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Importing Liquefied Natural Gas – II

by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

In Part I of this article, the Writer published in The Island of 11.01.2021, the writer estimated that liquefied natural gas (LNG) imported through the proposed floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) will take a minimum of six years before the gas could be delivered, considering the possible delays likely to be encountered at every approval stage and the time taken for mobilizing the FSRU. He also said that there are faster ways of getting LNG into the country bypassing all these procedures which are discussed here.

 

TRADITIONAL METHODS OF IMPORTING LNG

 

Traditionally, LNG is transported in purposely built carriers of capacity 150,000 – 260,000 cubic metres (cm), which need jetties with depth over 16 m to berth. The terminal for unloading LNG requires insulated storage tanks built on the jetty enabling transfer of LNG to the tank using solid arms, vapourizers to convert LNG into gas and compressors to pressurize the gas before dispatching to customers through pipelines.

The quantity of LNG required to operate combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) type power plants of capacity 1,000 MW at 85% plant factor is about 1 Mt, which is the minimum throughput required for economically viable operation. It is estimated that such a terminal will cost over USD 500 million and take over five years to complete.

The Writer in his article on 06.01.2021 mentioned that setting up the proposed FSRU will take a minimum of six years to commission including the time taken for obtaining many approvals, though the actual setting up time will not likely be more than 3 years.

 

USE OF LOW DRAUGHT SMALL CARRIERS

 

On the West Coast North of Colombo, the sea close to the coast is rather shallow, with the 5 fathom (9.1 m) bathymetry contour lying about 1.25 km from the coast, and the 10 fathom (18.2 m) bathymetry contour lying about 6.5 km from the coast. Hence, it is difficult to construct a traditional land-based terminal close to Colombo. However, a site has been identified at Dikkowita where there is a break in the reef which allows shallow boats to be brought in. Already a Fishery Harbour has been built at this site, and the Ministry of Fisheries had called for proposals to develop projects around the harbour. In response, a proposal was submitted to build a mini-LNG terminal adjoining the Fishery Harbour seawards and this was accepted by the Fisheries Ministry with concurrence of stakeholder organizations.

Hence, one option is to build such a mini-terminal. The proposed project envisages deploying small LNG carriers with capacity 16,000 cm (7,200 t) having a draught below 5 m to bring LNG to the country. For storage, two cryogenic tanks each of capacity 10,000 t of LNG (22,200 cm) were planned to be built on the jetty enabling transfer of LNG from a carrier direct to the storage tank. A gas-fired 300 MW CCGT power plant operating at 80% plant factor requires 285 kt of LNG annually or 24 kt of LNG monthly. With the capacity of the carrier being only 7,200 t of LNG, it has to bring 40 loads of LNG annually or 3.3 loads a month. The proponent has proposed that LNG will be supplied at the spot market price prevailing at Singapore LNG Terminal on short term contract, with supply agreements signed when the spot market price is low with safeguards against price hikes that prevail during Winter when the demand for LNG is high.

The project though accepted by the Ministry of Fisheries and a pre-feasibility study completed, it is yet to receive approval of the Ministry of Energy (MoE) which is mandated to authorize LNG import and distribution. LNG is not a commodity that can be purchased off the shelf. It has to be ordered years or months ahead even on the spot market. Unless the MoE gives the green light for the project, Proponent is unable to enter into any contract for the supply of LNG and undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study. Hence, sooner the MoE grants approval, earlier it will be possible to meet the President’s aspirations.

 

USE OF ISO INSULATED CONTAINERS

 

A second option is to bring LNG loaded in insulated standard size containers conforming to ISO Standards in normal container carriers. Once the LNG container is transported to Colombo Port, it could be unloaded on to a road truck and taken direct to a customer site. In view of the highly flammable nature of LNG, particularly if it leaks out and get vaporized, its delivery through the Port and transporting along highways need special approval of the Ports Authority and the Motor Traffic Department, respectively. Transporting of gas across the country as LNG in containers is a more convenient method than using pipelines, because the latter requires many time-consuming approvals, land acquisitions, long construction time and social impacts.

Once delivered at the site, the consumer has two options to unload LNG. Either, a separate insulated tank could be built to store the delivered LNG which could be subsequently re-gasified and transferred to the power plant or the factory in pipelines. Since it is expensive to build LNG storage tanks, the other option is to use the container itself for storage which can hold the gas in liquid form for over two months. With this option, it is necessary to construct three platforms on to which the containers could be unloaded. One will be for keeping the container in use, second is to keep the empty container once it runs out of gas and the third is to keep the new container.

A 40 ft container has a capacity of 46 kl of LNG which has an energy content of about 1,000 GJ. The energy demand of a 300 MW CCGT power plant as shown before is 285 kt of LNG annually which is equivalent to about 46,000 GJ per day. This means a 300 MW CCGT power plant can be fed with 46 container loads of LNG per day imported in standard size containers. Currently, Colombo Port handles more than 5,500 of 20 ft equivalent containers daily, and therefore additional 46 containers will pose no problem. Also, with the anticipated expansion of the Port, it should be able to handle even a higher volume of containers to feed more power plants.

President’s Saubhagye Dekma Policy Framework says “Convert Kelanitissa plant to a natural gas turbine plant and implement two similar plants in Kerawalapitiya and Hambantota before 2023”. The only way to bring NG to Kelanitissa and Kerawalapitiya before 2023 to realize the President’s aspiration is to use insulated containers as described above. Hence, the relevant authorities should give the necessary clearance for this project as a matter of priority.

 

SUPPLYING LNG FOR DIFFERENT APPLICATIONS

 

For the operation of a power plant, it is necessary to have a separate storage tank for transferring the LNG brought in containers before it is vapourized for feeding to the power plant since continuity of supply is important. For use in Industrial Estates or Housing Schemes, where the demand is low, the second option mentioned above is more suitable. Once re-gasified, the gas could be supplied to individual industries in an Industrial Estate or individual apartments in a housing scheme in a local pipeline network, managed by an approved organization having licensed staff.

Containers containing LNG meant for transport applications could be taken to a central yard where the LNG is converted into gas and then pressurized for loading into CNG bowsers. Vehicles with spark-ignited (SI) engines could easily be converted into operation with natural gas, supplied under pressure as CNG in bowsers designed for CNG transport. Facilities for dispensing CNG to motor vehicles could be made available at road-side fuel outlets, using the same procedure as that used for transporting LPG and feeding it to vehicles. The only requirement is that the operator will have to obtain a licence from the Petroleum Corporation and enhance the fire-fighting facilities in view of the additional fire risks. With the introduction of NG operated vehicles, the vehicle emission testing centres will become redundant.

Natural gas cannot be used directly in compression-ignited engines as it lacks properties to self-ignite upon compression as in the case of diesel oil. But it can be used blended slightly with diesel, which will provide the necessary ignition while NG will provide the necessary power. Though the use of NG as a substitute for diesel will reduce air pollution and has a price advantage, it does not give the same power output as that from a diesel engine with similar capacity. Further, NG operated heavy vehicles are about 50% more expensive than a similar diesel heavy vehicle. Hence, its use has not caught up like in the case of vehicles with SI engines.

 

OTHER OPTIONS AVAILABLE

 

The Cabinet of Ministers, at its meetings held on 09th May and 02nd October, 2018, has granted approval for a Chinese Company to build a 400 MW gas-fired power plant at Hambantota Port along with an LNG terminal, as a government-to-government project and implemented as a joint venture with the CEB. The electricity generated will be used solely for feeding the Chinese Industrial Estate at Hambantota. The project has been granted necessary approvals including EIA on a fast tract basis and its construction is underway.

A third option is to negotiate with China to permit Sri Lanka to use its terminal for bringing LNG in separate carriers engaged by Sri Lanka, upon payment of a toll fee. In many instances, LNG terminals are operating below capacity and if it is the case with the terminal at Hambantota, this should be possible. On the other hand, Sri Lanka could negotiate with China to import and supply Sri Lanka’s requirements at an agreed price.

The imported LNG after regasification could be brought to Kerawalapitiya and Kelanitissa in pipelines possibly laid along the Highway Reservation from Hambantota with no issues of land acquisition coming up. However, laying of a gas pipeline requires a detailed EIA study, which may take a minimum of one year including time taken to issue the terms of reference and public scrutiny time. In addition, the time taken for negotiations with China and getting approval from the Cabinet will take a minimum of one more year.

Thereafter, preparing bid documents and calling for proposals from prospective contractors, evaluating the proposals and awarding the contract and carrying out the actual work will likely to take at least another 3 years, which will extend the total time period to 5 years. It may be possible to fast tract the process by conducting some of these activities in parallel. One advantage of this option is that it is a more permanent solution than the rest, but will have to depend on the Chinese for its sustenance.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Several options are available for importing LNG other than building a land-based or a floating terminal as currently proposed. Some of these are of shorter duration but of limited capacity, while another is of permanent nature and also has high capacity. However, a final decision has to be taken after carrying out a detailed technical and financial assessment of each option, assessing the future demand for overall energy in the country as well as possible sectors where energy needs could be met from natural gas. The Ministry of Energy will have to give the highest priority to undertake such a study.



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Sri Lanka’s diplomatic synchronicity with Its neighbourhood

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By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has mainly been characterised by synchronising its policies with the multipolar system and balancing the foreign policy manifestation with outreach to different regions and regional groupings. Given the increased convergence of the strategic interests of Sri Lanka and its neighbours, the ever-changing geopolitical scope of the South Asian region has prompted Sri Lanka to forge closer neighbourhood ties. The rationale behind Sri Lanka’s synchronicity with its neighbours is clear, given that the neighbouring countries and regional organisations offer the potential for substantial growth and development. The benefits of accessing neighbouring markets are significant, particularly for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has for years benefited from the welfare gains of its neighbourhood engagements, and there is a lot more it could still gain.

The focus on neighbourhood diplomacy is a striking feature of contemporary Sri Lankan foreign policy. Notably, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government considers neighbourhood diplomacy a strategic prerequisite for Sri Lanka and its economy. The need to re-establish Sri Lanka’s strategic place in the Indo pacific region has been a significant motivation for the Sri Lankan government. This has emphasised the reinvigoration of and strengthening ties with Asian neighbours including the member states of regional organisations such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, and ASEAN. These developments highlight the need for a proactive engagement with Sri Lanka’s neighbours.

Sri Lanka’s Diplomacy with Its Immediate Neighbourhood: India and the Other SAARC Member States.

India’s rising leadership role in the region, growing engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is helping to protect the interests of India and Sri Lanka. Both these countries consider each other mutually important for geopolitical and strategic reasons. Under the new “India First” doctrine, Sri Lanka aims to further deepen its engagements with India and protect India’s strategic security interests. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s “India First” is a manifestation of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy from being western-oriented to being neighbourly. Moreover, India’s increased engagement with SAARC and other regional groupings such as ASEAN and BIMSTEC has helped protect the mutual interests of both India and Sri Lanka.

Equally, the strategic relations between Sri Lanka and other neighbouring nations such as Pakistan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan have been steadily getting stronger. In this regard, the South Asian Free Trade Area agreement (SAFTA) offers potential for increasing the rate of bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and its SAARC partners. Sri Lanka has also entered into trading agreements such as the Pakistan – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (PSFTA) and the Indo – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA), which offers Sri Lanka access to India’s 1.3 billion consumer market. Sri Lanka has also initiated free trade agreement talks with other SAARC member states like Bangladesh and Nepal.

Engagements with other Asian partners: BIMSTEC AND ASEAN.

Broader engagements with other Asian partners such as the East Asian nations and BIMSTEC member states have also been a striking feature of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy. With the right balance, Sri Lanka’s engagements with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) stand to benefit the island nation both economically and strategically. Sri Lanka’s engagements with ASEAN and other Asian partners in the East received momentum under the 2015-2019 government here. Over the past few years, Sri Lanka has successfully established closer political and economic ties with ASEAN and other East Asian nations. Notably, Sri Lanka’s engagement with ASEAN and other East Asian partners is mainly driven by economic necessity. These Asian partners provide Sri Lanka with an opportunity to seek profitable economic engagements within the Asian neighbourhood.

Sri Lanka has also been actively engaged with The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)  and its member states since its establishment. Notably, the engagements between Sri Lanka and BIMSTEC further increased when the nation assumed the organisation’s chairmanship between 2018 and 2020. BIMSTEC has emerged as a key ally for the future of Sri Lanka’s economy. BIMSTEC is an important channel for economic engagements with neighbourhood value chains and production networks such as India, ASEAN, and Bangladesh.  

Championing a New Foreign Policy Model: The way forward

For Sri Lanka to reap the economic benefits of its diplomacy, the government should emphasise improving cooperation with neighbouring nations. Arguably, the nature of Sri Lanka’s relations with its immediate neighbours and other partners will go a long way in providing the much-needed impetus for Sri Lanka’s prosperity. Notably, the nature of relations with SAARC nations will determine Sri Lanka’s future in its pursuit of regional continuity, the promotion of Sri Lanka’s strategic interests, and strengthening each other’s economic prosperity. A good neighbourhood policy will undoubtedly help Sri Lanka exploit the vast economic opportunities presented by its neighbours.

 

 

About the Author

Dr. 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 Advisor/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’

 

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How confidence has been eroded

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By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

On the threshold of the vote in Geneva, with disaster looming, I began to wonder at how Gotabaya Rajapaksa managed so soon to lose the confidence of the country when there was so much hope when he was elected. The Sugar Fiasco, if not quite in the league of the Bond Scam, suggests that corruption is beyond control. After the satisfactory control, initially, of the coronavirus danger, it burst forth through what seems confused reactions, including the preposterous flood of Ukranian tourists. Contradictory messages, with regard to cremation and burqas and even ages for vaccination, seem the hallmark of this government.

In the end, I think the President has to take responsibility for this mess, and I am sure, unless he is totally surrounded by sycophants, that he must realize where he could have done better. But at the same time, I do feel very sorry for him. As he must know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and he seems to have a chain where there are hardly any links with any bearing capacity whatsoever.

I was struck by this the more when writing the series, I am now producing about the Lost Generations of the United National Party. I have been dealing for the last couple of months with those who came to prominence in the period of the long UNP government of 1977 to 1994, in terms of how and why they did not fulfil their promise.

Contrasting them with those given prominence in the current government, one realizes that now there is no promise at all. To take perhaps the most vital portfolio today we have Pavithra Wanniarachchi, a pleasant enough person but known best for her utter obsequiousness to Chandrika Kumaratunga to begin with, and then Mahinda Rajapaksa and now Gotabaya. One contrasts this with the independent integrity of Gamini Jayasuriya, the first Minister of Health in the Jayewardene government, who resigned from his ministerial position when he disagreed with government policy.

That will not happen with Pavithra, not only because she will not give up her position but also because she cannot understand what it means to disagree about policy. And as for the tremendous innovations Ranjith Atapattu, the Minister of Health who followed, engaged in, his building up of Primary Health Centres and the role of midwives, it is absurd to think of Pavithra having any ideas, let alone such good ones.

That contrast alone makes clear the pitiful position the current President is in. But it is also true that he does not seem to have tried to rise above it. This becomes clear when we consider one of the saddest elements in today’s politics, the enormous responsibilities entrusted to the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was 74 when assumed the role which he had first occupied when he was 58. Now we all love and respect him, even my sister who scolded him roundly the last time she met him, when he was still President. But it is unfair to expect him now to be a creative Minister and, even if the President needs him as Prime Minister for reasons I need not go into now, to entrust Finance to him as well as Urban Development and Housing is just plain silly.

It is of course true that Ranasinghe Premadasa did have a couple of important portfolios when he became Prime Minister under JR, but he was in his early 50 s at the time. These included Housing and Construction, where he made his mark though he also did much in the field of Local Government. And he did not have the vital portfolio of Finance which was in the hands of Ronnie de Mel, another of those I wrote about, who achieved much for the country, though also sadly for himself. But he too was in his early 50 s at the time, and when he came back into executive office when he was in his seventies he did nothing of consequence.

I am not for a moment suggesting that 70 is too old for office. J R Jayewardene did do much when he became President at 71, and his ultimate failure had to do with his vindictive delusions of grandeur, not his age. But Mahinda Rajapaksa, having done wonders during his first term as President, showed that he was no longer capable of constructive measures when he was in his mid-sixties. To expect more from him a decade later is just plain silly.

There is no need to labour the point, for it is crystal clear we are dealing now with satyrs to the Hyperions of an earlier generation. But it is worth nothing also the contrast between Lalith Athulathmudali, whom I have also written about, and those who now have been entrusted with the responsibilities he fulfilled so well in Jayewardene’s government.

He was in charge of trade which has now been handed over to Bandula Gunawardena. He was in charge of Shipping which is now with Rohitha Abeyagunawardena. And six years after he was first a Minister he was entrusted with National Security whereas now, with the President in charge of Defence, we have Chamal Rajapaksa as State Minister of National Security and Sarath Weerasekera in his first Cabinet appointment, a few months after this Cabinet took over, being Minister of Public Security. The latter seems to be the front man for burqa policy at present.

I don’t suppose anyone will question Lalith Athulathmudali’s intelligence and efficiency, whereas the four Ministers inclusive of one State Minister who now fulfil the functions he managed on his own have between them not an iota of this skills and competence. But this is the material which Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has to work with.

Of course, wonderful material is not a guarantee of success, for we know that, though today’s leading politicians are not a patch on those whom J R Jayewardene had in his Cabinet, that government too brought the country to disaster, with dissent bursting into violence on all sides.

We know too that Ranasinghe Premadasa did very well in some particulars though he worked without some of the brightest stars of the preceding period. And then Mahinda Rajapaksa did a great job in his first term, again without many effective workers. So ultimately it is a question of leadership, and what is so very sad is that Gotabaya, whom one anticipated would be a great leader, has shown himself quite incapable of taking the country forward.

Conversely, though one does sympathize when looking at the material through which he has to work, one does feel too that he is not using the few capable people he has to the full. With regard for instance to Foreign Relations, Dinesh Gunawardena does seem to me a cut above JR’s Foreign Minister, ACS Hameed. And though Dinesh would not claim to be intellectually in the class of G L Peiris, he has a solid base of principle which should hold the country in good stead, which doubtless is why Uditha Devapriya, one of the brightest of our young journalists, characterizes him as the best Foreign Minister we have had in years.

It is tragic therefore that he seems to be floundering, not least because, as so many papers have highlighted in recent weeks, there seems to be no clear sense of direction in the Foreign Ministry. So what we have now is ridiculous efforts by a range of government commentators, including Dinesh and G L Peiris, to prove that we did not in fact suffer defeat in Geneva at the recent vote, a folly Devapriya duly chastizes.

So much verbiage that does not convince anyone is not the way forward for the country. What is needed now is concerted action to ensure that we do not suffer in the way the West has planned for us. But there are no signs of such planning, indeed there are no signs of anyone in authority with the capacity to engage in such planning. Jayantha Colombage, from the little I know of him, seems a decent man with some thinking capacity, but certainly not the thinking capacity or the experience to plan alone as say Lakshman Kadirgamar was capable of, or even Ravinatha Ariyasinha, constrained though the latter was by a host of silly or scheming Ministers. But there are no signs that he is talking to people who know better.

There are two obvious examples of people he and Dinesh together should consult. The most obvious is Dayan Jayatilleka, but since government is wary of him, I will talk first about Tamara Kunanayagam who understands the UN system backwards. Why Dinesh has not consulted her on how to cope with the next stage, which is the discussion in the General Assembly on the budget requested to destroy us, is beyond me. She has excellent relations with the Latin Americans, and indeed Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he sacked her, wanted to use her in Latin America but the mafia that then ran foreign relations stopped him. But even now it may not be too late to use the intelligence and experience she possesses, while also working out guidelines on how to do better in Africa, which too we have woefully neglected unlike in the glory days in Geneva from 2007 to 2009.

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Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario

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by Kumar David

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach

Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.

I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA2Zl1mVrOo); the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0WcSiJiJs0). Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.

Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.

Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.

The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.

You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.

What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.

We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.

The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?

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