A not entirely united government opts to be hard line
By Harim Peiris
It is quite a feat for a powerful government to insult its own Prime Minster and party leader, but that is precisely what the SLPP succeeded in doing last week, when a carefully orchestrated measure to ease up the pressure on the Government through bringing Sri Lanka in line with the rest of the world on Covid-19 burials, went awry. The Prime Minister’s assurance to Parliament, to allow the burial of the Covid-19 dead, was welcomed in a tweet by the soon to visit, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan. However, this was not implemented and instead was contradicted by junior state ministers of the Government. Since the forced cremation of the Covid-19 dead, against the wishes and religious beliefs of the bereaved families, is a uniquely Sri Lankan practice, in non-conformity with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the issue is being closely watched and monitored not just locally but also globally. Accordingly, the Prime Minister’s assurance was widely welcomed. But clearly, he could not carry the day. It certainly seems the Prime Minister is not totally in charge of the government; shades of the previous Ranil Wickremesinghe premiership.
However, in the context of Sri Lanka’s system of government, this is only to be expected because especially post the 20th Amendment to our Constitution, the governing authority has been totally centralized in the hands of the executive President. Accordingly, one might reasonably expect that the president’s slightest wish is government writ. Therefore, it was quite surprising to note, a few weeks ago, when the nearly half a billion-dollar, foreign investment by India’s Adani Group in the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port was to go ahead, this in a country that is starved of foreign exchange, that the President was seemingly very much on board. The President, quite correctly observed, at various fora, that international obligations cannot be unilaterally abrogated and more importantly that his government had negotiated terms where the Sri Lankan Government through the Sri Lanka Ports Authority would retain a majority stake and accordingly what was occurring was an investment into a minority stake in the ECT. This in the context of other such foreign investments with majority stakes, namely the Chinese Government’s CICT and the SAGT. However, quite surprisingly the President’s wishes to bring in the Indian private sector foreign investment did not quite carry the day inside the Government.
To cap quite a tumultuous first quarter for the Government, Minister Wimal Weerawansa, a leader of a minor political appendage of the ruling alliance, namely the National Freedom Front (NFF), stirred up a hornet’s nest in political circles, when he called for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be given the leadership of the ruling party, rather than its current incumbent, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The public call by Minister Weerawansa was met with the immediate demand by the ruling SLPP’s General Secretary, that the Minister both withdraw his statement and apologize for the same. Neither has happened and to the contrary the Minister has reiterated his stand. The call for a leadership change and that too between the president and the prime minister, was quite surprising because there was no reason for Minister Weerawansa to either be so public about a possible leadership role change in the Government or to be out of place by commenting on the affairs of a party he does not belong to. Leading as he does, his breakaway wing of the JVP, styled the National Freedom Front (NFF), a party which has the distinction of never yet having ever contested an election on its own but always in alliance with the Rajapaksa political party, first the UPFA and now its successor the SLPP.
A Government opting to be hardline
Next week the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), based in Geneva, will hold its 46th session, mostly in a virtual or online format and a country specific resolution on Sri Lanka, taking the government to task on our deteriorating human rights situation, will most likely pass. The Government is losing friends like India and alienating allies, like the 57 member nation, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). As political analysts have pointed out, the report by Human Rights High Commissioner and former two-term President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet focuses more on the new hardline policy being adopted since the election of November 2019. Policies, pronouncements and practices, which seemingly indicate a complete unwillingness to accommodate plurality, recognize diversity and defend democratic gains. The High Commissioner reports worrying signs of a government becoming increasingly authoritarian and militarized. The UNHRC report on Sri Lanka, namely A/HRC/46/20 in section 19, page 7 states “(i) militarization of civilian government functions, (ii) reversal of constitutional safeguards, (iii) political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations, (iv) majoritarian and exclusionary rhetoric (v) surveillance and obstruction of civil society and shrinking democratic space and (vi) new and exacerbated human rights concerns”. As if in a great hurry to confirm the above contentions by its actions, the Government having earlier rejected the report in toto, the Minister of Public Security withdrew the Special Task Force (STF) guard provided to TNA spokesman and leader in waiting, MA Sumanthiran for his participation and support to a massive anti-government march styled (P2P), from Pottuvil in the Eastern Province to Polligandy in the Northern Province, a not too subtle reference to the “responsibility to protect (R2P), the global political commitment adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005 to prevent or hold accountable for war crimes, prevent genocide, ethnic cleaning and crimes against humanity. The rationale given by the Minister was that MP Sumanthiran, a President’s Counsel, had violated court orders, which he denies doing. When the matter was raised by the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, many speakers pointed out that alleged violations of court orders should be met with prosecutions in court and not the withdrawal of security. Now we await the Hon. Speaker’s ruling whether it is the threat assessment against the MP, which the Minister himself readily conceded or political servility to the wishes of the government, which determines state security for minority and opposition MPs. The world meantime from Geneva is watching.
As the government domestically disregards plurality, tolerance of democratic dissent and accommodation of diversity and isolates itself internationally, with severe repercussions for our export driven, tourism, foreign investment and worker remittance dependent, globally integrated economy, the possibility of seeing a course correction by the SLPP’s Rajapakse Administration, is rather remote. This does however position Opposition Leader, Sajith Premadasa and his SJB, as the sole alternative to the government’s ideology, of being the sole representatives of the Sinhala people.
(The writer served as Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2016 to 2017)
Jayantha Dhanapala, a star in a Trinity galaxy
It was about one and a half years ago that I contacted Jayantha Dhanapala to find his Kandy address in order to send him two of my books. On that day he informed me of the death of Mr SML Marikkar, his classmate at Trinity College, Kandy and my student to whom I had taught the classical languages. In an appreciation of Mr. Marikkar I had used the well known Latin dictum, “seniores priores” to indicate that in death too the older should take precedence over the younger as in matters of ordinary life.
As I commenced teaching the classical languages I was more than surprised that I had to teach another subject to the students of the University Entrance class . It so happened that the students learning this subject were an exceedingly outstanding group of Arts and Science students. Among them were Jayantha, Marikkar, Sarath Amunugama, Arjuna Aluvihare, Nihal Perera, Breckenridge and Karaliyadde.
The subject was called General English, a motley combination of general knowledge, language, precis writing and current affairs . In my school by the Beira this subject was taught by the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, a mathematician turned a teacher of Government to senior students.
Why the Trinity Principal, Mr Norman Walter selected me, a green horn, to teach this subject was a mystery to me. Sometimes I was out of depth. Some of these outstanding students would help me by raising very appropriate questions in class before I got “drowned.” They were Jayantha Dhanapala, SML Marikkar, and Sarath Amunugama. The last two later joined the Civil Service. Sarath even became my boss when I returned to the public service, the SLAS, after premature retirement with full pension rights.
Jayantha won the open Essay prize at Trinity in his final year. The English teacher Rev. Eliott shortlisted the competing essayists selecting two Jayantha’s and JKL Pereira’s as the two best and asked me to be the final arbiter. Though my talents were elsewhere, in the logic of grammar and in figures and less in literature it was clear that Jayantha should be the winner.
JKLP, who came second, like me chose accountancy as a profession. After finishing the English Honours degree with a good second class, Jayantha had a short stint at my old school at Maradana. In the first Administrative Service examination held, after the abolition of the Civil Service, he was placed first. But he chose the diplomatic service.
I heard that he had chosen to learn Mandarin Chinese as one of the foreign languages that young diplomats were required to learn. He later progressed in his career up to the top as an Under Secretary to the Sec. General of the United Nations. I remember reading in the media how President Clinton had paid a tribute to him on his handling of the complex affairs with regard to the nuclear arms proliferation and disarmament.
I had not met Jayantha while he was serving in the UN. It was only when he attended meetings of the Peradeniya Jayatilleke Hall old boys reunions that I came face to face with him after 50 years or so. He would have been surprised to see me at these reunions ,sometimes playing the piano accordion accompanying the ageing old boys of J Hall singing old favourites. Among them were Rev Fr. Derrick Mendis and his cousin Rev Fr. Egerton Perera, both of whom had qualified as Chartered Accountants and had dedicated themselves to a life of poverty as Jesuits. Sadly they are no more.
Jayantha could have reached the top in the UN outfit had the then SL government sponsored his candidacy with greater vigour. Even in the case of his classmate, Sarath Amunugama, had the recommendation of the late Prof. Carlo Fonseka that Aumunugama be the second in command in managing the affairs of the country been realized, the world and our country would have been better places.
May Jayantha Dhanapala’s soul rest in Peace.
Dr Leo Fernando,
TImely action must be taken to preserve Buddhism in Sri Lanka
As reported on the first page of Sunday Island (June 4) it is indeed very praiseworthy for the government authorities to have taken timely action to safeguard the most venerated Bo tree in the world. It is both an object of worship and symbol of national sovereignty on the majority Buddhist island of 22 million people. It is a well established fact that a sapling of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi was brought to Ceylon by none other than Indian Emperor Ashoka’s daughter Sangamitta Maha theri, who established the Bhikkuni sasana here.
However it is sad to note that presently the Bhikkuni sasana is not given the due recognition it deserves in our country, though it is common knowledge that our Buddha sasana comprises of Bhikku, Bhikkuni, upasaka and upasika. It is very difficult to fathom why the government authorities are not issuing Bhikkuni Identity cards, while the Bhikkus even though some break the vinaya rules in public from time to time are allowed to continue with their Bhikku identity cards. Why the double standard? Therefore it is of great importance that Buddhists rise up to the occasion and demand that government issue Bhikkuni Identity cards and give them the due recognition they deserve to have in our society.
If timely action is not taken to rectify the situation to protect the Bhikkuni Sasana, it will face the same fate as the Dhamma Chakraya, which symbolizes the Eight Fold Path preached by The Buddha in his first sermon to the Pasvaga mahanunun, after attaining Buddha hood. The ancient Dhamma Chakraya is correctly depicted in all Emperor Ashoka’s pillars which were erected in Buddhist places of worship in India, under his direction and guidance. Needless to say it is in the shape of a cart wheel with eight spokes connecting to the outer circle depicting the Eight Fold Path. It was also accepted as the Buddhist symbol here after Emperor Ashoka’s son Arahat Mahinda Threra introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
However, presently due to unknown reasons the Dhamma Chakraya has taken the form of the helm, (the wheel connected to the rudder to steer a ship), with projections from the outer circle. Presently 90% of the Buddhist establishments, TV channels and print media use this wheel as the symbol of Buddhism which is an incorrect depiction of the original Dhamma Chakraya. Thus it is equally important to take timely action to rectify this to contribute towards stability and continuity of the Buddha Sasana for posterity.
R. W. W.
Appreciation: Nalini de Lanerolle
Peradeniya with its soaring architecture reminiscent of auspicious traditions melding the grace of the sculptured rock and incredible richness of greenery and extravagant streamers and showers of glowing flowers in the space of 1956 to 1959 merged Nalini de Lanerolle’s (then de Silva’s) stores of reading and imagination to a vision of the past in all its splendor.
She graduated from the University of Peradeniya in 1959 where she majored in Sociology. She married Asoka de Lanerolle in 1960, and became the mother of a girl and two boys. From 1960 to 1972, she was a Librarian in the Ministry of Planning; from 1973 to 1975 she was an Instructor in English at the University of Colombo.
Energetic in temperament, she had many interests. She read extensively from teen-hood: a vast variety of books ranging from the classics to murder mysteries and science fiction to movie magazines and historical novels. In Sinhala, she mentioned having enjoyed W.A. Silva’s Vijayaba Kollaya and Martin Wickramasinghe’s Rohini, at Visakha. She was appointed to the panel which judged the annual Sinhala Drama Festival. She was also a member of the panel appointed to evaluate films and performers regularly. Le Roy Robinson’s “An Interview with Nalini de Lanerolle on Aspects of Culture in Sri Lanka” reveals the scope of her reflections which enriched readers through ‘The Reign of Ten Kings – Sri Lanka – The World 500 B.C. – 1200 A.D.
Alert in judgment, she had had an active mind and capacious imagination which turned mere curiosity to tough questions with firm answers. Why do the Apollo Belvedere and the Gandhara Buddha show distinct traces of similarity? Was there a King Arthur?
Nalini de Lanerolle has not only satisfied her own musings; in her book she has deftly interwoven facts from Lanka’s chronicles and periods of European history to throw light. To quote Manik de Silva “She has done some innovative historical researching and found exciting parallels of kings and epics in the East and West during the same periods.”
According to Sir Arthur C. Clarke ‘The Reign of Ten Kings’ is an “excellent and much neededpiece of research. I hope that her book will bring to the attention of a large audience some of the most remarkable architectural and cultural achievements in history …”.
Nalini in her interview with Le Roy Robins attributes her interest in history to her father, a Government Surveyor who travelled widely in the country and who told stories of Greek Gods to his children pointing out the constellations including Orion striding across the night sky. Her mother too inspired her, reading to her in Sinhala from Milindapanha, which she later discovered was about the questions posed to an Indo-Greek ruler, a contemporary of King Dutugamunu. Parallels always interested her. As she says to Le Roy Robins “I think I was a history addict. It began with the stories of all those kings – King Arthur included.”
Her husband, Asoka de Lanerolle took a keen interest in history as well and to quote her “my husband Asoka has been interested in most of my thinking regarding history, so he has always urged me to write”. I tried out the idea of parallels in history on him and he encouraged me feeling it was “a different way of writing a history of Sri Lanka”.
Asoka having gained his high school education at Royal, graduated from the University of Peradeniya with an Honors degree in Economics and began his career as an Assistant Lecturer in Economics. He then became a Foreign Service diplomat, and later the Marketing Manager at Lever Brothers Ceylon.
In 1972 he was nominated as the Eisenhower Exchange student from Sri Lanka, giving them both the opportunity of living for seven months in the USA and travelling widely soaking in the history of a different continent. When he joined the UN International Trade Center in Geneva, and worked in Somalia, Bangladesh and Nigeria, Nalini travelled extensively enjoying glimpses of history like the sale of frankincense (one of the three gifts to baby Jesus by the kings) in Somalian market places.
She took great pleasure in all her children being avid readers despite the advent of televisions and in the fact that they all strongly supported the publication of her book, helping her by taking photographs, doing line drawings and cross-checking all the years mentioned in the book.
We have lost a historian and an intellectual, one who sought knowledge and thought, for the pleasure it gave – who has left to her country men and visitors to the island and enchanting and enlightening volume.
Dr. Lakshmi de Silva
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