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Is President Gotabaya planning to pack his bags?



by Kumar David

Some three or four of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent pronouncements do not align with the tenor of his previous actions after assuming office. I will come to that anon but first let’s ask whether this is because events in Sudan and Burma have put coup prospects in hot water all over the world. The very survival of these two regimes is in doubt. Mass uprisings in Khartoum are intensifying; Al Jazeera commentators say “the military will have a hard time retaining power”. The junta has been condemned by the UN Security Council, the Organisation of African States and human rights organisations. Nowhere in the world will civilian wrath tolerate military power grabs any more. In Burma it is civil war; nearly everyone including the ethnic minorities are fired up (Suu Ki is a dispensable spent force). Gorilla regimes are all isolated internationally; even China is a little less enthusiastic about cheering human rights violators. The replacement of Trump by Biden has been helpful.

In Sudan the economy has collapsed; famine is staved off by international feeding programmes. The economy contracted by 11% in the two years 2019 and 2020 taken together and will shrink again in 2021. Inflation has risen to an annualised 130% rate so far in 2021 (before the coup). It will worsen because of economic disruption and international opprobrium. Are the President’s Viyathmaga morons and chest-thumping military brass (current and ex) flustered by these examples? Is the President smarter than his goofy hangers on? Or is this wishful thinking deluded by an imagined silver lining? What I ask is whether the gloom which many of us saw in Lanka’s horoscope is now tipping over into a funk; are the grim plotters of autocracy backing off? Too early to tell, but in political strategy making one must be sensitive to visible nuances in tone and shifts in power balance.

Here are a few items that caught my attention of late:-

a) Daily News: November 11, 2021

“Gotabaya Rajapaksa questioned the public why they re-elect politicians who they had chased away and urged them to look for new people without re-electing the same set. If myself or my ministers don’t meet your expectations, don’t re-elect them (sic! ‘us’?). Look for new people. This system has to change”. He admitted “government is not delivering, shortages of food, medicines and other essentials persist because of a dire foreign exchange squeeze”. It does sound like a swansong, does it not?

b) Firstpost: Reporting from Agence France-Presse; October 11, 2021

“The people may have a sense of displeasure towards me and the government for not delivering as they expected. I accept that. Not only me but all ministers and MPs should accept it” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told troops in a speech marking the 72nd anniversary of the military’s founding.

c) The HINDU: SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

In the U.S., Gotabaya promises to engage Tamil diaspora. The announcement is significant, coming from a President whose government proscribed several Tamil diaspora organisations six months ago, branding them “terrorists”. The Rajapaksa administration has repeatedly called diaspora groups “pro-LTTE” outfits, accusing them of attempting to revive the separatist struggle.

d) Daily News: November 11, 2021

New members Ramalingam Chakrawarthy Karunakaran, Yogeswari Patgunarajah and Iyyampillai Dayanandaraja were appointed to the Task Force after taking into consideration representations by various parties and the relinquishment of membership by two members. The President also amended the terms of reference: “Presenting proposals for formulating a conceptual framework ideally suited for Sri Lanka after making a study of the said concept taking into account the views and opinions held by various parties with regard to the implementation of the concept One Country, One Law”.

The guy is simply at sixes and sevens; isn’t it clear that in his own mind he doesn’t know what he is doing? Do muddled people make power-grabs, or is it lost-in-the-woods souls that need to rescind people’s freedom of criticism and publication? Could be either. The worst of it is escalating prices. If food prices inflate at several 100% per year it is curtains for any government. There is nothing an internationally debt-bankrupt, misdirected by a dissembling and deluded government, can do to rectify it.

I asked a well-to-do relative to confirm vegetable price trends reported by the Sunday Times. He went shopping on November 14 and found prices were higher! Mind you this guy enjoys his creature comforts, imbibes whisky by the quart, relishes appetizing food, indulges in delicious sucks and is a reliable reviewer of prices.

Look, this scenario is unsustainable. A financial crisis has become an economic crisis and is on its way to turning into social unrest. Does any jester imagine that an authoritarian solution or a military power-grab can be imposed on an enraged population? In Burma 1,200 have been killed by the army so far but civil war continues. Sudan’s fate beckons would-be militarists elsewhere. The uprising has spread across the country; hundreds of thousands have taken over the streets and refuse to back down in the face of gunfire (about two dozen killed by military-police gunfire to date) and tens of thousands more seem willing to fight to the finish. When a people are well informed, when the misdemeanours of a regime stand exposed on all sides and when people are organised, a coup is not a walk-over, it’s a call to mass revolt.

In Sri Lanka the first two conditions have already been met, but unity of the opposition is absent and organisation is still weak. Nevertheless potential plotters must surely be tuning into Al Jazeera and the BBC and seen the fate that awaits take-over bids. Hopefully their ardour has cooled. I must grant that there are people who call me a Dr Pangloss; they warn that true to form, reaction will first unleash anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic violence to divert attention and after that slaughter Sinhala-Buddhist protesters. Well, maybe; but if a regime stands exposed on every issue and the opposition includes every social and ethnic sector, then what?

In closing, two paragraphs about the international dimension. The purpose of the QUAD group of four countries led by the US and India is China containment. This is at odds with Lanka’s status as a de facto Chinese economic colony. The country’s debt burden and shortages are so serious that it cannot avoid sinking ever deeper into some Beijing ditch – due to no fault of Beijing, just our sustained economic folly. Coincidentally or by design this Indo-American strategic thrust is mirrored by a recent development. The Sunday Times reported on Nov. 14 that a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation left for the United States yesterday morning “at the invitation of the State Department”(!) to drum up support for its stand on Tamil issues. It is reasonable to presume that Tamil diaspora groups are also in the picture and that Muslims and Catholics who have been at the receiving end of the regime’s repression and subterfuge, respectively, are watching developments.

Neither Lanka’s minorities, nor the Sinhalese who are aghast at the fertiliser-cum-faeces fiasco or watching His Excellency butter-up Gnanasara, have much respect for the President. The minorities will play the ‘Sri Lanka is becoming a Chinese colony’ card to the hilt if it helps them get Indian and American protection. A government in the dog-box on local issues, broke down to its last kopek and in international human rights abuse crosshairs, can do without India and America staring down its repression-militarisation-authoritarianism curriculum.

It is this confluence that makes me Panglossian that the regime is on its last legs. Of course it would of be wrong to transmit a “repression is not coming” message since the big challenge remains to stay alert and organise to overcome threats. However, intellectual honesty compels me to share with my readers changes that I discern on the political horizon. Are President Gotabaya, his brain-dead advisors and his pushy junta showing symptoms of a collective yellow liver?

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Rising farce of Family Power



Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.

He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.

He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.

“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,

 “If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again.  If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.

“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”

Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength.  In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.

It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.

While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.

Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law?  Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?

What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,

The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.

The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance.  There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser –  from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?

The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to

use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.

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A tribute to vajira



By Uditha Devapriya

The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.

A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.

In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.

One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.

Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.

In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.

In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.

Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.

Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.

Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.

At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”

If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.

Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.

These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.

Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.

As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.

As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.

Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.

That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.

The writer can be reached at

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It’s all about France in Kandy !



Sarah Toucas, Director Alliance Francaise de Kandy

This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.

A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.

All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.

Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.

Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.

To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.

Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar

comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

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