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An appreciation: Rajeewa Jayaweera: A Void Hard to fill

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By Dr D.Chandraratna

On 11 June, 2020, when we heard the distressing news of Rajeewa Jayaweera’s untimely death, I wrote an appreciation from afar that he was a public intellectual who had contributed immensely to public debate, mostly on our relations with India and to a lesser extent with the Western countries. Coming from a fortunate background, and immersed in the diplomatic life of his father he took a scholarly interest in foreign affairs. Few in Sri Lanka has contributed so much to the subject recently as much as Rajeewa, to bring into public discussion our relations with the world community. His accounts were ‘learned and incisive appraisal of events’ particularly during the turbulent times of the threat posed by separatism. In this article on the first death anniversary I wish to justify my assertion about Rajeewa by way of an appreciation with a difference.

Rajeewa can be described as a member of the Sri Lankan intelligentsia who contributed to matters of public interest through hundreds of essays to the few available journals over many years. The Sri Lankan intellectuals who form this group are drawn from practically all layers of society and in a democratic society like ours there is great heterogeneity. The universities absorb and reshape the sons and daughters of bourgeoisie and proletarians alike, from towns and villages, drawing members of all communities and religions. Hence to begin with there is great heterogeneity but this heterogeneity wanes and homogeneity waxes in because education and knowledge of world matters bind them in a striking way. Philosophers such as Karl Mannheim claimed that the intelligentsia are a privileged group who are capable of acquiring a ‘total perspective, with an unattached mind, which can grasp a phenomenon from all sides. The education and upbringing help overcome any blind attachment and one-sidedness; inter stimulation among the intellectuals cultivate the many positives of tolerance, elasticity and universal understanding and in Karl Manheim’s words become capable of the fullest synthesis of the tendencies of that era. A good education is able to remove crude prejudices by widening the values and horizons. Rajeewa in my estimation was a semi-contemplative, less deeply immersed in the world of action. He has shown to be less clearly identified with those closely active with the economic or political process. As an intellectual he did not choose to remain locked up in a private world but wanted his voice heard outside the narrow circle of his sphere of technical scholarship. He was at the centre of issues of foreign affairs and was no hack writer for any class or interest group. Wrote like an arbiter, or an umpire above the hurly burly of politics. Never sold himself to a party but remained steadfastly to the role of uncommitted observer. To his last day he remained in his own terrain, a tertium quid, a class of its own, the class of intellectuals.

My observations and deductions are clearly seen in the writings of Rajeewa to which I shall now turn. Given the space limitations of the column I shall only present a few of his views on Indian involvement in Sri Lankan affairs.

Apart from his interest in Sri Lankan airlines he also wrote on Sri Lankan relations with the West that I shall hold for another date. Like his own father Stanley Jayaweera who functioned for a short time as an advisor to President Premadasa, on India-Sri Lanka relations, Rajeewa too had a solid grasp of Indian involvement in Sri Lankan politics.

 

Indian Sri Lankan Relations

On the National Question issue, like a true diplomat, conscious of presenting a balanced but objective view he says that, ‘India’s involvement spans over three decades and cannot be wished away. Therefore, they should be co-opted into the process. But he is forthright in condemning ‘the utterly useless Provincial Council system which we must decide either to be retained for the sake of one community. Or else, should it be replaced with another mechanism that will address the issue of power devolution to the satisfaction of all communities’

Regarding the wavering stance of India at the UNHRC deliberations he said, ‘Considering the bleeding-­heart justifications, of successive Indian governments and its leaders for their support to Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka, India’s moral bankruptcy stands exposed for the manner in which it treats with its own citizens in Jammu & Kashmir who are armed with stones and petrol bombs and not sophisticated communications equipment, automatic weapons, artillery and a naval squadron as were the LTTE. Kashmiris are yet to start the use of suicide vests and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Kashmir, Delhi or elsewhere, as was the case with LTTE’.

The scholarly interest he had about our truculent relationship with India was sharp. Rajeewa’s knowledge was as good as any state diplomat engaged officially with India. He said on many occasions that ‘It need to be stated, Sri Lanka has only one major foreign policy issue. That is India. The need to maintain close and friendly relations with India is a given fact. The need to act at all times, with due consideration to Indian concerns for the security of its southern seaboard at all times too is a given imperative. This needs to be handled with the utmost care by professionals’. However, it cannot be a one-way street either, he said unequivocally. Reciprocity and mutual respect is the apotheosis and corner stone for close and friendly relations.

 

Protocol and Conventions

When it was to do with protocol and Vienna Conventions Rajeewa was at his best. His personal life must have given him enough ammunition to go full blast at the failings of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry. About a certain episode in Jaffna Indian Consul General’s office regarding the visit of a military officer, he said, ‘Heads of State, Governments, Ministers and senior officials visiting foreign missions and residences is an absolute breach of protocol. Exceptions should be to attend National Day Receptions or to sign a condolence book. Diplomats are meant to be summoned. If not, they initiate contact that must be necessarily held in the offices of the local official. About the deafening silence of the Foreign Ministry he wrote, ‘What role does the Indian Consul General play in the Civil-Military Coordination and Reconciliation in Jaffna? Has he assumed the role of de-facto Chief Minister?

About the behaviour of the diplomatic corps since the regime change in 2015, Rajeewa pointed out that, ‘we have witnessed over leaders kowtowing before foreigners and conducting themselves in a most servile manner. Not correcting the US Secretary of State John Kerry who welcomed our Foreign Minister “after 30 years of war with the Tamils” was one such instance. The Geneva sell-out was another, with SOFA being the latest. The disease seems to be infectious.

About the skirmishes at Geneva he wrote, ‘Now it would appear to be the turn of our soldiers. Forgotten are the heroes who led the several divisions in the Vanni region between January and May 2009. They are now in retirement unable to travel to many countries on trumped-up ‘war crimes’ allegations.

He articulated the voice of the people. ‘Notwithstanding the cordial relations at the state level, a serious trust deficit prevails among ordinary Sri Lankans, especially among the 70% majority community. Local sentiments are not a phobia, which is irrational, but fear and resentment based on recent Indian interventions and attitudes, considered hegemonistic, is the perspective of ordinary Sri Lankans. It is both rational and understandable. Most have no idea of India’s military adventures or its covert operations in neighbouring countries. But they are conscious of the role played by India in Sri Lanka since the late 1970s. Even assistance given at the tail end of the conflict to combat LTTE terrorism was largely negated by India repeatedly voting against Sri Lanka at UNHRC a few years ago.

I would like to conclude this tribute to Rajeewa by reference to the visit of that eminent scholar, historian diplomat Sashi Tharoor to Colombo. Jayaweera in a previous essay had written how most Indian statesmen, politicians, intellectuals and many others justify Indian involvement in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, based on reasons of kinship between the 1.2 million Tamil community in Sri Lanka and 70 million Tamils in the politically volatile Tamil Nadu. Sashi Tharoor too sang from the same copy book. He justified India’s continued engagement with Sri Lanka. When Tharoor commented “This is not a case of New Delhi interfering gratuitously in the internal affairs of its southern neighbour. India cannot help but be involved, both because it is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour geographically and because its own Tamil population – some 70 million people in the politically important southern state of Tamil Nadu—remains greatly concerned about the wellbeing of their ethnic cousins across the Palk Straits”.

However, Rajeewa wrote back immediately in The Island that ‘India does not apply the same theory to the wellbeing of 4.8 million Indian Muslims in Indian occupied Kashmir and the concern for their wellbeing of 3.6 million Muslims in Assad Kashmir and 181 million Muslims in Pakistan across borders. Suffice to state, India need to manage its 70 million Tamil population in the same manner Pakistan manage its 181 million Muslims, when Kashmir is in turmoil. His demise has silenced that voice.

 

Imagining a future

Let us imagine what contribution he would have made in the difficult times that we live today. In the October issue of Foreign Affairs, (the Journal of the U.S.A Council of Foreign Relations) its long time editor Gideon Rose declared forthrightly that after President Trump the world needs a fundamental rebalancing of institutions that underpin a viable global order in 2021 and beyond. There are many who believe that China will displace USA as the number one economic and military power in the world. Given our strategic placement, sandwiched between India and China, we have no longer a realistic choice other than understand and work with this inevitable change. We also need to contend with multiple powers that Sri Lanka has to deal with from Vietnam, Japan Indonesia to India. The region is undergoing immense and roiling transformations and we certainly miss bright intellectuals like Rajeewa Jayaweera who could enrich our minds ‘with cleverness as his creed and smartness as the manner of his mind.’ He has left a void hard to fill.



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Opinion

Building trust, a better investment

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The government has allowed private companies to import chemical fertilisers. The farmers had been holding many a street protest against the government’s blatantly unwise policy of shifting to organic farming overnight, but to no avail. The Minister concerned and others repeatedly said that they would not change the government’s decision as it had been made for the good of all the people. The farmers had no problem with organic farming but insisted that the transition had to be phased out to avoid serious adverse effects. But no! The government never relented and tried to show that the street protests were instigated by interested parties including chemical fertiliser companies, to make the government unpopular. The government insisted that chemical fertilisers have caused many ailments including the dreaded kidney disease and turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ grievances.

However, hot on the heels of Mr. Modi’s U-turn last week, the Minister has changed track and tells us that the government, being one which is always ‘sensitive to people’s concerns’, has decided to make chemical fertilizers available through private imports, but would not import them on its own or change its policy of going fully organic. Questioned by journalists, another ruling party spokesperson quipped that the government’s decision came about neither due to the Indian PM’s ‘example’ nor in response to the loud protests. It is a result of the discussions held within the party, he assured.

However, it is unfortunate that the government had to wait for more than seven months to be ‘sensitive to peoples’ concerns’. If the ruling party members had only taken a few minutes to watch TV news headlines, they would have proved their ‘sensitivity’ months earlier, not waiting for Mr. Modi to steal a march on them, so to speak. To any reasonable person, the government obviously has responded to the rampant protests that were actually the climax of a prolonged process, which began with pleading, explaining their predicament, reasoning, chest thumping, expressing disbelief, which gradually culminated in loud protests, burning of effigies and threatening to come to Colombo in numbers. Surely, Mr. Modi didn’t make it any easier for the government to justify its ‘sensitivity’ to farmers’ grievances!

Thus, to any reasonable person, the government had actually responded to the unbridled anger of the helpless farmers, not to their grievances. What’s more, looking at how the government had handled the previous issues of a controversial nature, it is hard to recall any instance where it promptly responded to people’s concerns; it was always a case of responding to people vehemently protesting as a last resort- be it the Port City issue, Eastern Terminal, Teachers’ salary or Yugadanavi Power Plant issue, not to mention the pathetic state of innocent villagers being perpetually traumatized by wild elephant attacks often taking their lives wantonly. In each of these cases, the government, wittingly or unwittingly, seemed to regard the voices of concern, not as appeals worthy of serious attention, but as attempts at disruption or politically motivated interventions. This, surely, does not augur well for the government or support its claim to ‘sensitivity’ as regards people’s concerns.

The government’s decision to compromise on its strict chemical fertiliser ban, which has come soon after Mr. Modi’s reversal of sorts, allows room for the discerning public to make obvious inferences, despite the government’s claim about its decision not being influenced by that of the Indian PM. In fact, the government reps have nothing to gain by pretending to blush when journalists suggest that they perhaps took a leaf from their neighbour. Even at this juncture, people’s representatives seem reluctant to prefer sincerity to affectation; hence the government’s growing aloofness, which is causing a “severe trust deficit”- to borrow a pithy phrase from The Island editorial of November 19.

As the representatives of the public, what any government needs to foster are sincerity and empathy. It is this tacit bond between the people and the government, which will consolidate trust in the long term. Being the party that holds power, the onus is on the rulers to secure people’s faith. Instead, every party that has come to power since Independence has always helped the Opposition to make a five yearly ‘ritual cleansing’ in the eyes of the people. So, the wheel turns.

Susantha Hewa

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Opinion

Don’t harass whistle-blower

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Thushan Gunawardena, who alerted the authorities and the media to a serious fraud taking at Sathosa should not be harassed by the Police as it is clear that he has no political motives and has acted in the public interest.

The Cabinet minister concerned is attempting to show a conspiracy against him when he has failed to prevent such frauds at Sathosa and let it continue as there were benefits flowing to him in addition to his being able to employ family members and manipulate the system for personal profit.

It is patently clear that he is trying to take the investigation in a different direction and prevent changes that would clean up the mess that is contributing to the massive losses at Sathosa.

Mahinda Gunasekera

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Opinion

Stanley (Sam) Samarasinghe

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A TRIBUTE TO A PATRIOT

Even with the prior knowledge that the end was near, when the news of the passing away of Sam on the 23rd of November 2021 was conveyed to me, it was difficult to bear. Though living the better part of his adult life in the United States, to those with whom he had regular contact and dialogue, he was ever present. He succumbed to an illness that he bore with courage and fortitude for several years. In that time his enthusiasm to live his life to the full did not diminish. Except family and close friends none had even the slightest inkling that he was battling an invasive enemy within.

I have described Sam as a Patriot, if its definition is “one that loves his country and zealously maintains its interests”, then it fits him well, as he did that in full measure.

Having schooled in Kandy at Dharmarajah College, Sam completed a special degree in economics at the Peradeniya University where his father worked. Having being accepted by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he turned to his mentor, Professor H. A. de S. Gunasekera, who had advised him to take Cambridge. He went there with his wife Vidyamali, whom he had met at Peradeniya and obtained his Ph.D. in Economics. They both returned to Peradeniya and Sam became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics. He taught there until 1989, when he left for the United States with his wife and two sons, Mevan and Ranmal. He was appointed Professor of the Development Studies Programme at the USAID, a position he held for many years in Washington. But what is remarkable, is that he continued his abiding interest in the many facets of Sri Lankan life, especially in education and politics and of course, Kandy. He returned to Sri Lanka at least twice a year. While others would spend such breaks as a let up from work, Sam vigorously involved himself in many spheres of activity.

Along with Prof. Kingsley de Silva, he created the only intellectual hub outside of the Peradeniya University in Kandy at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES). As Director, he secured funding for many academic projects that the Centre did. Sam was instrumental in the ICES buying its own place and then constructing a tarred road leading to the Center. The way he set about it will give the reader an idea of the man Sam was. The road served at least 12 houses. He arranged a meeting of all the householders and sold them a deal that none could refuse. Each household was asked to pay proportionately to the distance from the main Peradeniya Road to their house. At the end of the exercise. Sam refunded the excess in that same proportion!!

Sam was an academic, researching and writing extensively, sometimes collaborating with other academics such as Prof. Kingsley de Silva and Prof. G.H. (Gerry) Peiris. On several occasions, he brought out his post graduate students from the Tulane University, New Orleans (where he was Visiting Professor of Economics) to Sri Lanka and to Kandy, arranged field trips and had them interact with academics and professionals.

His particular interest in Kandy made him do a study of its traffic congestion and organised a public seminar with other experts on the subject. As the President of the Senkadagala Lions Club, Sam obtained funding for many of its projects. In fact, Sam had a penchant for writing up project proposals, an expertise he ungrudgingly shared with anyone who asked for it. He started a monthly local newspaper in 1994, the “Kandy News”, becoming its Chief Editor and its main sponsor. The last issue was a special supplement done in the run-up to the Kandy Municipal Council election in 2018.

When the tsunami stuck the country in 2004, Sam was the lead Consultant of a World Vision programme designed to make a qualitative assessment of tsunami and non-tsunami villages from Kalutara in the Western Province to Kilinochchi in the Northern Province. A task he successfully completed with his team under the aegis of the ICES.

He was an advocate for cooperation and harmony among the races. His involvement in the post tsunami work in Jaffna and Trincomalee with the Lions Club is proof of that, as much as it was when he asked the guests to the nuptial reception of his son Mevan, not to give presents but to contribute towards the project initiated by Mevan and himself in giving school books and equipment to the Tamil Primary School at the Gomorra Estate in Panwila.

My own association with Sam goes back to the time I ran for office as Mayor in 1997. He threw his weight behind me helping out in ways too numerous to mention. That friendship grew and grew and it embraced my family as well. He would ask me to criticise his writing especially on politics. He was a stickler for accuracy and uncompromising on facts. His opinions were rational, practical and unbiased. A bubbly personality, he was always a believer that there are better times ahead. His enthusiasm was infectious. His criticism of events and people were never personal. There is much to take from the life and times of Sam Samarasinghe.

We share his loss with his wife, the two boys of whom he was justly very proud of and his siblings whose welfare he always had. The country is poorer for his passing.

May he find peace in Nibbana!

Harindra Dunuwille

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