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An age of universal cynicism



by Kumar David

“Now is the worst not the best of times; an age of foolishness not wisdom; a season of darkness not light; more despair than hope” (with apologies to Dickens). Up till about three decades ago people took sides passionately. Aficionados of Soviet Communism were fervent in their defence of Stalin and admitted only minor peccadillos, while devotees of the “Free World” intoned that god spoke with an American accent. Loyalties were firm, confidences secure and leaders trusted. No longer. Every side is both accepted and rejected, leaders are doubted and a pall of distrust has befallen the world.

Think Trump, hated by most Americans but worshiped by many; Biden is now thought incompetent by several of the 75 million who elected him; Putin, defender of Russian security, is dictator to domestic opponents; Boris is both colourful and clownish; Modi is a vengeful communalist and an aspirant to the Hindutva pantheon; Janus-faced Xi smiles on the economy but scowls at the Uighurs. At home, 69 lakhs in 2019, despised just three years on and now hanging-on upside down like a bat. Surely, we live in the strangest of times.

Interestingly, if you get together a set of three or four like-minded or so you thought, buddies with values you reckoned to be much the same and with social and political attitudes you imagined aligned, and initiated a mischievous chat on an assortment of topics, believe me the outcome will be a matrix of incongruities which cannot be rationalised by age, faith, community, ideology or education.

I have two objectives today, to prove this point and to suggest a minimal set for cohesion as otherwise we are but a cacophony of hyenas baying at the moon. Most of my readers know in which directions I point; very leftist, a bit populist, non-nationalist, pro Enlightenment, prepared to give liberalism its due and scandalously iconoclastic. You too can play this game, that is summarise your views on a few controversial topics of the day and then interrogate your friends; you will be surprised how much of a contrarian cross-matrix you come up with even among those you thought like mined.

Let me try an experiment and set down my views on four important topics of a general nature and see how many “agree”, “rubbish”, “well maybe” and “I don’t not agree” responses you, dear readers, tick off.

Ukraine-Russia-NATO: I am firmly of the view that NATO must not be allowed to expand further east, that is to include Ukraine, as this is a recipe for war in future years when circumstances change, unforeseen contradictions surface and new leaders arrive. I do not allege that Biden wants war, but any president is as transient as a noon day cloud. I firmly reject that Ukraine’s “right to self-determination” overrides other concerns. Yes, it is a nation whose independence must be recognised but this has to be constrained by the general good. The concern with averting future world-conflict must override specific rights. Maybe a parallel is this: Assume that the Sri Lankan state and its people earnestly desire a Chinese military base in Trinco, KKS or Hambantota, but it will almost certainly become casus belli for future war or invasion by India sometime down the line. Perhaps only a few readers will endorse this paragraph as a whole.

The rise of global right-extremism: Trump and his legions are a symptom more than a cause, but a symptom that like a sore spews pus once the abscess manifests. It is my view that such incongruities are an immanent property of the twenty-first century; a given of the world we live in that won’t go away when economic crises ease. There has been a transformation in the mind-set of big groups of social actors; ideologies have taken deep root; new technologies such as social media have created undreamed of fixities; money has filtered into the hands of millions of lowly actors and excess leisure has freed up opportunities. Even neo-Nazism will not evaporate. In a word, right-extremism has come to stay just as leftism, including at times left-extremism remained for centuries. Sure, they were driven by different class actors and goals. My view is not defeatism, it can be defeated; my point is that the enemy is stubborn and enduring.

Nationalism is bad, internationalism good: Marxists, broadly speaking, are of the view that the working people of the world have no nation and that cultural differences are used by oppressors to divide them. You are familiar with the old adage “Workers of the world unite; you have only your chains to lose and a world to win”. In modern times the need for internationalism goes well beyond the class struggle. Egypt and Sudan may attack Ethiopia’s multi-billion-dollar Grand Renaissance Dam as they fear being starved of adequate supplies of Nile waters. Chinese and Taiwanese nationalisms are deep and poised like cobra and mongoose. Faith does not open the road to salvation; language is as much a discordant pestilence as a tool of communication and literature. People celebrate their cultural diversity but these same people despise “the other”. I think it’s okay to be just a bit patriotic or nationalist but it had better be low key. Most important, we need to see ourselves as citizens of the world. Also think emissions and climate change.

The state: The state and its military are only to a small degree instruments of law and order acting on behalf of all of society and serving the people. The more vital role they play is serving the interests of the corrupt, protecting felons and bumming political sons of female dogs. Vide what the Courts did to 850 fabricated charges filed by the Sri Lankan State against the former Defence Secretary and former IGP. The state also held them in detention for nine months. No need to go ferreting out foreign dictatorships, there are scores of egregious cases on our doorstep. The argument I am making here is not damning the Rajapaksa regime, my point is that this is the nature of the state in general.

These four paras are an inventory of what I am deeply convinced of on four crucial topics without touching on what will surely be the most contentious of all – economic policy and orientation. Now dear reader if you cared to keep count of your ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ etc you will have before you a maze of ticks and crosses, scribbles and swear words. That’s my point, not your specific answers. We live in times of darkness not light, more despair than hope. It was not always so or to the same degree; it is the flavour of recent decades. I invite you to try it out, mentally picture your buddies and you too will arrive at a cross-matrix of contradictions. This piece is not a prank for your Sunday entertainment it has a serious purpose.

Then are we destined to impotency by infinite irresolution? Do “enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action”? No, I think not. The solution lies in the specifics and facts of each case, the concrete. People vary in their abstract beliefs, the right philosophical approach to my four sample questions etc, but they may have no difficulty in agreeing what to do in a specific instance. You could have different theories about Putin, Europe, strategy etc but readily agree that a NATO creep to the Russian border is impermissible. People are proud of their cultural heritage and may deem internationalism an alien concept but be outraged by the treatment of Dr Shafi Shihabdeen by Sinhala-Buddhist extremists. Some Americans may vote for Trump but damn the extremist far-right as a cancer. Nearer home many who do not have faith in Sajith-SJB, Champika or the JVP-NPP will not hesitate to reject Gotabaya. In real life the concrete conjuncture trumps the abstract and the theoretical.

The abstract and the theoretical are of the utmost relevance to the scholar and the intellectual but the political realist must focus on amalgamation; for example, pulling together votes from many “abstract” quarters. Where and how does the transactional differ from the opportunist? Another question to which there is no abstract answer; the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. SWRD was an invertebrate and opportunist, Mrs B for all my differences with her I concede was shrewdly transactional.

The last time the global strategic map was redrawn was when the Soviet Union went up in smoke. It is now on the drawing board again. All-out war is impossible, neither Putin nor Biden want it. However no Russian leader who permits NATO to creep up to the Russian border can long survive in domestic politics and Biden will hugely lose face if he concedes this principle. The Russian people can never forget the tens upon tens of millions of souls they lost and the devastations of four huge invasions in the last three centuries. Putin’s remark “Russia’s security concerns are non-negotiable” is just what this column repeatedly predicted months ago. On the other side Biden and court jester Boris are playing to recoup domestic approval ratings. The fundamental and the immediate are in shrill conflict. How may it end? Maybe Putin will agree to let the UN replace his “peace keepers” by a battalion or two of the traditional UN type, but no way will he go back on recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent countries. Still a gross compromise has to be worked out, there is no other way in this age of dismal cynicism.

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Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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