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Directions of prevailing political realities

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The election of a new parliament, like the election of a new president, provides an opportunity for the nation to envision its future. One can trace the background to this election, link by link as it were, over a chain of circumstances. Each of us might choose a different ‘chain’, and make it go back as far or as near as we wish to. In my case, the chain is the issue of a Sri Lankan identity, and it stretches back to at least 1948.

There is no doubt in my mind that the ideology of identity played a role in the election just concluded – as it has in the past. Especially since the end of the separatist war, the spotlight has been thrown afresh on two strands of thought: one of ‘ethno-religious majoritarianism’, and the other, of ‘pluralism’. Since these terms can mean different things to different people, I need to define what I mean by each.

By majoritarianism I mean a “…political philosophy or agenda that asserts that a majority (sometimes categorized by religion, language, social class, or some other identifying factor) of the population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majoritarianism). And in the case of ethno-religious majoritarianism, its application is to the presumed primacy of the segment of society which identifies itself as ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’. In this view, those without this identity do not hold the same rights as Sinhala Buddhists, whether such differences are legislated or merely represent the de facto reality – if not at all times and situations, in SOME of them. Let me call this ‘Identity 1’ (or ID1 for short).

‘Pluralism’ is used in the sense that Sri Lankans are not only diverse across different dimensions such as ethnicity, mother tongue/first language, religion (and being areligious) and any other category; but that the particular label of identity one carries does not warrant special privileges (claimed on the grounds of being a bhoomi putthra) – therefore seeking to make all citizens equal partners in nation-building. It also includes a perception that we may carry a hybridity WITHIN our official categorization, given how our ancestors have intermingled across the centuries. I refer to pluralism as ‘Identity 2’ (or ID2).

If these two strands of thought, or ideologies, are considered to be two extremes, the realities of day-to-day life probably take place on a continuum between the two. However, they serve as useful signposts at the fork on the road we have now arrived at, to indicate the possible future which lies ahead for generations born and unborn.  

Arguably, ID1 has risen to centre stage in both the presidential and the parliamentary election. If stressing on the importance of ethnicity, and in particular the religion of the majority garners votes (of the majority), then one can claim that that particular view represents the feelings and aspirations of the electorate. And it is possible, of course to build the future of the nation giving special privileges to the majority segment of the population, as different countries have done at different times in their histories; however disagreeable it may be to those who are not a part of this segment.

It is worthwhile briefly considering a question that can be asked – and HAS been asked from time to time, sometimes in sarcasm, which is, what is the evidence for the existence of ID1? The weary answer would be that it is too numerous to keep recounting, but would include the areas of language policy (and practice), land settlement, State recruitment including to the Armed Forces, and so on; and the experience with rhetoric, not only of the ‘lunatic fringe’, but also of the establishment. In recent years this has taken the form of Islamophobia, most evidently in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. This was evident in the run-up to the elections, with candidates keen to establish where they stood in relation to this identity. It has also been displayed after the presidential election, both in the nature of the swearing-in ceremony, and in the apparent advisory role assigned to the Sangha.

Those who view Sri Lankans in terms of ID2 may do so for one or both of two reasons. One is (the perception) that our failure to progress economically since independence is a result of our inability to accept pluralism and build our nation on it; and that therefore our future is doomed if we do not rectify this. The other is that even if we could charter a new course of economic and social development built on ID1 (including perhaps a new constitution), we should not do so on ethical or moral grounds.

For those of us who grew up with daily experiences inculcating pluralism – at home, in school and in the segments of society we moved in – the term ‘Sri Lankan’ connoted an embracing of this pluralism. Over time we have seen the voice of pluralism and inclusivity wax and wane – sometimes submerged, but never drowned. And to those fellow-citizens who were privileged to have been exposed to this nature of diversity and acceptance, life after the election brings a challenge, and a time of decision: Which do we choose – differentiation, domination, primacy; or equality, unity, and sharing?

The ‘othering’ of particular groups is not a uniquely Sri Lankan phenomenon of course. It is ironic that close to 57 years, since the Rev. Martin Luther King’s stirring words “I have a dream”, there is a need for a ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. In that historic moment, King spelled out his dream:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm)

And it is this dream for the future of his children that we voters hold in our hands as we contemplate the future of OUR children and grandchildren; that it is the content of their character which matters, not what their ethnicity, or language or religion is; and not whether they are civilians or laity, or any other group.

There are public voices of pluralism in Sri Lanka, too, of course, which are relatively rare except in some political campaigns, albeit in ‘cautious language’. A clear and unambiguous voice is that of the much maligned Mangala Samaraweera, whose words have been selectively quoted in sometimes sensational fashion. Addressing party members, on May 12, 2019, in an emotive period after the Easter massacres, from within a group identity of Sinhala Buddhists (Sinhala Bauddha api), he spoke on the premise that all of Sri Lanka’s citizens are equal. In that context he is recorded as saying: Lankawa kiyanne Sinhala Baudhayange ratak nevei, Lankawa kiyanne Sri Laankikayange ratak; Sri Laankikayange ratay bahutharaya Sinhala Bauddha (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57kzyox1Lfs), which may be translated as:

“Lanka is not a country of the Sinhala Buddhists, Lanka is a country of Sri Lankans; the majority in the country of the Sri Lankans are Sinhala Buddhist”.

These are statesman-like words (wisdom our majority of politicians have failed to pursue)! And yet, they have been used primarily to vilify Samaraweera, and thereby to engender caution in others who would pursue similar reasoning.

The clearest multi-cultural placing of oneself within a Sri Lankan identity is perhaps found in Kumar Sangakkara’s much-acclaimed ‘MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture’ on July 4, 2011 in England. He drew on this identity in the motivation it gave him to represent his country at cricket: “I will do that keeping paramount in my mind my Sri Lankan identity…My loyalty will be to the ordinary Sri Lankan fan, their 20 million hearts beating collectively as one….Fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions who together celebrate their diversity by uniting for a common national cause….” And he ended his speech with the extraordinarily inspiring sentiments: “I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.” (http://www.espncricinfo.com/srilanka/content/story/522183.html).

And so I come back to the fork on our journey even as the dust of the election settles. Imagine the portrayal of a Sri Lankan identity in terms of the two extremes, ID1 – the ‘dominant ideology’ and ID2 – the ‘Sangakkara vision’. Where in the scale joining these extremes do each of us stand?

It is apt to conclude with lines from ‘The Call of Lanka’ by the Rev. W.S. Senior, whose remains were interred in his beloved Sri Lanka, at St. Andrew’s church, Haputale. (http://www.poetryatlas.com/poetry/poem/4354/the-call-of-lanka.html).

“But most shall he sing of Lanka in the brave new days that come,

When the races all have blended and the voice of strife is dumb;

When we leap to a single bugle, march to a single drum,

March to a mighty purpose, one Man from shore to shore….” 

C. R. ABAYASEKARA

 

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Opinion

The care of good dentists

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I experienced an agonizing toothache for the first time in my right-hand upper jaw. On bringing it under control with native medicines, a couple of colleagues at my work place stressed me to see a dentist who could prevent any recurrence, and recommended a highly proficient doctor by the name Rini Mathew attached to a popular medical centre in Riyadh. After nearly five-days-wait I was successful in getting an appointment to consult her.

This highly pleasant lady doctor from Kerala, India, after seeing the set of teeth in my right-hand upper jaw recommended for a root canaling and requested to return in two-weeks-time. Having not undergone any sort of surgery in my whole life, I was a little confused as to what to expect. As I arrived prepared for the repair work on my teeth, the good lady told me to my pleasant surprise that I don’t need any further treatment for the moment and if I get the toothache back again to come and see her. I thanked God and praised her for her being frank and honest.

The history of dentistry records Hesy-Re, an Egyptian scribe, who lived around 2600 BC is recognized as the first dental practitioner. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, specifically about treating decaying teeth, but it wasn’t until 1530 that the first book entirely devoted to dentistry – The Little Medicinal Book for all kinds of diseases and infirmities of the Teeth – was published.

You don’t want to feel like just another item on your dentist’s to-do list. The best dentists, like whom I consulted, have a way of letting their patients know they care about them personally. They are interested in their patient’s lives and are eager to become a part of their general care team. The best dentist always gives you the care that you deserve.

 

S. H. MOULANA

 

 

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Opinion

The Age of Animal Ministries

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The call by the government’s backbench MP Mr. Dilan Perera to be made the Rilav/Vanduru Amathi, or the Minister for Monkeys, in the Pohottuva Realm, certainly leads to plenty of interest.

This must do with the various divisions and breakup tasks that have been given to both Cabinet and State Ministers, in the current play of governance, by the Gotabaya strategies. 

The call for a Rilav Ministry may have come after the Minister for Coconuts, Arundika Fernando, tried to climb a coconut palm, in his estate, at Dankotuwa, and hold a press conference to tell the people about the shortage of coconuts and the cause of the high price of this essential food item. One was surprised that he did not blame the coconut price hike on the 19A to the Constitution, and give any assurance that the coming 20A will bring the nut prices to within the people’s reach. Such nutty thinking is possible from politicos today.

What was also interesting is how he did this climb, halfway to coconut heights, with some modern climbing gear, having nothing to do with the traditional coconut tree climbers, who used their feet and hands to move much higher, and also walk on ropes from tree to tree for coconut plucking and toddy tapping. He must be following the new thinking of the Rajavasala on Digital Development to raise this country to new heights of Rajapaksa Success.

Let’s get back to the hopeful Rilav Amathi – the Monkey Minister Dilan Perera. The dictionary meaning of ‘Rilava”, that comes from the Vaanarayas, is those who take the forest products. This certainly has much relevance to the huge forest destruction taking place today, with the clear political blessings of the Rajapaksa realm. It is the crooked, or rilav, thinking of the Pohottu politicians that is causing this huge destruction of nature, bringing disaster to the environment. Is it the hope of Mr. Dilan Perera that he would be put in charge of this chronicle of destruction, becoming the political gatherer of profitable forests products, and giving free forest land to the political catchers of 20A fondness?

Or, is he thinking of the romantic legends of the monkey Hanuman, that had so much to do with Rama and Sita, and brought so much of forest land from India and dumped in several parts of this country, giving much of the ayurvedic medicine to this day. Is the Pohottuva Dilan thinking of becoming the Phohottu Hanuman, to bring in new legends of politically powerful romances that will soon be part of the Hanuman Keli or Monkey Games of the Power Players? His recent defence of the 20A, against the 19A that he voted for, gives a good indication of the Rilav and Vanduru thinking that is the stuff of Pohottu politics.

 There is also a good opportunity for the call for a Nari/Hival Amathi, or Fox Minister, in this government. Why not have one of these foxy politicians, with their delight in political long-jumping, who have plenty of nari-thinking in their systems, as the new Nari-Hival Amathi. He or she will make some quick decisions on how the ‘Nari Tharjanaya’, the Fox Threat in the Kalutara, and now Horana areas, can be tackled; giving the Cabinet Minister of Health time to keep thinking of matters other than public health, and more on the political health of those who are in the bandwagon of power politics. 

A Nari-Hival Amathi will be one whose hoots will be heard loud and clear in support of 20A, and one who would have gladly hooted in support of both the 18A and 19A, and is ready to raise both hands, and even one’s legs, for the 20A.

There are other animals who can have Cabinet or State portfolios in this politics of backward evolution. Why not have a Buffalo, or Meeharak Amathi? This could be a Pohottuva activist who will promise to give a good price to the curd made from buffalo milk, and also tell the public how much they can benefit by lying for hours in the mud found near their homes, without looking for government jobs or contracts for services that can only be given to the Pohottu catchers.

The Tamil Tigers were defeated more than a decade ago. But the politics of today is still seething with tiger threats to national unity. With what is happening to the leopards in this country, there is certainly a cause for a pohottu backbencher to ask for a Kotiya or Diviya portfolio. This can be a pohottu player who have the stripes of corruption on one’s body, with plenty of experience of grabbing the land of others, whether paddy fields or plantations, with the twisted politics of power, whether from the UNP, SLFP, UPFA or the Yahapalana travesty. A Koti Amathi will be roaring away, and leaping with great success on grabbing the property of other people, for the rising cause of Pohottu Balaya, the future power Dual Citizens, especially of the Washington-Medamulana alliance.

It is not likely that there will be any calls for a Bull or Cow – Harak Amathi – especially after the reigning silence over the plan to stop the slaughter of cattle. There are plenty of bulls in the huge pack on the government side, at Diyawanna Oya, we hear and also see their ‘gon talk’ and ‘harak keliya’ in the parliament so often today. They will be happy that cattle slaughter will remain a reality here, with no moves for the rise of a vegan society, which is certainly not the substance of the real Rajavasala thinking, with complete absence of kindness to animals.

There are many more animal or species ministries that can be offered to build up this Rajavasala Sathva Kattiya, once the 20A is passed, and the ministries can flow from the Rajapaksa pen. There is much space for more than one serpent or Sarpa Amathi – who will spread themselves all over the country, and crawl around and strike down with venom those who dare talk of the disasters that lie ahead post 20A. There can be many cockroach and mosquito ministers, too, who will help spread the Covid 20 — that can be far more dangerous than today’s Covid-19.

Let’s give a bow to the Age of Animal Ministries or Sathva Amathya Yugaya. 

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Opinion

Where is Sajith’s leadership?

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By Dr UPUL WIJAYAWARDHANA

The Leader of the opposition is a vital link in democracy and, as the name implies, is expected to give leadership. Unfortunately, the behaviour of Sajith Premadasa is casting doubts as to whether he is giving that leadership.

Even when he challenged Ranil for the leadership of the UNP, he was happy to put up a fight for some time and then give up. His disappearance into the wilderness after losing the presidential election and issuing a statement that he would devote the rest of his life to looking after leopards, perplexed many. Egged on by a coterie of Ranil-haters, he split the UNP but still wanted to grab the HQ of the party, an aspiration he quickly gave up after the last general election, probably because the UNP did unexpectedly bad.

There is no doubt that the biggest challenge he faces is opposing the introduction of the 20th amendment. If the ugly scenes in the parliament, when 20A was tabled, on 22nd September is anything to go by, many would be in for disappointment. “The ongoing campaign against 20A is characterised by a severe trust deficit, which the Opposition has failed to overcome.”: This forewarning in the editorial “Diyawanna Post Office” (The Island, 22 September) seems to ring true. I greatly doubt the opposition enhanced its image with this behaviour and the contempt of the voters towards Members of Parliament surely would increase.

What was displayed was not leadership but gang-leadership. Instead of obeying the rulings of the Speaker and forging a strong opposition in a democratic manner, what we saw was rowdy behaviour. To add insult to injury, they were demanding the cameras be aimed at them, so that the whole country could witness their rowdiness!

I too am against some aspects of 20A, like removing the limitation of Cabinet size and letting dual citizenship holders enter parliament, but have done so by just means; having voiced them through this newspaper.

In addition, Sajith failed miserably as a leader when he did not take any action against the national list MP Harin Fernando, who made a totally unsubstantiated allegation against Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. He told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating the Easter Sunday attacks that the Cardinal shifted the Sunday Mass to Saturday as he was aware of the terrorist attack. As a catholic himself, Harin should have verified facts before he made such a serious accusation. In spite of having had to admit his folly to the commission, on his way out, Harin made sarcastic remarks to journalists. It is impossible even to speculate what earthly purpose these insults are meant to serve. If it is to regain the support of the Buddhist voters, it certainly is an exercise in futility as most Sri Lankans hold Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith in high esteem for his exemplary leadership following the Easter Sunday attacks.

Sajith should have taken immediate action, as this is a repeat offence; having taken Harin to the Cardinal for an apology on the previous occasion. Instead, he said in high-brow Sinhala “abhyantara kathikawathaka yedenewa”, meaning an internal conversation is taking place. Sajith seems to be under the impression that using serious sounding words would satisfy the masses and solves problems.

Unfortunately, Sajith’s lack of leadership qualities are becoming more obvious by the day. Perhaps, there is a chance for Ruwan Wijewardena, if he plays his cards right!

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