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Dayan Jayatilleka and the Opposition Reset

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Hobbes and Locke:

When both the Sinhala Alt-Right and neoliberal Right start attacking you, you know you’re occupying a centrist moral high ground. Appointing Dr Dayan Jayatilleka as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya’s Senior International Relations Advisor – no Junior Advisor as of yet – portends, I think, a world of possibility, for an Opposition bruised and battered by a quarter-century of self-manslaughter. The appointment as it stands doesn’t really amount to much, unless you place it in its proper context: what we have is a key theoretician, the only theoretician who can pose a credible enough challenge to what the government is doing. I do not necessarily agree with everything he has said and written over the last few months, but I do agree that the Opposition needs a radical reset. And it’s becoming more and more clear that the man best capable of handling the surgery to see that through is Dr Jayatilleka.

The problem with the SJB is that it is acting more and more like a many-headed hydra facing a rapacious but determined behemoth. To match the behemoth, the Opposition must meet it headfirst; it must critique the state’s more questionable actions while matching its better ideals. In three areas it should seek to go beyond the UNP’s paradigm: domestic economics, foreign relations, and the constitution. It’s no coincidence that Dr Jayatilleka’s critique of the government rests on these three areas, and it’s no coincidence that it’s from those vantage points that his critics – from BOTH the Alt-Right and the neoliberal Right – continue to attack and denigrate him. The first strategy must therefore be to purge the Opposition, not in the old authoritarian sense, but in the sense of removing remnants of what Dr Jayatilleka calls Ranilism: that failed neoliberal, anti-Presidential yahapalanist policy.

The yahapalana neoliberal project failed, but not because Sri Lankans are averse to a liberal polity. It all depends on what kind of liberal policies the yahapalana government was trying to dish out. At the centre of its project was a fatal disjuncture between its populist roots and its avowed policy of “liberalising and globalising” (Mangala Samaraweera, Budget Speech 2017). People voted for a social market economy; what they got was anything but. In other words the yahapalanists failed to reconcile the timeless rift between social liberalism (with its emphasis on state interventionism) and economic liberalism (with its emphasis on the rollback of the state). High on principles, and lofty ones, it floundered. For that reason, we cannot go back to 2015. We should not try to do so.

Given this, how should the SJB craft its policies in those areas? On the domestic economic front, the SJB must abandon, totally and considerably, that earlier policy of liberalising and globalising. It must think of production, since the biggest, most persistent problem facing this country’s economy today is its absence of a proper manufacturing base. It cannot hope to achieve this with piecemeal solutions; there must be state intervention, what Dr Dayan calls “a new, New Deal, Rooseveltian-Keynesian.” I am no economist, so I can’t really detail the specifics of this new New Deal. I do know, however, what it should not be: the old UNP-yahapalanist neoliberal paradigm. The new policy must be progressive, state-led though not state-monopolised, and driven by local manufacture.

Of course, in all fairness to Dr Jayatilleka, I should point out that this may not necessarily be what he has in mind or what he advocates. That is why I disagree with him when he ponders the impracticality of import controls, since local production requires “imported inputs, while a middle-class society in an MDG country, cannot sustain itself without imported consumer goods, including essentials.” Far from being a minus point against restrictions, I believe the very fact that we import consumer goods, even for local production, necessitates a cohesive substitution strategy that, while directed by the state, should be phased out.

On the foreign policy front, relations with India must be patched up immediately, while the anti-China lobby must be discouraged. To be fair by the current regime, notwithstanding the anti-Indian comments of certain Ministers it has more or less attempted to stick to its “India First” policy, even attempting the impossible: the lease-out of the East Coast Terminal to an Indian investor in the teeth of opposition from the government’s own ranks.

I don’t think it feasible or advisable, however, for the regime to have gone to such lengths to prove its India First credentials, and to Dr Dayan’s credit he critiques it extensively as well: it will, he observes, antagonise China, forcing it to try leaving behind a bigger footprint on the country. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s interlude with Tony Blinken makes it clear that Indo-US ties will only strengthen across the board against the China Factor under the new administration in Washington. Sri Lanka simply cannot afford to ignore this, but then it must not use geopolitical imperatives to go overboard when dealing with neighbours.

A clear consensus has arisen, especially among the hardliners in the regime and nationalists within the Opposition, that the ECT deal should not have gone ahead. Dr Dayan is agreed on this point, but to what extent is the Opposition in the SJB also agreed to it? We’re getting mixed signals from Sajith Premadasa’s party. Symbolically enough the tweets and messages congratulating the government vis-à-vis the ECT deal have been, not from any government figure, but from the Opposition. The SJB has mostly tilted between reluctant acquiescence (they were with the UNP when the agreement was drafted, after all) and hysterical rhetoric (Harin Fernando’s claim that the Adanis to whom the ECT was leased will take business from Sri Lanka to a port they have developed in Mundra, a claim that was shown to be untrue by N. Sathya Moorthy in a report on the deal). This is not how it should be.

The ECT deal, however, isn’t all there is to what course Sri Lanka should take regarding its foreign policy. Another issue is Geneva, the UNHRC bomb. Dr Jayatilleka is adamantly of the belief that inasmuch as the government blundered by withdrawing from Resolution 30/1, it was the yahapalana regime’s fault for cosponsoring it in the first place.

This runs counter to elements within the UNP and even SJB that still view Resolution 30/1 as a foreign policy success; Harsha de Silva’s lengthy though well detailed speech in parliament two months ago on the question of the government’s foreign policy did the rounds in every quarter, but then ended up referring to the March 2015 Geneva session on a positive note. Not so, Dr Jayatilleka warned not too long afterwards: any reform-and-reset program in the Opposition must let go of the belief that Resolution 30/1 was a success, and recognise it for the unmitigated disaster it was.

On the constitution front, the way forward for the Opposition seems clear: it must abandon any rhetoric of getting rid of the Executive Presidency. For Dr Jayatilleka, the problem with the 20th Amendment isn’t so much the fact that it restores the Presidency as it is the degree to which it entrenches it. There is a clear difference: the objective of any practical-minded and national Opposition, he implies, must be, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but to retain the baby sans the bathwater. Ergo, constitutional reforms must a) not abolish or substantively reduce the powers of the EP, and b) go as far as permissible and practical vis-à-vis devolution of power, within and not beyond the 13th Amendment.

Sri Lanka’s political landscape, as it rests, is occupied by Lockean liberals and Hobbesian sovereigntists. The former are high on ideals, low on execution, while the latter are all for execution, not so much for ideals. To take a middle-ground between these two must be the aim of every self-respecting Opposition, and it seems as though Dr Jayatilleka has, despite my reservations with some of his policy recommendations, got it. We need an alternative to both neoliberal think-tanks and ultranationalist-technocratic fora. I believe the SJB has what it takes to go beyond its neoliberal roots, though I fear I’ll be proven wrong.

The solutions to Sri Lanka’s predicament must come from a left-of-centre, even Marxist, position; I believe in taking the latter course, but I also know what is practical and what is not, at least in Sri Lanka. The SJB does not stand out as a Marxist party, but then nor does the SLPP. Yet it must adroitly escape its neoliberal past, and for that, Dr Jayatilleka’s policy recommendations must be, if not unanimously, then at least considerably endorsed by the upper echelons of the party. I mean not just Sajith Premadasa, but also Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickramaratne, Buddhika Pathirana, Rajitha Senaratne, and Ajith Perera.

These ex-UNPers must realise that the old centre-right neoliberal paradigm no longer works. They must realise, in what they say and what they do, that such a paradigm must never be tried or tested out again. If getting the SJB and its officials to undergo this radical reset is all he does, I believe Dr Jayatilleka will have done his part. To reiterate yet again: there must be a purge, so that the SJB doesn’t end up as GR Lite or, worse, UNP Lite.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Dudley and Gopallawa: two simple leaders

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Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd.) Edward Gunawardene

Barely a week had passed after the election ended I was in for a surprise. I received a message from the IGP that I had been appointed as the ASP in charge of the security of the Hon. Prime Minister and His Excellency the Governor-General. As expected Dudley Senanayake had been appointed the Prime Minister and he was in the process of forming the Cabinet. William Gopallawa was the Governor-General. He had taken over from Oliver Goonatilleke after the attempted coup of 1962.

The VIP Security Division fell within the purview of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police. I was not given any indication as to where I was to take up residence. As the only official police bungalows were the large ‘C’ type houses on Brownrigg Road (now Keppetipola Mawatha) I knew that as a bachelor I had no chance of getting one of these. Furthermore all these were occupied mainly by the DIGs and SPs.

With no other alternative and my presence in Colombo urgently needed I decided to occupy a room in the Officers’ Mess. I telephoned Jamis the butler and told him to prepare a room for me. All my furniture was piled up in one room of the Kegalle house and the HQI was requested by me to look after the premises. My successor in Kegalle had not been appointed. My clothes were packed into two old suitcases. My shoes, riding boots, football boots, guns, fishing rods etc were packed separately. Chandradasa and I left Kegalle to the Officers’ Mess with just these few things. There was no time for farewells, not even a farewell parade or guard-of-honour. To me and Chandradasa the Mess was not a new place. During my CID, Colombo Div. and Nugegoda District days I had lived in the Mess and Chandradasa had been my personal servant.

Because I left Kegalle very early I was able to be at the Mess by 9 a.m. Having changed my clothes and wearing shirt and tie I went to the CID office on the fourth floor of the New Secretariat building and reported to the DIG CID John Attygalle. He was very cordial. A room was allocated to me with a telephone, a Sub-Inspector, a PC and a civilian clerk who could also type. He also told me that my duties would be such that I will have to spend little time in the office. The vehicle allocated to me was a new Peugeot 404. When the DIG indicated this to me, I told him that I would use this only when I travel out of Colombo for official purposes. I preferred using my Peugeot 203 for my usual travel in Colombo. He appeared to be surprised by my decision.

After taking over duties as the ASP, VIP Security and reporting to the DIG CID there were two other important tasks to perform. They were to introduce myself to the Prime Minister and also to the Governor-General. The former was no stranger to me, after lunch and a short nap at the Mess I was driven to ‘Woodlands’ by my new orderly PC Fernando. The gate was manned by two PCs. My car was stopped. When my orderly spoke to them, both of them came up to the window on the side I was seated and saluted me smiling broadly.

When I got down at the portico there were several people on the verandah. There were also a Sub-Inspector and two or three constables in uniform. When I disclosed my identity to the Sub-Inspector he saluted me and told me that the Prime Minister was in. From the verandah I walked into the quite spacious office room. A handsome man dressed in white and a red tie was seated at the large desk. His white jacket hung on the wall behind him.

When he saw me, he got up smiling. Stretching out his hand he said, “Hello Eddie. We were expecting you”. This was Joe Karunaratne, the son of Professor W.A.E. Karunaratne who had assumed duties as the private secretary to the Prime Minister. Joe and I had been at kindergarten together in St. Joseph’s College in the early 40s. He had left St. Joseph’s and joined St. Benedict’s and was my junior at Peradeniya. He told me that the Prime Minister was busy finalizing the Cabinet with Bradman Weerakoon. Until Bradman joined us, Joe and I reminisced about our old friends and the days as kids. Happy Karunaratne was Joe’s twin brother. A happy-go- lucky young man he had died early.

After about 45 minutes Bradman came out of the Prime Minister’s room. He was dressed in a cream tussore lounge suit. After I was introduced to him by Joe we had a brief chat. As he was in a hurry to get back to his office, the room adjoining the Prime Minister’s room in the Senate building, he excused himself and left. Bradman was a member of the Ceylon Civil Service. Commencing with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike he had worked for every prime minster. A model public servant he commanded much respect even after his retirement. As the security chief of the Prime Minister it was necessary for me to work closely with the Secretary and the private secretary. Naturally the three of us became friends.

As the Prime Minister was busy with several ministers, I told Joe that I would visit Queen’s House, study the security arrangements there and return. When I went to Queen’s House it was about 4.30 pm. Inspector Bongso received me. Apart from Bongso the other security officers consisted of two Sergeants and four constables. The uniformed personnel at the gates and a tactical patrol through a passage between the perimeter wall and a Madras-thorn hedge were provided by the Fort Police Station.

Although the residence of the Governor-General everything at Queen’s House appeared very simple. Bongso took me round the premises of this sprawling Dutch building adjoining the Gordon Gardens. I was impressed by the simplicity of William Gopallawa when I was taken to the kitchen. The main area of the kitchen with a long table, a large electric cooking range, two deep freezers and numerous other gadgets did not show signs of use. In a small room next to the extensive kitchen there was a man dressed in sarong and banian preparing a meal. The room had a refrigerator and an electric cooker. This cook from Matale was preparing two vegetable curries to be eaten by “hamuduruwo” with two slices of toast for dinner! It is unimaginable indeed that a kitchen that had seen nothing less than turkey and ham served by liveried waiters even during the early post-independence years, readying such a frugal meal for a simple head of state in 1965. Having told Bongso that I would visit the following morning I left to Woodlands.

When I reached Woodlands it was about 6.30 pm. Joe was still there talking to a person who had come from Dedigama. Just then Robert walked in with young Rukman who went inside and came out saying “Mahappi is resting.”

“He will be up in a few minutes Eddie. We can have a chat. Don’t go away”, said Robert turning to me. It did not take long. Carolis came to us and indicated that “Hamu’ was up and that he had just lit his pipe. He added that Hamu’s Brilliantine was over and all his efforts to get a bottle had failed. I immediately telephoned OIC Pettah and told him to get two jars of — Yardley Brilliantine and send them to me at the Officers’ Mess. No other hair cream had the rich aroma of Yardley brilliantine and Carolis said this was an urgent necessity as ‘Hamu’ would not use any other brand.

Pleasant looking in gold rimmed glasses Carolis had a fine sense of humour. Saying, “Sir, a wonderful thing happened today”, he related a story that made all of us laugh. Ruskin Fernando the MP for Moratuwa had come to Woodlands when the Prime Minister was not in. Carolis had told him that ‘Hamu’ was busy making (hadanawa) the Cabinet. Putting his palm on his forehead Ruskin had blurted, “Why didn’t he tell me. I could have turned out a special cabinet for him! As everybody knows Moratuwa is famed for its carpenters.

 

 

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More on Villa Venezia

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Tissa Devendra’s lament for Villa Venezia, Sri Lanka’s first University Library, prompted a letter from Mr. Rohantha Fernando, a relative by marriage of Sir. Marcus Fernando, who has long lived in the UK, enclosing some photos of the villa from a Plate annual published in the 1930s and a brief description of the house published below.

After Sir. Marcus, a prominent physician and legislator sold the house, he lived in another palatial mansion, Deveronside, on Sir. Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7.

 

The description of Villa Venezia:

“VILLA VENEZIA”

QUEEN’S ROAD, COLOMBO.

The Residence of Sir Marcus Fernando.

Architects: – Messrs. Edwards, Reid and Booth, F. & A. A. R. I. B. A.

1. The main staircase runs up from the marble octagonal hall to the First Floor ante room. The dome is similar in shape and colour to a lotus flower.

2. The ball room verandah on the First Floor. There is a similar verandah on the other side of the ball room, which in addition to the great height of the ball room ensures that the latter is always cool.

3. The Ground Floor Drawing Room. This room leads out of the Octagonal Hall and the Dining Room and is flanked by two verandahs. The exterior of one of these is depicted on plate 4.

4. The central feature of the elevation towards Queen’s Road. The great height of the Ball room is marked by this feature. The character of the building is Adriatic.

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Is India in the West or East, that’s the question

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by Malinda Seneviratne

What if the British High Commissioner in Colombo, Sarah Hulton, met with the Ambassador of South Korea, Woonjin Jeong, on Tuesday, May 2, 2021? What if he was accompanied by the former Foreign Minister and the man who happily tossed Sri Lanka under the UNHRC bus driven by a warmongering Uncle Sam? What if Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, David McKinnon, held discussions with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 7, around the same time?

Now there are no laws against diplomats meeting other diplomats. There are no laws to stop diplomats meeting citizens of the country they happen to be posted in. However, it is significant that both South Korea and Bangladesh are members of the Human Rights Council. It is significant because in a few days time a vote will be taken in Geneva on a resolution on (well, ‘against,’ really) Sri Lanka. It’s a one country-one-vote situation, and therefore every vote can count. Indeed, if it is a close affair then that one vote becomes even more significant.
The Resolution is not just against Sri Lanka; it is a vote which, if succeeds, will set a dangerous precedent and effectively turn ‘human rights’ into an even more ironic, preposterous and pernicious weapon that the worst thug-nations in the world can deploy to wreck nations and regimes refusing to toe the line. In other words, it would give credence to vexatious persecution
The earth is not flat; this we know. Neither is Switzerland despite the lovely mountains, except in the dullness of the flavors pertaining to political economy. Countries might have equal voting worth on paper, but then again few would not have heard of that stinging truism ‘some are more equal than others.’ That oft quoted Golden Rule makes sense: he who has the gold makes the rules (we’ll come to that shortly). One can add ‘guns’ to the equation except that such killing-instruments are outdated in a world where there are nuclear weapons and countries which possess them have not hesitated to use biological weapons.
If it has come to a point where local diplomats have been directed by their respective governments to canvass votes then it simply means that the bosses driving the resolution have got jittery. Now one might be persuaded to imagine these diplomats sipping green tea and trying to persuade the relevant counterparts to join the club. However, persuasive arguments were never part of the story. It’s never been about right or wrong, good or evil. No. It’s about proposals that end with ‘or else…’ directly stated or suggested. Bribes too are part of the story. ‘How about if we…’ could be the ice-breaker in such situations.

Considering the geographical (and yes, ideological) location/orientation of the key players, this is essentially a West vs East game. This brings to mind a curious case of ‘seeing the light’ not too long ago. Let me elaborate.
It is no secret that the UNP faction of the previous regime was cosy with the political West. You could, if you are generous, call it ideological agreement of course but there has always been a streak of servility that prompts one to think and label, ‘colonial remnants.’
That dispensation, led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, banked on the West. Mangala Samaraweera, Foreign Minister of that government, played ‘local agent’ to the extent that he bent backwards to get Sri Lanka to dig a hole and crawl into it. He’s gone now, but he (and all those in that government who either cheered, watched in silence or looked away) essentially laid a minefield for those who would arrive later to walk on. This is why ‘Geneva’ is still in the news.

This, however, is not about that kind of political intrigue. It’s about the West (and therefore, obviously, the East). Wickremesinghe’s cabal, sweethearts as far as the West was concerned, operated as though we live on a planet so misshapen that there was only the West. Obviously the word means nothing if there’s no East, so maybe they operated as though the East, existent though it is, was inconsequential.

Brexit hit them between the proverbial eyes. Wickremesinghe came up with a classic and ironical observation: ‘we will look to the East.’ OMG! Wickremesinghe, thought of as some kind of whizkid in things economic, we learned, hadn’t heard of China or known that China and Japan own North American and European debt! OMG all over again!
So then, that’s how we need to frame this charade. East vs West. T.S. Eliot, in his iconic poem ‘Wasteland’ had a pretty and perceptive line (if it’s ok to interpret it in terms of a tectonic shift in ‘seeing’ and true domination):

There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

The above is obviously a description of someone moving from West to East. We can think of it as an ideological shift or even a re-alignment of philosophical orientation, but at a more mundane level, it’s about a shift in the balance of global power. In that sense, the Geneva Circus of Vexatious Persecution using/abusing Sri Lanka is but symptomatic of a last gasp effort on the part of those who have called the shots for a long century and are suddenly realizing that they are going to lose their voices.
The title has ‘India’ in it. Why India, someone might wonder. Well, India seems ideologically confused and geographically challenged right now. The West (or rather the spokespersons for the ideological and political camp that uses the locational term as identifier) has made it’s position clear: ANTI-SRI LANKA. The key voices of the opposite camp, led of course by China, have backed Sri Lanka. Even Japan and Australia (the other two Quad members) haven’t shown any of the belligerence of the world’s worst human rights offender over the past several centuries, Britain (yes, add ‘perpetrator of genocide, common thief, generator of inter-communal conflict, pyromaniac’) and her present day allies. India hasn’t mimicked the ‘Mother Country’ of course, but the noises are not supportive. They are marked by grumpiness. So much so that it would not be unfair if the relevant authorities assume ‘India will side against Sri Lanka.’ India could abstain, but at this point, it would be silly for India to assume that Sri Lanka would applaud such a position.
It’s simple, really. India has an issue with a strident China. India can play pawn and scoot over to the country that raped her. India might even be envisaging a future world order that is divided between two new superpowers, China and India. India could, on the other hand, envisage a new world order led by powerful nations which will not settle things with guns and bucks, even if they have the bombs and the gold. Instead of carving up the world (as the European powers carved up —and impoverished — Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884), India, with China, could use new found sway to heal the world and make it a better place (for you and for me, as MJ said).
India has a single vote. However, the stand that India takes will be taken note of. Sri Lanka certain would. Other nations would too. Sometimes, arms need not be twisted (as the British and Canadian mission heads in Colombo might very well be doing — Bangladesh and South Korea are proud nations, we still believe, by the way). A threat is often more powerful than its execution, as the great Polish and French chess master Savielli Tartakower once said.
So. India. Where is it located or rather where does India wish to locate itself? That’s the question. The answer will be important for Sri Lanka because it could persuade Sri Lanka to reassess her location (as nations do from time to time).

[The writer is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

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