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Opinion

Govt.’s woes and people’s responsibilities

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The two huge problems that the government has at present are not entirely of its making. The economic problem, it inherited from the previous government, and COVID-19 is a natural disaster which even countries like the USA, the most powerful country in the world, have not been able to control. Of course the government had blundered on several occasions but then which government hasn’t. If there is a scale to measure the blunders that governments commit, the ‘yahapalana’ would easily win the Guinness record. When ‘yahapalana’ took over in 2015 the economy was on a sound footing with the GDP at a healthy six percent, foreign debt as a ratio of the GDP was about 75 percent and all other economic parameters were favourable. Sri Lanka was considered second only to China in the scale of development in Asia. By 2019 the ‘yahapalana’ government had managed to bring down the GDP to one percent and raise the debt ratio to 95 percent without the assistance of a civil war or a COVID-19 pandemic. The politicians responsible for those blunders are now in the Opposition trying to topple the government.

What is worse is that these politicians support and organise street demonstrations which very often end up as a confrontation between demonstrators and the hapless police where usually there is a huge congregation of people. These politicians are well aware of the implications of such gatherings where there is no adherence to health guidelines and the spread of COVID-19 is greatly facilitated. The question arises whether this is what they really want. The duty of the Opposition no doubt is to oppose the government, but in such a way that the faults of the government are exposed and the Opposition projects itself as the alternate government. This should be done with no risk of any damage to the people, their economy, their culture and their country. Destruction of the economy and people’s livelihood in order to achieve their goal is certainly treacherous and politics at its dirtiest.

The government had unwittingly given plenty of reasons for the Opposition and its supporters to rally round and lure the affected people onto the streets. One good example is the sudden fertiliser import ban which caused a serious shortage of fertiliser creating a desperate situation for the farmers who were more than willing to come out and shout slogans. Before these blunders were committed,several mistakes had been made which affected the lives of poor people’s lives. Rice mafia was taking a heavy toll and the government was ineffective in controlling it. There was an alleged sugar scam and aflatoxins were found in coconut oil. Even those who had voted for the government were losing faith and they needed little prodding by the Opposition to come out and demonstrate against the government. The salary issue of nurses and teachers were not resolved and these categories were also ready to jump on the bandwagon. To make matters worse the government attempted to get the controversial KNDU act passed in Parliament. These were grist to the mill of the leftist parties with a revolutionary bent. They are waiting for the opportunity to clash with the police and to be seen being dragged into police vehicles. Helpless university students are also forced to participate and swell the crowds. The government could have avoided this mess.

At a time like this when our country is in the throes of a relentless pandemic and struggling to survive, the people, majority of whom voted for this government, must pause and take stock of the situation. They must quietly ask themselves what wrong has this government done. Was it unavoidable? Was there really a sugar scam, is the Opposition exaggerating? Was the government incompetent in handling the rice mafia? Was the government responsible for the presence of aflatoxin in coconut oil or was it something that could happen anywhere in the world? Is the government responsible for the rise in the cost of living? More than 70 percent of poor people voted for this government. The government they had previously voted for had been so bad that they gave their new government a two-thirds majority. Isn’t it necessary to watch the situation for some more time before coming to the conclusion that the government has failed. The problems it inherited and the problems caused by natural disasters are too much to be solved in a short period of time. For instance, at present it is in a dilemma as to whether the country should go into total lockdown. As the Editor says the government is between a rock and a hard place. If the country is locked down the economy will be irreparably destroyed and if it is not COVID-19 will decimate half the population. At a time like this the people must take up positions in support of the government. Otherwise there will be no country to call our own. To support the Opposition is to court ‘yahapalana’ back into reckoning which would be a disaster. We know how they created problems out of thin air.

The countries that solve problems could do so to the satisfaction of everybody including the rest of the world only when the people are supportive of its actions. China for instance, it is said, could achieve in 40 years what no other country was capable of because there is strong affinity between the state and its people. This relationship is not seen in Western countries. The COVID variant Delta which is wreaking havoc in the USA will be defeated in China before it could affect the people or the economy. This is because the people strictly follow the health instructions issued by their close comrade, the government. In contrast people in Western countries would vociferously rebel against government instructions to curb movement and gathering. They would vehemently refuse to get vaccinated and form anti-vaccine societies that hamper the government efforts to vaccinate the people.

Semblance of such vehemence could be seen among our teachers who have taken to the streets demanding a quick solution to their salary issue which had been in existence for 24 years. They are not at all concerned about the grave risk they place the whole country in. It is this kind of attitude that retards countries like ours. What is even more worrisome is the non-committal neutral attitude of the general public towards these unfair activities. They are aloof after electing a government expecting it to deliver in every respect. This doesn’t happen. The government and the people must walk hand-in-hand if everybody is to succeed.

People cannot expect the government to solve all their problems. The Government also must try and mobilise the people to act in concert with it and together solve each other’s problems. In our country, people elect a government and then sit back and watch the government struggle with their problems. Unless the government is authoritative and oppressive the people must rally around it and support it to the hilt. People must not endorse the faults and blunders of the government but if it is genuinely interested in their welfare and development they must give the government a helping hand and not make unfair demands. The government also must take people into its confidence and take their viewpoints into consideration and look into their needs. A bond of confidence, regard and loyalty must be developed between the government and the people. Only then would the country be able to solve its problems and achieve social, economic and cultural development.

N.A. de S Amaratunga



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Opinion

Another mother and son to be admired

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It was with a sense of awe, admiration and joy that I read the piece by Capt. Elmo Jayawardene in The Island of 25 Oct. 2021, on the achievements of Dr Pahalagedera Jayathilaka, a handicapped youth from almost the wilderness in a village called Dandu Bendi Ruppa in Nuwara Kalaviya who had achieved almost the impossible, gaining a super First Class from the University of Moratuwa and a PhD in Fluid Dynamics from the National University of Singapore. Thereafter he has been attached to the University of Oxford as a Research Scientist. All credit for his achievements has to go to his mother, Pahalagedera Dingiriamma who did everything within her means to enable her son to achieve the almost impossible, by cultivating vegetables to feed, educate and raise eight offspring.

Dr. Jayathilaka is a person we Sri Lankans have to be proud of and also get children to emulate his achievements. The most important thing about this patriotic son of the soil is that he wants to return to Sri Lanka and give something back to his motherland in return for the free education he has had. This is when most of the youth are clamouring to go abroad.

There is another mother and a handicapped son who have to be admired. The boy is Brian Eaton who had just received his Ordinary Level examination results and he has got A grades for all nine subjects. He was featured in the Sirasa TV programme Lakshapathi, which is the local equivalent of Who wants to be a millionaire. He lives with his mother, who is a seamstress, in Mattakkuliya. He is blind. He has read over 200 books in braille. The mother had to take him by bus to the Blind School in Ratmalana. It used to take about two hours to get to the school and another two hours to return home. As the mother had to wait till school is over, she used to take the material and cut same while waiting for her son. She does the sewing after returning home.

Though they are Christians, Brian had wanted to study Buddhism and seemed to know more about Buddhism than most Buddhist youth.

Brian was accommodated as a special case on the Lakshapathi programme without his having to face the “fastest finger first” selection process. His knowledge of all subjects was such that he was able to answer many questions without any assistance. He came up to the Rs. 2.0 million penultimate question without much difficulty and answered it correctly. Then it was the final question for the jackpot prize of Rs. 3.0 million. Brian decided to withdraw from the programme without attempting to answer the final question as he was not very sure. He withdrew securing Rs.2.0 million. Before he stepped down from the hot seat, the quiz master asked him what would have been his answer. And to everybody’s dismay the answer he gave was correct and he missed out on another Rs. one million.

Brian is an exceptional child who has successfully overcome all disabilities, with the untiring efforts of his mother, to reach the top of the programme which had evaded many of the normal children who had participated in this programme. We wish him success in all his future endeavours.

MH Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Warnapura: A colourful cricketing giant

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Bandula Warnapura secured his name in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket as the country’s first Test Cricket Captain. As Sri Lanka’s opening batter, he faced the first delivery bowled by Bob Willis during the inaugural test match played between Sri Lanka and England on the historic day of 17 Feb. 1982, at the P Sara Stadium (previously known as Colombo Oval), in Borella. Further, he scored the first test run for his country. Records are usually meant to be broken as it happens regularly in the sports arena world over. But Warnapura’s feats will never be disintegrated. What a privileged position to be in! It is an exceedingly rare combination of persistent commitment, endurance, and of course, luck, over a long period of time.

My happy memories of Bandula Warnapura were linked with our school days about 12 years prior to the country’s first test match.

I vividly remember his exceptional achievements during his school career at Nalanda College between 1968 and 1972. Towards the latter part of this period he rose to fame of an exceptional degree. His name became a common household one; in fact, no other school cricketer at the time received such media attention. Two other contemporary school cricketers who came close to him were Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias; a wonderful triumvirate who dominated school cricket in the early 1970’s.

In 1971, Warnapura everyone expected the batting machine to break the existing batting record of the Ananda – Nalanda annual cricket encounter (popularly known as “Battle of Maroons”) when he captained the Nalanda cricket team. However, he only managed to score half a century (53), which brought much disappointment to many cricket fans.

As a grade 9 student of Ananda College at the time, I still treasure fond memories of his record-breaking epic innings of 118 not out in 1972 at the big match. He broke the 44-year-old batting record (111) held by another Nalandian P M Jayatilaka in 1928. I was in the Ananda (rival) pavilion; the overwhelming expectation of the other boys of the Ananda pavilion was against him reaching a glorious century. However, I was quietly feeling happy for him and honestly wanted him to achieve the century and surpass the existing record. After breaking the then batting record, the Nalanda pavilion was ecstatic and Bandula Warnapura became a school cricketing legend. I remember well, the legendary cricket commentator Premasara Epasinghe staunchly supporting Warnapura throughout his career.

W arnapura’s subsequent cricketing career was remarkable and by accident in 1979 he captained SriLanka and won a World Cup match against the star-studded Indian team (Gavaskar, Kapil Dev et al.). Most believe that as an ICC associate member, beating an ICC full member was the precursor state for the elevation of the Island nation to the test status in 1981. It was a dream come true for all cricket fans in Sri Lanka. However, at this time around, Warnapura’s cricketing career was on the decline and ended abruptly after the ill-advised rebel South Africa tour in 1984.

Bandula Warnapura’s sad demise at a relatively young age is indeed extremely sorrowful news.

Thank you Bandula for giving us fond memories with great nostalgia during our school days. May you have a fruitful journey of sansara and finally attain the supreme bliss of nibbana!

Prof Ananda Jayasinghe

University of Peradeniya

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Opinion

Ali Sabry’s equation

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by Rohana R. Wasala

Justice Minister Ali Sabry is reported to have said the traditional brand of Islamism which has been practised by Muslims in Sri Lanka for centuries has to be preserved while the religion should not be practised according to the likes of one group. He reportedly made this remark after taking part in a religious ceremony at the Dewatagaha Mosque, Colombo. (This architecturally impressive place of Islamic worship is a proud national monument situated at the heart of the commercial capital; it is a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with Sri Lankans of other faiths.) The Minister is reported to have added that unity among Muslims in Sri Lanka should also be preserved just like preserving unity among various religious and ethnic groups.

Sri Lankans of all beliefs interested in the early restoration of the externally disturbed customary religious and communal harmony subscribe to that laudable view with the necessary alterations. But will his equation of Islam with Islamism work in the current context.

(CAVEAT: There is no way to check the authenticity of the news report in question unless Minister Ali Sabry confirms or denies what is claimed in it about him. It has not been indicated in which language he expressed these ideas. Did he actually use the words Islam and Islamism speaking in English or their equivalents speaking in another language, or has the media arbitrarily translated into English, using those two terms, what the speaker said in another language?)

But for the purpose of this essay, I assume that the Minister’s words have been reported accurately. I don’t know whether Muslims in Sri Lanka have started using the words Islam and Islamism interchangeably, which, of course, I’d have thought, is a near impossibility, given the universally recognised difference in meaning between the two terms. Google.com defines Islam as ‘the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah’. Islamism on the other hand, is generally taken to mean Islamist fundamentalism associated with violent militancy, which is purely a religiopolitical movement. The Wikipedia defines Islamism thus: “Islamism (also often called political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism) is a political ideology which posits that modern states and regions should be reconstituted in constitutional, economic and judicial terms, in accordance with what is conceived as a revival or a return to authentic Islamic practice in its totality”.

(By the way, the Wikipedia is no longer regarded as an easily available smart tool for the amateur researcher for the reason that the entries are made by voluntary editors at various levels of scholarship and academic authority and authenticity. The Wikipedia user must be sufficiently educated and well informed to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this case, the definition given is sound enough.) Explaining the relation between Islam and Islamism, the Wikipedia says:

“The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement. Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes, to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics. A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that “the conception of ‘political Islam’” is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and (that) apolitical Islam was a historical fluke of the “short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970”, and it is quietist-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.

“Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic “by the fact that the latter refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium, whereas the first is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century”. Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as “Islamiyyoun/Islamists” to differentiate themselves from Muslimun/Muslims. Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian ideologies and “isms” than to traditional Islamic religion.”

When Ali Sabry reportedly made the particular remark, he probably had in mind what the Wiki quote refers to as ‘quietist or political Islam’ (which, in common parlance, is called ‘moderate Islam’). Moderate Islam is not regarded as a problem, but Islamism definitely is. It need not be reiterated that the problem of Islamism affects the whole world. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Islamic/Islamist fundamentalism came to prominence relatively recently, although it has been smoldering since the mid-20th century as some commentators have pointed out. Given this background, responsible speakers do not use the two words (Islam and Islamism) as alternatives. I believe that minister Ali Sabry speaks as a responsible person. That is why I am sceptical about what has been reported of his speech. But these are strange times. Anything is possible.

However, it is somewhat inconceivable that Ali Sabry, who has been entrusted by the President with such a great responsibility or an array of responsibilities as he bears in a government that sought election on the main platform of “One Law, One Country” and that is poised to bring in a new constitution, made this thoughtless identification of Islam with Islamism.

The President wanted to assure the Muslim community that they were safe and would not be subjected to discrimination under his rule, particularly in the face of incursions into Sri Lanka of rampant Islamist extremism, although most Muslims did not vote for him at the presidential election in November 2019. It is conceivable that the President’s more important aim in appointing Ali Sabry to that key post was to enlist the participation of the Muslim community in governance despite their implicit initial refusal of his goodwill. It is unlikely that Ali Sabry has forgotten this.

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