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Midweek Review

JRJ’s racism, cold war posturing and the Indian debacle

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New biography:

In addition to his political biography of J R Jayewardene, Godage & Bros published last month another book of travel by Rajiva Wijesinha. Around and About the Mediterranean covers journeys over half a century to Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Levant from Jordan up to Turkey. It also includes travel to the Balkans, Yugoslavia in 1972 and then the separate countries of the former Yugoslavia in the last five years.

Bringing together the Classical and the Christian and the Islamic cultures of the region makes for a fascinating read for it shows the intermingling that has made the Mediterranean so productive of ideas as well as artefacts. In addition, the book shares with readers the sheer joy of travel, the wonders seen and the pleasure of strenuous exploring followed by relaxation in scenic surroundings. There are several colour pictures as well as black and white ones to illustrate each section.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

An opportunity to peruse Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha’s critical biography of Sri Lanka’s first executive President (not elected), titled ‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’, couldn’t have been received at a better time.

The country is in turmoil with a wave of protests, with farmers’ now leading the way over the SLPP government agricultural policy, a simmering dispute with China regarding a ship carrying allegedly contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment entering Sri Lankan waters, unprecedented balance of payment crisis, and a deepening disagreement with SLPP constituents over a deal with the US company New Fortress Energy, as well as foreign policy issues.

Can Sri Lanka’s current predicament be blamed on the executive presidential system, failure on the part of Parliament and the judiciary – the three pillars on which the country’s political system is based? Academic, administrator and ex-lawmaker who had represented the utterly corrupt SLFP and UNP-led political groupings (2010-2015 in Parliament), Prof. Wijesinha has launched this devastating attack on the late UNP leader JRJ but, overall, the JRJ biography seemed an extremely harsh critique on the political setup he established. But, the irony is the author himself had been part of the two major political groupings after having performed an immensely valuable role as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Peace Process (SCOPP) in addition to being the Secretary to the Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry.

The writer really appreciate an opportunity to review ‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’ against the backdrop of The Island celebrating its 40th anniversary at a time the country is experiencing an unprecedented financial crisis. Prof. Wijesinha has basically dealt with the period The Island and its sister paper, Divaina played a critically important role.

Before delving into Prof. Wijesinha’s quite useful analysis, it would be pertinent to mention that as a UPFA National List MP, the academic, in spite of strong opposition from a section of his Liberal Party, voted for the dictatorial 18th Amendment to the Constitution that was passed on Sept. 18, 2010. The 18th Amendment that had been brought in at the expense of the 17th, introduced during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President, literally placed the executive, the legislature and the judiciary under the President’s thumb. The judiciary cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for protecting and nurturing the Constitution if/when the executive or Parliament violated the Constitution, or both did, simultaneously. The UPFA initiated impeachment proceedings, close on the heels of the Supreme Court having deemed actions taken against then CJ Shirani Bandaranayake constitutional. Bandaranayake was accused of financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases among other allegations- all of which she denied, but her husband was involved in some banking shenanigans and he was convicted.

Wijesinghe, as an MP, however abstained from backing the impeachment motion against then C J Bandaranayake in early January 2013. A year later, Prof. switched his allegiance to a high profile yahapalana political project, spearheaded by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and Ven. Atureliye Rathana, MP (now NL MP of Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya) that facilitated the break-up of the powerful UPFA and the emergence of long standing SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena as the Opposition presidential candidate.

With Sirisena taking over as the President in January 2015, Prof. Wijesinha received appointment as State Minister of Higher Education. However, Prof. Wijesinha resigned on Feb 17, 2015 opposing the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s move to secure executive powers for himself as the Prime Minister. Prof. Wijesinha declared the move to gazette the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and transfer of executive powers to the Prime Minister was both ill-timed and a wrong decision, thus, he could no longer be a part of the yahapalana government.

Prof. Wijesinha alleged in Parliament the transfer of executive powers to the Prime Minister was extremely dangerous when one considered the way the UNP leader was conducting himself. Prof. Wijesinha certainly didn’t receive public appreciation for shifting of allegiances from various political alliances within a very short period, first to the short-lived Sirisena–Wickemesinghe combination, and then declare support for Sirisena, at the expense of Wickremesinghe, and finally ending up with those who he abandoned in 2014. Sirisena, who led the charge against the Rajapaksas, had ended up among the same group whom he accused earlier of planning to assassinate him.

Jeyaraj’s arrest in the wake of Indo-Lanka Accord

Prof. Wijesinha dealt with how the JRJ government arrested the then The Island journalist David Buell Sabapathy Jeyaraj over the reportage of the Indian Army offensive in the Jaffna peninsula. The former parliamentarian reproduced an apt section of Jeyaraj’s report that discussed the ground situation in the peninsula. Having joined The Island, in June 1987, the writer remembers the subsequent developments that paved the way for Jeyaraj to leave for the US. The versatile writer ended up in Canada. New Delhi continuously interfered with print media cov­erage of the violence in the Northern and Eastern parts where the Indian Peace Keeping Force waged a bloody campaign to tame the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after it turned its wrath against them.

Once the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) sleuths visited The Island editorial to question Norman Palihawadana over his coverage of atrocities committed by the Indian Army in the Eastern theatre of operations. Jeyaraj left the country in Sept 1988, two years before after India ended its disastrous military mission here. The prolific writer for the first time returned to Sri Lanka in Oct 2013 – four years after the military eradicated the LTTE completely.

The section on the Provincial Council legislation, when examined with how JRJ handled the judiciary, is thought-provoking and is evidence the legislature lacks the strength to counter overwhelming executive (dictatorial) powers, regardless of opposition by some lawmakers. The resignation of the late much respected Gamani Jayasuriya over the passage of Provincial Council legislation is a case in point.

‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’ published by S. Godage and Brothers should be made available in the library of the Parliament .The author should consider getting the book translated to Sinhala and Tamil, too, for the benefit of lawmakers unable to make use of the JRJ biography. The writer brought the new book to the attention of the Chief Librarian of Parliament and the pivotal importance of making it available to the lawmakers, over the last weekend.

Prof. Wijesinha discussed how JRJ brazenly amended and manipulated the Constitution, suppressed internal dissent and if the dictator had his way he would have deprived Ranasinghe Premadasa of an opportunity to contest the 1989 presidential election. At the onset of his new book, Prof. Wijesinha pointed out how JRJ brought in his first amendment to the Constitution to subvert a judgment of the courts.

Corruption becomes way of life

Prof. Wijesinha boldly discussed the impact the absolutely corrupt political system in place as a result of deterioration of parliamentary norms is having on the country. The latest JRJ autobiography has contradicted those who published hagiographies of the former President. Prof. Wijesinha compared the late JRJ with Ranil Wickemesinghe whom he described as JRJ’s spiritual heir. Having referred to their strategies in dealing with Tamil speaking people, Prof. Wijesinha repeated his long standing claim of Wickremesinghe bribing SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem in 2014 to win over his support ahead of the 2015 presidential election. Wijesinha first made the accusation in a widely watched Sirasa ‘Pathikada’ programme anchored by the late Bandula Jayasekera, one-time presidential spokesman and the writer’s colleague at The Island editorial. Prof. Wijesinha says Muslim politicians continue to cross up and down, depending on what they are offered.

Prof. Wijesinha publicly alleged years before the launch of JRJ biography how the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) sat on his complaint on the bribery accusation. The academic declared that the UNP received money to engineer a crossover of over a dozen People’s Alliance lawmakers in 2000 from businessman Nahil Wijesuriya.

Referring to the Rubber-Rice pact with China finalised in 1952 and the despicable role played by JRJ, Prof. Wiejsinha briefly examined the 99-year-old lease on the strategic Hambantota port in 2017. Prof. Wijesinha blamed the then President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema for the Hambantota sell-out to varying degrees. The author quite rightly faulted an influential section of the media for continuously attacking the Rajapaksas for selling family silver to the Chinese whereas the UNP-led administration pushed through the deal.

The incumbent government has had no option but to accept the controversial Hambantota deal. Interestingly, the government is now under fire for giving into the US strategy to take over Sri Lanka’s energy security. The author of the JRJ biography may not agree with the writer, but the undeniable truth is all governments since the advent of UNP at the 1977 parliamentary election contributed to the deterioration of democracy and sovereignty. The 20th Amendment enacted in Oct 2020 with a 2/3 majority is a case in point. With the advent of the 20th Amendment, the much discussed abolition of the executive presidency or curbing of its powers will not be subject to discussion though some may make some statements opposed to the executive presidential system.

Perhaps Prof. Wijesinha should have discussed how Wickremesinghe received the premiership in January 2015 in the aftermath of Sirisena’s victory. JRJ’s political strategy has been exploited by interested parties to deceive the public that victory at the presidential election provided a mandate for them to take over the government. Sirisena and Wickremesinghe did exactly that. If not for the manipulation of the system, Wickremesinghe wouldn’t have received the premiership in January 2015. Prof. Wijesinha wouldn’t have to resign in Feb 2015 and Treasury bond scams would not have been perpetrated.

JRJ biography in three parts

The civil society, the diplomatic community, the media and the general public can benefit from Prof. Wijesinha’s incisive thinking. In part I, the author discussed (a) overview of JRJ’s political perspectives (b) Tamil parties (c) much amended Constitution (d) election and having ministers at his whim and fancy (e) 1982 Referendum. Basically, part 1 dealt with the building up of the colossal power base. Part 11 discussed (a) alienation of Tamils (b) riots after killing of 13 soldiers in Jaffna (c) slide towards concessions (d) Indian interventions and (e) Indian military deployment. This section was aptly titled ‘A slow but relentless decline.’

The final part titled ‘And the Fall’ dealt with (a) Indo-Lanka Accord (b) India’s war against the LTTE (c) elections and increasing violence and (d) a new President.

The writer found Chapter 5 that examined the 1982 Referendum meant to prolong the life of Parliament regardless of consequences. JRJ introduced the 4th Amendment which Prof. Wiejsinha described as the worst of the then UNP leader’s constitutional amendments that paved the way for his party to rule the country from 1977 to 1989. The JRJ strategy ruined the country. The second JVP inspired insurgency, India inspired Tamil terrorism and trade union disputes wrecked the country during this period. Prof. Wijesinha lucidly explained how the then Attorney General Siva Pasupathy, who subsequently threw his weight behind the LTTE and Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon reacted to the controversial move.

Prof. Wijesinha called Pasupathy an obsequious man who had no qualms in his ‘pernicious bidding’ and Samarakoon as JRJ’s handpicked man was truly forthright. Prof. Wijesinha coverage of the judiciary’s response to a despicable move to extend the life of Parliament provides an opportunity for those interested in contemporary history to understand how the executive, the legislature and the judiciary collectively caused irreparable damage to the democratic system.

The assassination of actor-turned politician Vijaya Kumaratunga in Feb 1988 should be examined taking into consideration Prof. Wijesinha’s comment on the UNP strategy meant to politically destroy the much loved man. Having had categorised Kumaratunga as a Naxalite, the UNP imprisoned him during the dubious 1982 Referendum campaign. Let me reproduce verbatim what Prof. Wijesinha stated on alleged Naxalite plot: “Gamini Dissanayake, who was then firmly under JR’s thumb, also got in on the act and claimed that ‘the leader of the Naxalites is Vijaya Kumaratunga’ and his assistant Chandrika. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times, which was then fully controlled by the government, with the easily intimidated Rita Sebastian as its editor, published a list of eight Naxalites, namely, in order (1) Vijaya Kumaratunga (2) Chandrika Kumaratunga (3) Ratnasiri Wickramanayake (4) Hector Kobbekaduwa (5) T.B. Illangaratne (6) K.P. Silva (General Secretary, Communist Party), (7) G.S.P. Ranaweera (Editor, Aththa) and (8) Jinadasa Niyathapala.

Prof. Wijesinha commented on the media, including the birth of the Upali Newspapers Limited (UNL) and the disappearance of its founder Upali Wijewardene in the wake of Ranasinghe Premadasa thwarting JRJ’s move to field the top entrepreneur to contest the Kalawana electorate. The UNL received Prof. Wijesinha’s appreciation for opposing the Referendum, though mildly, whereas the state-owned media and Dawasa Group threw their full weight behind JRJ’s despicable move. The government engaged in violence in support of its political project. The author discussed how JRJ unashamedly used sections of the media and selected journalists for the project that gave his party the opportunity to govern the country for a period of 13 years, sans parliamentary elections.

A bizarre strategy

Prof. Wijesinha explained how JRJ adopted bizarre political strategies. Having undated letters of resignation from his MPs is one such shameful tactic. JRJ played politics with the system to restrict the number of by elections (remember, this was before the introduction of the PR system in 1989). The section titled ‘Flexing muscles in 1983’ under Chapter 5: Referendum underscored how JRJ consolidated unbridled power at the expense of Parliament and the Judiciary. JRJ ruined institutions at will. Parliament was among them. During a recent interview on ‘Siyatha’ , one-time President Maithripala Sirisena explained how successive Presidents brought in Amendments to consolidate their power at the expense of the people. Sirisena, quite rightly claimed that he was the only President to give up power by way of introducing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015. However, the irony is Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, allowed his parliamentary group to vote for the 20th Amendment that neutralised the 19th. Lawmaker Sirisena quite conveniently refrained from voting for the 20th Amendment having explained his predicament to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Having accused the Rajapaksas of planning to bury him, Sirisena, who has been named in the Easter Sunday Commission report for possible prosecution for dereliction of duty, ended up as an SLPP lawmaker.



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Midweek Review

Post-war foreign relations: A diplomatic quagmire for Lanka

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flanked by PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang Yi launch Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong seems quite confident of Sri Lanka’s capacity to overcome the current economic turmoil the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is experiencing.

 The top Chinese envoy, at an informal meeting with a selected group of print media journalists on Sunday (09), soon after the departure of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, asserted that the crisis was temporary.  Ambassador Qi Zhenhong declared that as Sri Lanka had overcome far bigger challenges the country wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the current challenge in debt servicing. The meet took place at the King Emperor Suite of the Galle Face Hotel

 Wang departed following high level political talks with the Sri Lankan leadership. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang inaugurated the Sri Lanka-China Sailing Cup 2022 at the Port City to celebrate the 65th anniversary of China and Sri Lanka diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice pact. Interestingly, former Premier and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP, was among the invitees. Wickremesinghe, whose government delayed the Port City project by about one and half years, sat next to Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, who returned from an official visit to Seoul the previous day.

 Is Ambassador Qi Zhenhong right in his assessment? Had there been far bigger crises in the recent past that threatened to overwhelm Sri Lanka? Perhaps Ambassador Qi Zhenhong is right in his appraisal. Maybe, he is not. Having joined the Chinese Foreign Service in 1988, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong took over the Chinese diplomatic mission in Colombo about a year ago at the height of Covid-19 eruption.

 Amidst a simmering row with the Sri Lankan government over the rejection of an allegedly contaminated Chinese carbonic fertiliser consignment, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong undertook a three-day visit (Dec 15-17, 2021) to the Jaffna peninsula.

Colombo-based The Hindu correspondent, Meera Srinivasan, in a story dated Dec 26, 2021, headlined ‘Chinese Ambassador’s visit to Jaffna sparks concern, commentary in Sri Lanka’, described the visit as an intensification of geopolitical contest between India and China. Qi Zhenhong underscored China’s right to engage people in any part of Sri Lanka. Responding to media at the Emperor’s Suite, Qi Zhenhong pointed out: “Jaffna is in the northern part of Sri Lanka, not south of any other country.”

 Ambassador Qi visited the Jaffna public library and the Adam’s Bridge, a row of limestone shoals across the narrow Palk Strait between Mannar and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.

The Ambassador visited a seafood factory in Mannar district, built with Chinese investment, and a sea cucumber farm in Jaffna.

The Chinese entry into Sri Lanka and the gradual expansion of its role here should be examined against the backdrop of Indian-funded terrorism project that destabilised the entire country. The Sri Lanka Army couldn’t have withstood the terrorist firepower if not for military assistance provided by China, Pakistan, Russia and Israel during the early stages of the conflict. Having paid a heavy price for destabilising its smaller neighbour, India allowed the annihilation of separatist Tamil conventional military capability in 2009. The eradication of terrorism has paved the way for geopolitical contest between the two Asian nuclear powers here. Both China and India seemed confident in pursuing their agendas as the cash-strapped SLPP government struggled on multiple fronts. The deterioration of Sri Lanka’s economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic delivering a devastating blow to its once vibrant tourism industry and expatriate worker remittances, (both raked in huge amounts of foreign exchange), as well as waste, corruption and mismanagement at every level appeared to have facilitated anti-Sri Lanka foreign projects much to the dismay of the vast majority of people. Sri Lanka seems to be at the mercy of foreign powers.

Superpower politics

 Chinese and Indian investments as well as relations with political parties here cannot be discussed leaving out the ongoing battle between China and the US-led grouping. India is part of the latter. South Korea is also in that group though it has so far refrained from joining the four-nation ‘Quad’ comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia. Post-war Sri Lanka is in a dicey situation. In spite of overcoming terrorism 12 years ago, Sri Lanka is under tremendous pressure from both parties as each seeks investment opportunities advantageous to them.

 Recently, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda expressed concerns over China and India seeking to invest in the Point Pedro fisheries harbour. Devananda, the leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), one of the smaller terrorist groups, that took to the democratic path long before the LTTE terror mechanism was annihilated and primarily active in the Northern region vowed not to allow China to exploit the Northern population. Obviously Devananda is playing politics. The Fisheries Minister cannot take a view contrary to that of the Rajapaksas.

Pathfinder, an organisation founded by Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Milinda Moragoda, in its latest report titled ‘Sri Lanka has no room to maneuver’ carried in the January 10 edition of The Island warns of a catastrophe unless the government adopts remedial measures, immediately. While appreciating the arrangement Sri Lanka has reached with India to meet immediate challenges, Pathfinder recommended (i) restructuring of external debt (ii) an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (iii) mobilisation of ‘bridging finance’ to meet the external financing gap up to June 2022.

Recent US and Indian investments in the energy sector should be viewed against the backdrop of much economically weakened Sri Lanka. The controversial energy deals with US-based New Fortress Energy, and Indian Oil Corporation Limited finalised on Sept 17, 2021 and January 5, 2022, respectively, generated much public interest. The latter was finalised just days before the Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit. Both agreements have been challenged in the Supreme Court. The SC is in the process of hearing several petitions against the US energy deal whereas Ven. Wakmulle Uditha Thera of Nayigala Raja Mahaviharaya, Agrahara, Weeraketiya, filed a fundamental rights petition against the agreement on Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. The Ven. Thera is believed to be acting on behalf of the JVP, the only party to move court against both the US and Indian investments.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who along with Cabinet colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa moved SC against US energy deal that came through the backdoor, in a booklet titled ‘Regaining Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm’ declared that he gave the ‘strategic leadership’ to the project. In spite of accusations of a sellout and betrayal by many quarters, including the Federation of National Organisations, led by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, which demanded a thorough investigation. Attorney-at-law Gammanpila defended the latest agreement. The booklet released by the Energy Ministry contained a letter dated July 29, 1987 signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that dealt with the Trincomalee oil tank farm, President JRJ’s response, an agreement finalised on Feb 7, 2003, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on economic projects signed in 2017 also during Wickremesinghe’s premiership. What really surprised the public was that though the Energy Ministry compared the 2017 MoU with the recently finalised agreement, the ministry quite conveniently left the January 5 agreement out of the booklet. The ministry may claim that the agreement couldn’t be included as at the time of the releasing of the booklet, it hadn’t been signed. Perhaps, the printing of the booklet should have been delayed till the finalisation of the agreement.

Declaring the project received political guidance from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Energy Ministry revealed the identities of the two negotiating teams. Accordingly, the Sri Lankan delegation comprised Lalith Vidanagamage, Advisor, Energy Ministry, Buddhika Madihahewa, Managing Director, CPC, Mrs. Hasitha Paragahagoda, Legal Officer, Energy Ministry and Nalin Beligaswatta, Research Officer, Energy Ministry.

The Energy Ministry also named the Indian negotiating team. Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob has led the Indian delegation that included Dr. Rakesh Pandey, Head of Commerce, Indian HC, Ms Irina Thakur, First Secretary, Commerce and Cultural Affairs and Manoj Gupta, Managing Director, LIOC.

The Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm comprised two sections (i) Lower Tank Farm and (ii) Upper Tank Farm spread over 827 acres of land.

One cannot forget the circumstances India forced the Indo-Lanka Accord on the latter. That agreement finalised at the height of the US-Soviet cold war encompassed the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. Today, US-India relations have reached zenith whereas at the time of the Indo-Lanka Accord India was seen as being much closer to the Soviet Union and constantly feared the US using Sri Lanka as a platform to destabilise the country. The letters exchanged between Rajiv Gandhi and JRJ agreed on the restoration and operation of the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm as a joint venture. With the latest agreement, India has consolidated its position in the strategic port city of Trincomalee close on the heels of politically influential Adani Group’s investment at the Colombo port. Gujarat-headquartered company signed a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) agreement with Sri Lanka’s largest listed company John Keells Holdings and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to jointly develop the Colombo West International Container Terminal (CWICT) at the Colombo Port, situated amidst one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. China has secured a terminal of its own during the previous Rajapaksa administration as the war was raging with hardly any other investor showing interest and during the Yahapalana administration won a 99-year lease on the Hambantota port. Controversy surrounds the Hambantota port deal, too. Arjuna Ranatunga, who had served as the Ports and Shipping Minister at that time had to give up the portfolio as he didn’t agree with the terms. The then President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe brought in SLFPer Mahinda Samarasinghe as the Ports and Shipping Minister to put the finishing touches to it. Having finalised the agreement in 2017, Samarasinghe switched his allegiance to the SLFP in the run-up to the last parliamentary election in August 2020. The one-time UNPer recently gave up his Kalutara District parliamentary seat to receive appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington.

Former PM Wickremesinghe, FM Prof. Peiris, Minister Namal Rajapaksa and Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong at the launch of Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday (pics courtesy PM Media)

Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note

 In spite of China and Sri Lanka enjoying excellent relations and the latter regularly referring to China as an all-weather friend, there had been a number of contentious issues. The Island had an opportunity to raise some of them with Ambassador Qi Zhenhong during last Sunday’s meeting. Reference was made to accusations made by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake as regards China taking advantage of Sri Lanka, dispute over contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment that had to be settled by paying USD 6.7 mn to the Chinese firm concerned and SLPP lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s fiery letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a lawmaker writing to the Chinese leader through its Ambassador in Colombo. Ambassador Qi Zhenhong dismissed Rajapakse’s concerns over China changing its strategy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the wake of the high profile ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project meant to improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. One-time Justice Minister and former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) accused China of following an agenda intended to destroy Sri Lanka’s relations with the US, the UK, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and in time to come Russia.

Lawmaker Rajapakse’s stand cannot be examined without taking his call during the previous administration to rescind the Sri Lanka-China agreement on the Hambantota port through the intervention of the Parliament. That call was made in his capacity as a UNP Member of Parliament, whereas he wrote the January 3 dated letter as an SLPP lawmaker.

MP Rajapakse accused China of ruining Sri Lanka’s economy to facilitate their project. The former Justice Minister seemed to have no issue with Quad members, the UK and Korea. Quad members never stood by Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whereas Western powers brazenly pursued a policy detriment to Sri Lanka. They either voted against Sri Lanka or skipped the vote as in the case of Japan regardless of the Comprehensive Partnership the two countries entered into in Oct 2015. Obviously, Japan lacked the political will to go against the US wishes at the Geneva HRC, whereas Seoul voted against Colombo. On the basis of the Geneva process, the Sri Lankan military is being targeted by the US and some of her allies as part of the overall campaign directed at Sri Lanka.

Regardless of Sri Lanka’s close relations with China, the accusations made by MP Rajapakse cannot be dismissed lightly. The MP issued a warning over possible Chinese investments under the ‘Selendiva’ project, having questioned the investments on the Colombo Port, South Terminal, Coal-fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, International Airport at Mattala, Lotus Tower (Nelum Kuluna) in Colombo, Lotus Theatre (Nelum Pokuna) in Colombo, International Cricket Stadium at Suriyawewa and International Conference Hall in Hambantota. Alleging China created a debt trap, lawmaker Rajapakse said that he lost his portfolio during the Yahapalana administration as he opposed the Hambantota port deal. The copies of MP Rajapakse’s explosive letter have been sent to the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Most Venerable High Prelates, the Archbishop Colombo, Foreign Minister, Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka and Colombo-based High Commissioners and the Ambassadors of the other countries.

Can the SLPP government afford to ignore Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s actions, particularly against the backdrop of stripping Susil Premjayantha of his portfolio over criticism of the government? Similarly, can Ministers Vasudeva, Wimal and Udaya get away after having challenged their Cabinet colleagues over the US energy deal? The government needs to address these issues as the ruling coalition as well as other political parties represented in Parliament struggle to come to terms with a rapidly changing situation. Avoiding Chinese as well as Western moves and that of India seem a herculean task for Sri Lanka, trying to walk the diplomatic tightrope.

During the Yahapalana administration, the US pushed for three agreements, namely ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement), SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. On the approval of President Sirisena, the government signed ACSA in August 2017 though the remaining agreements couldn’t be finalised. No one can forget how Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe authorised one-sided CFA (Ceasefire Agreement) or the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo allowed the Singapore Sri Lanka Free Trade Pact. If those in power and the Opposition are genuinely interested in protecting national assets, they’ll agree on a political mechanism to reach consensus on agreements with external powers/foreign parties.

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Midweek Review

What is so luring about John Steinbeck’s The Pearl: A translator’s view

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Book: Dimuthuwa (A translation of The Pearl)
Translator: K. A. I Kalyanaratne
Publisher: Sarasavi

By K. A. I Kalyanaratne

Having studied Sinhala and English since my early schooling, I thought of rendering into Sinhala an English masterpiece. I knew that such an exercise would help not only test my comprehension in that contextual setting but also measure my capacity to reproduce the ideas in idiomatic Sinhala so that the reader would feel that the rendering was not foreign to him or her.

I did not want to estrange the local reader.

Translator’s responsibilities

I began my search for a read-worthy book for that purpose. I came across a book, not so voluminous, I had attempted several times to render into Sinhala, without much success. I had given up all my previous attempts halfway upon realisation that the time was not opportune for me to undertake such a responsible task, for any writer has a responsibility by the society to uplift it to the best of one’s ability, and retain the ingenuity of the original writer. I was also concerned about the sanctity of the language, the most sacred tool of its users. It means that any writer should be mindful of the correct idiomatic expressions of that language.

‘THE PEARL’

Finally, I selected ‘THE PEARL’ by the American novelist and Nobel prize-winner John Steinbeck. Having read it a couple of times, I was familiar with its content. Considering the number of characters and the span of time involving the narration, many a writer treats The Pearl as a ‘novella’ or a ‘novelette’. As the story is full of dramatic episodes, it is also referred to as a ‘chilling-novella’. As Steibeck has himself expressed in his epigraph to the Pearl, he has re-told a Mexican folktale which relates a series of tragic events that unraveled with a scorpion biting Kino’s son Coyotito.

In his inimitable style Steinbeck says

“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found, and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.

If the story is a parable, perhaps everyone reads his or her own life into it. In any case, they say in the town that…”

 

” මෙ වෙසෙයි දිමුතුව ලද සැටිත්, ඒ යළි නැති වුණු සැටිත් පිළිබඳ පවත ඒ නියැරියෝ පවසති. එ මෙන් ම, ධීවර කීනෝත්, ඔහු ගේ බිරිය ජුවානාත්, ඔවුන් ගේ පුත් කොයෝතිතෝත් පිළිබඳ ව ඔවුහු පවසති. තව ද, මෙ පවත නෙ වර පවසනු ලැබ ඇති හෙයින්, ඒ සෑම අයකු ගේ ම සිත්හි මුල් බැස ගෙන ඇත. මිනිස් සිත්හි එල්බ ගත්, එ මෙන් ම, යළි යළිත් පැවැසුණු පවත්හි රඳා පවතිනුයේ යහඅයහ දේ පමණි. ක`ථ-සුදු දේ පමණි. සිරි-දුසිරි දේ පමණි. මෙ අතරැ වූ කිසිවක් කවර තැනෙක හෝ තිබෙනු නො හැකි යි.

මෙ පවත උපමා කතාවක් සේ සැලැකෙන්නේ නම්, සෑම අයකු ම ඔහුට සීමා වූ අරුතක් ඉන් උකහා ගනු ඇත. තමන් ගේ ම දිවි පෙවෙත ඊට කාවද්දනු ඇත. මෙ කවර අයුරු වුව ද එ නුවර වැසියෝ මෙ සේ පවසත්”

Dramatic End of The Pearl

The Kino’s pearl of the world, incomparable in its beauty, radiance and size, around which Steinbeck spins the whole story with a few characters who in their peculiar contexts behave in self-centred ambitions and aspirations, ultimately meets its own playground, the big blue sea, in whose womb it was born. At last, when Kino realises that the pearl is evil, he throws it back to the sea. The humour, sarcasm and pathos, which Steinbeck aims to generate, is the last of such incidents he narrates when he writes:

“And Kino drew back his arm and flung the pearl with all his might. Kino and Juana watched it go, winking and glimmering under the setting sun. They saw the little splash in the distance, and they stood side by side watching the place for a long time.

“And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped towards the bottom.

The waving branches of the algae called to it and beckoned to it. The lights on its surface were green and lovely. It settled down to the sand bottom among the fern-like plants. Above, the surface of water was a green mirror. And the pearl lay on the floor of the sea. A crab scampering over the bottom raised a little cloud of sand, and when it settled the pearl was gone.

And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared.”

යළි තමා වෙත ඇදගත් අතින්, කිනෝ මු`ථ වැර යොදා, දිමුතුව මුහුදට විසි කෙළේ ය. අවරට යන හිරු ගේ හෙළියෙන් දිලෙමින් ද බැබැළෙමින් ද, එය ඈතට විසි වී යන අයුරු කිනෝ ද, ජුවානා ද හොඳින් බලා සිටියහ. එ ඈතින් දියට වැටී හට ගත් දිය කැළැඹුම දෙස ද බලා සිටි ඔවුහු, දිගු වේලාවක් එහි රැඳී සිටියහ.

දිමුතුව ද, ප‍්‍රසන්න නිල් පැහැති මුහුදුු දියෙහි තැන්පත් ව, මුහුදු පතුළට කිඳා බැස්සේ ය. එ විට මුහුදු පතුළෙහි වූ මුහුදු පැළෑටිවල
සසල වූ අතු පත් අත් වනමින් දිමුතුව කඳවා ගෙන ගියා සේ යි. මතු පිටට පතිත වූ ආලෝකයෙන් ඒ කොළ පැහැ ගැන් වී, ප‍්‍රසන්න වී තිබිණි. මීවන වන් පැළෑටි අතරින් ගොස්, පතුළේ වූ වැලි මත එය තැන්පත් විය. එ මත්තෙහි වූ මතුපිට දිය කඳ කොළ පැහැති කැටපතක් බඳු විය. එ දිමුතුව දැන් මුහුදු පතුළෙහි රැුඳී ඇත. එ පතුළෙහි ම, දුව පැන යමින් සිටි කකු`ථවකු නිසා කුඩා වැලි වළාවෙකින් නැ`ගුණු වැලි යළි තැන්පත් වත් ම, එ දිමුතුව දැක්මෙන් ඔබ්බට ගොස් තිබිණි.

එ අනුයමින් ම, දිමුතුවේ සංගීතය අවසනැ හුදු මිමිනීමක් පමණක් බවට පත් ව අතුරුදන් විය

Here, one remembers a line from T. S. Elliot’s Little Gidding: “Dust in the air suspended, Marks the place where a story ended”.

“Language is the Dress of Thought.” — Samuel Johnson

The language of The Pearl is one of the enticing aspects which lured me to undertake this exercise to render it into Sinhala. I questioned myself on several occasions whether my Sinhala diction was rich enough to express, with the same efficacy, the nuances of human feelings and sentiments that Steinbeck conveys in The Pearl.

In his retelling of a Mexican folktale, Steinbeck relates the tale of Kino, fisherman, who finds the pearl of the world during one of his dives. Showing how money is the root of all evil, Steinbeck delivers a poignant tale. Fish and pearls are usually the common source of the livelihood of fisherfolk. However, the story tells how each member of the village desires part of Kino’s newfound wealth. Hence, rather than being pleased with and sharing the happiness of this prized discovery, each villager offers his/her unique suggestion as to how Kino should spend his winnings. Steinbeck thus not only exposes human nature but also through a few characters like the doctor who later came in to treat Coyotito, Kino’s son, the priest, and the pearl brokers who attempt to swindle Kino, tells how greed erodes the cherished values, and how people who come upon sudden wealth are affected. This story also teaches us how disastrous it is to take on its face-value and acts mindlessly. The Pearl is, thus, a tale of greed, exposing how people would act and react, if pitted against the circumstances as revealed in the story. In short, The Pearl is a true representation of the secrets of man’s nature, irrespective of time or clime, and the ‘darkest depths of evil”.

An Attempt to Add Depth to the Translation of ‘The Pearl’

I strove to make ‘Dimuthuwa’ go beyond a mere translation of Steinbeck’s novelette and presume that the reader should know the background of the story as well if he or she is to enjoy the translation to the fullest. Hence, the following additional pages have been added to the translation:

i. Background – which provides the geographical setting and the novelist’s objective of turning out a folktale to a novel.

ii. The historical setting revealing the discrimination and injustice that prevailed in society, which became the crux of the story.

iii. Specialty in John Steinbeck’s style of writing and his use of the figurative language especially in describing incidents and the surroundings.

iv. The Pearl Quotes – The products of famous writers contain sayings that will live have their value beyond times and climes. They become eternal truths, and therefore, they become universal truth that are of eternal value. Some describe these sayings as ‘Distilled Wisdom’. One such quote by Steinbeck is appended below:

“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”

All these quotes have been rendered into Sinhala in this special section.

John Steinbeck’ background

The Pearl is a novella, a seemingly simple book, woven around a story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale. John Steinbeck was an American writer. He was the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, published in 1939 and the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’, published in 1937. He wrote 25 books, including sixteen novels,6 non-fiction books and several collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It so happened that after I completed translating ‘The Pearl’, I was presented a voluminous publication by a friend of mine, which contained five of his novels written before The Pearl, running to over 950 pages. Published in the UK by Octopus Books Limited, its introduction ends with a quote of H. G. Wells: “Steinbeck’s robustness was always mirrored by delicacy of feelings; his pride was always matched by modesty, humility even. He saw himself as a craftsman.” But his readers concur H. G. Wells on his assessment of Steinbeck – ‘THAT TREMENDOUS GENIUS’.

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Midweek Review

The Mod-Con Tea Party

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By Lynn Ockersz

They sure are ‘talking’,

But tongue-tied all the same,

And though at the same table,

Flushed with the thrill of partying,

There’s no mind-to-mind bonhomie,

And the only sounds to be heard,

Are the endless thumping of cell phones,

And the ritualistic rendering of courtesies;

A pantomime of voiceless souls it seems,

But let not this be seen as an ICT Age freak,

For, the land groans under a rash of pains,

With depression emerging a chief dread,

And the need for quality talk is dire;

But the crisis is not beyond repair,

For, a defrosting of hearts and tongues,

And the sensible use of mod cons,

Could some of this longsuffering help end.

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