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
Abuse of use of title Professor
I read with much interest the letter by Mr. Nissanka Warakaulle, regarding the above matter, in the issue of the Sunday Island of 18th April 2021. I agree fully with the contents of his letter. He should be very familiar with the regulations as he is a former Registrar of the University of Colombo. I wish to highlight another instance where it is abused. In the 1970s, the title of Associate Professor was created. Until then there were only three categories of Professors. Firstly the holder of the Chair, secondly a co-Professor and thirdly, an Emeritus Professor. There were also, Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and Readers. The title of Reader was replaced with the title Associate Professor, which is meant to be a designation, to be used after the name. However, this category of academics started using it as a pre-fix, dropping the word Associate!
Profesor Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya MBE
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics,
University of Colombo
Vacant seat in Parliament
by Harim Peiris
One of the more interesting features about the current Parliament of Sri Lanka, is that it has the highest number of parties with representation in that august Assembly, mostly through a plethora of small parties, which have been elected with one or two members to Parliament. Most of these parties are regional in scope and represent specific communities, often ethnic or religious minorities from the Northern and Eastern provinces. Generally colourful almost quixotic political characters have been elected from these single ticket parties, with a couple of them, including the EPDP and the ACTC securing two seats each. They certainly add colour and a vibrant diversity to the composition of the legislature.
Also falling into this same category of a single seat party, from among the minor parties, is the former governing United National Party (UNP), which rather fortuitously through its vote tally in all districts, managed to qualify for a single National List seat in Parliament. The UNP is a small party with a big party mentality and blessed with close links to major national newspapers, its unelected office-bearers and defeated candidates, manage to make the news daily, if rather irrelevantly.
The UNP has rather unusually been unwilling to fill its single seat, making the current Parliament a full house at 224 members, rather than its complete complement of 225. However, political circles are abuzz with talk that finally its longest serving and possibly leader for life, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, will have himself nominated to the UNP’s solitary seat in Parliament. It has to be a record in any country with a proportional representation electoral system, for a party to fall from a governing party with 106 seats, to a solitary parliamentary seat in the ensuing election. Leaving that grand old party with a nice head office, a proud history, and some political personalities who made a serious error in political judgement, when they denied its longtime deputy leader and presidential candidate, the party leadership, resulting in the formation of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party.
Just over a year since nominations for the parliamentary elections closed on 20th March 2020 and the UNP thinks about finally getting its act together, to nominate Mr. Wickremesinghe to its solitary seat, and the SJB celebrated the first year anniversary of its formation; it is worth examining the implications to politics and national governance, created by the Rajapaksa political vehicle of the SLPP supplanting the SLFP, and on the Opposition side of the House, the even newer Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, taking over the constituency, the younger generation leaders and the political leadership of the non SLPP/Rajapaksa socio-political forces in the country. The SLPP created its own history in the August 2020 parliamentary elections becoming the most electorally successful political party under the 1978 constitution, securing 145 seats in Parliament, bettering its predecessor UPFA’s result of 144 seats won in the euphoria of the war’s ending in 2010. The SJB also performed approximately comparative to its parent UNP’s 2010 post war performance, securing 54 seats in 2020.
However, the SJB has also made its own mark on the political landscape of the country in its relatively short history. Firstly, by comprehensively wiping its predecessor UNP off the electoral map, and firmly capturing the Opposition political space. It has faced the juggernaut of an SLPP Administration with a super majority in Parliament. In response, the SJB and the Opposition Leader’s approach has been measured, thoughtful and calibrated. Occupying the moral high ground, by claiming that the Opposition should oppose but not obstruct, it has permitted some leeway to the Rajapaksas to implement their mandate; but has been a moral conscience, as well as a check and balance on the government. As a new party it has focused on building up its grassroots capability, and the indefatigable Opposition Leader has been mirroring the President’s own dialogue with the village, by having numerous grassroots level consultations and discussions, albeit without an attendant media circus.
Politically as well, the focus of the SJB has been to bring to sharp focus the shortcomings of the Administration, and accordingly it has been the inspiration for the “sir fail” political concept; a rather direct assault on the performance or alleged lack thereof by the Government and the President, elected as he was among other things as a technocrat who would get things done. Astutely Sajith Premadasa has been careful to refrain from an overly negative assault on his successful rival in the presidential election, focusing instead on the issues and avoiding the personal mudslinging which has been the sorry hallmark of Sri Lankan politics in more recent times. The SJB and the Opposition Leader have sought to adopt a more principled and issue-based politics, rather than on pure personalities and one that is non-sectarian, both distinctions of which are an unusual departure from the norm in mainstream Sri Lankan politics. As the politics of the UNHRC process in Geneva and the cremation issue of the Covid deceased for the Muslim community dominated the political debate in the past few months, the SJB demonstrated remarkable political maturity in taking a principled position opposed to forced cremation based on the WHO guidelines, and then rolling out a newly minted and credible reconciliation policy on the cusp of the Geneva vote, which differentiated it clearly from the Government, arguing that national unity was the best guarantor and contributor to national security.
As a slew of highly charged political issues ranging from exonerating various accused persons from ongoing court cases through a presidential commission, to the controversial proposals for the autonomous Port City Commission come to dominate the political debate in the near future, the SJB will be tested. But Sajith Premadasa took on the Rajapaksas in their home turf of Hambantota for years, and did not flinch from a tough political ask in a local constituency setting. The current challenges are bigger and the setting is the national political stage. One year on, in a game with a five-year cycle, the SJB can take solace and some credit that while the beginning of the end may not have begun for the current Administration, the end of the honeymoon period with the public for the Administration, has clearly already occurred.
How to degrade, dismantle and destroy a country
The current social political and economic decision making and the ‘mysterious’, illogical behaviour of Sri Lanka’s leadership, are classic examples of ‘how to degrade, dismantle and destroy a country’.
What are the essential conditions for a country to be a united, successful, sovereign and independent?
1. The rule of law.
2. A responsible Parliament.
3. An executive totally dedicated to the protection and well being of the country.
4. A vibrant economy that lifts the poor out of poverty.
5. Social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful environment.
6. Awareness of and the love and protection of the country’s ecology.
The rule of law, as ordinarily understood, is a code of conduct that a people and a state accept as their guiding and protective set of regulations for the common good. There are two sides to it; rights and duties. Human rights and civil rights on the one hand, and paying taxes, obeying social rules of human interaction, such as observing traffic regulations, etc., on the other hand are the two sides.
The institution that oversees the whole complexity of the rule of law is the judiciary. The judiciary must be like Caesar’s wife––totally above suspicion. That is what the blindfolded lady with a sword and scales of justice signify. What we see happening now is something worrisome. I am not going to list all the unsavoury happenings in the recent past. But the Presidential Commission on political victimisation has removed the blindfold of the lady, thrown away the scales, and she is wielding the sword against those few who sincerely and competently did their duty.
How can an independent judiciary stop ongoing trials and release the suspects just because the executive or a commission says so?
In other words, they are degrading the judiciary, destroying its independence.
A responsible Parliament is the very soul of a democratic country. A Parliament that behaves with decorum, efficiency and a keen sense of responsibility to the people that elected it is essential for the country’s progress.
People’s representatives are stealing public funds. They get tax free vehicles and sell them for millions! This is stealing the money due to the Treasury. They sell permits for everything, from petroleum to pharmaceuticals, from sand to stone, collecting millions. This is a brazen demand for bribes. When the President concludes his term, he gets a mansion for free in Colombo. This does not happen even in a banana republic. They have no shame to lose the elections and creep back into the Parliament through the back door, called the National List. They get huge commissions for development projects.
Listen to the current parliamentary debates. What are the crucial problems facing the country today? The gigantic external debt is number one. Number two is China, India and the USA nibbling away at the country’s sovereignty. Number three is the worsening situation of poverty. These are the three main problems among many others. Are they discussing and making laws and policies to solve the debt crisis? Are they making statesmanlike policies and diplomatic overtures to keep the three ogres at bay? Are they discussing ways and means of improving agriculture and industry and making our economy vibrant and people friendly? Listen to the gibberish they are mouthing, or rather screaming, at one another. They accuse, scold and insult one another using un-parliamentary words. They call one another thieves. They may belong to various political parties and may be in the government or in the Opposition, but are united “thick as thieves” and protect one another.
An executive totally dedicated to the protection and wellbeing of the country is yet to be found. If such an executive had been there, would there have been an Easter massacre? If such an executive is there, will it tell us only what we already know, after years and millions spent on a Presidential Inquiry into the Easter barbarity? They have shown us only the tip of the iceberg, which is there to be seen even without an inquiry. We want to know what is hidden under. Why is the executive so coy about showing it to us? We can only say with Marcellus in Act I, scene iv of the Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet” – “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark (Sri Lanka)”. We have neither trust nor hope in the executive. It too has gone the way of the Parliament.
A vibrant economy that lifts the poor out of poverty. Isn’t that the main task of any governing body of a country?
But it is not so in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka they only talk about getting loans, more loans and bigger loans. And when they get a loan they crow about it as if it is a great achievement. Any decent gentleman would keep his loans secret, for he would be ashamed of the public getting to know it. We do not have gentlemen. Ours are scoundrels who are happy to get loans so that they can get their cut. They are not worried because they do not repay the loans. It is we the people who have to settle their debts.
If not for the women sweating away in FTZ factories, if not for the women plucking tea buds by the ton in the plantations, if not for the women sold to slavery in West Asia, where will this country be? What have the governing ingrates done for them? Nothing. It is the private small industries and entrepreneurs that are some consolation to the local labour force.
What have they done for the farmers? They do not get water in time, the fertilizer in time and now, as if Sena is not enough, they have the pachyderms! Their habitats are sold to multinationals and they have nowhere to go. They are being massacred more than one a day. This is a national crime against innocent elephants that cry to heaven for retribution. The country is cursed for it, but for our scoundrels it is water on the duck’s back. The farmers suffer, they are protesting in sit-ins all over the country. The politician monkeys see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, and of course do nothing. We are going downhill, getting poorer and will soon end up in bankruptcy.
Social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful ambient, is necessary for people to live happily in a country. It was so sad to watch a popular tuition master, teaching ecology on YouTube, advise the students to leave this country for their own good, adding that he himself is contemplating such action. Can anyone blame him? We who have passed the three score and ten probably will remain and prefer to sink with the ship. But the younger generations certainly have a right to enjoy this short but incredibly beautiful life, instead of getting bogged down in the lawless, fearsome chaos this country will become.
Not too long ago, we lived side by side, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, without any suspicion or antagonism, enjoying one another. We were together in school, in the playground, in the market place and in the neighbourhood. Now we realize how wonderful that was. Then came the petty political rascals. Just to get power and amass filthy lucre, they would sell anything, sacrifice anything. For them there is nothing sacred or invaluable. Even foolish religious leaders were made use of for their benefit. The Sinhala were pitted against the Tamil, then against the Muslim. They pit religion against religion with fantastic canards like bound fallopian tubes, kotthu with impotence pills, female underwear laced with infertility drugs, etc. The media slaves of the petty political scoundrels, and even some political religious, went to town with the incredible stories without checking on their veracity. The gullible public swallowed them hook line and sinker. How much blood have we shed for the last 50 years?
What a waste of life!
When will the people ever learn that they are governed by a coterie of scoundrels––Ali Baba and the 225 thieves? Will we ever have social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful environment? The answer is blowing in the wind, my friend; it is blowing in the wind.
The awareness of and the love and protection of the country’s ecology is the duty of every true patriotic citizen.
Ali Baba and the 225 thieves are hell bent on destroying just that, the ecology. The cunning scoundrels and their bootlicking officialdom are good at shooting the messenger. A young girl declares that Sinharaja is destroyed. And the officers instead of investigating those felling trees ask the girl if she knows where the forest boundaries are. A civil activist exposes the fraud of the Sahana Malla. Instead of verifying the accusation by checking the items in the Malla, he is arrested. You point the moon to them and they cut off your index finger. In the cancer causing coconut oil case, they have shown that they are more interested in protecting the crooked businesses, rather than the vulnerable citizens of the country. They are destroying the forests in Wilpattu, in the Sinharaja and all over. They are destroying our country, they are destroying us.
I’m sure the governing ignoramuses have never heard of Chief Seattle’s almost ‘sacred’ ecological declaration, where he tells the aggressive white invaders that his people and the environment are not two things but one. I’m sure they have never heard of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” on the love and protection of Mother/Sister Earth. They know only their insatiable greed; they see nothing beyond their own navels. They have no love or kinship to the soil and the rocks, the rivers and the seas, the flora and the fauna of Sri Lanka. They certainly have no love for Sri Lankans whom they deceive every five years. They are not the legitimate children of Mother Lanka. Their only goal in life is to exploit this country and its people to the maximum possible and get away, the dual-citizen traitors. There is no hope for our beautiful elephants, our environment and us.
Ali Baba and the 225 thieves know quite well how to degrade, dismantle and destroy our country. They not only know it, they are deliberately committing the heinous crime. Who can stop them? Only the PEOPLE can stop them. That’s why I have been calling for a Grand Alliance of Good People. But I feel I am only a voice crying in the wilderness.
Cannot our people see the cunning deceitful trickery they are perpetrating on us? When the A20 was mooted, before genuine opposition could come up, their lackeys, political, religious and lay, vociferously stood against it. The genuine Opposition was silenced. At the last moment, the bootlicking slaves supported the Bill in the Parliament. The same trick was repeated at giving away of the West Container Terminal of the Colombo harbour to the Adani Group of India. The trick is being repeated for the third time with the Port City. The same bootlicking pack of lackeys is vehemently attacking the draft of the Port City Management. The genuine Opposition has no time even to get organised. The draft is deliberately made worse than what the Chinese imperialists demand. Eventually, they will remove the unnecessary excess and the lackeys will say a compromise is won by them.
If our people still cannot see this traitorous tragic betrayal performed before their eyes, they do not deserve a unitary, sovereign, independent, self-respecting state called Sri Lanka.
Fr J.C. PIERIS
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