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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

An open letter to 6.9 million

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Basil Rajapaksa has recently said that the Rajapaksas are not responsible for the dire situation in the country. He told the journalists not to pass the ball to him and he passed the ball to the people, especially to the 69 lakhs who voted the “Pohottuwa” into power.

So, my dear 6.9 million citizens,

You are my brothers and sisters. The Rajapaksas may blame you for the dire situation in the country but I do not blame you. I do not condemn you. For everybody makes mistakes. We are frail human beings. Now I am a senior citizen and in my life time I have been pickpocketed three times. It cost me three purses, a few thousand rupees and two ID cards to learn the lesson. But dear 6.9 million brothers and sisters your present political lesson cost all of us national bankruptcy, millions unemployed, unending queues for petrol, diesel, kerosene, cooking gas and passports, exorbitant price hikes of essentials, lack of essential medicines, looming starvation, anarchy, destruction and terrifying death. I hope you have learnt the lesson, at least by now.

Do you realise what kind of image you have shown to the world of our people, of us? Out of courtesy they will not voice it but they consider us damn fools.

Didn’t you know about the Rajapaksas and the tsunami funds? Didn’t you ever wonder how his three brats were spending like nothing and living it up like playboys? Have you never heard of Siriliya? Have you never heard of the deals between the Krish and the Rajapaksas? Didn’t you ever realise what an enormous amount of money has been wasted on useless white elephants, like the Lotus Tower, the Sooriyawewa Stadium, the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota Conference Hall? Why is it that the murderers of Thajudeen and Lasantha Wickrematunga can never be discovered? The latest revelation, from circumstantial evidence, is that Adani Group probably has dealings with the Rajapaksas. The Pandora Papers expose has raised the Rajapaksas to the notorious status of International Crooks. This is only the tip of the iceberg; if you scratch the garbage heap you’ll find more.

I cannot understand how the 69 lakhs got so thoroughly fooled by the Rajapaksas. You believed scandalous tales about infertility Kottu, infertility garments and Muslim doctors making Sinhala mothers sterile, etc. Everybody knows but nobody says who the brains behind the Easter Sunday massacre are. I guessed who it was quite soon. In any crime, the prime suspect is the one who profited most from it. Ask any police detective. The monks, intellectuals, professionals, and artistes were taken for a ride. Therefore, I do not blame you, the 69 lakhs. But the world was surprised that the citizens of Sri Lanka have such low IQ and can be so easily fooled.

Never mind all that; now let us talk about how to remedy the damage done to yourselves, us and the country. Here are a few methods to keep the right attitude to the current reality.

No.1: Never tolerate or get used to the hardships we are going through. If you are in a queue, curse the government loud enough so that at least the men in front and behind can hear you. The problem is not organising the queue more efficiently; the problem is there should not be any queues. The scarcity of petrol and diesel is a deliberate ploy by the heartless government to suppress the protest by the people. The only solution is a new stable and respected government and sending Rajapaksas to jail. Curse the government when the power cut begins. When you go shopping, curse the government loudly for the high prices of things or their lack. Keep the public aware of the hardships they unjustly endure. Never allow them to get used to it. Rage, rage against Gota and the 225 thieves.

No. 2: Either organise yourself or get somebody to organise small neighbourhood groups everywhere in your village, town and work place. Get in touch with someone in the Aragalaya and tell them you are ready for a final showdown.

No. 3: Write a letter of appreciation and encouragement to each one of the people who are at the Gotagogama. Or send a Thank You card for the sacrifices they are making for us and for our children. Here is their address: (Name) The Library, Gotagogama, Galle Face, Colombo 2.

No. 4: If you believe in a Universal Force or God, as I do, pray insistently with grief and groans and ask him to save our country from the rapacious scoundrels and killers who are holding our people by the scruff of the neck and robbing them clean.

No. 5: The evil government is driving us to a famine and starvation. Let us not be selfish. Let us share what we have or what little we have with those who do not have anything. Let us be always kind and considerate to our fellow citizens whoever they maybe.

Forget race, religion, language or whatever divides us. All of us are brothers and sisters in this national calamity, all children of Mother Lanka. Let us save her and ourselves together.

Down with the Ali Baba and the 225 thieves!

Aragalayata Jayawewa!
Fraternally your co-citizen,
Fr Chryso Pieris SJ

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Opinion

We will remember, and we will be grateful

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by Krishantha Prasad Cooray

For as long as the human race has organised itself into sovereign nations, no country has had a story of limitless success. Nations and empires alike have risen and fallen, over thousands of years. Every language has phrases like “it takes a village” to remind us of the limitations of individual people and the need to work together. Similarly, no nation will ever thrive in isolation. The fate of every country is dependent on its relationships with other countries, with allies who share their values and who support each other in times of need.

History is littered with examples of countries that have been beset by natural disasters, militarily crippled, ridden with diseases, targeted by terrorism or economically ruined. What separates those who overcome these challenges from those that don’t is the willingness of other countries to come to their aid.

After World War II, for example, when the Axis powers were roundly defeated, it was the countries that vanquished them who stepped in to rebuild them. Indeed, without the aid of the Allies, neither Germany nor Japan would have grown into the economic powerhouses they are today.

The Marshal Plan, an American initiative, enabled West Germany and other West European nations to rise from the ashes of war and gain rapid economic development.

Japan, on the other hand, had far fewer friends. As European victims of German aggression feared the prospect of a united Germany, Asian victims of Japanese aggression feared a remilitarised Japan. Cold War politics too played a role, with the Soviet Union accusing the United States of planning to turn Japan into a military camp against itself and China. It was only at the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951 that a peace treaty was finally signed, ending the occupation of Japan, restoring Japanese independence, and putting the country on a path to prosperity.

At that conference, it was then Sri Lankan Finance Minister Junius Richard Jayawardena, who spoke most persuasively about the case for making peace with Japan as an independent non-occupied nation. Jayewardene reminded the audience that prior to the barbarity of World War II, Japan had long been a staunch ally of other Asian nations. “It is because of our age-long connections with her, and because of the high regard the subject peoples of Asia have for Japan when she alone, among the Asian nations, was strong and free and we looked up to her as a guardian and friend,” he reminded the assembled world leaders.

Japan has never forgotten, and even today, memorial statues and plaques across Japan mark the country’s gratitude to J.R. Jayewardene. Sri Lanka, at the time, had nothing to gain from the vanquished Japanese. But we came to the aid of a nation in need and did the correct thing. A quarter century later, when J.R. Jayewardene became President of Sri Lanka, our relationship with Japan became one of the cornerstones of Sri Lanka’s subsequent prosperity.

Today, Sri Lanka finds itself crippled by an unprecedented crisis. Our people are in abject financial peril. Over a quarter of the country is starving and malnourished. The economy is paralyzed and many children are unable to reach schools due to fuel shortages. Electricity has become a luxury, and essential medicines have become scarce.

This is not the doing of the people but the result of mismanagement by corrupt, incompetent and short-sighted politicians holding the reins of power for their own gain. These politicians benefited. The people suffered. They suffer as I write and will suffer for a long time more to come.

It is tragic to see a country as resilient as Sri Lanka, with a proud history, being reduced to such a state. One day, I have no doubt that my country will rise again. But we will only do so with the support of friends, who will speak in solidarity and act in support.

Sri Lanka is but the first country to see its economy collapse at the mercy of corruption and rising global food and oil prices. It won’t be the last. Before long, other poorly managed countries will also begin to waver. Each stumbling nation can be rescued one at a time, but if several countries all collapse together, the chain reaction could paralyze the economies of not just the region, but the entire world. Sri Lanka, in particular, is ripe for rescue.

The people are clamouring for serious institutional and constitutional reform. If these reforms are coupled to both humanitarian aid and commercial investments, the payoff will be not just a monetary one, but one of deep gratitude.At this time, if people, institutions and nations alike come to the aid of the Sri Lankan people, that aid is needed like never before. Doing so will help avert or minimize a humanitarian crisis like Sri Lanka has never known. Any country can make a contribution to help feed the starving, heal the sick, employ the unemployed, light up a classroom, and take other steps to help Sri Lanka to jumpstart its economy.

It was such words of support, and deeds of solidarity that helped Japan in 1951, and for which Japan has remained grateful so many decades later. Likewise, such a word, such a deed, will be remembered by Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, those who are suffering right now, those who survive, and their children. It is a brand of gratitude that is special because it is altruistic. People will remember, ‘they didn’t have to, they had nothing to gain, but they did anyway.’ We will remember, and we will be grateful.

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Ohe Innava ; ban on Russian tennis players; greed leads via deceptive satisfaction to disaster

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Sins of the leaders suffered by innocents

This beautiful island seems to be at a standstill and its people rather dazed, confined to homes or queues for days on end (no longer hours). Maybe, Jaffna and its southern neighbouring Vanni are better equipped mentally and stoically to withstand these vagaries of fortune and carry on their lives as they know well, through experience (1983 to 2009 and even thereafter), with inbuilt mental and physical resistance. The government that should be so very occupied looking after its people, and MPs and their bosses mandated to do so, only continue emanating hot air and cruise around in their gas guzzlers, of course, in protected areas. They feel the anger of the people: righteous, justified and ready to burst forth in flames of anarchy at the first ignition. One VIP speaks to the public of imminent arrival of ships laden full with fuel and cooking gas; and another VVIP on further necessity to tighten belts and suffer. All of us are near suffocation because of the mistakes, corruption, extravagance and bl… idiocy of those who ruled us.

The biggest man, almost daily, gathers sundry officers to his vast meeting hall and while they gaze at him, some mindlessly but none interrupting, pontificates mostly on how they should be alleviating the hardships of the population. He singlehandedly caused farmers and now us immense deprivation. He thought his mea culpa would exonerate him. The ex-PM and doing-just-as-they bid ex-Gov of CB sit out in comfort on the look out to escape. The dethroned VIP heir is creeping back to meetings where he is not justified being in. Dreams of a glorious return? Shatter them to bits, you people are NOT coming back ever to power. 20 million people, including kids, know you all too well now and the bung screwed on tight on criticism popped off, released mostly by the peaceful protesters of Mynagama and GotaGoGama. Thank goodness for them!

Cass listened to the articulation of peaceful protesters in Havelock Town carrying succinct boards and good sense and intelligence in their heads as relayed by 8.30 pm Newsline of MTV TV One on Tuesday 28 late evening. What emerged was most forceful censure of the powers that were and are. ‘Go home Gota’ they said in unison and decently. What sort of a skin does one need to enable one to stay on when disliked so intensely and shown the exit explicitly by millions here and overseas. The protective skin of the armed forces is not available, one presumes. As is said, the soldiers’ old mothers can barely make ends meet with soaring prices and fathers are in queues, so how expect them to turn against their own suffering people even though commanded to do so?

Wimbledon

The cricket matches between the Aussie team and a revived, zestful Sri Lankan team have been giving solace to a major section of our people. That is fine, since one needs to divert one’s mind and also grab whatever respite one can from the ongoing disaster that is our beloved country.

Cassandra is a tennis buff deriving not only sporty enthusiasm but also aesthetic satisfaction by watching good players on court. How so the latter, one may query. Just watch a good player and witness his/her playing is ballet like in postures and grace; a fine synchronization of muscle and limb. And for Cassandra the best is to watch the Wimbledon matches, the players and linesman and ball pickers all in white. Maybe Cass is conservative, a throw back on her upbringing, but discipline even in what the players wear is pleasing to her. Wimbledon times are not so inconvenient to us as matches start there at 3.30 (it was said) and so by 8.00 pm one can watch them over sports channels. It’s when the US Open is on that one has to watch into all hours of our night.

Wimbledon has banned Russian players and so men’s world number 1 Daniil Medvedev is out – banned; so also number 8 Andrey Rublev and women’s numbers 6 and 13 – never mind names, difficult to even spell. Great pity, especially regards Medvedev – almost humble on court – but again proof that sins of the leaders fall on ordinary heads. The organisers of Wimbledon decided in April to ban players from Russia and Belarus in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So, ex KGB Putin’s fear of European Union’s expansion of influence and protection, or greed for expansion of Russian controlled territory or even a desire to re-establish a sort of USSR have impacted on innocent sportsmen and women.

Greed may be satisfied temporarily but degraded shame is permanent result

‘Bollywood actress of Sri Lankan origin’ as Jacqueline Fernandez is named by S Venkat Narayan and other media persons, has again been questioned by the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the gifts of dollars and expensive items given her and her family members by billionaire conmen Sukesh Chandrashekhar. Cass is not flogging a dead horse (or much alive, lovely mare here) but quoting this tidbit from Tuesday June 28 press, wishing to impress on herself and her readers that avarice and boundless greed lead to retribution and perhaps heart searing regret. It is obvious Jackie entertained the conman, and very intimately we suppose, to be worth all those millions gifted to her. It surely cannot be love. That explanation for the close liaison is good for the fairies to narrate. She was motivated by desire for quick immense wealth. And she has landed flat on her face: passport impounded, reputation gone, and with it admirers and Salman Khan too perhaps, and sure shot no offers of further stardom. She was catapulted to be top of the beauts on par with now exclusive Aishwaria Rai Bachchan. And what has avarice brought her to?

Cass in her age earned wisdom warns young beauties not to gamble on good looks. Many are the girls who did so and surely are cast aside and also fearful now since tables have been turned on their benefactors mostly by the sensible young ones of GotaGoGama. Where’s that beauty queen whose crown was snatched as placed on her by political influence, who accompanied Lohan R to Welikada prison in short shorts to view the gallows? We heard many a chick was given jobs, sometimes double at Sri Lankan, with no English ability, etc. No wonder our airline nose-dived and is still on that perilous down swing but sustained by government monetary life lines. Many were the discards given employment in Sri Lankan.

Another point: definitely a too flogged horse: are those who plundered government money and assets by the millions, nay billions happy and leading fine lives. Nay, No and Nein! They may be safe and their stolen wealth intact and in no danger of being confiscated, but their minds? Wellbeing? They cannot have such thick hides that satisfying the five senses brings them peace of mind? Again, a thundering NO. Reputations ground to dust; friends disappeared; and the door to a return to political power shut bang. Jolly good for those damned thieves who sent our country down to the depths. We will rise, that’s for sure. We have good people in the majority.

On that rousing note of determination to rise from the depths, Cassandra wishes you bye, for now. May its enforced curtailment of normal routines; immense difficulties and future bleakness not depress you too much. We as a country can only now go upwards, hit rock bottom as we are.

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