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Jaishankar means Victory of Lord Shiva! – Part II

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By Austin Fernando
(Former High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India)
(Continuied from yesterday)
Development and relationships

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and his Indian counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar considered developing mutual relationships concerning existing projects, e. g. the East Container Terminal (ECT) and the Trincomalee Petroleum Tanks.

The Indians have observed increasing involvement of the Chinese in the Colombo and Hambantota ports; in Colombo through the Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd – (CICT), a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Ltd., and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). The main stakeholders of South Asia Gateway Terminal – (SAGT) are A.P. Moller Group and John Keells Holdings PLC. The CICT Transshipment business has been there since 2013 with the Chinese owning 85% of its shares; the SAGT has been operational with 10 partners since 1999, with 85% ownership. Therefore, it is only natural that the Indians seek the same terms as China and the private sector.

 

Transshipment and ‘Sale’ of ECT

India accounts for 66% of Colombo’s transshipment; it is projected to become the world’s fifth-biggest economy. Hence, Sri Lanka’s transshipment business may heavily depend on India. The argument being peddled in some quarters that a possible Indian policy decision to avoid Colombo could deal a crippling blow to Sri Lanka’s transshipment business has been rejected by the protesting trade unions, which insist that vital decisions in this regard are taken by shipping companies, and not governments. I believe the unions are right to a considerable extent on this score.

The transshipment business involves a complex integrated network of industrialists, shippers, ports, and a market that demands fast, timely, secured goods transfer at competitive prices, and, most of all, sustainability. For these reasons, reputed foreign shipping companies engaging with the SLPA, is welcome. As it happens elsewhere, it could be a joint venture (JV). The ‘sale’ of any physical assets is out of the question because the term ‘sale’ triggers protests.

Perhaps, the fact that Adani is an Indian venture might have ignited protests. The Indians may be questioning why such protests were absent when the CICT (with 85% shares against the proposed 51% for Adani) and the SAGT similarly partnered with the SLPA. Of course, the term ‘sale’ was not used then. Secondly, the Indians may be wondering why there was no hostile reaction to questionable actions benefitting the Chinese, e.g., the alienation of extremely valuable land for the Chinese, and permission for Chinese submarines to be berthed at the CICT, allegedly at a risk to the country’s sovereignty. Thirdly, due to other geopolitical contradictions, India may be suspecting that anti-Indian competitive business interests find expression through protesters, despite claims to the contrary. Fourthly, the Indians are concerned about not an only port-related business but also politics, defence, security, and self-respect.

Sri Lanka must strive to strengthen economic ties with India, whose economy is expanding fast. Therefore, transshipment networking should be re-evaluated in that context. Transshipment competitors such as Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Oman, Abu Dhabi, etc. have gone into overdrive in developing their ports. If Sri Lanka does not do likewise to remain competitive by developing its ports, it will lose.

As for the importance of upgrading ports, one can look at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port. It handled around 2.5 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo in 2018 and expects to increase the volume to 8 million-plus TEUs by 2023, by the addition of more ship-to-shore cranes and deeper berths. The investment of $ 1.1 billion comes from the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). Another example is the Port of Salalah benefitting from over USD 800 million in investment expecting to handle over 5 million TEUs. Therefore, the Sri Lankan government must look for lessons on suitable partner/s.

Terminal operations are complex even in India. Although most Indian ports are state-owned, individual terminals are operated by large private companies such as DP World, AP Moller Terminals, and PSA International. Sri Lankans are demanding that ports be managed by the state when competitors are opening doors to foreign and local private partners. Given the generally poor performance of our state-owned ventures, the demand for state involvement in operating in a highly competitive environment must be gladdening the hearts of private competitors elsewhere and even here.

To understand the advantages of integrated terminal management I quote Rohan Masakorala. Having explained how shipping partners negotiate and undertake sharing assets, he has said:

“Therefore, it is proven beyond doubt that irrespective of the country’s wealth and the size of the shipping line, they do partner with competing lines for logical reasons as networks, provide better business models and solutions than working in isolation.” 

We are not a large goods producer or shipowner. We must depend on ‘partnering with competing lines for logical reasons,’ utilizing favorable logistics networks, providing “better business models and solutions than working in isolation.” Thus, the challenge before Dr. Jaishankar may be to find a mutually agreeable business model. Probably, the managerial structures may be of some help, but They should have been transparently negotiated with all stakeholders.

 

Protesting India or JV concept?

Are the ongoing protests against India, or the proposed ECT deal? Or are they due to domestic political frustration or an attempt by the mainstream/social media to embarrass the government? Or are they to finally withdraw and show the hierarchy was reasonable? Is it to force withdrawal and antagonize India to make China to be the saviour from other economic problems? So many complications! Whatever, the protests are huge even to change stances.

Some of those who protested then are now ministers who have realized the need to address realities of development, geopolitics, diplomacy, neighbourly relations, other anticipated economic and political favours, etc; they support President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the ECT issue. Similarly, some of those who were in the Yahapalana administration supporting the ECT deal is now in the Opposition, protesting the Indian involvement. They have forgotten that their government initiated this project with the Indians. The protesters need to take cognizance of the un-explained truth of mutuality as mentioned by Dr. Jaishankar.

 

Facing issues for solving

For decisions, clarity is needed on issues. There are six major issues”.

The first is the conceptual agreement of developing the terminals with foreign involvement. The Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa governments by establishing the SAGT and the CICT respectively accepted it. The incumbent President has realized this, but the circumstances have changed.

Chronologically, the Yahapalana government had only a terminal in mind when the MOU-2017 was signed. In 2018, President Sirisena insisted that the ECT be developed by the SLPA as currently demanded by Unions. He was for foreign participation in developing the West Container Terminal (WCT). In 2019, a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) was signed after President Sirisena’s discussions with PMs Modi and Abe for ECT development by an Indian and Japanese operational JV. About a fortnight back President Gotabaya Rajapaksa preferred developing WCT by the SLPA and ECT by Indians. The latest is the Unions accepting external investment in WCT, and the government developing the ECT. (The Island February 1st, 2021). Note the sea changes the wavering state policy on this issue has undergone during the last years and even within a fortnight.

The WCT was on offer in 2018 and the Indians refused. Will they change their stance now? It is too early for the Indians to respond to the latter. If they have stronger bargaining chips, they will remain tight-lipped with a view to winning finally. Anyhow, in inter-state business, if such a change happens, parties discuss and agree before making public statements. In a way, Sri Lanka, which withdrawn from the UNHRC resolution as publicised, withdrawal from a MOC will be no issue. It will depend on the chip in Indian hands.

Still do do not be surprised if the Indians strictly demand implementing the MoC.

The second is the operational mechanism. The CICT is operated by a Chinese company. At the SAGT, the mechanism involves international and local private operators. Therefore, according to the precedent, the agreed mechanism is foreign private operators with the SLPA. But now, is it Adani Group or a different company or other like above Abu Dhabi ports? Or is it an SLPA-Private Sector Project? Could it be Adani’s allied domestic private sector? Many equations are possible.

The third is the selection process. Adani Group is the nominee of India. How Gautham Adani’s company was selected is unknown. If the CITC or the SAGT partners were selected by established procurement procedures, the precedent must be followed. One may recall that Minister Arjuna Ranatunga informed the Cabinet before 2017- MSC that the ‘new operator should be selected following the established Procurement Guidelines.’ Recently, Minister Namal Rajapaksa has also spoken of procedures. These must be discussed across the table because there could be exceptions to procedures.

The fourth is the ownership of the ECT project. The Presidential Media Unit (PMU) Statement and PM Rajapaksa’s statement in Parliament said: “No selling, no leasing of ECT’. But the PMU statement signified an “investment project that has 51% ownership by the government” and the remainder by Adani and other stakeholders. The term ‘51% ownership’ unfortunately but logically makes Adani and others the ‘owner of 49%.”

However, in the aforesaid MOC these percentages are for a “Terminal Operations Company,” meant for the “explicit purpose of providing the equipment and systems necessary for the development of the ECT and managing the ECT.” This difference between ‘ownership’ and the operational company’s objectives clear doubts, but this fact has not been highlighted, fertilizing suspicions.

Ownership is the legal relationship between a person and an object. Therefore, the protestors harp against giving ‘part-ownership’ to Adani, because SLPA owns the whole ECT now. The protestors understand “ownership” as an outcome of a ‘selling’ process. As damage controlling, the President repeated about a JV, with SLPA participation with Adani’s, and others as stakeholders. It is the reality matching the MOC. But the explanation came one week after the PMU statement. By then protestors have socially marketed ‘selling ECT.’

The fifth issue is the influencers/motivators. How views against the President’s wishes are being expressed smack of a move to keep the Indians away. Clearing such doubts is difficult when efforts are organized concertedly.

Sixthly, the happenings unrelated to the ECT could muddy the waters. The destruction of the Jaffna University memorial, Indian fishermen’s deaths, and the Cabinet decision to establish Hybrid Renewable Energy Systems in Nainathivu, Delft, and Analathivu islands through a Chinese contractor (upon international competitive bidding) are three such issues. The last is an extremely security-sensitive issue for India although it was presumably not a favor done to the Chinese by Sri Lanka. The Indians have previously vehemently protested the berthing of Chinese submarines in Colombo and the Chinese housing projects in the North. The Indian protests will be diplomatic and subtle. Nevertheless, their repercussions could override the ECT issues and may influence other bilateral and multilateral matters.

Way forward amidst contradictions

The need is to develop the ECT. Sri Lankan governments are known for policy changes and contradictions; Indians are different. Just see the aforesaid policy contradictions. Even the ECT protesters have double standards. When the CICT with ‘85% foreign ownership’ was established, there were no grudges. When the government announced its decision to form a JV with Adani and others, having 49% shares, therein to run the ECT all hell broke loose!

It is necessary to stop bickering if it is development that we seek. The country must prioritize the economy, neighborhood relations, private sector involvement, foreign investment promotion, diplomacy, security, financing, other personal and political issues.

Although decisions on the Sri Lankan ports must be economic, in this complex world, they are invariably influenced by other factors. I hope the government will strike a balance and select the best option. Sri Lankan must not enslave itself to other countries. It must negotiate for the best profitable and sustainable solutions, be it with China, India, or the US or with large shipping companies undertaking port development. The government must maintain transparency in negotiating the terms of port development. A move to sell a state asset or any move that can be construed as such is sure to lead to negative responses. Concurrently, let the protesters engage with the government and work toward developing the Colombo Port.

As it is, DR Jaishankar’s victory has not yet come about completely. There are roadblocks on his path. The Indian silence is deceptive. However, the Indian responses may not be restricted to shipping. When responses deceptively happen, the consequences could be hurting. Dr. Jaishankar knows Kautilyan deception and would have learned from Sun Tzu when he was the Indian Ambassador in China. Hence the need for Sri Lanka to tread cautiously.

 

Reciprocation of relationships

Nevertheless, the professional diplomat that he is, Minister Jaishankar highlighted the grand mutual relationship with Sri Lanka, the “trust, interest, respect, and sensitivity.” Perhaps, Indian critics could question this mutuality having seen the protests.

During the Yahapalana regime, mutuality on the part of India was diminishing, although India does not publicly admit it. This for example was reflected in the budgetary allocations for the neighborhood in Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget, where only INR 250 crore was provided for Sri Lanka out of INR 8,415 crore total, while countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius, the Maldives received much more. The reason may be the security considerations of India. India further expanded a package for the Maldives (August 13th, 2020), that included a $100 million grant and a $400 million new line of credit, for the Greater Malé Connectivity Project, expressing extra neighborly attachment.

Concurrently, requests for a $ 1 billion financial lifeline swap and nearly $ 1 billion debt moratorium made by President and PM Rajapaksas from PM Modi are delayed for months, irrespectively of the much-flaunted mutuality. Sri Lanka should read these signs carefully and understand the message.

Minister Gunawardena (understandably) did not mention competition that may arise from the seaport Projects at Vizhinjam in Kerala, and Nicobar, owned by Indians. Both did not bother about PM Modi’s declaration: “There is a proposal to build a transshipment port at Great Nicobar at a cost of about Rs. 10,000 crores. Large ships can dock once this port is ready” (The Times of India -Business- of August 10th, 2020). Mark the words, “transshipment port!” These ports will invariably compete with Colombo’s ETC in the future, and India may through Nicobar aim to become the transshipment hub, being in proximity to the busy east-west shipping routes. This points to the need for developing the ECT fast and making it competitive.

For sustainability and safety in this competitive business, it will be necessary to be cautious if joint ventures are to be formed, especially by reaching an agreement on time frames, exit clauses, investment programming, senior managerial positioning, arbitration in Sri Lanka, etc. For these the active participation of the SLPA, which has expertise is mandatory. Unfortunately, nothing is heard about such moves. One hears only the voice of the protesting Unions.

 

Security aspects of relationships

Dr. Jaishankar mentioned maritime security and safety but did not make specific mention of Quad or Indo-Pacific interventions or China. What we must understand about the Indian attitude towards security is that India expects us to be India-centric as could be seen from the following statement by Shri Avatar Singh Bhasin on Indian security relationships:

“There could be no running away from the fact that small states in the region fell in India’s security perimeter and therefore must not follow policies that would impinge on her security concerns in the area. They should not seek to invite outside power(s). If any one of them needed any assistance it should look to India. India’s attitude and relationship with her immediate neighbors depended on their appreciation of India’s regional security concerns; they would serve as buffer states in the event of an extra-regional threat and not proxies of the outside powers…”

The proxy need not be only China; even if it is the US, India will be perturbed, if lines are crossed. Therefore, Minister Jaishankar’s security concerns must be viewed concerning the aforesaid criteria. Dr. Jaishankar subscribes to these. About his visit, the Indian Television had this to say: “An important focus of his visit will be the Chinese presence in the Hambantota harbor on a 99-year lease. It is an understanding between China and Sri Lanka that they will not undertake any military venture there. So, India will take the help of Sri Lanka to ensure that Chinese military or Chinese hegemony don’t come to this region.” This is the Indian attitude.

India’s position always remains the same: “Do not be a proxy of the Chinese, be a buffer state! Do not allow the Indian Ocean to be the Chinese Ocean!” However, considering the proximity, long relations, the possibility for political displacements, regional economics, etc. Sri Lanka will think of the advantage of being with the Indians, of course, without being a buffer. To what extent other motivations—financial, economic development, diplomatic, security, etc.—would work is also important especially when Sri Lanka is haunted by international interventions like the one at the UNHRC. It is not easy to gain the required balance.

 

Conclusion

Indo-Lanka relations were highlighted by both Ministers. The impending global situations after COVID 19 and the complexities arising due to geopolitics and developments will compel Sri Lanka to work with the world powers. In that respect, even if the past is forgotten the present and future will make it imperative that we maintain friendly relations with everyone, especially with India and China, latter expected to be the future number one economy. This is the reason why Sri Lanka should pay attention to the purpose of Dr. Jaishankar’s recent visit and maintain balance.

Overall, the Indian Foreign Minister visited Sri Lankan not to lose, but to prove that he was ‘Jai Shankar.’ Whether he departed on January 7th, 2021 with expected goodies, officially satisfied to celebrate his 66th birthday the following day, are secrets and will be known in days to come.

Finally, it will be mutually beneficial for both Sri Lanka and India to make compromises and strengthen their relations instead of being obdurate.



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Call of the Forests – only a certain few hear it

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Much is being discussed (not so much by government or need-to-be-concerned officials); presented in video clips and written about deforestation in Sri Lanka, one of the country’s most severe environmental hazards. I quote statistics (from Internet searching) to show how fast and drastically our forest cover has been decimated.

“In the 1920s, the island had a 49 percent forest cover but by 2005 this had fallen by approximately 26 percent. Between 1990 and 2000, Sri Lanka lost an average of 26,800 ha of forests per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.14%. Between 2000 and 2005 the rate accelerated to 1.43% per annum.”

“According to the UN FAO, 28.8% or about 1.860.000 ha of Sri Lanka was forested in 2010. Of this 9.0% – 167,000 ha – is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. 185,000 ha is planted forest. Between 1990 and 2010, Sri Lanka lost an average of 24,500 ha or 1.04% per year, in total, 20.9% of forest cover or around 490,000 ha. SL’s forests contain 61 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass; and some 751 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these 21.7% are endemic – they exist in no other country and 11.9% are threatened. SL is home to at least 3,314 species of vascular plants of which 26.l9% are endemic. 9.6% of Sri Lanka is protected under IUCN categories 1-V.”

 

And now the forest cover is only 17%.

Reforestation is minimal but logging, distribution of forest land, grabbing of forested land, goes on apace. And the very worst is, it looks to be under the very nose of government officials who need to protect our forests. We hear of borderline forest land being broken up and distributed to villagers to grow vegetables. They can do this type of agriculture in the land that is already available. The fear however is that these peasants cry out for more land and it is given them, never mind deforestation, imbalance caused to eco-systems and elephant corridors and their habitats invaded. Most often it is then grabbed by mudalalis and then sold to richer entrepreneurs planning to build factories or holiday resorts – all to make money at the expense of villages, wild animals and preciously wondrous forests

Which sent me back seven decades to recalling how trips out of the cities invariably set you on roads going straight through dense forest on either side. Remembered seeing as a kid, when the car stopped for a while on the way to Anamaduwa, green snakes entwined from branch to branch indistinguishable from leaved twigs until the creatures moved. Guava trees at Anamaduwa were taboo to us as they were completely colonized by curling gerandiyas. You’d invariably meet elephants who quietly moved aside to let your car pass. Not always. My brother and friends were chased and the elephant reached 30 mph. Must have been a very angered rogue banished by the herd matriarch. At that time there was a win-win coexistence between man and beast. Then came development which enlarged to development at any cost, and the elephant-human conflict.

 

Chenas

I remember chena cultivation. The waste of this slash and burn type of agriculture was lost on the child that was me, only enamoured of the watch hut on a large tree and the tender succulent bandakka and bada iringu to be plucked and succulently chewed while looking through a chena plot. Lack of water and sufficient hands-to-help prevented paddy cultivation or crop growing on permanent pieces of land, hence the only way for subsistence farming of poor peasants in jungle areas was chena cultivation. This was stemmed to a large extent by D S Senanayake’s colonization schemes, the first – visited often – in Kottukachiya between Anamaduwa and Puttalam with Manager Mr Unantenne and Assistant Mr Amunugama.

As yet a classic on Ceylon

I dipped into Leonard Woolf’s Oxford University Press 1931 published Village in the Jungle (first published in 1913) because his graphic description of the fierce winds that blew across the forests where Silindu and his family lived, and the forests, were indelibly mind-marked. Whenever the Hambantota Rest House was stayed in when it was a fine place and later, stopped at for lunch, I would walk to the still extant court house where Woolf sat in judgment as Magistrate of the Province. He mentions the scene that met his gazing eye before he pityingly passed judgment on the simple forest dwellers charged for petty crimes, which often they were not guilty of. “The judge as he sat upon the bench, looked down upon the blue waters of the bay, the red roofs of the houses, and then the interminable jungle, the grey jungle stretching out to the horizon and the faint line of hills.” Still to be seen except the jungle is diminished and receded and the town expanded.

Woolf describes vividly the forest surrounding Silindu’s village and the villager’s strong connection to it. At the end of Village in the Jungle only Punchi Menika is left, refusing to leave her home and the jungle as the others were doing. Her husband Babun, sister, father, and aunt Karlinahamy were all dead. “She was alone in the world, the only thing left to her was the compound and the jungle which she knew. She clung to it passionately, blindly,….The jungle surged forward and blotted the compound to the very walls of her hut. She no longer cleared the compound or mended the fence, the jungle closed over them as it closed over the other huts and compounds, over the paths and tracks. Its breath was hot and heavy, stretching away unbroken for miles.”

I refer to another book that speaks of our jungles of long ago. John Still’s Jungle Tide. I have no copy at hand to quote from, but I am sure you most have read this classic. Still was born in Lambeth, England in 1880, educated at Winchester College, came to Ceylon in 1897, served in the Labour Commission and was Secretary, Ceylon Planters Society. He worked with H C P Bell in the Archeology Dept. and was associated with the discoveries at Sigiriya and the ruins of the Polonnaruwa Lotus Bath. He authored several books on the history of the island, including Ancient Capitals of Ceylon, Tantrimalai, and Index to the Mahavamsa.

Very many books, monographs and research papers have been written about the forests of Sri Lanka. If persons had read these ancient classics, they would be more sensitive to the need to conserve our forests, not ruthlessly tear them down. I know I sound simplistic. It takes more than appreciation of literature to be conscious about preserving resources for future generations and the deplorable travesty of thinking money is everything. Yes, power, the good life may be available with money in hand, but how it is earned is so very important. Good breeding, good family background and good schooling are all important to develop a well balanced personality prizing above all else honesty, integrity and true national feeling. Appreciating Nature too and what it generously offers us, humans.

I adore quotes. Here are three from the two most famous persons of the world and the third from a respected protector of wild life:

“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axe-man who destroys it.” – Gautama Buddha

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Forests are the world’s air-conditioning system – lungs of the planet – and we are on the verge of switching it off” – Prince Charles.

 

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CHAMINDA VAAS AN ALL-TIME HERO OF SRI LANKA

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by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

Fast bowling is an arduous task and is doubly so in the Asian subcontinent, where docile pitches and energy-sapping heat takes their toll on those brave enough to take up the challenge. One must have a big heart, a great deal of determination and lots of skill to succeed as a fast bowler. Chaminda Vaas (CV) had plenty of these and a few more.

He represented Sri Lanka for over 15 long years with great distinction. He played nearly all his cricket alongside the great Murali; whose bowling record is the best in the world. This prevented Vaas from receive the plaudits he deserved. He was the “unsung hero.” Vaas was no extrovert. He did not celebrate his wickets with much physical display. He went about the business of taking wickets and helping the team’s cause as a true professional.

Vaas has been a great performer for Sri Lanka. It will be the statisticians and connoisseurs of cricket who will genuinely appreciate what he has done.

He delivered 39,213 balls for Sri Lanka in Tests and one-day matches, an equivalent of 6,535 overs and took 755 wickets in these two formats. The split was 355 test wickets and 400 limited-overs wickets. In addition, he scored 3,089 test runs at an average of 24 runs per innings and 2,025 runs in the limited-overs segment. A genuinely outstanding record due to a Herculean effort.

The purpose of this article is to review the circumstances under which he resigned as the bowling coach of the Sri Lanka team a few hours before the team departed for the West Indies.

Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) released a media statement stating “SLC wishes to inform that former Sri Lanka Cricketer and Consultant Bowling Coach of Sri Lanka Cricket, Chaminda Vaas today (February 22) announced his resignation from his post effective March 26, 2021, and also informed that he will not be available to tour West Indies as a member of the support staff. Vaas’s resignation comes hours before the team was scheduled to depart for West Indies, which is scheduled for tonight. It is particularly disheartening to note that in an economic climate such as the one facing the entire globe right now, Mr. Vaas has made this sudden and irresponsible move on the eve of the team’s departure, based on personal monetary gain. The Management of SLC, and indeed the entire nation, hold Mr. Vaas in high esteem as a cricketer who has excelled for his country. His years of yeoman service have been appreciated and rewarded over the years, both in status and in kind. In such circumstances, it is extremely disheartening that a legend such as Chaminda Vaas has resorted to holding the administration, the cricketers, and indeed the game at ransom, by handing in his resignation at the eleventh hour, citing the administration’s refusal to accede to an unjustifiable demand for an increased USD remuneration, in spite of being a contracted employee of Sri Lanka Cricket, already receiving remuneration that is in keeping with his experience, qualifications, and expertise, in addition to which he would have been entitled to the usual USD per diems offered to all members of a traveling squad”.

It was an unusually lengthy and candid media statement highly prejudicial to Vaas. I assume that as Vaas is contracted to SLC until March 26, 2021 he was unable to comment other than say in a twitter message “I made a humble request to SLC and they turned it down. That’s all I can say at the moment. justice will prevail!

In trying to understand what actually happened it is necessary that SLC discloses as to why Vaas was appointed the team’s bowling coach just three days before the team departed to the West Indies. Should this vital appointment not have been made several weeks prior?

I understand that David Sarkar who was the contracted bowling coach of the Sri Lanka team left the country no sooner the second test match between Sri Lanka and England concluded on January 26, 2021. I have not seen a media statement from SLC explaining why Sarkar terminated his contract and whether the termination was unilateral or mutually agreed. It would be good to know whether there was a clause in the contract requiring Sarkar to give at least three months notice for early termination and if not given whether SLC is entitled to financial compensation. This is how employment contracts are drafted in the private sector and hopefully SLC has a similar clause when they contract both foreign as well as local coaches.

Considering the above there is a question mark as to why the SLC waited until February 19, 2021, to announce the appointment of Vaas as the bowling coach? This is three weeks after Sarkar left his post. Was SLC trying to find an alternative coach and only due to their failure turned to Vaas at the last minute? By any stretch of imagination, appointing a person with only three days notice for an overseas assignment seems exceptionally unprofessional. Today, International cricket is big business, and there is no way that important appointments should be made at such short notice.

It is true that Vaas is contracted to SLC but only as a “Consultant Coach”. A consultant’s job in the business world is significantly different from that of a full-time assignment. Therefore, should SLC and Vaas not have negotiated a new or even a supplementary contract? Was Vaas being appointed as the permanent bowling coach or just for this tour?

The SLC takes issue because Vaas resigned only a few hours before the team’s departure. We must assume that SLC had not negotiated terms with Vaas prior to announcing his appointment. Otherwise, there is no reason for a financial dispute. The only plausible explanation is that the SLC assumed that because Vaas was contracted as a “Consultative Coach”, he had no option but to accept this appointment? The SLC is unfortunately silent in these matters.

SLC has mentioned that Vaas has made a decision based on “personal monetary gain” What is wrong with that? How many others at the SLC and the many foreign coaches in the team not motivated by personal monetary gain? Are they working for free?

Unfortunately, in our part of the world, those in top positions reposed with responsibility tend to agree to any terms and conditions laid down by “white-skinned” applicants. However, when it comes to our own equally skilled and capable, every effort is made to refuse market terms. I have seen this even in the private sector.

In this instance, based on information in the public domain, I do not think that Vaas requested anything on par with the remuneration paid to Sarkar. Only an additional US $ 75 per day as his per diem allowance?

The SLC used the word “held to ransom” by Vaas in their media release. If indeed the enhanced amount was only US $ 75 per day, it seems the insinuation seems over the top.

SLC also states, “It is particularly disheartening to note that in an economic climate such as the one facing the entire globe right now”, that Vaas had wanted an increase in his per diem allowance. I find this an extraordinary statement coming from the same team who proposed that a cricket stadium be built in Homagama at the cost of several billion rupees during the pandemic! Are these guys really serious?

Sri Lanka has very few real heroes other than in the armed forces who fought during the terrorist war against the LTTE and the Sri Lankan cricketers who notably represented the country when Sri Lanka cricket came of age. Between 1990 to 2005 we woke to read news reports of our Army, Navy and Air Force camps being overrun and with many fatalities and ammunition and arms lost to the LTTE. The bombing of the Central Bank, the attack on the Bandaranaike International Airport and the oil storage tanks in Kolonawwa were disheartening. Amid this mayhem the only shining light and ray of hope was the performance of our cricketers. They gave us hope and much pleasure in those depressing times.

The best example for me was my 65-year-old mother becoming a cricket fanatic from 1995 onwards. She would get up early to cook and then have a shower and sit in front of the TV to watch our “boys” after firmly telling our father not to disturb her! She would call me during meetings to ask who was Murali’s batting coach or why Sanath only wants to hit sixes and fours!

There is no doubt that Chaminda Vaas and those who won the World Cup in 1996 and became a world cricket force were our true heroes. They made us proud to be Sri Lankans and showed how there is a way if there is a will. I am sure the many thousands of our soldiers fighting in the jungles would have been genuinely inspired by the deeds of Vaas, Murali, Sanath, Sanga, Arjuna, Aravinda, Roshan, Hashan and many others. In my view, SLC’s media release on Chaminda Vaas is a poorly thought, rushed, and one-sided document.

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NM and Abe Lincoln Pragmatists or Opportunists?

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on

by Kumar David

Leave aside the difference in measure – gigantic versus small country – or the nature of the endeavours and try if you can to bridge in your mind the century between the 1850s and the 1960s. I think I can’t ask you to forget that Lincoln succeeded in the Civil War and in proclaiming Emancipation while on both the National Question and the so-called Coalition Tactic to take half a step to socialism, NM and the left suffered setbacks. However both men had a characteristic in common; they made crucial tactical compromises on the way. A pragmatist is one who makes needed compromises but does not lose sight of his principles, an opportunist sells out for narrow gain, and a realist throws up his hands in despair and lives with reduced moral commitments.

Did you know that until the last years of his life Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist? He considered slavery immoral and economically retrogressive but he conceded that it was lawful and constitutional. Technically he was right till the 13th Amendment of 1865 after the Civil War. The American Constitution, up to then, did not explicitly endorse slavery but it did include clauses protecting the institution and Lincoln bowed. It is not possible to justify the ‘lapse’ in terms of values of the times because there existed at the time an Abolitionist Movement led by people like William Lloyd Garrison who demanded that slavery be immediately abolished and that freed slaves be incorporated as equal members of society. Abolitionists called the Constitution “a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell.” Though Lincoln worked with the abolitionists he was not one of them. Lincoln’s deepest commitment was not to the abolition of slavery but to the preservation of the Union. This is all well-known and you will find what I have said at many sources, for example:

 

Great Emancipator and Smart Pragmatist

Though Lincoln opposed slavery morally, he did not believe until much later that blacks should have the same social and political rights as whites. During the 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas who alleged he supported “negro equality” (like Sinhalese politicians flaying the left: “Rata Demalunta Vikka“) Lincoln defensively declared: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of social and political equality of the white and black races” and he opposed blacks having the right to vote, serve on juries or intermarry with whites. This is hard to reconcile with the Great Emancipator but his views evolved over time. He did want blacks to have the fullest opportunity improve and fulfil themselves and even have their own country. He favoured a separate country being carved out in Central America for blacks: “Given the differences between the two races and white hostility to blacks it would be better to be separated.” – August 1862 statement to a black delegation at the White House. Much earlier, constitution drafter Thomas Jefferson doubted that blacks and whites could live together and advocated a black homeland in Africa for freed slaves – it did take shape eventually as Liberia; Negro Eelam! In 1854 Lincoln wished to free the slaves and send them to Liberia. His epiphany was when the tide of battle turned in the Civil War. In September 1863 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

There is no doubt that all his life Lincoln abhorred slavery and considered it morally repugnant. But he judged till the late the 1850s that the white population would not accept abolition and adopted a pragmatic approach that could yield practical results. This is fascinating; similar but a time-reversed sequence to NM’s retreat on Sinhala Only later in life. In his personal convictions confirmed by my own familiarity (I was a young Samasamajist in the 1950s), NM was firmly committed to the language rights of the Tamils. He was an intransigent advocate of Parity of Status to an extent that many in the LSSP and CP (Philip had sold out by then) – Jack Kotalawela, Robert Gunewardena, Mahanama Samaraweera, Somaweeera Chandrasiri and others who we at the time called turncoats – simply could not comprehend. I know that NM was the clearest advocate of an equitable status for the minorities in the 1950s and he took his stand boldly to the trade unions and the working class. Maybe his training as a constitutionalist helped. Nor was he enamoured of the shilly-shally drivel of Tamil politicians and lawyers; he stood out much bigger than them. Alas the Sinhala electorate was to teach him a bitter lesson. It was not 1952 or 1956, the LSSP and CP did well in both, but the crushing defeats of the March and July 1960 elections that smothered the left. Lincoln won the final lap; NM started out strong but narrow nationalism finally defeated him.

 

Parity of Status

The lesson was painful but abundantly clear and NM, pragmatist per excellence compared to other LSSP leaders, drew it first. No party that fails to advocate the cultural primacy and political hegemony of Sinhala-Buddhism can win political power in Lanka. This has been true for 70 years; the intervention of a civil war hardened it. Lincoln never in his soul accepted slavery, but for the main part of his political life he did not place abolition on his programme. NM despised Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism but in the mid-1960s he gave up leading the charge against it. There is no way the Left could have turned back the tide of ethno-religious nationalism; history was being written by deep social and historical forces. Hence NM’s decision in the final decades of life to partner with the ‘progressive petty-bourgeoisie; our day has yet to come’. Inability of left ideology to defeat nationalism is best illustrated by the fate of the movement that displaced the LSSP-CP as the left-mainstream in subsequent decades. The JVP could not break from Sinhala nationalism for the first half-century of its existence. Worldwide, class receded to make way for ethnicity (linguistic, racial, cultural or fealty to an extravaganza of gods) as the primary driver of social conflict. Marx forgot to add ethno-national hubris to religion as the world’s bestselling opium.

This essay must not be misunderstood as an apology for the Lankan left’s accommodation of nationalism (quintessentially leftists are internationalists whatever national pragmatism compels in day to day matters) but I do insist that the ‘old-left’ was pragmatic not opportunist while today’s ‘Dead-Left’ is concerned with what leaders get for themselves; programmes don’t matter. I therefore firmly underline that neither Lincoln nor NM were opportunists in this pejorative sense. There has been scholarship enough to fill libraries about Lincoln and slavery and no judgement that I can add will be useful. I would however ask that my intervention today be read as an honest attempt at the evaluation of two persons in relation to the prevailing conflicts of their times.

I will conclude with a few personal comments about pragmatism that I trust a few of you will find interesting. Those who do me the honour of reading my column and those who have had the misfortune of personal acquaintance, have some idea of my views. I am an unrepentant Marxist, an internationalist who despises all nationalisms (Sinhala, Tamil, Timbuctoan), who draws strength from materialism, sees culture as a social product, and has trust in dialectics and science. Sometimes I confront the challenge “Marxism is dead and buried; it has no future; see what happened to the Soviet Union?” This is daft; the stuff of superficial minds. Imagine if the crimes of the Burmese Buddhist Army or Narayana Modi’s Hindutva were adduced as evidence that Buddha was a no-good dreamer or Hinduism is a load of crap! My Christian education equips me to play this game even better with the Church. I have no time for imbeciles with no inclination to philosophy or methodology.

But there is a pragmatic point. Socialism will not dawn tomorrow, nor is a classless utopia just over the horizon. Lenin’s brilliant strategy of a party of professional revolutionaries is of zero relevance one hundred years on. Guevara’s thesis is a one-of exception for Cuba. Modern Marxists must be pragmatic in dealing with the actually existing world while retaining their vision. “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you: If you can dream and not make dreams your master: If you can wait and not be tired by waiting”, then dear boy or girl you will make a splendid pragmatist who can strive for decent objectives with good sense. People who are in a hurry to discard ideals actually never had any. Sell-outs are opportunists, simple scoundrels. Marxists must learn to navigate complicated currents between actually existing liberal-democracy and aspirations of equity, between decaying finance-capital and desired social democracy, and seek allies to defeat extremists whether the American Trump-hooligan variety, Asian ethno-religious mobs, or other neo-fascisms elsewhere. When the Lankan regime’s best friends at the UNHRC include Belarus, the Philippines, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela it confounds my dutiful countrymen who venerate patriotism as a sacred obligation.

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