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‘Killi’ Rajamahendran: One of a kind




The passing away of one of the last of Sri Lanka’s ‘Big Men’ drew immediate concern as to the state of independent broadcasting in Sri Lanka. Such was the impact that Rajendram Rajamahendran – who passed away in July 2021 – had on the political and commercial landscape of this island nation.

Our paths crossed some years ago when I decided to compile a book on the wealthy in Sri Lanka. I had to create some hype and awareness and I called on good fortune from the past. A maternal uncle of mine had worked for the Maharaja Organisation, and had maintained a good rapport with Mr Rajamahendran. After my uncle’s death the friendship continued, with my aunt keeping in touch along with my cousin who was working in the region. I called my cousin and aunt and asked for a reintroduction to Mr Rajamahendran. I got an email invitation to see him in his office. We had a brief chat and he then said I was to coordinate with Chevaan Daniel for whatever publicity I needed for the book. I had coverage on radio, television interviews and cover on the prime-time news. My friend, Angela Seneviratne, assured me that I had got more than anyone would have wanted.

After the launch I asked for an appointment and went to the head office, armed with limited edition copies of the book. Mr Rajamahendran greeted me and as we walked towards his office he laughed and said, ‘With all your detective work you could not get a photograph of me’. I admitted that was the case and related that my printer had sourced one for me and had quoted Rs 50,000 over the phone. I explained to the Boss that even if the man had quoted 250,000, I would have happily paid and confirmed over the phone. It was his turn to smile, but he was happier when I told him that the offer of a picture for Rs 50,000 was not of him anyway! He was very private and didn’t want any publicity for himself. The boss thanked me for the books I presented to him, and told me that he had purchased several copies off the shelf from a leading departmental store, which was the first to stock the book. He had already supported me!

A colossus

Mr Rajamahendran was truly a colossus. When I saw an advert for a fireside chat proclaiming that six daring businessmen would be present, I immediately took umbrage. ‘What’s the point I would say to anyone who would listen, the only daring person in our country has to be ‘RR’ – my favourite mantra was ‘RR built the Maharaja Organisation twice over. We are now better than ever before’. The boss believed not in publicity, but in truth. I always found it interesting that despite his private personality, he owned easily the most vociferous media stable in the country. He was passionately and pro-actively involved in his media stables. He uniquely possessed an intrinsic understanding of the people’s unspoken voice.

In 2015, the story that would eventually change the Governor of the Central Bank, replace the then Minister of Finance, responsible for the calling of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry and perhaps reshaping the trajectory of the political landscape in Sri Lanka, broke ground. News1st led the way in highlighting the blatant conflict of interest, and the political patronage extended to the perpetrators, in what was to become popularly known as the Central Bank Bond Scam. The Attorney General’s department described it as the largest ever financial fraud inflicted upon the people of Sri Lanka.

Not once did Mr Rajamahendran flinch from carrying on the expose of all exposes in contemporary Sri Lankan history. By then Mr Rajamahendran had already spotted a niche in the market, and Newsline Live was born in July 2015. We broadcast at the almost god forsaken hour of 7 am. My colleague, the former Presidential Spokesperson and later diplomat, Bandula Jayasekera, had his own early-morning programme “Pathikada” on Sirasa. Internally there was opposition to both Bandula and me. The boss made the final decision and we were on our way. Bandula always reminded me that we were opening the batting for the Group. Ensure, he warned me gravely, don’t put the Boss in a bad mood with a poor performance; the rest of the Group will blame us, he assured me. What more inspiration did we need other than to satisfy the exacting expectations of our Chairman. We were both mature enough to understand that he was in effect mentoring our programmes.

It became a matter for concern amongst colleagues that no matter what the subject of discussion was, Newsline found a way to highlight the bond scam and the sheer audacity of then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Chevaan Daniel came up with the 6-minute radio talk segment on YesFm ‘Talk of the Town’. There were rumblings of discontent about my continuous highlighting of the then Prime Minister’s failings in the Bond Scam. The prime time Talk of the Town was shifted to an hour later. The boss advised me that I ought to stand my ground. Boss gave me as he did to all, opportunity. As the de facto Editor in Chief he could have ordered me to change my content – but no he did not interfere.


Mr Rajamahendran was forthright. Not once did he ask me to change my presentation of the Bond Scam. We collected a team of regular commentators, one of whom was described by a then serving Judge of the Supreme Court as a TV Advocate. Mr Rajamahendran was incensed that the public’s monies had been squandered and virtually robbed by the perpetrators of the Bond Scam. He did not leave any stone unturned. He even called whilst on holiday abroad to remind the Editorial team to keep the Bond Scam in the spotlight.

Mr Rajamahendran to me was the ultimate creator of opportunity. So many youngsters were quietly funded by him to further their education. When they succeeded more responsibility was thrust upon them – enabling them to shine on. Some even left the Group but Boss did not hold anything against them. Even the gentleman would only have expected them to have the courtesy of informing him they were going. Mr Rajamahendran’s gentlemanly ways were infectious. Boss would routinely walk down to the car park and bid his goodbyes there. Once a visiting Head of State wanted to have a cuppa with the Boss after a small event. They retreated to what I often called ‘the comfort zone’ – Boss’s office. The Leaders’ security detail were beside themselves, when a very long time had elapsed with no sign of the Leader emerging. They had tried to guide the Leader to his car after the event only to be told by their Leader, ‘I am having a cup of tea with my friend’. Boss insisted that no matter how contentious the topic of discussion, guests on our network were just that – guests, visiting our home. We were not to get personal and ‘attack them’ – debate the issue professionally and be gentlemanly about it. And of course, the Boss was intensely loyal. Woe betide anyone who made false accusations against any of us journalists. On a live programme once he demanded that a guest retract his accusation against me that I was slinging mud. He wanted the guest to know that I was very much part of the CMG networks.

Yet another occasion, when I was discussing a national leader, I kept referring to him as Mr So and So. He looked at me and said you know the proper way is to use the title, Honourable. I said but this person is anything but. That’s the way it must be – counselling, ‘give the correct title.’

There was a boyish, mischievousness in him as well. One weekend I decided to take my friends from Britain’s Channel 4 to Mannar. It was a visit that had nothing to do with the Group, and I was careful to not involve them. The Londoners were convinced that the skeletal remains being uncovered were related to the troubles of the ethnic conflict. I wanted to show them that in the so-called new ambiance Sri Lanka was ‘uncovering’ as opposed to ‘covering up’.


Imagine my surprise when I was on the primetime news that evening highlighting me as being on the trail of a big story! Well if Channel 4 had been right it would have been a scoop. The remains were later identified by a Florida lab as being 600 plus years old – long before Prabhakaran was even dreamt of. When I went to South Korea with my friend Asoka Wijegunaratne, with a stop over in Hong Kong, everyone in the office including and especially Bandula Jayasekera, were convinced I was on the trail for Arjuna Mahendran. It was a lot of fun but it was serious too.

Many were the times that I was sent off to meet legal eagles about some angle that manifested itself. At times I feared the cost involved. But I soon learned that what Boss wanted was to be perfectly correct, not only from a moral perspective but also from a legal view. It would be fair to say that My Boss found the advisories from legal frustrating at times, holding him – us – back from going gung-ho after culprits. It never stopped him and the News1st identity kept going year-in year-out, whoever was in power. It didn’t mean in the slightest that he downgraded legal counsel, merely that he found it impinging on his style of news – a free spirit of news. It was clear to me that thanks to the opportunity created by Rajendram Rajamahendran, our network was the permanent opposition to any government in power. On air, live, I could not simply be quiet – I announced that in my view my Boss ought to be the Prime Minister. Boss was unimpressed – he chided me immediately with one word by SMS. I had a cup of coffee with him immediately after the programme.

Perhaps one of the greatest tributes came from former Governor and President’s Counsel Maithri Gunaratne. He said that Mr Rajamahendran was the real opposition to any government of the day. It was almost like no matter who won and how handsome the margin of victory was, the real opposition was found in the voice of his media stables, all popularly known by the one name: Sirasa. It has been said that had the circumstance of his birth been different – that is if he had been born a Sinhalese son of the soil – he would have attained the highest office in this independent nation.

Many regretted the timing of his passing: with Sri Lanka in the throes of its most exacting and challenging period in its entire history. The CV19 pandemic has affected every nook and cranny of the nation, and there has been no let in the amount of money and time being squandered, either on vanity projects or projects purely designed to please the in-house stooges of the day. The people only ever got the fungi-laden crumbs anyway – the principal mitigatory power remained the Maharaja Organisation (CMG) media stables Sirasa, Shakthi and TV1 and its radio stations. Boss was the driving force and was unafraid to remain strong in the face of the most intense intimidatory tactics. Many others of lesser stature would have done a U-turn a long time ago. Not for him the U-turn. The Boss was truly the Iron Man of Sri Lanka.

Hard work

President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, where he is now the Speaker, described Mr Rajamahendran’s success as sheer hard work. Indeed it was. Some years ago I asked for an appointment to see him. My SMS went out at just past 5 am. He responded immediately, ‘come now’. I met him two and a half hours later – after my programme. Naturally I asked about the early timing. He assured me that he had been in office since early morning as he had discovered an issue with our flagship operation, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it. He was intense, He was always decisive and constantly incisive.

It has taken me a long time to finish this article, which I started within minutes of learning of his passing from a friend. Chevaan Daniel is not in the habit of waking us up in the early hours. When my Samsung displayed Chevaan Daniel, I knew this was the confirmation that I had just heard. I was devastated. Boss was strong in mind and in physique. In my view Boss had a good 12 years of leadership in him. Incongruously he passed on July 25th – when, on that same day, several years ago, our group was burning to ashes. Rajendram Rajamahendran rose from those ashes, Phoenix like, to recreate the Maharaja Organisation to be better, stronger than we ever were.

The ‘Killi’ legacy is a springboard for our Group’s future. No one will be happier than ‘RR’ that all of whom he has left behind will aspire to use that springboard, to take all our businesses to even greater heights, whilst fully and unequivocally being truly representative of Sri Lanka’s opportunity, hopes and aspirations. Boss was intensely proud to be Sri Lankan. He was proud of his roots despite the many sticks and stones – and bombs – that were thrown his way.

In a philosophical way it was perhaps comforting that this gentle giant left in the way he did – a victim to the pandemic CV19. The alternative may well have been leaving us all as a victim of a lack of political self-confidence, perhaps in a far more brutal and malicious manner.

The wreaths that we did not receive we know all about – from the hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka and around the world, who were shocked by his untimely demise and expressed their sorrow and prayed for the soul of Mr Rajendram Rajamahendran.

Ultimately the facts are these: that a young man from Colombo took his business with for a while his brother Maha, to enormous heights ending up as one of the largest privately held conglomerates in Sri Lanka. To appreciate the enormity of his contribution to the broadcast media, one must understand that Boss was a man from the minority community. He had no need to wear a badge of honour. He truly was a son of this soil. He truly believed that we in Sri Lanka were as one – save for some miscreants who traded then and even do so now, on the cheapness of the communal card. That did not detract Boss, and he strove on his forward trajectory of the ultimate: One Sri Lanka.

Rajendram Rajamahendran was born a Maharaja. He lived his life as a Maharajah. Farewell Boss, forever missed, forever will you remain My Chief Inspirator. Lala Salama Mzee Rajendram Rajamahendran – One of a Kind.

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Impressive Indian scene…



Some of the live streaming events, on social media, have brought into the limelight quite a few impressive performers, hailing from India.

Just recently, I checked out the live performance of Stephanie Sutari, and her sister Desiree, and found the duo very entertaining, and so the spotlight this week is focused on the singing sisters.

Stephanie says it’s her very supportive parents who encouraged her to go for piano/music classes, at a young age of eight, as a hobby. Later, she joined the church choir and participated at various singing competitions.

Before long, Stephanie was lending her voice for voiceovers and jingles for advertisements.

Ssys Stephanie: “I only considered it as a career option, in my late teens. So I completed my post-graduation, in Media, but decided to follow my heart and take up singing, full time.”

However, coming from a non-musical background, it was a challenge for Stephanie to make her way into the industry, but, she says, she was determined and extremely driven.

“They say, the universe falls in love with a stubborn heart, so, initially, I stayed in my comfort zone and started singing, professionally, in English only…but living in Mumbai – the heart of Bollywood, I decided to utilise my resources and get out of my comfort zone; you may call it fate (I believe it’s my grandparents blessings), I was offered a break with one of the best entertainment bands in India – Rodney and the Band, at the age of 22. Yes, I became a full time Bollywood singer and started touring with them, all over the world.”

Talented Stephanie branched out, from singing only English songs, to enhance her repertoire by including songs in over 10 languages – Telugu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Konkani, Marathi, Hindi (Indian languages), Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and a few African languages, like Zulu, Duala.

She has performed for over 1000 shows, all over the world, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai, Bahrain, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Lagos, and Indonesia.

“I love to travel and if I’m not travelling on work (which is extremely rare), I travel on vacation….My most favourite travel destination is Europe, with Switzerland and Paris being right on top.”

Stephanie goes on to say that the best part of her family gatherings was the sing-along sessions and she then realised how music had the power to uplift people’s mood.

“So, when the pandemic hit, I started an official Stephanie S page, on Facebook, to help people go through the tough times, with a little hope, and went I live, once a week, to bring people, and their love for music, together. The response was overwhelming ‘cos I reached out to so many people, from all over the world, from the comfort of my home. The interesting fact is, I got my best friend Mathew Varghese, on board, who controls the entire audio and video technicalities, sitting in another country, Kuwait, online.

“My little sister, Desiree, who has a magical voice, and moves that drove my viewers crazy, soon became an integral part of my live performances, as well, and today she’s more in demand for her charisma and melodious singing. She has just started her musical journey but has a promising future in music ahead of her.”

Referring to her future plans, Stephanie said it’s to make a mark in the global music industry, by showcasing her talent.

And, her message to the next generation: “It’s important to follow your dreams, but it’s also important to complete your education first. Knowledge is Power,”

Winding up our chit-chat, Stephanie said she has never been to Sri Lanka but is eagerly looking forward to spending a vacation in the ‘Wonder of Asia’ as soon as time permits.

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Dissemination of ‘real time’ meteorological information to domestic aviation community



On July 3, 1971, during the first JVP insurgency, while I was working with the then Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF), based at China Bay, in Trincomalee, I reported to the squadron early morning and was told by our Officer Commanding the No. 3 Maritime Squadron, Flt Lt Denzil Fernando, that I was assigned to fly as ‘Second Dickie’ to Sergeant-Pilot Tony (Tuan Mohamed Zachariah) Dole in a de Havilland Dove with serial (registration) CS 406. We were to go to Vavuniya to pick up the then Government Agent (GA), Neville Jayaweera, and take him to Ratmalana (RMA).

Our trip to Vavuniya was uneventful, except that the runway, unused for many years, had been cleared and secured by the Army, with soldiers standing at regular intervals along the full length of the runway. After the GA boarded the plane we got airborne and set course for Ratmalana. It was a bit cloudy when we started. Soon the clouds got heavier, and we had to fly through the clouds to maintain our course. Not long afterwards, the weather became worse, and turbulence in the clouds caused our eight-seater D.H. 104 Dove to shake like a leaf in the wind.

The twin-engine transport plane didn’t have Airborne Weather Radar (AWR) to avoid rain clouds. AWR works on the principle that the more turbulent a cloud, the greater the mass of water it will support. This will ‘bounce’ off radar signals emitted by the aircraft, and will be proportional to the cloud thickness, thereby providing an image of the turbulence, within the cloud mass, as indicated on a screen in the cockpit of the aircraft.

Without AWR, our only option was to reduce speed to make the ride as comfortable as possible for the GA (and us), not unlike when driving on a bumpy road, and then ‘eyeballing’ the weather and hoping for the best by avoiding the more intense rain clouds. The only weather forecast reports available to us were for China Bay and Ratmalana airports, but no information whatsoever on observed weather en route.

By now, flying in cloud, we had lost sight of the ground and were unsure of our position. We were avoiding clouds to the best of our ability. The vertical development of some of the clouds were in excess of 10,000 ft at some places. So we decided to go below the cloud base, which was fortunately higher than existing terrain, so we could maintain sight of ground or water to pinpoint our position. In aviation parlance, this is known as a ‘visual fix’ of position.

We also flew further west towards the coast to reduce the chances of rising terrain (hills). Soon we spotted, through the rain, the unmistakable coastline, of Kalpitiya and Puttalam, enabling us to positively establish our position. We then continued to follow the coastline at low leve,l to RMA, flying under the jet aircraft approach path at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Katunayake, and towards Colombo.

The air traffic control towers at Katunayake and Ratmalana were also reporting heavy rain showers. We found a patch clear of cloud, south of the Ratmalana airport, over Bolgoda Lake, and began circling there. But Sgt. Dole had an ace up his sleeve. He told me that showers present under cloud cells usually come in waves that transit the airport, and the best bet was to wait and land between the showers that we could see well from our vantage point in the south.

Sure enough, as soon as one rain shower passed the airport, we were well positioned to turn in and land in relatively clear weather with only a slight drizzle, before the next downpour hit.

This was exactly 50 years ago. We didn’t have radio navigational aid, except the Non-Directional Beacons (NDBs) at China Bay, BIA and Ratmalana that operated on low to medium frequency and were affected by bad weather (thunderstorms) and thus rendered useless in our circumstances described here. In fact, the signals emitted by Radio Ceylon were sometimes stronger! In addition, there were two Very High Frequency (VHF) Omni Radio Range stations (VORs) at BIA and RMA, but our aircraft was not equipped with a receiver that could be used in conjunction with the VORs. They were meant for the ‘big aircraft’. Other countries had Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) associated with the VOR, but not Ceylon.

Therefore, pilots had to navigate by a process called ‘Dead Reckoning’, which involved estimated ground speed and time over known ground features (cities, rivers, roads, railway lines and buildings for example). ‘If you reckoned wrong you were dead!’ To add insult to injury, we didn’t have ‘real-time’ observed meteorological information available to us in terms of cloud base and intensity of rain to help us make informed decisions as to what route to follow.

Today, technology has improved worldwide in leaps and bounds. We have ‘smart’ cellular phones and tablets with Global Positioning Systems (GPS). We have capabilities of providing better facilities to domestic air traffic, consisting of landplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. For many years we have had a radar station positioned on Pidurutalagala, the highest point in the island. In fact, we can even monitor certain areas of South India.

Unfortunately, real-time meteorological information is still not available as Sri Lanka has not invested in a communications system capable of providing such information. More than 15 years ago, Singapore installed a radar system at Changi Airport that was capable of giving information to pilots on the intensity of rainfall relative to their airports. We are told that Sri Lanka’s Meteorological Department invested Rs.200 million, in 2013, on a Doppler radar system which, in their so-called ‘wisdom’, they wanted to site at Deniyaya. But it was never installed, and the equipment is now in storage in damaged condition after it went ‘down the pallang’ while being transported there!

Today, there are many free websites which provide highly accurate satellite-based weather forecast information at a click of a button. It is also available on ground to flight dispatchers. It is therefore sad to note that the weather forecasts, produced by our Meteorological Department (who should be playing a key role) are not used by the aviation community, almost certainly due to a lack of confidence on the part of pilots and aviation operations officers. It should also be noted that in Sri Lankan domestic aviation, along with the satellite weather forecasts, the actual observed weather, must go hand in hand. Even this is still not provided by the Met’ Department. I believe that this is a major lapse.

The following incident illustrates the stark reality of what the current situation is for domestic operators. A few days ago, a commercially important passenger (CIP) was flown to Anuradhapura by a domestic air charter company to attend celebrations commemorating the two-year anniversary in office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The outbound flight to Anuradhapura was uneventful. For the return flight to RMA, the flight dispatcher based at Ratmalana had to plan the flight. While the general weather forecast was rain, standard practice relied on the observed actual en route weather by police stations on the way: at Galgamuwa, Nikaweratiya, Kuliyapitiya, Divulapitiya, Palavi, Chilaw, Wenappuwa and Negombo.

All these observers are local police personnel, not qualified aviation or meteorological professionals. Consequently, their very subjective ‘met reports’ are along the lines of “the sky is dark”, “it is about to rain”, “it is now drizzling” or “heavy showers”, from which the flight dispatcher has to form a mental picture of what the en route weather is. One wonders what the insurance implications would be if an accident occurs.

To continue, the hapless pilot at Anuradhapura, who was in touch with his dispatcher on his cellular phone before departure, had to evaluate the risks and make an informed decision. Like Sgt. Dole and I did 50 years ago, he had to get airborne and ‘play it by ear’, so to speak. So, having reached the western coastline, he followed it all the way to Ratmalana. As a matter of interest, I was able to follow the progress of this single-engine light aircraft through one of the free apps on my smartphone, via satellite. That is what prompted this article.

I regard it as an absolute shame that in the last 50 years the Colombo Met’ Department has been unable to provide useful ‘real-time’ meteorological observations to domestic air operations. Yet to satisfy the international aviation community in the gathering of weather data, they have observation stations at all of Sri Lanka’s international airports. But it is a case of thus far and no further. Scrutinising the Meteorological Department’s website will reveal that they have weather observation stations in Kankesanturai (KKS), Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Mahailluppallama, Puttalam, Batticaloa, Kurunegala, Kandy, Nuwara-Eliya, Badulla, Diyatalawa, Pottuvil, Ratnapura, Katunayake, Ratmalana, Galle and Hambantota. These stations are connected to the World Weather Watch (WWW) through a Global Telecommunication Network (GTS). I do not know whether they are automatic as in other parts of the world, or require a qualified human observer.

The sad part is that this real-time information is not available to domestic aviation operators (of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters) who have to rely on amateurish police station observations and information. If the observed real-time weather is brought online with a good communications network comprising more observation stations established at all the other domestic airports, weather updates will enhance and synergize air safety in real-time.

I do not know who is responsible for this unacceptable state of affairs, but certainly the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL), the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), and the ‘keepers’ of some of the domestic airports should coordinate with the Met’ Office and have real-time weather reports available for all domestic flights.

More recently it has been reported, in the local media that the Colombo Met’ Office and Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have signed an agreement for two more weather radar stations, to be sited at Puttalam and Pottuvil, to replace the one that never ‘got off the ground’ at Deniyaya. Will JICA be able to help in establishing automatic observation stations accessible to domestic aviators, to determine and report on such vital meteorological data as cloud base, intensity of rain, wind direction and speed, and temperature, as a fundamental component of good communication?

It is sad that the ‘end users’ are never consulted in important matters such as these.

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The ‘Summit for Democracy’ and its welcome stress on governance quality



A ‘Summit for Democracy’ conceptualized and organized by the US is expected to be conducted on December 9th and 10th in virtual mode and some major world powers, such as China and Russia, have not been invited to it. Such developments ought not to prompt any sections that matter in this connection to look askance at the US over its choice of invitees in consideration of the fact that politics are very much at the heart of such decision-making. It could not be otherwise, since politics are the ‘stuff and substance’ of international relations.

It should not come as a surprise too if the aim of the US in calling this forum is to project its power and influence globally. This should be expected of a super power. The forum could have the effect of accentuating international political cleavages and this too must be expected. Realpolitik is what we are up against in this summit to a considerable degree and it could not be otherwise.

However, the hope of progressives the world over is likely to be that the essentials of democracy would come to be discussed and stressed, despite these serious constraints posed by politics. It is also hoped that the quality of democracy would receive adequate scrutiny and ways worked out as to how accountable governance could be advanced. In the absence of these inputs the summit would come to nought.

Democratic opinion the world over considers democracy to be chief among the US’ soft power assets. If the US political leadership thinks so too, the opportunity has come its way through the summit in question to prove to the world that this is really so. For example, the US cannot shy away from the need to make its territory safe and welcoming for all its ethnic communities, particularly minority groups.

The US should ideally be guided by the principle that every form of life within its boundaries ‘matters’. Such questions are at the heart of democratic advancement. The resolution of issues of this kind by any purported democracy has a close bearing on the quality of democracy manifested in it.

Reverence for life is at the centre of democracy. In this connection it is discouraging to note that students and teachers are continuing to be gunned-down in some US High Schools. In one such recent incident, two students and a teacher had been reportedly killed in a High School in Michigan, while scores of others had been injured. As a self-professed advanced democracy, the US is obliged to re-examine its Gun Laws and explore the possibility of doing away with them, so as to protecting life and nurturing a pro-peace culture within its borders. However, the US’ obligations by way of advancing the quality of its democracy do not end here. Much more needs to be done in a range of issue areas, but Gun Laws ought to be prime among its concerns.

India and Pakistan are two key states in South Asia that have been invited to the summit and this ought to be a high moment for them. Since South Asia’s advancement in a number of areas depends crucially on these regional heavyweights the hope of progressives is likely to be that the people of South Asia would gain eventually through the engagement of India and Pakistan in these deliberations on democracy.

The fact that Sri Lanka has been left out of the summit ought to be worrying for it. Fire-breathing nationalist opinion in Sri Lanka is likely to be of the view that this counts for nothing and that the US is in no position to sit in judgement over other countries on issues relating to democratic development. These nationalists are also likely to vociferate that Sri Lanka could depend on its ‘all-weather friends’ in Asia for support in a number of areas and that Western support is not of much consequence for its sustenance.

But such positions fly in the face of hard political and economic realities. To begin with, no major power in Asia would come to Sri Lanka’s rescue at the cost of its own political and economic links with the West. These powers’ economic wellbeing is integral to their having cordial ties with the US, for instance. China cannot afford to neglect its trade and investment ties with the US and vice versa. China would not risk too much for Sri Lanka’s sake.

Besides, there is the case of Uganda to consider. It has scarred itself badly by mortgaging some of its real estate to outside powers. Today, the latter are reportedly staking a claim to what they seem to have lost by forcibly occupying the territories concerned in Uganda. Small countries, such as Sri Lanka, have no choice but to relate cordially with all the major powers.

Of the subjects that are expected to come up for discussion at the summit, ‘Advancing respect for human rights’, ought to be of prime importance. This is at the heart of democratic development and it ought to be clear that countries that do not respect fundamental human rights could not be part of any discussion on democracy. Accordingly, authoritarian states cannot sit at conference tables of this kind. It ought to be equally plain that ‘one man rule’ or one-party rule could not figure in these talks since such dispensations are antithetical to basic human rights.

Currently, even in the West, the suitability of the US to head the summit in focus is being vigorously questioned and there are acceptable grounds for this. While it could be argued that the US is a flawed democracy, it needs to be remembered that the foremost democracies are growing, evolving and dynamic systems and are not static and stagnant in nature in those cultural environments that favour their adoption. Accordingly, democracy cannot be rigorously defined. Essentially, it could be defined only in terms of what it is not. For example, political systems that do not nurture individual rights cannot pass muster as democracies.

Thus, the summit offers opportunities for a fruitful discussion on what must be done to keep democracy ticking. Ideally, major democracies in Asia too need to conduct such parleys on ways of benchmarking democratic advancement. India, for one, could take on this responsibility, being one of the most advanced democracies in our region.

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