by Kumar David
The NPP released its initial political Manifesto entitled a Rapid Response to Overcome Current Challenges on December 21 last year ( https://www.npp.lk/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/NPP-Booklet-English.pdf). Notably it is introduced as an “initial” document so presumably after accumulating public comment and benefitting from debate and perhaps a consultative seminar (physical or Zoom) a final version will be written up later this year. Therefore this is open-season for debates and dialogue. The Sajith-SJB and the SLPP, the only other entities with national-level clout, are sterile; they will surely print drab scraps nearer the elections, or crib from the NPP draft. Forget them for now.
Last week (2 January) I introduced the Rapid Response document and a mass of feedback has landed on my desk, or is it more fashionable to say computer-screen. Three or four articles intended to cut the ground under the JVP’s (apparently) rising popularity have also appeared in the Island, the Sunday Island and the DBS Jeyaraj column. I do not intend to reply to any because I have no mandate to speak for the JVP or the NPP, only for myself and make no reference to these authors by name. The were varied: (a) The Rapid Response document is too general and lacks nuts and bolts details, (b) the JVP must not make itself a footstool of the Sajith-SJB in the latter’s quest for presidency and parliamentary power, (c) denigration of the history of the JVP from alpha to omega, and (d) re the Tamils, “I have reservations about your (KD) assurance that the JVP now is not the JVP of 1971 and 1989”.
My responses, not the JVP or NPP’s – as said I am nobody in these circles – follows after I enumerate issues on which I agree (a, c, d, e and f) or disagree (b and g) with the post-Somawansa JVP. The Tamil question I discuss separately at the end.
a) Joining Chandrika’s government was WISE; the JVP proved its ability to run ministerial administrations.
b) Quitting CBK’s Administration on relatively flimsy grounds, instead of staying on and proving her error in enrolling right-wing opportunists was IMMATURE.
c) Supporting MR in 2005 and SF in 2010 were ARGUABLY the best options in the circumstances.
d) Campaigning for the Single-Issue Common-Candidate strategy in 2019 and leading the drive to defeat an MR third-term was 100% CORRECT.
e) Electoral bids in the 2019 and 2020 were JUSTIFIED as it was reasonable to hope that the NPP would poll better than it did.
f) Consolidating JVP-NPP strength and now emerging (apparently) as a significant force is GOOD.
g) Failing, concurrently with (f), to take the lead in consolidating a joint-opposition alliance to stall potential junta adventures is WRONG.
Thoughtful if cautious JT of liberal political disposition had this to say when I remarked that it was absurd to ask the NPP Manifesto to spell out economic policy down to nuts and bolts. This is both absurd and undesirable and just what a programme must not do. A Manifesto lays out broad attitudes and thinking, it must not become a straightjacket. As circumstances evolve it is necessary to respond flexibly. My interlocutor was unconvinced and responded:
“I agree that no manifesto can spell out each nut and bolt and how and where they will fit. But I remain convinced that the NPP-JVP needs to tell the voter more about its economic policy. Saying it is ready to take over governance and guarantee an “adooshitha palanayak” is inadequate. A severe economic crisis already here and there are foreseeable trends to which the NPP-JVP needs to respond now. The point I have consistently made is: What is their (JVP’s) true analysis of the crisis facing Lanka? What are the solutions they offer to solve this crisis? Don’t the voters need to know now? If it is to become a credible alternative government the JVP needs to provide its answers to these question.
The NPP document does do quite a bit of this! But JT is sympathetic to the JVP and discards the SJB and the SLPP as dead-ends, so the NPP must consent and include in the second version of the Manifesto carefully drafted details. The drafters can benefit from a review of NMSJ’s constitutional proposals – see Jayampathy Wickremeratne for a short review of the proposals.
Fraternité or Liberté?
However as I cautioned readers JT is a “classic” liberal, hence I need to digress and explain the inadequacy of liberalism in today’s world. Year 2021 was bad for liberal democracy globally; there were military take-overs in Burma (February), Chad (May), Mali (August), Guinea (September) and Sudan (October). Khaki-clad thugs imposed varying degrees of brutality; Buddhist Burma the worst. The incapacity of liberal economics to deliver public goods bamboozled some into accepting coups in desperation. When maalumiris (capsicum) sells at Rs 960 a kg, surely food riots can’t be far off. True-blue liberals in their love of democracy (bless them) overlook that feeding families and schooling children is the priority of the poor. They neglect livelihood concerns to pursue a liberal agenda. That said, one must never let criticism of liberalism turn into repression as in Russia where liquidation of Memorial which unearths Stalin’s crimes or, imprisonment of Putin’s foes on trumped up charges is routine. In Hong Kong, Beijing’s acolytes are snuffing out press freedom, cashing in on the idiocy of the 2019 rioters which led to draconian legislation passed by the National Peoples’ Congress in Beijing. The HK judiciary mercifully is still independent but it does stringently enforce laws on the book.
In Lanka deception crept into the 2019-2020 elections when dumb majorities swallowed the bait and threw their weight behind known authoritarians – “A little bit of dictatorship” was prescribed even by some in the sangha. Russia, China and the West prioritise their own interests not a concern for other people’s democracy. International actors striving to increase their global influence now mimic a low intensity Cold War. Beijing is explicit; Moscow stretches to back-up putsch leaders like Mali’s Goita and Sudan’s al-Burhan, and carries online disinformation. The first fissure in the international stance against military juntas this millennium was the 2013 Egyptian coup. The Western world, led by America denied calling that the military takeover a coup and embraced el-Sisi’s cabal which is now also a darling of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China.
“Liberté, égalité, fraternité” is a far cry from mercantilist free-market capitalism, the lode star of twentieth and twenty-first century liberalism. In all the great revolutionary events of Europe (1789, 1830, 1848, 1870, 1905, 1917 and 1923), in the surges of 1945-48 and 1966 and in post-Soviet 1990 liberation, material hardship of ordinary people was a crucial driver. I mention cultured Europe to alert true-blue liberals to pay attention to livelihood misadventures. If liberals lose the masses they will lose democracy! This is the plus point of the NPP’s left inclined manifesto, though granted it needs enhancement.
Turning back the khaki-clad thugs
Where I am most critical of the JVP-NPP is when in reply to my demand (g) above some say: “The regime is weak; it can’t get out of this mess. If the situation changes, we can reconsider”. This is like a man who waits till after death to take an insurance policy! Points (f) and (g) in my enumeration are complementary; they are not either/or propositions; both must be done. I know what is holding the JVP back on (g). It has suffered a long history of being used and discarded by bourgeois parties. Now it suspects well known Sajith salesmen of singing the united-front song for their master’s benefit. Yes that’s why Sajith’s choristers caterwaul loudly. But that’s all beside the point. The JVP must lead a defensive treaty not because Sajith wants to use it as a footstool but because it, the JVP, understands the need for a well prepared united-front to throwback emergent threats.
Oh for the tactical clarity and firmness of touch of a Lenin! The left must take the right stand on issues at each point in time knowing that every political actor is strategizing to benefit from everybody else’s moves. The JVP needs strengthen its theoretical confidence and sureness of touch so as to reinforce its base while also leading alliances for defined purposes.
A brief comment on a thoroughly negative and destructive piece in the DBS Jeyaraj website must suffice. But for the fact that I know the author VI and hold him in good regard I would have assumed it was written for the benefit of the SBJ or the SLPP; but this cannot be the case. It is carelessly drafted and pays inadequate attention to the evolution of the JVP from a pre-1989 phase, via the Somawansa interregnum to its current avatar. Pity that it reads like a harangue! But the life-story of the JVP is outside the scope of this essay.
(https://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/75542 posted on 21 Dec 2021).
The NPP, JVP and the Tamils
One of my fiercest interlocutors was Pineapple Lover, a Tamil with pristine left credentials (LSSP, Hector and Vama) who to this day remains far to the left of the liberals. Here are his reproaches – abbreviated.
“I have strong reservations about your assurance that the JVP is no longer the JVP of 1971 and 1989. In your Sunday Island/Colombo Telegraph column today (2 Jan) you correctly explain the left’s post-1956 debacle on the national question. You say that the LSSP and CP despite heroic and steadfast commitment to secularism and pluralism during 1956-60 finally gave in and were part of a government which implemented blatantly racist policies like standardisation and gave constitutional status to a unitary state, Sinhala and Buddhism”.
“The JVP’s racism did not end in 1989. As late as 2006 it went to Court and got the North East Province bifurcated. Given half a chance the SLFP and UNP (in all their forms) will roll back the 13A, but up to now only the JVP has carried the threat through. I think a political party built in the 60/70s on racism which and according to you murdered the likes of Vijaya Kumaranatunga for supporting 13A in 1988, and post-88 achieved the breakup of the North East Province, has been consistently Sinhala Buddhist. Those like you who are sympathetic to the JVP brush over this saying: “If you detect any slippage on the national question in the programme blame not the NPP, hold the Sinhalese people to account.”
This is a strong and well-grounded indictment. But I continue to hold from my knowledge the NPP and from the presence of Comrades Lal Wijenayake, Prof Vijaya Kumar and Dr Harini Amerasuriya, all of whom will make short shrift of any racism in NPP inner councils, that there is no tangible racism in the NPP. I think not in the JVP either though I am less familiar with its leaders and have never observed the Central Commission in session. A far-ranging interview with JVP leader Anura Kumara by Susitha Fernando however is a better guide because it goes well beyond the NPP programme and anything the JVP has openly said before.
Match against Djokovic; Partying PM; Prince turned Mr Nobody, and no hope
Slightly old hat but arguments for or against Novak Djokovic being allowed to stay in Melbourne for the Australian Open will swirl around and then die down, sadly, but inevitably. The sports world will go on; Australian might will continue; and people will soon forget and go about their business. May even be that when the winners of AO are announced only a couple of persons will remember him who was such a wonderful player who hardly ever lost his cool and seemed so steady and even relaxed when on tennis courts. Remember Robert Frost in his poem, Out, Out succinctly mentioning this fact at the end when the boy whose arm was cut by an electric saw breathed his last.
“And they, since they Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”
So very tragically true of all persons; all who brag, rant and pound their feet will die and not many will remember them.
The Editor of this paper commented on it and seemed to stand for ‘the Law holds for all’. He made no mention of the health waiver the world’s Number One tennis wizard got which he traded on to go to Melbourne in the first place.
Dr Upul Wijayawardhana in his piece printed beside the editorial on Tuesday 18 – “Australian antics and Djokovic’s disgrace” mentioned this. “It is surprising that Djokovic was given a medical exemption to enter Australia by … Tennis Australia and the State Government of Victoria after testing positive for coronavirus.” He got the permission to enter the AO, so he did, though there were controversial issues.
So, Cass in her emotional and yes, unreasonable, sense, sides with the tennis player. He should have been segregated and allowed participation in the tournament. We do not ask they consider his attempt at being the tennis world’s first to win 21 grand slams, but that here was an outstanding sportsman who got clearance to enter and was even permitted release from segregation in a hotel and allowed to resume preparing for the tournament to start on the 17th. It seemed to be a tussle between a state government and that of Australia and poor Novak was A pawn, as it were.
Now, the Aussie Open has lost its glamour and even interest to this ole soul – Cassandra. She hoped Nadal and others would withdraw from the OA. But since it was not their deportation, they go along. Hopefully they will publicly comment in support of their co-sportsman. Nadal already spoke out.
Ordinary citizen of UK
Poor Prince Andrew: his carnal desire has got him in a dirty soup! Will he, now be stripped of all titles and even won military honours, go forth to court to battle his case as Mr Andrew Windsor with perhaps Mountbatten added as a middle surname? What a downfall and comedown!
Cass has been having an emailed argument about whether Virginia G is a gold digger or not, and whether it can be accepted Andrew raped, as is accused, a teenager way back around two to three decades ago.
Cass’ arguing friend seems to see the issue in the light of what Virginia G wants to crush: – power, money and connections used against the underprivileged. She has spelled out her legal pursuit of Andrew thus. Noble aim but why select only this former prince? Surely there were others earlier – Epstein himself. To Cass she has schemed her way adroitly, seeing Epstein imprisoned and committing suicide (it is said, though belief is he was done in, with all the secrets of the rich and powerful within him), and his aide and abettor in the crime of trafficking underage girls – Ghislaine Maxwell – convicted to prison for 50 odd years. Virginia would surely have banked on raking in a great amount of lucre and of course publicity, fat and middle aged as she now is. True, Andrew (we dare call him that) was accepting what Epstein offered him, but to Cass and her incisive eye, it would definitely not have been rape.
What came across sharply to Cass was the difference between her much younger correspondent’s opinion and Cass’. To the younger one Andrew was all black and Virginia a sweet little kid pounced upon and sullied against her wishes. Cass emerged rather old fashioned, believing in the adage that boys will be boys and men are allowed much more than girls/women who are censured more. Yes, that was the attitude of Sri Lankan society or what Cass knew of in her Kandy upbringing. We do not know whether a negotiation has been worked out or whether the ex-Prince faces the pretending Innocent in an American court of law with #metoo etc very strong over in the USA. The gracious duty-bound Queen is the greatest loser in this randy, rapacious business.
No storm in a teacup
The previous Cassandra Cry, referred to the bring-your-own-alcohol and observe- Covid-restrictions party in June 2019 in the garden of No 10 Downing Street. She classified it as a storm in the Brit’s cuppa. Not so, not so many means. This party has resulted in a loud call to the PM to resign, perhaps not only the premiership but his Parliament seat too, which means being thrown out of the Conservative Party leadership. Boris Johnson is a bird of the Andrew feather – loves fun and partying. But he marries his girlfriends, one by one! The storm is brewing and it’s getting hotter for the PM as ex employers throw in their tuppenny worth – all damning!
Us in Paradise?
We continue in Fool’s Paradise with fireplaces in gardens; fear of lack of medicines; rising costs and sharing the anger of helpless farmers shedding tears. “Half of USD 6.7 mn paid to China would have helped save Maha yield.” So pronounced SJB’s MP Rohini Kaviratna. Inexplicable, unbelievable, the pinnacle of absurdity not to import chemical fertiliser, weedicides and pesticides now that it has been realised the move to organic farming was too precipitous and cost the country and its people so very much. And to add fuel to the fire an announcement is made that a fresh order for organic manure has been sent to that seaweed company in China. We never learn. It’s corruption at whatever cost. And with no money to import fertiliser much is spent on food like beetroot and rice.
Chandra Jayaratne in The Island of Tuesday January 18 lists all our country and people’s travails in his article ‘People’s wishes.’ Cass painfully counted the words in one line of his article and computed that his very long first paragraph of 42 lines had approx 300 words – all of our country troubles. Him being the excellent writer with keen brain and good sense to match, writes very precisely. The list of woes was that long! So, you can imagine what dire straits we are in. His second paragraph lists origins of these maladies: “unprofessional, arrogant, egoistic, even childish … heading towards a failed state.”
Please, please wake up, those in power and do what needs to be done to brake the speeding to bankruptcy. We really do not want ‘splenour and prosperity’. We only want to live fairly decent lives, and that is not stymied by the pandemic. The ‘gloom and despondency and poverty’ are man-made.
On that note Cass says bye bye with no hope in her.
Patriotic surgeon who volunteered to work on battlefield
By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy) Former Chief of Defence Staff
In 1991, I was selected to one of the prestigious sea appointments in the Sri Lanka Navy. After a short familiarisation course, I was appointed to P 467 (old pennant numbers), Fast Attack Craft (FAC) Super Dovra Mk ll, one of the fastest FAC of the Navy at that time. Built in Israel at a cost of US $ 30 million, it was the vanguard of our Navy throughout our conflict with LTTE Sea Tiger terrorists.
P467 was commanded by LT Cdr Ariyadasa, an officer senior to me, who has intercepted the highest number of smuggling boats in SLN in Western Naval Command. So, my sole intention was to work hard and capture more smuggling boats than LT Cdr Ariyadasa.
Two days after my appointment, my FAC was attached to Eastern Naval Command to patrol the Northern waters. It may have been done by someone in the Naval Headquarters who didn’t want to see me in Colombo?
We had to deal with not smugglers but LTTE Sea Tigers operating in the northern waters at the time. The LTTE had some camps on the Southern Indian coast; it was their main logistics route to the Northern peninsula. They had boats moving at an excess of 30 knots (30 nautical miles per hour – approx 40mph ) and our FAC had a slight speed advantage over terrorist speed boats.
The distance between India and Sri Lanka is approximately 24 nautical miles. Indo- Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) has been marked at equidistance, approximately 12 nautical miles. So, terrorist boats moving at 30 knots could cross our waters in 24 minutes ! That’s the time the Navy had to detect, chase and to destroy them. If you had got too close to land, which was held by my enemy at that time, you would have been fired upon with enemy’s shore gun batteries. The FAC would have become a “sitting duck” in such an eventuality. The enemy always kept their tractors with the trailers in the water ready for their boat arrivals.
As soon as their boats hit the shore, they were loaded into tractor trailers and moved to safety. This was done in reverse order when the boats were launched. It was more difficult for us to detect the boat launching pads as they were done at night. However, those days when LTTE Sea Tigers saw an Israeli built Dovra, they used to run away at maximum speed. Most of our chases of sea tiger boats ended up in a “stern chase” and with slight speed advantage, we destroyed the enemy boat with 20mm Oerlicon cannon we had as the main weapon.
The FAC had a crew of two officers and 12 sailors at that time. It was a very close “family”. My Second-In-Command was LT SHU Dushmantha, fearless and an excellent officer. He was an outstanding tennis player, an old Anandian and from the KDU Intake 4. Sadly, he died in action out at sea on 30/10/1998. He was a recipient of three gallantry medals for his bravery and valour out at sea namely, Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya (WWV), Rana Wickrama Paddakkama (RWP) and Rana Soora Paddakkama (RSP). I had Leading Seaman Newton as my coxswain (later rose to Master Chief Petty Officer rank and excellent photographer), and Leading Marine Engineering Mechanic Premaratne (also rose to MCPO rank later and excellent cook) looked after the
engines. Our FAC during her first patrol to Northern Naval Area was able to destroy a enemy boat, which was a great achievement to me personally and to my crew.
The FAC was a time-tested craft in the SLN. From time to time, we upgraded our weapons and sensors on board FACs. When we were onboard an FAC, we had only a radar to detect enemy boats at night. Later, we had MSIS (Multi Sensor Integrated Systems) and better forward main guns such as US-made 30mm Bush master chain gun, but the platform, the FAC hull remained the same.
When we fought with Sea Tigers, there were no suicide boats. The enemy fled at their maximum speed when they saw an FAC, Then enemy developed their suicide cadres and speed boats later loaded with explosives and started to steer towards us at excessive speed on suicidal missions.
We had to rewrite and develop our fighting tactics and manoeuvres against the new threat. We lost some of our best FAC Commanders and crews due to those deadly attacks. I salute them and all those who worked tirelessly during this period and special thanks to our gunners, electrical/electronic engineers and marine engineers for keeping FACs operational and battle-prepared.
There is a unique difference in fighting at sea that on land. There are no covers in sea battle. Whoever fired effectively first won. Sea battles are very short and decisive.
There is a special bond between your shipmates (FAC mates), whether you are an officer or a sailor. You go to battle together in Fast Attack Craft and come home victorious ,or perish at sea together. OIC take decisions and he had to be brave and knowledgeable.
My FAC command period was eventful and enjoyable. I was married and my wife Yamuna was expecting our son. We lived in married quarters at the Naval Base Trincomalee. Those Royal Navy time officers quarters are specious and beautiful.
Our patrols to Northern waters lasted seven days. If everything went well, you got a seven-day break for maintenance, repairs to get ready for next patrol. Before heading for the North, I would leave my wife with my brother officer’s family living at the Naval Base, Trincomalee, where she would stay until my return. She preferred to be with LCdr (L) Sarath Silva’s family. Sarath is from my junior batch and his wife Chandrani looked after Yamuna very well. They were very close friends. Such is the camaraderie among Naval families !
When your FAC is non operational, you have to take some other Operational FACs on patrol. This is not a good arrangement as you are going out to sea with an unknown crew. However, in September 1991, I had to take P468 (my batchmate Shirantha’s FAC) as mine was under repairs on slipway. Further, my 2IC, Dushmamtha was also on leave. I decided to go to sea on board P468 without a 2IC, on a six-day patrol to Northern waters.
Fast Attack Craft have two very powerful inboard engines. They required large amounts of low sulphur diesel (LSD). One engine consumed approximately 100 litres of LSD per hour. Two engines running, its 200 litres per hour. It takes four hours for us to sail from Trincomalee to KKS. About 800 litres consumed per one run to Northern waters from Trincomalee. If Rs 100 a litre of LSD, FAC consumes approximately Rs 80,000 worth of LSD per one run. Then we do seven days patrolling and returning back to Trincomalee. Navy has 36 Fast Attack Craft. So you can imagine the fuel costs.
Navies are very expensive!
So, two days of my patrol onboard P468 was uneventful. On 13 June 1991 around 10AM, we were returning to KKS for rest and refuelling from the Mulativu sea area. Sea was calm and I was keeping about two nautical miles from the land and moving North at approximately 20 knots speed. I was on the flying bridge and enjoying bright sunlight and very clear weather. My lookout sentry on Port side (land side) reported two open jeeps moving on Manakkadiu road, one fitted with a gun. The area was held by enemy. I sounded action stations and told the crew that I would turn towards the jeeps and increase speed.
I told them when I was turning away from land they had to engage the targets with our 20mm cannon. The sea was deep enough for the FAC to go up to 400m from shore. Forward gunner was very good. His third shot hit a jeep and it started burning. Other jeep took cover behind a sand dune.
We saw some movements on the beach with enemy cadres getting into boats on land. When we were breaking away from targets and headed towards deep sea, our boat was hit by enemy fire from boats. Crack and thump of 50 calibre machine gun fire was very clearly heard.
Do you know how to identify someone is firing at you? You hear two noises (in military terminology known as a crack and thump. Every shot fired at you makes two noises for one shot. As bullet velocity is faster than the speed of sound, you first hear sound “tuck’ (or crack) when bullet goes through air closer to you. Then you hear sound “Dum” ( or thump) after some time. That is the sound made by bullets leaving the gun barrel. A well trained Special Forces person will be able to say the approximate distance of firer by the interval between crack and thump.
Enemy gun fire rained on the FAC, but we were almost beyond enemy’s effective gun range. Suddenly, one enemy gun shot hit the guard rail of the FAC. It’s splinters hit my left shoulder and upper arm . A sailor who was standing next to me at Open bridge was also hit in the leg. Blood soaked my left arm and multiple injuries were visible.
I knew I was hit badly. Sailors onboard panicked. I steered the FAC to a safe distance from land and informed my colleague Rohan, who was on another FAC on patrol and steered towards KKS.
After bleeding was controlled by a sailor trained on combat medicine, I found no major damage to my bones. I felt a bit dizzy, but able to walk into a waiting ambulance at KKS harbour to be taken to Army hospital at Palaly for immediate medical treatment.
On arrival at the Palaly Army Hospital, I saw a tall figure in a surgical gown waiting for me. He was non other than Dr Maiya Gunasekara, Consultant Surgeon. Dr Maiya took a few hours to remove whatever shrapnel he detected. He said others would remain inside the bones as they posed no threat. They are still inside my left shoulders and upper arm.
I consider them as gifts from the LTTE but they prevent me from through any Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines!
I invited Dr Maiya on board to my FAC that evening and took him to sea and showed him Point Pedro and VVT (home town of LTTE leader Prabhakaran) from sea.
Dr Maiya volunteered services as a surgeon at the battle front and saved a number of officers and men who were severely injured.
Dr Indrajith Maithri (‘Maiya’) De Zoysa Gunasekara, FRCS, FICS, Consultant Surgeon was born on 22nd August 1951 and educated at Royal College, Colombo 7. He was a College coloursman in Basketball and Rugby Football and represented Royal College in Athletics as well. He represented the Royal College rugby team for a number of years and later entered the Medical Faculty of Colombo University. He was the recipient of Leslie Handunge trophy awarded to the best sportsman at both
Colombo and Peradeniya Universities in 1974. He excelled in both studies and sports, graduated from both Royal College of Surgeons of England and Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and captained CR and FC rugger team and represented the National Rugby team and the National Rugby sevens team for a number of years . He was President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union and Chairman of National Sports Council.
Now, he is the Consultant Surgeon at the Nawaloka Hospital, Colombo. He will sits in his consultation room (Room 55) at Navaloka Hospital daily.
However his dedicated service to the Nation in treating our Armed Forces personnel at the Battle front in Palaly Army hospital is not known to many.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela once said “There will be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return”
Thank you Dr Maiya – we salute you !
South’s development debacle compounded by SAARC’s inner paralysis
From a development point of view, it’s ‘the worst of times’ for the global South. The view of some of the most renowned development organizations is that the woes brought upon the hemisphere by the Covid-19 pandemic have probably stalled its development by decades. The inference is inescapable that the South would need to start from scratch as it were in its efforts to ease its material burdens, once the present health crisis shows signs of lifting.
A recent Jakarta Post/ANN news feature published in this newspaper on January 14th, detailing some of the dire economic fallout from the pandemic on the South said: ‘Between March and December 2020, the equivalent of 147 million full time jobs were lost in the Asia Pacific region. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that between 140 million people in Asia were pushed into poverty and in 2021 another 8 million became poor…..Vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities and migrant workers were worst affected. Across Asia, informal and migrant workers suffered an estimated 21.6 percent fall in their income in the first four months of the pandemic.’
Needless to say, being one of the least developed regions of the South and its most populous one, it is South Asia that is likely to be worst affected in the current global crunch. A phenomenon that should not go unnoticed in this connection, is the rising number of the ‘new poor’ in the South. This refers in the main to those sections of the middle class that are sliding into the lower middle class and the ranks of the poverty-stricken as a result of the ill-effects of the present crisis. Job loss and decreasing income are some of the causes behind this rising tide of pauperization.
Referring to this and connected processes the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka states in its ‘Sri Lanka State of the Economy 2021’report: ‘Estimates at the USD 3.20 poverty line are forecasted to be at least 228 million, with a larger share of the population emerging from South Asia yet again. Initial projections for 2021 estimate the number of individuals in extreme poverty to be between 143 and 163 million.’ The stark and widespread poverty emerging in Afghanistan since mid-August 2021, ought to push up these figures quite a bit.
Considering that the South is way behind the North in developmental terms, the unfolding global economic crisis could be expected to widen the chasm in material wellbeing between the hemispheres in the days ahead. However, ‘the overwhelming question’ for the South would be how it could fend for itself in the absence of those Southern-centred organizations that could take up its cause in the forums of the world and bring the region together in an effort to work towards its collective wellbeing. The importance of this question is strongly underscored by the fact that SAARC is more or less dysfunctional or paralyzed at present.
The immense magnitude of the poverty question is yet to be realized by the ruling elites of the South. It is as if the chimerical growth spurt in some sections of the South over the past 30 or so years has rendered them numb and insensitive to poverty-related issues, including the ever-yawning gulf within their countries between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor. As is known, while the so-called ordinary people of the South have been wilting in dire want over the past two years, the hemisphere has been producing billionaires in disconcertingly high numbers. This could be true of Sri Lanka as well and the Pandora Papers gave us the cue a few months back.
By burying their heads in the sands as it were in this manner, Southern political elites could very well be setting the stage for bloody upheavals within their states. The need for substantial ‘bread’ has always been a driver of socio-political change over the centuries. They are bound to find their problems compounded by the accentuation of ethnicity and religion related questions, considering that such issues are taking a turn for the worse amid the current economic debacle. Vulnerable groups would need to be cared for and looked after by rulers and these include women and ethnic minorities. An aggravation of their lot could compound the worries of Southern rulers.
The phenomenal increase of billionaires ought to be researched more intently and thoroughly by Southern think tanks, R and D organizations and the like. Among other things, does not this disquieting emergence of billionaires prove that classical economics was wrong in assuming that wealth would easily ‘trickle-down’ to the masses from wealth creators, such as businessmen and other owners of capital? After all, we now have clear evidence that mountainous wealth could exist amid vast wastes of poverty and powerlessness.
However, the view of some commentators that ‘neoliberal policies of privatization’ and connected issues should now be reassessed and even eschewed ought to strike the observer as worthy of consideration. These policies that enthrone free market economics should be viewed as badly in need of revision and correction in view of the inherently unstable economic systems that they have given rise to over the past three decades. Their serious flaws are thrown into strong relief by the present Southern economic crisis which has resulted in some isolated, formidable towers of wealth and opulence sprouting in a sea of hardship and economic want.
Hopefully, we would see a renewed wide-ranging discussion on development models from now on. Ideally, growth needs to go hand-in-hand with equity if development is to be achieved to a degree. There is no getting away from the need for central planning to some extent in our efforts to reach these ends. Capital and Labour would need to come together in a meeting of minds in these endeavours. Development thrusts would need to be launched on pragmatic considerations as well.
However, a regional approach to resolving these issues facing South Asia needs to be renewed and persisted with as well. As long as SAARC remains paralyzed such efforts are unlikely to bear full fruit. Accordingly, India and Pakistan, the regional heavyweights, need to negotiate an end to their differences and help rejuvenate SAARC; South Asia’s key collective body that could usher in a measure of regional development.
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