Land Officer in the Public Service, was indeed a veritable source of guidance and inspiration to me at this time.
Taking decisions within the policy guidelines laid down
A salutary lesson I learnt from my boss Mr. Jayanetti, was to take decisions boldly within the broad policy framework laid down. When I once submitted a file asking for a direction from him, he called me up and told me that unless it was a matter which was outside accepted policy, I should get used to taking decisions on my own. I still recall gratefully his friendly advice “Do not hesitate to take decisions, where you can justify such decisions, I shall cover you if the need arises.” I have worked on this principle right through my career in the Public Service and I hardly had occasion where I was found fault with by my superiors, for doing anything irregular or for infringing policy guidelines.
The work assigned to me in the Housing Dept.was quite heavy as it involved work relating to Housing schemes and Flats in the Colombo District. There were four other senior colleagues in the Dept. (two of whom ended their careers as Secretaries to Ministries and one as the Public Trustee), who were ever prepared to lend a helping hand to me whenever I sought their assistance – M. Ramalingam, Senerath Dias, C Wijayawickrema and Malcolm Samarakkody.
I remember working very hard to clear the files which used to keep piling up as flat dwellers in particular, seemed to have endless problems, particularly with their immediate neighbors, for which quick solutions were demanded by their importunate persistence that I should personally interview them and hear their complaints. I remember taking bundles of files home and attending to them till late in the night. I recall clearly one particular instance where I had to sign a building contract with the State Engineering Corporation (SEC), I think it was for the construction of the Tower Block near the sea front in Bambalapitiya, running into millions of rupees. Mr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe, who was Chairman SEC at the time, met me and pleaded with me to sign the contract in the absence of the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner, as the former was out of the island and the latter was indisposed.
Having checked with the Legal Branch and the Finance Branch on the correctness of the documentation, I placed my signature to the document on behalf of the Dept. much to the relief of Mr.Kulasinghe who made haste to proceed to the construction site to commence work on an auspicious note! Although I was somewhat apprehensive signing such an important contract document in my capacity as Asst. Commissioner, I was also conscious of the fact that I was on good legal grounds in doing so, as the National Housing Act defines Commissioner to include a Deputy as well as an Assistant. I was guided here by the sound advice given by Mr.K.M.D.Jayanetti who instilled in me the abiding principle that I should not hesitate to take decisions as long as I was acting within the law and accepted policy.
Minimum political interference
One redeeming feature at the time was that there was hardly any political interference. The few MPs who met you, were very courteous and very much unlike their pompous and impossibly overbearing counterparts of today, and were prepared to abide by the rules applicable, once these were explained to them. In this sense, I must say that working in the Public Service was relatively much easier and pleasanter in the nineteen sixties than in the seventies and thereafter. As long as one worked within the framework of the rules and regulations laid down, one was safe from being upbraided even by one’s Head of Dept.
The Public Service Commission
Authority and control over the Public Service before 1972 was exercised by the Public Service Commission through gazetted delegation. All public servants were acutely conscious of this fact, as much as others including politicians, were painfully aware of it, much to their discomfiture. Working in a Govt. Institution was further, relatively easy at the time, as there was discipline and strict conformity to established norms of conduct and behaviour by all concerned, including Ministers.
Furthermore, financial control was rigorously enforced and cases of malfeasance and corruption were few and far between. I remember the time I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services in 1966, where the Deputy Commissioner while inspecting the cash collections of a Shroff in the Dept. and finding a shortage of Rs.5/= , issued on him a letter of immediate interdiction. This certainly did not mean that the Public Service was totally devoid of corruption. What it did mean was that if and when defalcations and frauds were detected, swift disciplinary action followed, with the punishment meted out being very severe. This kind of summary disciplinary action kept both the laggards and the miscreants on their toes.
Department of Agrarian Services
From 1966 till 1968, I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services. Working in the Dept. of Agrarian Services was particularly rewarding as the range of services offered to the public was so variegated, encompassing manifold functions. The purchase and milling of paddy, minor irrigation works, paddy lands (implementation of the Paddy Lands Act),Crop Insurance and the distribution of fertilizer to paddy farmers, were the primary functions of the Dept.
This was the time of Prime Minister Mr.Dudley Senanayake’s ‘food drive’ and the entire Dept. was geared to meeting targets and deadlines for expanding paddy production and the cultivation of subsidiary food crops. Mr. J.V. Fonseka, a fine administrator cast in the classic mould, who was the Commissioner of Agrarian Services, spared no pains to meet the paddy production targets set by the Prime Minister and inspired the officers in the Dept. to work equally enthusiastically and diligently
The work assigned to us was very challenging and onerous as there were many employees in the Dept., like store keepers, who were defrauding the Dept. and accumulating private fortunes. They had to be kept on their toes by surprise inspections of paddy stores. My good friend and colleague, the late Chula Unamboowe, had a penchant for this and his surprise inspections were dreaded by store keepers. Circuits had also to be made to paddy growing areas to check on claims made for damage /loss to paddy harvests following droughts /floods.
I found the work enjoyable as I was able to visit remote areas in outlying Districts and interact with rural farmers. These official circuits which were done in the company of the Divisional Officer, made my work pleasurable as well as satisfying, particularly where we were able to recommend the release of funds for repairs to anicuts and minor irrigation systems, thereby ensuring uninterrupted Maha and Yala cultivations which were a great boon to paddy cultivators who were dependent on water stored in these small village tanks for their paddy crops.
Officers like V.T Navaratne, Eric de Silva, Chula Unamboowe, D Wijesinghe, Rex Jayasinghe, I.K. Weerawardene, Garvin Karunaratna, Neville Piyadigama, Ernest Gunatilleke, with their pioneering efforts, made a signal contribution towards ensuring the smooth delivery of Departmental services island-wide. Being a key Dept. in the agricultural sector, it was no easy task organizing the multifarious activities it had to engage in, covering the entire island. The success achieved in this endeavour was for the most part due to the dedication combined with the exceptional ability, shown by these officers in discharging the tasks entrusted to them. I found this Dept. one of the better Depts. I had served in, as far as the challenging tasks one had to contend with, were concerned.
The Land Settlement Dept.
The Land Settlement Dept.in which I did a two-year stint was one of the oldest Depts.,with deeply entrenched colonial traditions. In fact,I was somewhat bemused when I first went to the Dept. to see fading photographs of imperious looking British Royalty hanging on the walls of the office. No one seemed to bother about them and they remained on the walls up to the time I left the Dept. on transfer.
The Land Settlement Dept. was located on the third floor of the old Treasury building, almost cheek by jowl with the prestigious office of the Public Service Commission, where all the interviews for staff appointments in the Public Service including Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) interviews were held . I recall how, so many University friends used to haunt the place, waiting to be interviewed for staff appointments. It was in that sense, to us at least, quite a hallowed place. I still remember how some people who came in shirt and tie without the required jacket, had to borrow jackets from others waiting to be interviewed or had finished their interviews. Some of these borrowed jackets were at times, ill-fitting and expectedly, sat somewhat awkwardly on the wearers.
About one year following my assumption of duties as Asst. Settlement Officer, I was surprised to receive a telephone call from Mr. L.J. de S Seneviratne who was a Senior Civil Service Officer and who functioned as Secy/ PSC, at the time. He addressed me as Mr. Wickramasinghe and politely enquired whether he could come and meet me in the course of the day. As his office was just next door, I respectlfully said, ” Sir, you can meet me anytime, even now”. He thanked me and said he would come straight away. In a matter of minutes the imposing personality dressed in ‘full kit’, as we used to say, walked in and I stood up respectfully and greeted him asking him to take a seat.
Mr. Seneviratne sat down and addressed me, to my utter consternation, as ‘Sir’ and went on to say that he was responding to the notice issued by me, under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Ordinance (LSO), on his wife (who was Sir Francis Molamure’s daughter).He said that his wife had inherited hundreds of acres of land on ‘Sannas pathra’, some of which had already been settled under the LSO and she was now staking her claim to the balance lands that had still to be settled. He then submitted several Sannas for my perusal.
I informed him that I will have to check on the authenticity of the Sannas pathra with the records in the Dept. of Archives before I could make a Settlement Order on her claims. What was funny to me was that, when I was respectfully addressing him as ‘Sir’, which to me was the proper form of address of a Junior to a Senior Officer, Mr. Seneviratne was himself calling me ‘Sir’ during the conversation. It made me even wonder whether Mr.S. addressed me in that manner, out of deference to my position as Inquiring Officer before whom he had to give evidence. I further wondered whether he did so as he knew that a Settlement Order made under the Land Settlement Ordinance was final and could not be set aside even by the Supreme Court. Whatever may have been his intentions, after I recorded his evidence, he thanked me and left.
Soon afterwards , Mr Seneviratne retired from Service
I met him once in a crowded lift in the Central Bank building. The poor man appeared lost. He looked around to see whether people would recognize him. Sadly, no one did. When I greeted him, he beamed, I thought this was just ‘the way of the world’. When powerful individuals cease to wield power and influence, they are ignored and are cast into the ‘limbo of forgotten things”. That’s just, ‘in rerum natura’(in the nature of things). This inspired me to pen a few lines of verse on the incident:
The Bureaucrat Who Was – ‘All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream’.
He gets into the elevator slowly,
Eyeing the seated elevator boy intently,
Getting no response,
He looks around quietly, Knowing him, I avoid his gaze Deliberately.
His disappointment seems intense!
A decade ago,
A short trip in a crowded elevator
Would have swung heads towards him,
Yet, now, jostled by the irreverent young,
And ignored by the few who knew him,
This shattered Colossus,
Pygmied by unrecognition,
Moves out of the elevator,
Stops at the threshold ,
Blocking my way,
A last pathetic plea – it seems , For identity!
In the milling throng,
I excuse myself and move on – Catching only a sidelong glimpse
Of a broken man’s gratitude, For the small plank Shoved underneath his feet , On the quickening sand.
The Land Settlement Act was a powerful statute which empowered Settlement Officers to inquire into claims made by people who had pedigree title to such lands by virtue of their being in possession of ‘Sannasas’ or on pedigree title or valid title deeds or again by their having cultivated such lands over a reasonable period of time. This meant Settlement Officers having to at times, examine archival material etc. to determine the title of these claimants.
Interestingly, one of the claimants under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Act was the then Prime minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. Accordingly, as required by law , I had notices served on her and some other members of her family who also had made claims to a Nindagama land called ‘Rassagala Nindagama’ in Ratnapura, summoning them for an Inquiry. Soon afterwards I received a call from Secy/PM MDD Peiris who was a friend, in the course of which he said “Chandra, you don’t summon the Prime Minister of the country to come and give evidence. I will arrange a suitable date in consultation with her, for you to come over to the PM’s office and record her statement”. I remember apologizing to MDD immediately saying there was no offence meant but that it was done by me routinely as stipulated in the Act. I also requested MDD to obtain a date from the PM and let me know.
I recall vividly the interview I had with that gracious Lady PM. She greeted me rising from her chair and shaking my hand while thanking me for calling over at her office. The PM, I recall, looked quite vibrant , turning around energetically in her swiveling chair, all the time being very attentive to whatever work she was engaged in. I proceeded to record her statement and at the end of the interview, she once again rose from her chair and shook my hand, thanking me for coming over. I recall well, her parting words to me “You take whatever decision you have to on the matter Mr. Wickramasinghe and inform me”
An encounter with JRJ and the start of the privatization of the production of electricity in Sri Lanka
by Vera Gamini Samarasinghe
In 1987 I was awarded a Rolex Award for Enterprise by the Rolex Watch Company of Geneva Switzerland for doing original work on the river flows of the Belihuloya, which I had meticulously collected daily for four long years, walking four kilometres every morning sun or rain notwithstanding.
The water flows and the subsequent topographical measurements which I made with physical surveys gave rise to the Belihuloya Hydropower Project, the highest project in Sri Lanka and the third highest in the world with a head of nearly 1,400 metres! It could have been built to a 85 MW capacity giving electricity for six hours a day during the peak period. I had built a wooden weir across the highest reaches of the Belihuloya where it exited the Horton Plains with the help of a friendly firm SKANSKA which was building the Kotmale project at that time and measured the water flows every morning around 8.00 A.M having started my walk around 7.00 A.M.
The building of the weir across the Belihuloya was done within 48 hours, the materials being carried on their heads through the thick montane forest on a footpath by over 200 men from the Non Pareil Estate together with four Swedish engineers and surveyors who worked throughout the night with the aid of generator fed lights to finish the work as soon as possible. The footpath to the site of the weir was narrow and through thick montane forest and my daily trudge thereafter to measure the water flows was not uneventful, with the regular growls of leopards and the calls of threatened sambhur on the way!
The Ceylon Electricity Board which was unaware of this project subsequently came to know about it and wanted my readings of the water flows for four years, which I gave them. This project according to the CEB engineers was due to its very high head one of the best projects to be done in Sri Lanka for the production of hydro-electricity but due to unfairness and corruption it has still not been done. I shall refer at the end of this article to recent developments with regard to it.
I cannot remember the exact date but I believe it was towards the end of 1987 that I got a phone call from Mr. Nihal Weeratunga the private secretary to President Jayewardene asking me to meet with the President at his office at the old parliament building in the Fort which is still the President’s office.
I believe it was at 10 A.M. one morning when I walked into the office of President Jayewardene to see him seated at his desk with one tall bodyguard behind his chair. There was one other man too seated at the front of the desk, a short man with a moustache and with his legs dangling from the chair with somewhat high heeled shoes whom I later got to know was the Secretary for Power and Energy at the time, Dr. K.K.Y W. Perera.
When I walked in President Jayewardene showed me a chair and asked me to take a seat and when I did, he turned to Dr. Perera and said to him that he appreciated that I had got an international award but what should be the next step. Dr.Perera, who I believe was averse to anybody from outside the CEB or the Ministry delving in to the electricity sector, however extolled the project but then began with his “but Sir you see Sir” to which I quickly interjected with the following:
“Sir, in spite of the CEB having difficulties, could you not think of allowing this as the first private sector project for electricity in Sri Lanka. As I am the discoverer of the project, I could try to find the money and build it as a private sector operation; and besides Sir many Asian countries including Taiwan and Malaysia have both governmental and private sector production of electricity and why can’t we do the same Sir?”
I looked at the President who was somewhat taken back at the unexpected request, but he suddenly brightened up and turned once again to Dr. Perera and told him that my request seemed logical, and he asked him to form a committee and look into allowing the private sector and especially the Belihuloya project to be done by the private sector.
Dr.Perera seemed somewhat confused by the Presidents words but acquiesced to his request. I was so excited at the President’s positive attitude that I thanked him profusely and without waiting for him to call the meeting closed, stood up and went out of the door. Once out of the door I realized that the President had not called the meeting closed but it was too late to do anything about it but I was relieved to see President Jayewardene, his bodyguard and Dr.Perera standing up too and coming out of the door. That was the short meeting which heralded the start of the privatisation of the electricity sector of Sri Lanka.
The aftermath of this meeting and the formation of a committee etc took a long time and there were untold difficulties and things proceeded very slowly. However this was the start of the private sector involvement in the electrical sector and at present several projects with both hydro electricity and renewable electricity have been done but NOT the Belihuloya project as the CEB then brought in an unwritten law that no private sector project should exceed a 10 MW capacity of plant. This stopped the Belihuloya project and the CEB and its friendly companies later built a small 1 MW plant below the projected site of the Belihuloya dam effectively making it difficult for the proper Belihuloya project to proceed, making a great loss for Sri Lanka.
However, I take this very lightly as new technical developments with sea wave energy to develop very large quantities of electricity will be soon shown to the world, based on a PCT patent of mine which was acquired in 2011 by two large energy firms from the USA and China. This development will make obsolete not only land based hydro power plants but both wind based and solar based electricity plants as immense quantities of electricity at cheaper prices will be made available in the near future. Mind you, water is 1000 times more dense than air.
LTTE Terrorism immediately prior to 1981
Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd) Edward Gunawardena
Reference has already been made to the return of trained LTTE cadres who had fled to India in 1979. With their return after intensive training by PLO experts in Indian jungle camps, arms and explosives also had been smuggled into the country and stored in safe-houses. The Jaffna District Intelligence Bureau reported to the Intelligence Services Division that police patrols were under threat of attack by pistol gangs and that more and more youths were joining the rebels.
The Superintendent of Police Jaffna had reported to the DIG of the Northern Range that the Government Agent Yogendra Doraisamy had received anonymous telephone calls ordering him under threat of death not to (a) Carry out instructions of government when making appointments in government departments without a letter from one ‘Kanthan’ alias ‘Harry’ (b) not to carry out any requests of TULF leaders and (c) not to issue liquor licences unless recommended by ‘Kanthan’.
I met Yogendra Doraisamy for the first time in 1979. He was at the airport to receive Brig. Weeratunga and myself when we went to Jaffna for the Emergency operation. Yogendra Doraisamy, a former diplomat who had retired from the Sri Lanka Overseas Service, was a gentleman of the highest integrity. Hailing from a distinguished Hindu family of the Jaffna aristocracy he was a highly cultured, erudite and able administrator who had been nurtured in an atmosphere of high democratic and moral values. Such threats coming from people of his own ancestral Jaffna would have been truly heartbreaking.
The treatment that this much respected gentleman had to endure demonstrated in no uncertain terms the dramatic change that was taking place in the peninsula. Clearly it was a manifestation of the rejection of the hitherto respected values and the gross disregard for the lawfully established instruments of administration by the ‘Boys’ hellbent on destroying the establishment.
It is not clear whether the DIG Northern Range ‘Brute’ Mahendran reported this dangerous development to the President or the Defence Ministry. Mahendran, himself a Tamil with relatives and interests in Jaffna, naturally would have been apprehensive of repercussions. The tigers had proved that they had no mercy for
The Escalation of Violence and Political Intrigue
From the time the Jayewardene government decided to hand over the administration of Jaffna to the people of Jaffna, violence had begun to escalate. Policemen serving as well as retired were the targets. When the People’s Bank cash was robbed at the Neervely junction in March 1981, Constables Muthu Banda and Ariyaratna were shot dead with a Sub-machine gun.
Apart from the violence angle, the political intrigue that developed and the socio-political environment of the time in Jaffna also need to be looked at to properly understand the circumstances that prevailed in Jaffna during the DDC elections when there were several cases of arson including the burning of the library.
Intelligence reports suggested that if a District Development Council was formed with elected representatives the problems of the people could effectively be addressed and the influence of the militant youths would wane. President Jayewardene also believed that by the vigorous development of industries and fisheries more employment could be provided. He was also keen to develop the schools and promote sports.
The Tamil political parties naturally came to the conclusion that if the UNP or any other national political party won, it would be their death knell. The TULF and the Tamil Congress decided to enter the fray using their maximum resources. These parties expected the support of the militants. But the latter though overtly with them entertained fears that a political victory for the TULF would lead to their downfall. They also told the TULF in no uncertain terms that they could form a district administration with the militants for which a committee was to be formed under the chairmanship of a confidant of Prabahakaran.
I as the Director of Intelligence at the time kept the President and the Ministry of Defence informed of the above developments but the TULF was not in a position to offer any assistance or co-operate with the President. The TULF in fact refrained from accepting any office or responsibility for the administration of the District resulting in a UNPer becoming the District Minister.
The Role of Indian Intelligence
By the end of the seventies the relations between India and Sri Lanka were far from cordial. JR had even most undiplomatically made an insulting reference to the Congress Party symbol. As mentioned earlier, the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) had been given a distinct task —the disruption of the election.
A highly disturbing prospect for RAW was the emergence of a democratic Eelam with elected rulers. RAW was of the view that such a development would not only lead to dangerous separatist repercussions in Tamil Nadu but also be an obstacle to India’s avowed ambition to be the sole and undisputed power in the Indian Ocean. India was becoming more and more convinced that a state of Eelam would be a threat to the defence and stability of India.
Even in the seventies Indian defence analysts like K. Subramaniam, the Director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies had expressed fears that an Eelam would not be strong enough to resist superpower influence and it would also link with the massive Tamil community of South India which could present India with a problem more serious than the Kashmir — Jammu, Assam or the Naxalites. It goes without saying that the LTTE by this time distrusted the UNP and the Tamil political parties and determined to disrupt the DDC elections to prevent the emergence of a democratic set-up. RAW would certainly have briefed the ‘Boys’ on what India desired.
At this point I cannot help but recall an incident that occurred on the day following the burning of the library. In the late seventies as Sri Lanka’s Director of Intelligence I had been able to make direct contact with RAW. On my visit to Delhi with President Jayewardene in 1979, I was taken by Mr. Gonzales the acting Indian Foreign Secretary to the South Block and introduced to Norshi Suncook, Director of RAW. Thereafter I was able to make a few good RAW contacts.
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