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Midweek Review

House seeks public views on ‘the role of an MP and aspirations of the people’

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Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, at the inauguration of a three-day capacity building programme for the Staff of Secy Gen of Parliament, at CITRUS Hotel, Waskaduwa, in early March 2016. The USAID funded the programme meant to promote much touted good governance. Training of parliament staff was part of an overall project worth Rs 1.92 bn.

By Shamindra
Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is in deepening turmoil. Political parties are in disarray, with the country’s two major political parties – the United National Party (UNP) reduced to just one (National List) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) 14 (one National List/13 on the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket), respectively. Leaderships of those parties have caused so much damage to their parliamentary groups, over the years, that both are unlikely to recover for a long time.

Unfortunately, the SLFP’s offshoot the SLPP, and the breakaway UNP faction the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, are struggling to cope up with the deteriorating political environment. Overall, the country is in disorder with political parties, beset by internal conflicts, pulling in different directions, whereas the status of the Parliament remains questionable.

Lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s assertion that Parliament is the most corrupt institution in the country cannot be dismissed. The declaration made by President’s Counsel Rajapakse, in response to a query by the writer, at a media briefing, called by him, at the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), in June 2019, highlighted the unprecedented crisis. Having made that declaration, as a UNP lawmaker, Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s own political future, as a member of the ruling SLPP, is uncertain today against the backdrop of him moving the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill – whatever the court ruling may be. In a way, one-time BASL (Bar Association of Sri Lanka) President Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s plight reflected the growing instability and insecurity, in general, mainly brought on by the unprecedented pandemic, in living memory, but amplified by the unabated immoral political shenanigans.

The whole political setup seems to be in a dilemma. The House couldn’t have picked a better time to launch the second volume of an academic journal, titled ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’, to discuss a range of topics which dealt with parliamentary matters. The themes are (1) Constitution and Amendments to the Constitution (2) Representative Democracy and the Committee System (3) Legislative Functions of Parliament (4) Parliament and the Endowment of its Citizens (5) Standing Orders, Members’ Conduct and Parliamentary Procedures (6) Electoral System, the Parliament and Public Outreach (7) Parliamentary Reporting and Mass Communications (8) Sustainable Development Goals and the Parliamentary System (9) New Trends in Sri Lankan Women Politics and finally (10) The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People.

The Communications Department of the Parliament called for submission of articles, in all three languages (3,000 to 5,000 words each), to: journal.slparliament@gmail.com by, or before, May 21, 2021, after having informed the relevant officer, handling the project, on weekdays, on 0112 777328, of their desire to furnish articles.

The writer feels the entire gamut of issues, at hand, can be addressed by dealing with only the final topic: ‘The Role of an MP and aspirations of the People.’ The Communications Department assured those interested in submitting articles that their work would be reviewed by a panel of experts.

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is at a crossroads, with the SLPP bent on further consolidating executive powers, whereas the other political parties sought to dilute the powers enjoyed by the President. The Role of an MP and aspirations of the people, or any other relevant topic, cannot be discussed unless all stakeholders acknowledge the failure on the part of Parliament to fulfill its two primary obligations. There is no point in denying the fact that Parliament pathetically failed to ensure financial discipline as well as enactment of required laws to combat it. If Parliament achieved its objectives, or at least, made a genuine effort over the years, there wouldn’t have been a need for projects such as ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’ Would the expert panel accept the brutal truth?

 

Timely setting up of Communication Department

Can Parliament, as the supreme law-making institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for the deterioration of every sector, through sheer negligence? Thanks to the setting up of a proper Communication Department, the public, to a large extent, gets to know what is going on. The Communication Department, so far, has dealt quite professionally with proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and the Public Finance Committee (PFC) thereby giving the public a clear idea as to what is really going on. The coverage of COPE, COPA and PFC proceedings disclosed a pathetic state of affairs. Waste, corruption irregularities and negligence seem to be the order of the day.

Let me briefly discuss the shocking revelation made by COPE proceedings on Feb 12, 2021, just to underscore the public dilemma. COPE examination of the Education Ministry reveals that the National Child Protection Policy is yet to be implemented though the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has been in existence since 1998. COPA Chairman Prof. Charitha Ratwatte, serving his first term as a National List lawmaker of the SLPP, stressed the need to implement it without further delay.

According to a statement issued by former journalist Shan Wijetunga, Director, Communications Department, COPE directed Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera to expedite the process. During the proceedings, the revelation of the failure on the part of the NCPA to furnish its 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports to Parliament, is also a grave embarrassment. The Education Ministry owed an explanation how NCPA, an institution under its care, brazenly neglected its responsibility. Would you believe the NCPA’s Legal Section comprised just two employees and just one to handle complaints? The COPE placed the number of complaints that hadn’t been addressed, by January 1, 2021, at a staggering 40,668.

Perhaps ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ should include an additional topic to address the plight of the hapless children for want of a responsible Parliament. Can Parliament explain how it failed to take remedial measures in respect of NCPA? Let me stress, The Island dealt with the Feb 12 COPE proceedings only. If one examined the entire lot, the public would curse those who had served successive governments over the years. The NCPA/Education Ministry’s failure seems relatively light when compared with the shoddy handling of almost all other key ministries.

Against the backdrop of such poor performances by Parliament, the House itself should examine a high-profile costly project, implemented by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), during previous administration. The USAID was launched in late Nov 2016 with a Rs. 1.92 billion (USD$13 million) partnership with the Parliament of Sri Lanka to strengthen accountability and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.

According to the American aid agency, the three-year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) was meant to improve strategic planning and communication within the government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women, and underrepresented groups, in Parliament, and at local levels.

Nearly two years after the conclusion of the project, wouldn’t it be necessary to examine whether the USAID project did any good? Did the USAID project make a tangible change? If not, who benefited from the Rs 1.92 bn project? These questions need answers. Perhaps, the issue can be dealt by some of those who will contribute to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’

 

Why not examine the Rs 1.92 bn

USAID project?

Karu Jayasuriya, who accepted the USAID project, in his capacity as the Speaker, at that time, (with the consent of the then President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP), owed an explanation as regards how US funding benefited the country. Interestingly, KJ today heads the NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice), the brainchild of the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, who spearheaded a political campaign that brought the Mahinda Rajapaksa government down. Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya took over the NMSJ, in the wake of Ven Sobitha’s demise, in early Nov 2015, before giving up the post to pave the way for KJ. The civil society organization NMSJ accommodated KJ in the wake of the former Speaker quitting active politics. But the irony is, it must be noted that NMSJ, too, is involved in anti-government politics to its neck.

‘The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People,’ the last topic offered by Parliament to those interested in contributing to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha,’ would be an ideal opportunity to discuss how the political party system mercilessly failed the country. While the vast majority of people struggled to make ends meet, the political class, and their crowd, enjoyed life at the expense of the national economy. Political parties plundered the country with impunity, regardless of the consequences.

The deterioration of parliamentary standards today cannot be compared with any particular post-independence period. That is the undeniable truth. It would be pertinent to mention that lawmakers should be held accountable for massive waste, corruption, irregularities as well as negligence revealed by COPE, COPA, and PFC. Examine how the mega sugar duty scam, perpetrated by the incumbent administration, cost the Treasury dearly. Can the Finance Ministry absolve itself of responsibility, whoever ordered it do so?

Serving Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, recently commented on the role of the judiciary, vis-a-vis the Executive and the Legislature. Both the Executive and the Legislature should take note of the President’s Counsel’s assertion. The courts had quite justly come to be regarded as the sentinel over the powers of the legislature and the executive in Sri Lanka in order to safeguard the rights of the citizen, under the law and the Constitution, the Attorney General Dappula de Livera has said on March 23, at the ceremonial sitting of the Court of Appeal.

The ceremonial sitting was held to welcome, His Lordship Justice Arjuna Obeysekere as the President of the Court of Appeal, Her Ladyship Justice Menaka Wijesundera, their Lordships Justice Nihal Samarakoon, Justice Prasantha de Silva, Justice Mohamed Laffar, Justice Pradeep Kirthisinghe, Justice Sampath Abayakoon and Justice Sampath Wijeratne as Judges of the Court of Appeal.

Just a week after the AG’s extraordinary declaration, at a ceremonial sitting many an eyebrow was raised when he had to intervene in respect of a Colombo High Court ruling, pertaining to two narcotics cases.

The PC moved the Court of Appeal in revision of two bail orders of the Colombo High Court 04 as regards detection of 65 grams and 485 grams of heroin.

Following the AG’s intervention, the Court of Appeal stayed bail being granted to the suspects. The AG intervened after a State Counsel assigned to Court No 04 challenged the granting of bail.

Of the seven High Courts in Colombo, two Courts, namely No 04 and 05, have been assigned the additional task of dealing with bail applications.

Newly appointed Court of Appeal judge Menaka Wijeyasundera issued the stay order pending further investigations. The Attorney General’s Department examined the cases pertaining to bail applications handled by both Colombo High Courts before the intervention was made.

Democracy cannot thrive unless the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary work for a common agenda. The much-touted ‘One Country, One Law’ concept would never be a reality if the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary pulled in different directions, whoever wielded political power. In the absence of a common objective to lift the living standards of the public, in a stable environment, whoever exercised political power, the country will remain in simmering turmoil.

If one genuinely examines the topics acceptable to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ he or she will quickly realize the entire parliamentary system is in a mess. In spite of introducing 20 Amendments to the President JRJ’s dictatorial Constitution enacted in 1978, the very basis of the law is mired in controversy. And in some cases, the role of lawmakers has been questioned.

 

Ranjan’s removal et al

SJB lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake losing his Gampaha district parliamentary seat, over contempt of court charges, the arrest of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen for allegedly aiding and abetting, Easter Sunday bombers, the CID investigation into a complaint as regards SJB National List lawmaker Diana Gamage’s nationality, controversy over SLPP lawmaker Premalal Jayasekera, sentenced to death over 2015 killing, taking oaths, dismissal of murder charges against Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan as well as termination of proceedings by the Attorney General and CIABOC in respect of several other lawmakers highlighted the crisis the country is in.

The fact that the incumbent government enacted the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with the backing of the ACMC, as well as the SLMC, whose leader and Attorney-at-Law Rauff Hakeem has been pictured with Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim’s brother, Mohammed Rilvan, recuperating in a hospital from injuries he suffered while testing a bomb in 2018, painted a bleak picture. High profile accusations and still unanswered questions raised by SJB lawmakers, Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando pertaining to alleged involvement of some members of the intelligence services in the Easter Sunday carnage, shocked the community. Such accusations should be examined. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for turning a blind eye to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognizing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE) as the sole representative of their community. Parliament never bothered to raise this issue with TNA. How come a recognized, political grouping recognized proscribed organization as sole representative of their community. Perhaps, the now banned National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) tried similar tactics, in 2015, when it sought to infiltrate Parliament. The NTJ secured an electoral alliance with the UNP-led political alliance, ahead of the 2015 general election, and was cunning enough to secure a National List place for one of Sri Lanka’s richest traders, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, whose sons, lham and Insath carried out the bombings of the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels.

The Parliament, as the lawmaking institution, should undertake a genuine examination of its shortcomings. The House should discuss ‘ The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People’ the last topic offered by ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ as part of the overall efforts to streamline the parliamentary process.

The political process, adopted in respect of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments, revealed that such politically motivated strategies wouldn’t work. Those seeking to enact a new Constitution should realize that the passage of a new Law, only on the basis of a two-thirds parliamentary majority, wouldn’t ensure the much desired political stability, especially in the face of the daunting Covid-19 challenge. All four above mentioned Amendments were introduced as part of a political strategy, pursued by those in power at the time of the enactment.

Some of those who voted in early 2015 for the 19th Amendment, depicted as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills in 2020 backed the 20th brought in at the expense of the previously enacted Amendment. Beleaguered former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena excused himself from voting for the 20th Amendment last Oct, whereas his MPs did. The SLPP has no qualms in securing the passage of the 20th Amendment with the backing of the SLMC and the ACMC, having lambasted them in the run up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 general election.

Those exercising parliamentary powers and privileges should realize that real power can be achieved through genuine consensus. Political tools, such as urgent bills, will only serve limited purposes and even if succeeded in depriving the Opposition, the civil society and the media from playing their classic role, there cannot be certainty in the final outcome. Parliament should take note of the BASL statement, dated April 15, issued by BASL Secretary, Rajeev Amarasuriya, in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission. Let me produce the relevant section verbatim. It stated: “On the 8th of April 2021, just fifteen (15) calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette, the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. In terms of the Constitution, a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill has to do so within one week from the Bill being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament.

The Executive Committee of the BASL is extremely concerned about the limited time given for scrutiny and discussion of this important Bill, as well as the timing of placing the Bill on the Order Paper of Parliament, which was after the suspension of sittings of the Supreme Court, a time when many members of the legal profession are unavailable. Furthermore, the period of one (1) week within which such a Bill could be challenged before the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality, included not only the weekend but also three public holidays. Thus, the members of the public have been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to scrutinize the Bill and to discuss its merits.”

The way Parliament handled the 2015 and 2016 Treasury bond scams and the shocking revelation that some lawmakers, on both sides, received donations from the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) tarnished the image of the House beyond salvation. Having funded a high profile good governance project, the USAID totally turned a blind eye to the Treasury bond scams! So, we will end this with the warning written by Virgil more than 2000 years ago; “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.



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Midweek Review

Sri Lanka caught up in Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy

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Eric Walsh, the New Canadian High Commissioner, arrives at the President’s House, in Kandy (above), to present credentials to President Ranil Wickremesinghe (right) on Feb 02, 2023 (Pic: Courtesy Foreign Ministry)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Eric Walsh presented his credentials to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Feb. 02, at the President’s House in Kandy. Wickremesinghe was flanked by Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Presidential Secretary Saman Ekanayake.

Canada, with the concurrence of Sri Lanka, appointed Walsh as High Commissioner of Canada to Colombo.

Walsh, who had served as the Canadian Ambassador in Seoul (2015-2018), succeeded David Makinnon, amidst the ongoing controversy over Canada’s declaration of two former Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015), and Gotabaya Rajapaksa (2019-2022), as war criminals. Ottawa has unilaterally found them guilty of alleged offenses, without going through any acceptable legal procedure, during the time they held the posts of President and Defence Secretary respectively (2005-2015). It was during this period that the LTTE, which was for a long time generally regarded by the West as being unbeatable, was well and truly vanquished, in the battlefield, by our valiant security forces, in May 2009. This is all the more shocking as some leading military/academic experts in the West had given written evidence that we did not commit any war crimes. May be nature alone will give justice to all the victims of the white man’s unimaginable crimes, especially against the natives of the Americas, who were the victims of genocide, since the arrival of Christopher Columbus there, and millions of Africans enslaved there, while outwardly espousing “all men are created equal”. And they continue to practice similar heinous acts against those people, while claiming to follow the gospel of the Lord!

The new Canadian High Commissioner was among several foreign envoys who presented credentials on Feb. 02, at an event that drew wide condemnation at a time Sri Lanka is continuing to experience severe economic difficulties. The criticism was so much that the President’s Media Division (PMD) issued a statement justifying the event. Colombo-based Walsh also serves as Canadian High Commissioner to the Maldives.

A section of the public, as well as the media, questioned the extravagant event at a time the vast majority of Sri Lankans was struggling to make ends meet. However, President Wickremesinghe, receiving credentials from the new Canadian High Commissioner, didn’t receive public attention.

Would Canada have imposed sanctions on Gotabaya Rajapaksa if he remained the President? Ottawa would have done so, probably as part of its overall strategy to appease Tamil Canadian voters of Sri Lankan origins. Public protests compelled Gotabaya Rajapaksa to give up the presidency on July 14. Of course it is also pretty obvious Ottawa is merely behaving as Washington’s pet poodle doing the bidding of its master.

“The Special Economic Measures (Sri Lanka) Regulations impose on listed persons a prohibition on any transaction (effectively, an asset freeze) by prohibiting persons in Canada, and Canadians outside Canada, from engaging in any activity related to any property of these listed persons or providing financial or related services to them,” the Canadian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The individuals listed in the Schedule to the Regulations are also rendered inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” the statement added.

Having negotiated the Ottawa Treaty, banning antipersonnel mines in 1996 to 1997, Walsh couldn’t have been unaware of the origins of the Sri Lanka war. No one demanding accountability on the part of hapless Sri Lanka ever questioned the origins of the war here. Canada is no exception. Canada wouldn’t have been home to such a large group of Sri Lankans if not for the despicable Indian destabilization project launched here in the early ’80s.

On January 11, Sabry summoned Acting Canadian High Commissioner, Daniel Bood, over the imposition of sanctions on the Rajapaksa brothers, Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayaka, and Lt. Commander P. Hettiarachchi over what Ottawa called ‘gross and systematic violations of human rights’ during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The acceptance of the new Canadian High Commissioner’s credentials meant that the humiliation of war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya, who played a significant role in Sri Lanka’s successful war against the LTTE, is not an issue at all. The then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009. Interestingly, Canada has not found fault with Fonseka, who contested the 2010 presidential election, with the backing of the United States.

The Foreign Ministry owe an explanation as to how they intend to counter the latest Canadian move that has given a turbo boost to the ongoing campaign against Sri Lanka. Imposition of sanctions on the two Presidents followed the Canadian Parliament’s recognition of “Tamil genocide” in Sri Lanka on May 18, 2022. The then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government failed to address the issue having been overwhelmed by violent domestic issues.

“Canada becomes the first national parliament, in the world, to recognize May 18th, of each year, as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day,” tweeted Gary Anandasangaree, MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park, who brought forward the motion on the 13th anniversary of the LTTE’s crushing defeat at Mullivaikkal, on the Vanni east front. The Canadian MP’s father is Point Pedro-born Veerasingham Anandasangaree, an ex-lawmaker and one-time TULF stalwart.

Gary Anandasangaree hasn’t acknowledged India’s culpability in terrorism here or atrocities committed by his own community during the conflict.

Parliament Hill agenda

The Tamil Diaspora has received access to Canada’s Parliament in a big way. Against the backdrop of Canadian recognition of Tamil genocide (May 2022) and sanctions on Rajapaksa brothers (January 2023), Canada allowed the Federation of Global Tamil Organizations (FGTO) to address the accountability issue on Parliament Hill.

Canadian media quoted the member of the FGTO board, Vel Velautahpillai, as having called for a new Nuremberg-like tribunal to prosecute the leadership of the government of Sri Lanka.

President Wickremesinghe received the new Canadian High Commissioner’s credentials, a few days later. The FGTO recently requested Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mélanie Joly, to bring Sri Lanka before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). That request was repeated by Velautahpillai, in Parliament Hill.

Sri Lanka should be grateful for the impartial coverage of the latest developments by the national news agency of Canada. In fact, the Canadian Press handled the FGTO onslaught much better than the Sri Lankan government did.

The Canadian Press quoted Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Canada, Anzul Jhan, as having said: “Some of the extreme groups, with separatist agendas, do not wish to see progress in Sri Lanka, as it will jeopardize their livelihood in Canada. It is only natural for these groups to be motivated by the Canadian sanctions. The sanctions come in the backdrop of tangible and meaningful progress made by the government in addressing issues of accountability and reconciliation, and in strengthening the country’s democratic and governance structures.”

Career diplomat Jhan said, in her response to the Canadian Press inquiry, “Given the significant community of Sri Lankan heritage of all ethnicities, Canada should play the role of peacemaker.”

Jhan alleged Ottawa harmed both its own relations with Sri Lanka and her country’s internal reconciliation process. Canada imposed sanctions on the Rajapaksa brothers, on January 10, 2023.

Hats off to Jhan and the Sri Lankan High Commission for the intrepid stand taken on behalf of Sri Lanka at a time the Foreign Ministry seems to be so unsure of its strategy, possibly in fear of President Wickremesinghe, who, as PM, previously ensured the sponsoring of a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights body. Perhaps Sri Lanka lacked even the basic strategy to counter the Western agenda. Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Ottawa, Harsha Kumara Navaratne, has been trying to set the record straight. The one-time prominent civil society figure faces a daunting task in neutralizing the growing Canadian threat.

In the absence of a cohesive Sri Lankan action plan, the FGTO may well succeed in convincing more countries to follow suit. In his Parliament Hill statement, Velautahpillai urged the G 7 countries to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka. However, Velautahpillai refrained from urging India to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka. Did Velautahpillai fear at least to mention India’s culpability? Did the likes of Velautahpillai, and his associates ,who used Parliament Hill to promote separatist agenda, at least bother to inquire how many Tamils died in the hands of the LTTE, and other Tamil terrorist groups, trained by India? Did they want to know how many Tamils perished in the hands of the Indian Army, deployed in Sri Lanka during the July 1987-March 1990 period?

The death of nearly 1,300 Indian soldiers, and twice that number wounded, some maimed for life,underscored the fierceness of fighting.

The new Canadian High Commissioner must be reminded how the Indian-trained Sri Lankan terrorists made an abortive bid to grab power in the Maldives in early Nov. 1988. Those who have conveniently forgotten the origins of Sri Lanka terrorism, and want the international community to haul Sri Lanka up before the ICJ, must be compelled to acknowledge the ugly truth.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as recommended by the government of South Africa, and accepted by Sri Lanka, can examine the entire range of issues, including the attempt by the People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to assassinate the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to pave the way for a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee, to seize power.

Luthufee may never have had an opportunity to challenge Gayoom without the PLOTE support. At the time of the sea-borne raid, the PLOTE operated under the guidance of the Indian Army, as well as India’s premier intelligence service Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The PLOTE carried arms and ammunition, provided by the Indian military. In fact, it was one of the groups extremely close to Indian intelligence services, and the beneficiary of both weapons as well as funds. Did somebody, within the Indian intelligence community, know about the PLOTE operation? How the PLOTE preparations for the Male operation went totally unnoticed is an unfathomable question? And, most importantly, what would have happened if the coup attempt succeeded?

None of those seeking to establish the circumstances under which the combined Sri Lankan forces eradicated the LTTE, on the Vanni east front, were bothered about regional instability and uncertainty caused by the Indian action. India thereby, unwittingly, caused the assassination of one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, by LTTE terrorists.

The UN, the EU, as well as the Commonwealth, didn’t even issue statements regarding the Male crisis, caused by Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Instead, India was praised for saving democracy in the Maldives by swiftly responding to the sea borne raid, mounted by Sri Lankan terrorists. Had the terrorists succeeded, there would have been a bloodbath leading to a protracted conflict. Strangely, the security crisis, caused by Sri Lankan terrorists, had never been an issue at international forums, particularly because the government in Male was sensitive to India’s concerns. The bottom line is that the Maldives didn’t want to embarrass India. The Sri Lankan government largely remained silent for reasons best known to the then UNP leadership.

Indo-Pacific strategy

Sri Lanka is among the countries under Canadian sanctions over alleged human rights issues. The following are the other countries sanctioned by Ottawa: Belarus, Central African Republic, China, North Korea, Congo, Haiti, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar , Nicaragua, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine (linked to Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity according to Global Affairs Canada), Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

According to a message, posted on the Canadian High Commission website, new High Commissioner Walsh has declared that in terms of their Indo-Pacific Strategy, his country was ready to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to achieve meaningful and lasting post-war national reconciliation. Actually, Canada owe an explanation on how it intended to promote national reconciliation by targeting those who spearheaded Sri Lanka’s war effort. On one hand, Canada, and the like-minded countries, want to protect those who had perpetrated atrocities on behalf of the LTTE and other Tamil groups and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people. On the other hand, they are determined to humiliate the war-winning political and military leaderships.

Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, launched in 2022, should be examined, along with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, unveiled the year before, by the Biden-Harris administration. Truly, the Canadian initiative can be safely described as an integral part of the overall Western response to the Chinese challenge.

Obviously, Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with a deepening balance of payments crisis, and its inability to pay back its debt, is under tremendous pressure to align with Western powers. The accountability issue is being cleverly exploited to build up pressure on a hapless country that wouldn’t have experienced war on such a destructive scale if not for the West allowing New Delhi to go ahead with its destabilization project here.

Western strategy, in respect of Sri Lanka, is absolutely clear. Western powers have been rattled by Sri Lanka’s relationship with China, an all-weather friend, like Pakistan, at a time the US and Europe hesitated to help Colombo fight terrorism, though New Delhi gradually changed its approach, after a Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991.

According to the Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy, its actions, as well as the response of like-minded countries, are influenced by their assertion that China is a disruptive global power. Having perused the Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy, the writer is quite convinced of the exploitation of the Sri Lanka accountability issue to advance their agenda. Sri Lanka has been entangled in a conflict, due to its strategic positioning.

The Canadian response to the Chinese challenge is dealt at domestic, bilateral, regional and multilateral levels in their Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Seventy five years after gaining independence, from the UK, the country is at the mercy of Western powers, and India, the regional power and key member of the US-led ‘Quad ‘military alliance, despite New Delhi’s often proclaimed ‘Neighbourhood First Policy.’ Bankrupt Sri Lanka needs to overhaul the corrupt, wasteful and extravagant political system responsible for ruination of the national economy.

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Midweek Review

Alienness within walking distance

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(Text of a lecture delivered

by Rajan Hoole

at ICES, celebrating Malaiyaham 200 on 21 January 2023)

Citizenship was not originally a contested area. At the first session of the Ceylon National Congress, on 11th December 1919, where Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was elected president, it was assumed without dissent that all communities in the Island would be represented. In 1927, the Donoughmore Commissioners, who proposed universal adult franchise for ordinary residents did not themselves envisage a distinction. But it was clear to the Sinhalese plutocrats that under the scheme of one man – one vote, the balance of power would shift to the labouring classes.

In 1928, W. A. de Silva, president of the Ceylon National Congress, wanted the most vulnerable Plantation Tamils denied the vote because ‘their highly deprived living conditions and isolation made their vote a danger to the ‘community.’’ Any outsider visiting them was legally an intruder and subject to prosecution. Asked by the Indian journalist, Sant Nihal Singh, why not remove the restrictive regime in the Plantations, including his own, and allow the labour freedom to mix freely? De Silva admitted that then, the chief reason for denying them the vote would be gone. Seeing such specious denial of the vote made universal franchise farcical, the British Administration settled for minimum five years residence as condition for the vote.

Proof of five years residence seemed reasonable in 1929 and the Plantation Tamils too exercised the franchise in the 1931 and 1936 elections, but were by 20 years of insult and administrative harassment based on small-minded technicalities, rendered voteless in 1949. In 1941 the Legal Secretary had told the Council that 80% of the Plantation Tamils were either born here or had resided more than 10 years. Any government with a meagre sense of justice would in 1948 have taken the five years’ residence for granted. But even though they were paupers at the backbone of the economy, they were denied citizenship and the vote, making them slaves, on the risible pretext that they were, as D.S. Senanayake put it, citizens of India.

During the 20 years of the Donoughmore era, education too followed the social hierarchy; in 1927 a teacher in an English medium school could earn Rs. 70 to 200 and in a vernacular school from Rs.35 to Rs. 60. But the estate children were nominally taught reading, writing and arithmetic by teachers paid almost a plantation labourer’s salary of Rs. 20 a month in 1948. The labour was totally unprepared for the challenges of contesting disenfranchisement in the courts by proof of five years’ residence, even when many judges were sympathetic. The Registration bill of 1941 aimed at the Plantation Tamils, showed Senanayake whom the British favoured for the transfer of power, with the Left opposition jailed, established a stranglehold over the House. Amazingly, with the Left behind bars, no Sinhalese voted against the Bill. When the independence bill was put to the State Council in 1945, no Ceylon Tamil was willing to face up to the tragedy in train.

In the process, we destroyed the trust and good neighbourliness within the country to the point of driving the Tamil minority to seek lethal weapons; and in the unfolding dynamic, the majority and minority sought to overcome internal dissent by terror.

In today’s reality, this was defending the unaffordable Army doubling up as archaeological experts; scouring the North-East for tokens that could be turned into grandiose monuments for the Sinhalese among non-Sinhalese; and in turn driving the starving Sinhalese to desperate measures.

Academic historians and archaeologists have from their dull enclaves been shot into stardom as their professions became politicised. Written history will be of value only if it broadly reflects truth, rather than confirms the reader’s bias. The writer must interrogate his writing to check the validity of his conclusions.

To prove that the Indian labourers came only for short stay, Prof. S.U. Kodikara argued from the comparatively low proportion of unemployable elderly persons on the estates in the early 20th Century, that the elderly generally returned to India. But, in truth, conditions were harsh and the relative death rate very high, so that few survived to return. The blackout of Indian labour’s crucial contribution which kept the economy afloat, during the second world war and long after, to the tune of 65 per cent of our foreign earnings until 1965, is an injustice committed by both Sinhalese and Tamil politicians. That began the move to devalue everything Tamil.

The systematic denial of the Pallava (namely Tamil) contribution to Buddhist Art was to suppress the Tamil role. With scant evidence, the credit was shifted further north to inspiration from Amaravati of the 3rd century. This necessitates suppression of an episode of Indian Tamil immigration in the 8th to 10th centuries that led to excellence in art, expansion of trade, identification and internationalisation of the port of Trincomalee and the coming of China, by invitation.

Movement between Lanka and India was there all along, be it religion, trade, war or peace

The political need for the citizenship Act therefore inserted an official culture of systematic falsehood. Lankan professor of archaeology, Sirima Kiribamune, in ‘Tamils in Ancient and Mediaeval Sri Lanka’ of 1985, says, passing over the Pallava era in silence: “the 8th century, which saw some dynastic stability in the country, appears to have been relatively free of Indian troop movements.” Of Manavamma’s return following more than 20 years in service of the Pallavas, K.M. de Silva, remarks that there was augmentation of royal authority and sophistication of administration.

D.K. Dohanian, however, points out in his paper ‘Sinhalese Sculptures in the Pallava Style’ in Archives of Asian Art Vol. 36 (1983), Duke University Press:

“Lanka’s awareness of Indian neighbours was never so dynamic than during the nearly four hundred years following the flight of the Sinhalese prince Manavamma to political asylum in [Pallava] Kanchi, to the court of Narasimhavarman I. In 684 AD he captured the throne of Lanka in the wake of naval aid from the Pallava monarch, which set off from Mamallapuram. Following his reign of about 35 years, he was succeeded by his sons Aggabodhi V (AD 718 – 724), Kassapa III (724 – 730) and Mahinda I (730 – 733). These sons of Manavamma both shared his exile and were born in the Pallava country. In consequence Pallava influence at the Sinhalese court was quite strong.

“Both the stability and prestige of the Government of Lanka were related to the unbroken alliance with the Pallavas that lasted until the extinction of the Pallava dynasty near the end of the 9th Century. During this time the kingdom of Lanka benefitted from the might of the Pallavas” – who in the late 7th or 8th Century AD turned Trincomalee into a throbbing port city, judging by its wealth from the seabed ruins of Koneswaram Temple, and Mahayana Buddhist remains all over.

The relevant history of Tamil Nadu – inspiration of Buddhism and Jainism

Tamil Nadu has a blank in its history, after the 3rd Century AD, up to about 550 AD. Nilakanta Shastri tells us in his History of South India: “This dark period marked by the ascendancy of Buddhism and probably also of Jainism, was characterised also by great literary activity in Tamil.” Though characterising it ‘the dark period,’ being the great historian he was, Shastri followed with the brighter side of what has been termed the Kalabhra era, a time that saw the golden age of Tamil literature. He added: “Most of the works grouped under the head, the eighteen minor works were written during this period as also the Silappadikaram, Manimekalai and other works. Many of the authors were votaries of the heretical sects.”

It was a period marked by pluralism, if not secularism. David Shulman is a citizen of Israel, who works actively for justice to the Palestinians, from whom we in the University of Jaffna were privileged to have a visit. In his book of 2016, Tamil – a biography – provides a solution to the Kalabhra riddle that avoids the fantastic: “The once prevalent notion of a dark interregnum in which a mysterious dynasty of ‘Kalbhras’ penetrated with devastating effect, into the Tamil country now seems rather exaggerated, if not, indeed, entirely fictive.”

The Kalabhra period had witnessed a social upheaval in which the Buddhists and Jains gained in economic importance. In dealing with a revolution, which was largely pacific, the Pallavas, the emergent power in the Chola country from 550 AD on, whose rulers in turn embraced Jainism and Hinduism, wisely chose to buy into the revolution rather than suppress it. Thus, the Pallava capital Kanchipuram became a city of Jain, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist learning. The merchant marine of the time with Kanchipuram as headquarters carried Mahayana Buddhism and the Tamil language to East Asia. The social atmosphere of the time is captured in the Silappadikaram and Manimehalai, and in Anne E. Monius’ book ‘Imagining a Place for Buddhism.’

Amaravati or Pallava?

Senarat Paranavitana, the doyen of Ceylon’s archaeologists, in his Art of the Ancient Sinhalese (1971), advances the ‘overwhelming’ influence of ‘Andhra art on that of early Ceylon and a branch of that school in Ceylon, producing the sculptures on the frontispieces of the ancient stupas.’ This was speculative, given the censorship of Mahayana in the chronicles of Ceylon and the 400 years that separated Amaravati from the flowering of Pallava art. Nilakanta Shastri traces Roman influence in the ‘vigorous and supple realism, characteristic of all Indian sculpture, particularly from the days of Asoka and Sanchi to the Pallava sculptures of Mamallapuram … Roman influence in the art of Amaravati that foreshadows that of Aihole and Mamallapuram.’

Osmund Bopearachchi, from Sorbonne, one of our eminent archaeologists has pointed to the mass discoveries from the 7th and 8th centuries of statues of Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara, the protector of sailors, along the island’s ports, rivers, and overland routes. He also points to famous Mahayana Buddhist statues in the southeast of the island, as in Budurugala, from this period. But he remarkably fails to make the crucial Pallava connection and leaves these facts as curiosities hanging in the air. The Amaravati claim is focused on one instance. Paranavitana quoted the authority of Ananda Coomaraswamy on the well-known statue in the Abhayagiri grounds [in Anuradhapura], ‘dignified as are the Buddhist statues of Amaravati, the great Buddha at Anuradhapura surpasses them in grandeur.’

Dohanian (ibid) adds: “Perhaps the most celebrated Sinhalese sculpture in the Pallava style is the stone Buddha of the Outer Circular Road in Anuradhapura [cited by] Coomaraswamay … Though originally from the Mahayanist shrine at Abhayagiri vihara, with three similar, if not identical Buddha images, it has been given space in virtually every publication on Buddhism and Buddhist art in modern times. The stone sculpture isolated from its shrine has been much commented upon, and has been placed within dates, ranging as a rule from the 2nd century A.D. to the fifth; there have been some attempts to date it much earlier … The shrine of which this image is a component has been dated within the first half of the eighth century, and I have demonstrated elsewhere, that the sculpture was contemporary, in manufacture, with the shrine.

“Although most scholars have been content to see ‘Gupta’ qualities in it, this image most convincingly resembles the figures carved on the face of the great rock at Mamallapuram, the ancient city of the Pallavas.”

No Lankan scholar seemed to have commented on Dohanian’s paper of 1983. At a seminar in University College London on 6th July 2005, Bopearachchi, repeated Paranavitana’s thesis on the ‘overwhelming’ influence of Amaravati-Nagajunakonda art on the earliest Buddha images in Sri Lanka as having ‘gained unanimous acceptance.’ This he partially retracted on 30th December 2014, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts:

“D.K. Dohanian sees a parallel between this type of ascetic Avalokiteśvara and Śiva of the early Pallava style depicted … in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). If this hypothesis is correct, the stone Avalokiteśvara images cannot be dated before the 7th century because the Pallava sculptures at Mamallapuram are generally dated to the reign of Narasimhavarman (630–668 CE).”

But Dohanian’s case on the actual origin of the Statue and its date to 8th Century AD went unanswered. All the while local archaeological publications have tried to protect the State’s ideological positions on the East of the country, particularly Trincomalee.

(To be continued)

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Midweek Review

The Jailor’s Loneliness

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By Lynn Ockersz

Rest comes slowly in snatches,

For our Jailor of master class,

All alone with his designs,

Keeping heavy-lidded eyes on cells,

Filled with spirits calling for a way out,

Of travails mounting by the day,

Refusing to be weighed down by chains,

Thrust on them by iron fists,

But our Jailor oozes high confidence,

And dares not show lassitude,

Since he has his work cut out,

Which is to carve out an Orwellian Isle,

Where a Big Brother syndrome would thrive.

e.

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