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How can Sri Lanka benefit? Insights & Solutions…



Vaccines against Covid-19:

By Dr LakKumar Fernando.



It is almost one year since the world started battling the Covid-19 pandemic; there are over 80 million confirmed cases and 1.8 million deaths. WHO estimates that 10% of the world’s 7.8 billion population is already infected with Covid-19, and if that is the case the true case number is ten times higher. However, we are still without a proper treatment that can cure all the patients. Sri Lanka has recorded more than 200 Covid deaths and 40,000 cases by now. Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with the positive news that several vaccines are getting lined up, shaping to end the pandemic before the end of 2021.

Vaccines have become the best solution against nearly all the important infections that threatened the human existence and Covid-19 is the most recent threat that demanded the biggest ever ‘vaccine solution’ in the history of mankind.

Normally, a vaccine takes 5-15 years of serious medical research before it is delivered for licensing and marketing. However, with all the tools ready with several vaccine makers to bring in a vaccine for similar infections, the race for Covid-19 vaccine became fast and efficient and researchers worked round the clock to fast track the solutions. The result is vaccinations against Covid-19 have started in several parts of the world already, even before the end of 2020.

With WHO declaring Covid-19 a global pandemic, close to 200 vaccine developers started research with huge investments and after completing pre-clinical animal studies, 44 vaccine candidates are currently in phase 1, 21 in phase 2, 18 are in phase 3. Five vaccines have approvals for limited use and three have emergency approval for full use., The fourth was approved on the 30th which can be a turning point with regard to cost and storage temperature of vaccines. About 85 vaccines are still in animal testing and just one vaccine was abandoned after the trials. Most Covid vaccines need two doses for complete immunity. However, trials have also shown significant immunity protection (70%) after a few weeks of the first dose itself. As a result, now the UK government is going to delay the second dose to 12 weeks instead of threeweeks so that more people could be vaccinated with the first dose protecting many while giving manufacturer more time to produce more doses.

Pfizer BioNTech’s BNT162b2 is the first vaccine against Covid-19 that got approval in most countries, that included the USA, Canada, the UK, and EU with more being added to the list almost daily. Moderna was the next that got approved in the USA and Canada. The Russian manufacturer Gamaley’s Sputnik V vaccine is in early use in Russia and it’s also approved in Belarus and Argentina. The Chinese vaccine Sinopharm Beijing is approved in the UAE and Bahrain and there is limited use in China too. CanSino and Sinovac are two other Chinese vaccines that are in limited use in China already.

The British-Swiss Oxford University combined Astra-Zeneca (AZ) vaccine AZD1222 which also has its biggest manufacturing site in the Serum Institute of our neighbouring India just got approval from the UK regulatory authority MHRA (Medicine and Health Regulatory Authority) and its possibly going to be the cheapest with cost being as low as two USD per dose with the storage capability of being within on 2-8 centigrade under normal refrigeration. Serum Institute also has over 50 million doses ready for dispatch after approval. AZ with about 30 manufacturing sites has the capacity to produce bigger quantities of the vaccine than most others.

Another Indian vaccine by Bharat Biotech is also in Phase 3 and will complete trials early next year.

With all these vaccines getting lined up and with more than a couple of million people in the world getting their doses already, Sri Lanka too should move fast to get the best use of the opportunity.



There is a group called COVAX set up with WHO’s help with funding from rich countries organized to give access for Covid-19 vaccines to populations in over 90 poorer countries. Covax has already ordered 2 billion of Covid vaccines from different manufacturers and they have already secured 1 billion doses from this order. It has agreed to give Sri Lanka too vaccines for 4.1 million or 20% of our population free.

No Covid vaccine is still intended for the under 16 age group as the trials were in populations older than this age limit. Fortunately, in this younger age group Covid has so far remained largely an asymptomatic disease with minimal deaths or need for hospitalisation.



If we get ready with all logistical requirements, and communicate with COVAX and WHO efficiently and professionally, we can start having it from as early as next February itself but how many doses we can have and over what period of time will depend on many factors which also include the degree of our local effort and commitment.




We will have to have a priority order which should include our elderly population and those with co-existing illnesses like diabetes, heart and kidney disease and other chronic illnesses as well as the healthcare workers (HCW) and security forces involved in Covid control activities who are high risk groups to contact the disease.

Vaccinating healthcare workers are important for several reasons and they include…

1. We cannot afford to lose HCW having to isolate them or quarantine them with infection or exposure as they are needed in numbers to look after the Covid cases and other patients

2. Due to the fear of contacting Covid there is breakdown in the necessary routine medical and surgical care for patients in most healthcare institutions at present and this is responsible for most parallel deaths and morbidity even in non-Covid patients. Some of the Covid deaths specially home deaths are also a result of the malfunctioning of routine standard follow up and care for those with co-morbidities.

3. If the case numbers increase HCW will need more PPE for everyday use and we will not be able to face it if the situation escalate further.



When it comes to immunisation coverage for routine vaccines, Sri Lanka is outstanding in the world where our strong public health set up and the infrastructure has beaten even many developed countries.

Our vaccination acceptance rates are remarkably high with the literacy rates and public health network, mass vaccination is nothing new to our setup. Being an island with secure borders and the limited population of only 21 million compared to eg. India’s 1.3 billion, we are a country where vaccinating the entire population is a realistic feasible option if you can find the money and the doses to cover the entire population. With about 25% (6 million) below 16 years of age, where there is no vaccine for this age group, we need vaccines only for less than 15 million people. Our over 65 population in the country is just about 10% (2 million). We will get at least 4 million doses free from COVAX. We must spend money only for 11 million doses.


If we buy at 2 USD per dose, (Indonesia is possibly getting the AZ vaccine from serum institute for USD 1.64 per dose) we will need less than Rs. 5-8 billion to buy the vaccine and there will be a little more logistical cost. This will also be over many months. Sri Lanka has already spent close to 10 billion rupees on PCR testing alone since March and compared to that the vaccine expenditure is a remarkably worthwhile investment. It is also not essential that we give the vaccine free to everybody.

With good motivation and awareness campaign there will be many who will not mind paying for their vaccine which can be as little as 500-800 rupees for both doses. We can start a public campaign to raise funding for the vaccine without overburdening the Treasury and if handled properly this can have an excellent response. We have 1.8 million Samurdhi recipients and it is believed that only about 1 million of them are in the extremely poor category. In this country we can also easily find over 1 million people who will not mind sponsoring a vaccine for someone else who is poor and cannot afford it. This is a time we have to get-together to face this pandemic.

No one should try to take political advantage of the situation. Together we can end up a proud nation that has vaccinated all its people ahead of many other countries. It is also essential that we strengthen the vaccination system by allowing the private sector too, to be very much a part of the vaccination program. This not only ease the burden to the government, it will also help to reduce unwanted unrest among people.

It is also worth noting that many rich countries have already placed orders far in excess of their true requirement. For example, UK has placed orders for 350 million doses though they need only 120 million doses for its less than 60 million eligible population. There are many examples like Canada pre-ordering almost 9 doses per person very much more than they need and countries needing more doses can take advantage of these situations, by being proactive. Its unlikely that the cost of the vaccines will go up or the availability of doses will become a huge issue. With time most will be solved. Already 18 vaccines are in phase 3, and they too will be competing in the market soon. The early successors have no room for monopoly and when vaccines like by Johnson & Johnson which is single dose also come into the market the competition will be even more. Serum Institute in India can produce 2 billion doses of AZ vaccine in 2021 and the Russian Gamaleya can produce 500 million more doses to be used outside Russia. WHO and NMRA will do the regulatory evaluations for each vaccine fast. However, if we do not actively look for avenues, we will be end up at the back end of waiting list.

With above explained feasibility and reality, Sri Lankan can be one of the first countries in this part of the world to vaccinate its entire population. It is never an impossible task. This will place us in a unique situation, with our ability to fully open the country where factories and tourism and our economy can jump ahead of many others, making Sri Lanka one of the safest countries in the world to travel and to deal with. We being a smaller country with a smaller population, it’s best that we take advantage of our unique circumstances. For the best out come extreme efficiency is a must and we will need top officials with a proven track record handing our vaccine effort.


With the huge global demand, it is unlikely that any country(possible exception of Singapore and Canada) can vaccinate the entire population with only one type of vaccine. We will have to keep shopping for different vaccines, while the COVAX also will be giving the countries their free quota from different makes. They have already offered as 200,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Sri Lanka last week through a proposal, as they believe, Sri Lanka is an ideal example in this part of the world to successfully execute distribution of an ultra-cold vaccine to a limited population like the healthcare workers. Though -70C appeared not practical at the beginning Pfizer has already found good transport solution where vaccine doses can be taken in a separate storage unit filled with dry ice (liquid carbon dioxide), and there are reputed local logistics companies (eg. Akbar Brothers) that can handle it up to the delivery to the hospital. The Pfizer’s storage units can maintain ultra-cold temperature for 10 days if unopened and can be kept for 30 days if re-filled with dry ice every 5 days. Once taken out of these storage unit the vaccine can be kept in normal refrigerator temperature of 2-8C up to a further 5 days. If we commit to take this free offer, (has to be a firm commitment done fast enough in time) we can vaccinate our HCW front liners incredibly early, and the same Pfizer vaccine can be made available also for the private sector later in the future. Our preparedness to complete our vaccinations using different vaccines for Covid will be the best way to achieve the ‘not-impossible target’ of vaccinating our entire population early.



Any vaccine or drug can have side effects, like allergy in people known for severe allergy. With over millions of vaccinations now completed after recent approval the safety of the approved vaccines appear very good and comparable to the vaccines we have already taken from childhood. This has been systematically tested in phase 2 and 3 of the trials.

About efficacy and long-lasting immunity, we can be only be hopeful as compared to influenza virus that fast mutate, SARS Covid-2 is a relatively stable virus where mutations are slower, and indications are that even the new variant of Covid-19 that emerged in UK and South Africa will still be prevented by the vaccine. There are interesting reports about the survivors of 2002- 2004 SARS epidemic infected by SARS Covid-01 still showing protection against the current Covid-2. If the immunity does not last long a booster will be needed. Initially like children we will have few exclusions for vaccinations like for any new vaccine for eg. pregnancy. Vaccinating a large number will bring in a major change into our lifestyle and take us towards herd immunity. With so many restrictions affecting our day-to-day life the vaccine option is THE best available solution we have now.

In summary we need to use a multi-pronged effort to vaccinate everybody which will be a noticeably big useful investment towards economic development, even more than a health solution. We will have to secure and use

1. The free vaccine we will get from COVAX for 20% of our population

2. Negotiate with various sources, and countries to obtain or buy more doses to cover the balance population.

3. Permit the private sector also to import, distribute and vaccinate, with state monitoring to facilitate effective coverage of the population who could afford the vaccine privately.


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Sri Lanka’s diplomatic synchronicity with Its neighbourhood



By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has mainly been characterised by synchronising its policies with the multipolar system and balancing the foreign policy manifestation with outreach to different regions and regional groupings. Given the increased convergence of the strategic interests of Sri Lanka and its neighbours, the ever-changing geopolitical scope of the South Asian region has prompted Sri Lanka to forge closer neighbourhood ties. The rationale behind Sri Lanka’s synchronicity with its neighbours is clear, given that the neighbouring countries and regional organisations offer the potential for substantial growth and development. The benefits of accessing neighbouring markets are significant, particularly for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has for years benefited from the welfare gains of its neighbourhood engagements, and there is a lot more it could still gain.

The focus on neighbourhood diplomacy is a striking feature of contemporary Sri Lankan foreign policy. Notably, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government considers neighbourhood diplomacy a strategic prerequisite for Sri Lanka and its economy. The need to re-establish Sri Lanka’s strategic place in the Indo pacific region has been a significant motivation for the Sri Lankan government. This has emphasised the reinvigoration of and strengthening ties with Asian neighbours including the member states of regional organisations such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, and ASEAN. These developments highlight the need for a proactive engagement with Sri Lanka’s neighbours.

Sri Lanka’s Diplomacy with Its Immediate Neighbourhood: India and the Other SAARC Member States.

India’s rising leadership role in the region, growing engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is helping to protect the interests of India and Sri Lanka. Both these countries consider each other mutually important for geopolitical and strategic reasons. Under the new “India First” doctrine, Sri Lanka aims to further deepen its engagements with India and protect India’s strategic security interests. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s “India First” is a manifestation of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy from being western-oriented to being neighbourly. Moreover, India’s increased engagement with SAARC and other regional groupings such as ASEAN and BIMSTEC has helped protect the mutual interests of both India and Sri Lanka.

Equally, the strategic relations between Sri Lanka and other neighbouring nations such as Pakistan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan have been steadily getting stronger. In this regard, the South Asian Free Trade Area agreement (SAFTA) offers potential for increasing the rate of bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and its SAARC partners. Sri Lanka has also entered into trading agreements such as the Pakistan – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (PSFTA) and the Indo – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA), which offers Sri Lanka access to India’s 1.3 billion consumer market. Sri Lanka has also initiated free trade agreement talks with other SAARC member states like Bangladesh and Nepal.

Engagements with other Asian partners: BIMSTEC AND ASEAN.

Broader engagements with other Asian partners such as the East Asian nations and BIMSTEC member states have also been a striking feature of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy. With the right balance, Sri Lanka’s engagements with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) stand to benefit the island nation both economically and strategically. Sri Lanka’s engagements with ASEAN and other Asian partners in the East received momentum under the 2015-2019 government here. Over the past few years, Sri Lanka has successfully established closer political and economic ties with ASEAN and other East Asian nations. Notably, Sri Lanka’s engagement with ASEAN and other East Asian partners is mainly driven by economic necessity. These Asian partners provide Sri Lanka with an opportunity to seek profitable economic engagements within the Asian neighbourhood.

Sri Lanka has also been actively engaged with The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)  and its member states since its establishment. Notably, the engagements between Sri Lanka and BIMSTEC further increased when the nation assumed the organisation’s chairmanship between 2018 and 2020. BIMSTEC has emerged as a key ally for the future of Sri Lanka’s economy. BIMSTEC is an important channel for economic engagements with neighbourhood value chains and production networks such as India, ASEAN, and Bangladesh.  

Championing a New Foreign Policy Model: The way forward

For Sri Lanka to reap the economic benefits of its diplomacy, the government should emphasise improving cooperation with neighbouring nations. Arguably, the nature of Sri Lanka’s relations with its immediate neighbours and other partners will go a long way in providing the much-needed impetus for Sri Lanka’s prosperity. Notably, the nature of relations with SAARC nations will determine Sri Lanka’s future in its pursuit of regional continuity, the promotion of Sri Lanka’s strategic interests, and strengthening each other’s economic prosperity. A good neighbourhood policy will undoubtedly help Sri Lanka exploit the vast economic opportunities presented by its neighbours.



About the Author

Dr. Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O. P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’


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How confidence has been eroded



By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

On the threshold of the vote in Geneva, with disaster looming, I began to wonder at how Gotabaya Rajapaksa managed so soon to lose the confidence of the country when there was so much hope when he was elected. The Sugar Fiasco, if not quite in the league of the Bond Scam, suggests that corruption is beyond control. After the satisfactory control, initially, of the coronavirus danger, it burst forth through what seems confused reactions, including the preposterous flood of Ukranian tourists. Contradictory messages, with regard to cremation and burqas and even ages for vaccination, seem the hallmark of this government.

In the end, I think the President has to take responsibility for this mess, and I am sure, unless he is totally surrounded by sycophants, that he must realize where he could have done better. But at the same time, I do feel very sorry for him. As he must know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and he seems to have a chain where there are hardly any links with any bearing capacity whatsoever.

I was struck by this the more when writing the series, I am now producing about the Lost Generations of the United National Party. I have been dealing for the last couple of months with those who came to prominence in the period of the long UNP government of 1977 to 1994, in terms of how and why they did not fulfil their promise.

Contrasting them with those given prominence in the current government, one realizes that now there is no promise at all. To take perhaps the most vital portfolio today we have Pavithra Wanniarachchi, a pleasant enough person but known best for her utter obsequiousness to Chandrika Kumaratunga to begin with, and then Mahinda Rajapaksa and now Gotabaya. One contrasts this with the independent integrity of Gamini Jayasuriya, the first Minister of Health in the Jayewardene government, who resigned from his ministerial position when he disagreed with government policy.

That will not happen with Pavithra, not only because she will not give up her position but also because she cannot understand what it means to disagree about policy. And as for the tremendous innovations Ranjith Atapattu, the Minister of Health who followed, engaged in, his building up of Primary Health Centres and the role of midwives, it is absurd to think of Pavithra having any ideas, let alone such good ones.

That contrast alone makes clear the pitiful position the current President is in. But it is also true that he does not seem to have tried to rise above it. This becomes clear when we consider one of the saddest elements in today’s politics, the enormous responsibilities entrusted to the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was 74 when assumed the role which he had first occupied when he was 58. Now we all love and respect him, even my sister who scolded him roundly the last time she met him, when he was still President. But it is unfair to expect him now to be a creative Minister and, even if the President needs him as Prime Minister for reasons I need not go into now, to entrust Finance to him as well as Urban Development and Housing is just plain silly.

It is of course true that Ranasinghe Premadasa did have a couple of important portfolios when he became Prime Minister under JR, but he was in his early 50 s at the time. These included Housing and Construction, where he made his mark though he also did much in the field of Local Government. And he did not have the vital portfolio of Finance which was in the hands of Ronnie de Mel, another of those I wrote about, who achieved much for the country, though also sadly for himself. But he too was in his early 50 s at the time, and when he came back into executive office when he was in his seventies he did nothing of consequence.

I am not for a moment suggesting that 70 is too old for office. J R Jayewardene did do much when he became President at 71, and his ultimate failure had to do with his vindictive delusions of grandeur, not his age. But Mahinda Rajapaksa, having done wonders during his first term as President, showed that he was no longer capable of constructive measures when he was in his mid-sixties. To expect more from him a decade later is just plain silly.

There is no need to labour the point, for it is crystal clear we are dealing now with satyrs to the Hyperions of an earlier generation. But it is worth nothing also the contrast between Lalith Athulathmudali, whom I have also written about, and those who now have been entrusted with the responsibilities he fulfilled so well in Jayewardene’s government.

He was in charge of trade which has now been handed over to Bandula Gunawardena. He was in charge of Shipping which is now with Rohitha Abeyagunawardena. And six years after he was first a Minister he was entrusted with National Security whereas now, with the President in charge of Defence, we have Chamal Rajapaksa as State Minister of National Security and Sarath Weerasekera in his first Cabinet appointment, a few months after this Cabinet took over, being Minister of Public Security. The latter seems to be the front man for burqa policy at present.

I don’t suppose anyone will question Lalith Athulathmudali’s intelligence and efficiency, whereas the four Ministers inclusive of one State Minister who now fulfil the functions he managed on his own have between them not an iota of this skills and competence. But this is the material which Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has to work with.

Of course, wonderful material is not a guarantee of success, for we know that, though today’s leading politicians are not a patch on those whom J R Jayewardene had in his Cabinet, that government too brought the country to disaster, with dissent bursting into violence on all sides.

We know too that Ranasinghe Premadasa did very well in some particulars though he worked without some of the brightest stars of the preceding period. And then Mahinda Rajapaksa did a great job in his first term, again without many effective workers. So ultimately it is a question of leadership, and what is so very sad is that Gotabaya, whom one anticipated would be a great leader, has shown himself quite incapable of taking the country forward.

Conversely, though one does sympathize when looking at the material through which he has to work, one does feel too that he is not using the few capable people he has to the full. With regard for instance to Foreign Relations, Dinesh Gunawardena does seem to me a cut above JR’s Foreign Minister, ACS Hameed. And though Dinesh would not claim to be intellectually in the class of G L Peiris, he has a solid base of principle which should hold the country in good stead, which doubtless is why Uditha Devapriya, one of the brightest of our young journalists, characterizes him as the best Foreign Minister we have had in years.

It is tragic therefore that he seems to be floundering, not least because, as so many papers have highlighted in recent weeks, there seems to be no clear sense of direction in the Foreign Ministry. So what we have now is ridiculous efforts by a range of government commentators, including Dinesh and G L Peiris, to prove that we did not in fact suffer defeat in Geneva at the recent vote, a folly Devapriya duly chastizes.

So much verbiage that does not convince anyone is not the way forward for the country. What is needed now is concerted action to ensure that we do not suffer in the way the West has planned for us. But there are no signs of such planning, indeed there are no signs of anyone in authority with the capacity to engage in such planning. Jayantha Colombage, from the little I know of him, seems a decent man with some thinking capacity, but certainly not the thinking capacity or the experience to plan alone as say Lakshman Kadirgamar was capable of, or even Ravinatha Ariyasinha, constrained though the latter was by a host of silly or scheming Ministers. But there are no signs that he is talking to people who know better.

There are two obvious examples of people he and Dinesh together should consult. The most obvious is Dayan Jayatilleka, but since government is wary of him, I will talk first about Tamara Kunanayagam who understands the UN system backwards. Why Dinesh has not consulted her on how to cope with the next stage, which is the discussion in the General Assembly on the budget requested to destroy us, is beyond me. She has excellent relations with the Latin Americans, and indeed Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he sacked her, wanted to use her in Latin America but the mafia that then ran foreign relations stopped him. But even now it may not be too late to use the intelligence and experience she possesses, while also working out guidelines on how to do better in Africa, which too we have woefully neglected unlike in the glory days in Geneva from 2007 to 2009.

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Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario



by Kumar David

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach

Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.

I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (; the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal ( Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.

Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.

Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.

The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.

You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.

What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.

We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.

The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?

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