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Karnataka, Thailand and Turkey: Election Lessons and Presidential Prospecting

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by Rajan Philips

There have been three different elections in as many countries over the last two weeks: Karnataka State Assembly elections in India, presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, and parliamentary elections in Thailand. In Karnataka, the nationally triumphant BJP suffered a significant state defeat, and the nationally struggling Congress Party registered an outright state victory. Expectations were frustrated in Turkey, but were spectacularly exceeded in Thailand. In Turkey, there were predictions that Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican Peoples Party (CHP founded by Kemal Ataturk), who became the unifying opposition candidate, would win the presidential race in the first round and end the two decade long authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the results were a virtual tie, forcing a runoff election between the two men. In the parliamentary elections, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won a comfortable majority, which will ensure the AKP’s continuing presence in the echelons of power even if Erdogan were to lose the runoff election on May 28.

The parliamentary election results in Thailand are a stunning boost for democratic parties in Asian countries fighting authoritarian rulers, and for energized Young Turks seeking to get rid of the old political turkeys. Exceeding all expectations, the young and upstart Move Forward Party (MFP) has won 151 of the 500 lower house seats, pushing the well established Pheu Thai Party (PTP) of the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra into second place with 141 seats. In the biggest surprise, described by many as “a political earthquake,” the incumbent military-backed government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was utterly defeated and relegated to 36 seats. However, under Thailand’s bizarre rule for electing a Prime Minister after a general election that Chan-ocha put in place after capturing power in the 2014 military coup, he could again become Prime Minister.

The bizarre rule is based on Thailand’s bicameral system comprising a lower house of 500 elected members (representing the people) and an upper house of 250 appointed members (mainly representing the army, the monarchy and related vested interests). After an election, the Prime Minister is elected from among candidates nominated by political parties by a joint session of all 750 members the two houses. A party could even nominate a total outsider to be elected as Prime Minister if she/he could cobble together 376 votes from the two houses.

To pre-empt the Prayuth Chan-ocha from canvassing to be PM again, the two leading parties from the polls (MFP and PTP) have formed an alliance of six parties commanding 309 members to nominate MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat as their candidate for Prime Minister. Their total is short of the 376 tally required for majority. However, many members of the upper house have indicated that they will not thwart the will of the people and elect a different nominee as Prime Minister. Nothing is going to be finalized until the Election Commission finalizes the official results within two months, and the two houses are convened for their joint session likely in July.

Demonstration Effects

Turkey is a member of NATO and is an aspirant to join the European Union. Who gets to be its next president will have broader implications for the Middle East, EU and the ongoing standoff between the West and Russia including the war over Ukraine. The Thai elections have no comparable geopolitical implications, but can have what political scientists call the ‘demonstration effect’ in Asian countries where elections are being delayed, denied, or otherwise manipulated. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are two (South) Asian countries where unelected governments are shy of calling elections. In Pakistan, the government went a step further and tried to imprison its principal opponent, Imran Khan. The move, as I wrote last week, backfired spectacularly.

In Sri Lanka, President Wickremesinghe has delayed local government elections by withholding funds in spite of a Supreme Court directive to make funds available. He has been floating balloons of national reconciliation, inspiring rumours about staggered provincial elections, and firing and hiring provincial governors at presidential pleasure. Even the usually pliant Tamil political parties have gotten sick of his games and have given their twin ultimatums: Either a new constitution Or new elections. The first will go nowhere, and the second will add to the common chorus. The President has two other election cards to play, not to advance democracy or people’s participation but to cement his power pedestal that he has had delivered to him quite fortuitously, but under dire and trying circumstances for the country.

The President is not interested in calling a parliamentary election even though he is empowered to do it anytime now, but he wants an early presidential election which he is not permitted to do as an unelected interim president. Hence, the impetus for yet another self-serving constitutional amendment to enable himself to call an early presidential election at the time of his convenient choosing, and fulfill at long last his lifelong ambition to become an elected president. And this from a man who for a whole decade has been promising the abolishing of the executive presidency. Even the national emergency of an economic bankruptcy is not enough to make a Sri Lankan politician do something other than going back on his word.

The two main opposition parties, the SJB and the JVP-led NPP, are either stuck like rabbits caught in the headlights of the presidential limousine, or are playing catchup after the President’s every dodgy move. Neither Party can take the fight to the President the way Imran Khan is doing it to his government in Pakistan. The Sri Lankan President is shrewd enough not to give the opposition any opening. Unlike in Pakistan or Thailand, the Sri Lankan government is not a military-backed government. Rather, Sri Lanka has a military that is backed by the government. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tried to make the government an employment exchange for the army providing all manner of work to the soldiers – from street beautification after the war to healthcare monitoring after the pandemic. President Wickremesinghe is putting the army in its place – not to clean streets, but to protect him from protesters.

Anura and Harini

The JVP/NPP put all its eggs in the local elections basket, and they are left to freeze after the President took them out of the incubator and put them in cold storage. Now the JVP/NPP is waiting for the president to drop the election shoe, not knowing which shoe will come down first – provincial, parliamentary or presidential. Even so, the JVP and its NPP alliance could draw inspiration from the Thai election results and prepare themselves in the specific circumstances in Sri Lanka to face whichever election that may come first.

In Thailand, the leader of the Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, is a 42 year old technocrat and businessman with significant business and political family connections. Paetongtarn Shinawatra who leads the Pheu Thai Party is the 36 year daughter and niece of two former Prime Ministers – Thaksin Shinawatra (now in exile) and his brother Yingluck Shinawatra. Marching separately and now striking together, they have galvanized a nation to call out and send home a military government and are promising to implement significant institutional reforms that will not spare even the sacred cow of the monarchy.

Political pedigrees are not always necessary and, more often than not, may not be helpful and can even be a political millstone. Just look at Sajith Premadasa and the Rajapaksa boys. For that matter at Rahul Gandhi in India. The JVP’s pedigree that still puts off many people, and one that its media detractors will never stop dragging to the front, is totally political and not at all biological. While Anura Kumara Dissanayake has proved himself to be a worthy leader of the organization and is today the only frontline leader for the progressive forces, he does not seem to have been able to fully exorcise the violent legacies of 1971 and 1988. And even though the JVP/NPP has expanded its social base to include urban middle classes, it is still found to be wanting in its economic capabilities despite its well-rehearsed forays into business forums.

It is not that the UNP or the SLFP, never mind the SLPP, had sound economic platforms when they were launched as political parties, but they had buy-in from representative sections of the business classes. Conversely and equally, Sri Lanka’s business classes showed their economic ignorance when they flocked behind Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their business saviour.

It would be impossible for a Left political party to win the fulsome support of the business community now or ever. However, from the standpoint of political electability the JVP cannot afford to scare away voters by appearing to be dogmatically stubborn. And from a popularity standpoint, the delaying of the local elections may have contributed to a plateauing of the people’s support for JVP/NPP and their platforms. Put another way, Anura Kumara Dissanayake himself may have peaked to his full potential even before any election has been called. That is coincidental benefit for Ranil Wickremesinghe.

So, here is my wild card prospecting. What if the JVP/NPP, instead of waiting for President Wickremesinghe to drop his preferred election shoe, or writ, take its own initiative and campaign vigorously and continuously for any and all elections? In addition, why cannot the JVP/NPP boldly present new political leadership faces to a country that has been tired sick of seeing the same Ranil-Rajapaksa faces for over 25 years? It can present its leaders for provincial councils from among young professionals and dedicated activists who live in the provinces and are not party hacks in Colombo. Anura Kumara Dissanayake has proven himself to be an accomplished parliamentarian, not to the same lofty heights as NM Perera, but very high indeed by today’s parliamentary standards. He is the obvious choice and should be the JVP/NPP’s candidate for Prime Minister in a parliamentary election.

As for the presidential candidate to square off against Ranil Wickremesinghe, who seems to be all convinced in his own calculations that he can finally pull off victory in a presidential election, why not shock him by presenting Harini Amarasuriya as the JVP/NPP presidential candidate? One would hope that she would be agreeable to undertaking the challenge. There can be no doubt whatsoever that her candidacy will pleasantly surprise the country and that it will be well received.

Dr. Amarasuriya is obviously more qualified than most of her predecessors, and most of all she would bring to the job what none of her predecessors would or could have brought: honesty, sincerity, commitment and trustworthiness. Given the JVP/NPP’s commitment to abolish the elected executive presidency, Dr. Amarasuriya would be the most disinterested and electable candidate who could be trusted to deliver on the promise of abolishment. That would set up an illuminating contrast to the opaque untrustworthiness of Ranil Wickremesinghe. It will be an electoral battle worth having. The country deserves it and needs it. And there is inspiration from Thailand to make it happen.

Sajith and Rahul

If the JVP/NPP could look to the Young Turks in Thailand for electoral inspiration, Sajith Premadasa could turn to Rahul Gandhi to build hopes about political revival. Rahul Gandhi had failed to make a mark as a rising Congress leader even before Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister. After becoming Prime Minister, Modi set about erasing Rahul Gandhi as a political marker of any kind. He even got his attack dogs to use the devise the defamation to get the courts to find Rahul Gandhi liable for a stupid joke at the Modi name and then used the legal verdict to remove Mr. Gandhi from parliament.

The dynamic between Sajith Premadasa and Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) are not at all comparable to the antagonism between Modi and Gandhi. The Ranil-Sajith tussle has always been an internal party matter, with each side trying to score same-side goals, until Sajith broke loose and set up the SJB. The young Premadasa’s failure to establish himself as the undisputed leader of the UNP formation is more due to his own limitations than can be attributed to RW’s machinations. Not that the latter has not been up to them in more ways than one, but an abler politician than Sajith Premadasa would have turned the tables on Ranil Wickremesinghe a long time ago. It is the same sense of limitations that one has about Rahul Gandhi in India.

In the Sri Lankan context, it is objectively possible to see a path forward and to power for the JVP/NPP. Whether they will actually achieve something worthwhile is a different question. My point is that, at least for this writer, it is not possible to see a path forward for Sajith Premadasa. That does not mean there is no path for him or that he will never find one. My charitable suggestion is that Mr. Premadasa could build up hopes for his future in Sri Lanka from the Karnataka state elections and the outright victory for the Congress which has also been a great moral booster for Rahul Gandhi. A final word on the Karnataka results – the BJP’s significant defeat and the Congress’s even more significant victory.

The Congress won 135 of the 224 Assembly seats, a gain of 55 seats from the 80 seats it won in 2018. The BJP was hoping to be the first incumbent government in Karnataka to win reelection, but ended with 66 seats, losing 38 seats from the 104 it won last time. The size of the loss looms larger because of the size of the effort that the BJP expended in this election – fully utilizing its double-engine (central and state) government resources, exploiting Hindutva sentiments and inter-caste competitiveness, and steamrolling the State with the well-oiled Modi campaign juggernaut. The setback in Karnataka reinforces the BJP’s failure to establish a political stronghold in the southern states. West Bengal in the east has been equally unwelcome to the BJP as the south.

The Congress’s impressive show, within five months of winning the State election in Himachal Pradesh, is not only a great booster for the Congress in the electoral battles ahead, but also a warning to the BJP of its increasing vulnerabilities in even the northern and western states of India. While the Lok Sabha elections are due in 2024, there will be more state elections this year in three other states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The Congress won in all three of them in 2018, and will be looking for repeats this year. The Karnataka success will feed into even greater optimism for the fortunes of the Congress Party and the political future of Rahul Gandhi.



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Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?

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By Maduranga Kalugampitiya

The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!

While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.

What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.

Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.

Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.

Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.

In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.

If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.

In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.

(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Selective targeting not law’s purpose

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By Jehan Perera

The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.

Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.

But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.

HURTFUL SENTIMENTS

The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.

Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.

In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.

SELECTIVE TARGETING

The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”

Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.

The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.

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Girl power… to light up our scene

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Manthra: Pop, rock and Sinhala songs

We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!

The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.

Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.

It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.

Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).

Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).

Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.

They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).

Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.

The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.

Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.

Hiruni Fernando: Founder and leader of Manthra

She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.

“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”

With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.

“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.

Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!

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