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Kumar David at 80: Engineer, Scholar, Socialist

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by Rajan Philips

Professor Kumar David will be turning 80 later this week, on July 29. He is most familiar to readers of the Sunday Island as one of its regular columnists – trenchant, funny, irreverent, provocative, but always well informed and substantial. Most readers also know that Kumar David is a great deal more than a weekly columnist. More than occasionally, he has donned his academic cap as a Professor of Electrical Engineering to wade into Sri Lanka’s power and energy sector and its recurrent crises. At least on one occasion he turned his column into a public lecture to his former students at the Ceylon Electricity Board, reminding them of what he taught them at Peradeniya about electricity pricing and asking what on earth they were doing as practicing Engineers in determining consumer electricity tariffs to suit misguided government policy. Often, he uses his space to popularize science in the manner of a dedicated teacher bringing his students up to date with recent advances in science and technology, and revisiting old debates with the enthusiasm of yore but with new information and nuances.

As an Electrical Engineer, Kumar David has scaled the mountain height both in the world of academia and in the power supply and transmission industry. He graduated with First Class Honours in Electrical Engineering from the University of Ceylon in 1963. He was a Commonwealth Scholar for three years (1966-1969) at the Imperial College of Science & Technology, University of London, completing his PhD and DIC in 1969.

He is a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the USA, receiving citations for his contributions to the restructuring of the electricity supply industry and transmission development, which has been his main research area in recent decades. In Sri Lanka, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Ceylon Electricity Board when he was 29. He has been an industry consultant in Asian and African countries. He has held visiting professorships and research positions in universities in the US and Sweden.

He taught at Peradeniya for over ten years until 1980, in Zimbabwe for three years (1980-1983), and from 1983 for over 25 years in Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where he retired as Dean, Faculty of Engineering. He was the first non-European to become Dean of Engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic, which is a centre of excellence for students from China and other neighbouring countries. Kumar David has navigated the rites of passage for generations of students in Sri Lanka, Africa and many Asian countries obtaining their undergraduate and graduate degrees in Engineering.

 

A Lifelong Sama Samajist

For all his extended sojourns overseas, Kumar David never totally left the country, and certainly not its politics. He remains a Sri Lankan citizen, he is not a (dual) citizen of any other country, and he carries only a Sri Lankan passport. When he began his weekly writings in the Sunday Island 15 years ago, he was beginning his retirement as Dean of Engineering in Hong Kong. To strike a nostalgic note, Kumar David and I belong to a group of Sri Lankans who would be happy to be identified as students of the Hector Abhyavardhana school of political writing. Other and more illustrious members of the group include Tissa Vitarana, Vijaya Kumar, Shantha de Alwis, Chris Rodrigo, Sumanasiri Liyanage, Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Jayantha Somasundaram, and the late Ajith Samaranayake.

Hector, an accomplished Marxist intellectual and LSSP theoretician, never wrote for the mainstream media. First in India (1945-1960) and later in Sri Lanka, he published his own political journals. We wrote for Hector in Sri Lanka. Our foray into mainstream media is a relatively recent development. Interestingly, if not coincidentally, Tissa Vitarana, Kumar David, and yours truly appear practically every week in the Sunday Island. Our political angles are different, but as Bala Tampoe said while appearing on the same platform, in Kandy, with his erstwhile mentor Dr. Colvin R de Silva, soon after Colvin became a United Front Government Minister in 1970, “Our positions may be different, but our priorities should remain the same.”

Kumar David, S. Balakrishnan and I might be the only people alive of the core group that included Fr. Paul Caspersz, Bala Tampoe, Upali Cooray, Jayaratne Maliyagoda, Prins Rajasooriya, Yohan Devananda, and Regi Siriwardena, who launched the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) in 1979. Silan Kadirgamar spearheaded the MIRJE Branch in Jaffna. MIRJE fact finding missions visited Jaffna and documented human rights violations during the 1979 Emergency and the burning of the Public Library in 1981. It is pathetic to see now spurious narratives being bandied to falsify the unfalsifiable truth about the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. Be that as it may.

Kumar has been a lifelong political activist. Indeed, a lifelong Sama Samajist. Inspired by the 1953 Hartal, he joined the LSSP Youth Movement at the age of 12. And 68 years on, he has not looked back, but marched on. He became a full Member of the LSSP as a first-year undergraduate in 1960, and functioned as Secretary of the LSSP University Local (Branch). He was one of the two youngest members (the other being Lal Wijeynaike, Lawyer and now of the NPP) at the historic 1964 Conference of the Party. It was a Special Conference held on June 6 and 7, to resolve the ‘coalition question.’ The majority resolution calling for an SLFP-LSSP government moved by NM Perera and 21 Central Committee Members prevailed.

Those who moved the defeated left-opposition resolution rejecting the SLFP-LSSP coalition, including stalwarts like Edmund Samarakoddy and Bala Tampoe, dramatically walked out of the conference and broke away from the Party. As the dust of drama settled, a devastated Kumar David had sunk to the floor below the stage, when a huge hand reaching from above tapped his head and a deep voice followed: “It’s not the end of the world, young man.” It was Colvin, who with Leslie Goonewardene and Bernard Soysa, had moved the “centrist resolution’ calling for a progressive SLFP-ULF government. That resolution was also defeated but they did not leave the Party.

In 1970, Kumar David was one of a triumvirate of young Sama Samajists who set up a secret internal left faction (Vaama Sama Samaja group) within the LSSP. The prime mover was Wickramabahu Karunaratne (Bahu), and the third member was Vasudeva Nanayakkara. All three were rising stars in the LSSP that had just won a massive electoral victory as a coalition partner of the United Front of the SLFP, the LSSP and the CP. Kumar was 29 and Bahu 27, and both were young lecturers in Engineering at Peradeniya. Vasudeva was 31 and the film star face of the future LSSP. Vasudeva and Bahu were members of the LSSP Central Committee and Kumar David was on the Board of Directors of the (Ceylon) Electricity Board. The aim of the secret faction was to restore the LSSP to its pre-1964 roots through an internal struggle from within the Party, without leaving the Party. By 1977, however, all three were outside the LSSP and had launched the new Nava Sama Samaja Party.

1977 also marked the electoral decimation of the Sri Lankan Left, and decimation, as well, of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary system. The terms of politics changed with the new presidential system, the opening of the economy, and the violent eruption of the national question. The end of the internal war in 2009 precipitated new challenges while old problems have kept pressing for new solutions. The base fundamentals have not changed but new superstructural issues have emerged and become dominant. The old generation of leaders, the old Left leaders in particular, who dominated post-independence politics are now gone, and the new generation of politicians who are filling the vacuum are neither well-grounded in the institutions they have inherited, nor are they particularly well equipped to adapt to new changes occurring locally and globally.

It is this new 21st century situation that provides the context for Kumar David’s current political writings. Often, Kumar David disparages what is left of the Old Left as dead Left, and berates and cajoles the JVP to rise above its past follies and seize the current moment and provide a new progressive, secular and pluralistic alternative. He was perhaps the first commentator to call for a single-issue (abolish the presidency) common presidential candidate in 2014, and he was the only observer to raise the alarm even before the 2015 January election (much to the chagrin of many that Kumar was as usual rocking the boat) – that the common candidacy of Maithripala Sirisena was being opportunistically diluted too much to be able to fulfill its historic purpose and potential. Unfortunately, his critical foresight has been proved to be correct. And worse was to follow and has followed. The country that was supposed to recuperate under a new President after the 2019 presidential election, is now in the worst dystopic spiral ever – doubly bound by a global pandemic and government incompetence.

 

The Intellectual and the Party

Kumar David was born on July 29, 1941, to Ceylon Tamil parents, Benedict and Amybelle David. Kumar credits his mother to have been the greatest influence in his life. He learnt his values from her – the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. His father was a Hulftsdorp Advocate who joined the Judicial Service, served in different parts of the island, and retired as Chief Magistrate Colombo. His maternal grandfather James Joseph was a District Judge, and his maternal uncle Andrew Joseph was a Sri Lankan and UN Diplomat, who retired as Deputy Director UNDP. Kumar’s paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather were Catholics, while his maternal grandmother was a strong Anglican. Kumar also traces his roots to Hinduism through his mother, whose paternal grandfather was a Hindu, who became a Catholic, changing his name from Murugesupillai to Joseph, to marry the young Catholic woman whom he besotted. Kumar’s Catholic forefathers were a well-established Catholic community in Jaffna town. They were benefactors of the local Church and custodians of Jaffna’s St. Mary’s Cathedral parish.

Kumar grew up in Colombo, living in Ratmalana and later in Thimbirigasaya. He went to school at St. Thomas’s College, Mount Lavinia. His university education in Engineering was also in Colombo, as the Engineering Faculty was then located in Colombo until its relocation to Peradeniya in 1964. Kumar’s fascination for Marxism and Left politics and his path to the LSSP were influenced by his stepfather, Lloyd de Silva, who his mother married in 1953. An LSSPer, Lloyd de Silva had a good library of Marxist texts, open to be devoured by someone young, curious and necessarily intelligent. Kumar also became introduced to almost all of the LSSP leaders. Colvin, Bernard and Hector were frequent visitors to their house. Kumar recalls the day after SWRD Bandaranaike’s election victory in 1956, when Colvin R de Silva walked into their house like a huge giant and booming out “Lloyd, tomorrow we are going to have a new government.”

Political organizations play a socializing role in facilitating shared responses to social situations. A revolutionary workers’ party is set up to play, in Leninist terms, a vanguard role and spearhead the cause of social revolution. The party invariably draws on two contradictory segments of society: the social elites from the upper echelons of society carrying the ‘political consciousness’, and dispossessed workers from the bottom drawers of society carrying the ‘psychological consciousness.’ The resulting fusion is what Georg Lukacs called the “imputed consciousness” of the political party. There is also a process of cultural transformation in which, as Hector once described, the worker “enlarges his vision and understanding and acquires the attributes of the highest contemporary human culture; and the elite member “liberates intelligence and knowledge from the vanity of mere intellectual prowess and mellows it with identification and belonging to society as a whole.”

The Lanka Sama Samaja Party, founded in December 1935, was Sri Lanka’s first political party. Its founding leaders, Philip Gunawardena, NM Perera, SA Wickremasinghe, Colvin R de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene – were all young men in their twenties and thirties. Almost all of them were drawn from the highest echelons of Sri Lankan society, but based more on their educational qualifications and accomplishments than by possession of property or any other form of wealth. They were the bearers of a new political consciousness not just for the nascent party but for an entire politically dormant country. For the psychological or experiential consciousness, they turned to the island’s “toiling masses.”

The inaugural manifesto of the Party identified the establishment of a socialist society as “the primary aim” of the Party, the prevailing imperialist rule as the biggest obstacle to political independence and socialist emancipation, and “the toiling masses” as the sole agency to carry out the struggle against imperialism. Thus, the LSSP was born as a bi-modal party, articulating a disciplined cadre component and a positively populist mass base. The founding of the LSSP lit a fire among the island’s intelligentsia and for at least three decades some of the brightest and the best in Sri Lanka were drawn to politics initially because of the LSSP, and later because of both the LSSP and the CP.

The recruitment, or the calling, certainly diminished and dried up presumably after 1964. But during the 1940s, 1950, and even a good part of the 1960s, young pre-university and university students in not insignificant numbers felt inspired to join either of the two Left parties. Kumar David answered his calling when he was twelve inspired by the 1953 Hartal. He was also drawn from the elitist segment of Sri Lankan society, but like many others of his ilk and thanks to the Party he joined, he was able to make a bonfire of inherited vanities and identify his many abilities and attributes with the society as a whole.

Politics without Power

Kumar David and those of his generation joined the LSSP or the CP when the two parties were at the height of their powers. But already in the 1940s, there were developments that would hamstring the Left in general, and the LSSP in particular, in the years after independence. From the very inception of the LSSP, the conservative social and political forces imposed a permanent electoral handicap on the Party by characterizing it as a low-caste, anti-religious, and pro-Indian Party. Another handicap, involving language, would be added after independence.

The proscription (1940-1945) of the LSSP by the colonial government and the attendant expulsion (1940-1947) of NM Perera and Philip Gunawardena from the State Council precluded the Party from open political activity. In their four years in State Council NM and Philip, even without ministerial powers, laid the bedrock foundation for Sri Lanka’s social welfarism. The years of proscription and the expulsion were lost years for the LSSP, which could never be fully recuperated.

Even so, the LSSP resumed politics with a bang and independence arrived in 1948, earlier than anyone expected and accelerated by the 1947 strike. The 12 August 1953 Hartal was certainly the highest point of mass activity in Sri Lanka’s history. The Hartal which began with strike action by workers was soon overtaken by the protesting energy of the “toiling masses.” The Hartal enhanced the political muscle of the Left, but not its electoral fortunes. Its ultimate outcome was the defeat of the UNP government in 1956, and the election of the MEP-SLFP coalition under SWRD Bandaranaike that included the Philip Gunawardena (MEP) faction of the old LSSP.

The SLFP that reaped the rewards in 1956 had stood on the sidelines in 1953. It may not be widely known now, but the only other party in parliament to fully join the Left Parties in the Hartal was the Tamil Federal Party. As well, the victory of the MEP-SLFP coalition was ensured by the no-contest agreement it had with the LSSP and the CP to avoid inter-party vote splitting. In March 1960, the LSSP made an all-out but unsuccessful attempt to form a government on its own. The 1960 failure was the beginning of formal coalition politics that led to the formation of the United Front government in 1970.

The years and decades after 1953 and 1964 have seen recurrent questions and criticisms about the alleged failure of the two Left Parties to seize the apparently revolutionary opportunity that emerged at the height of the 1953 Hartal, and their drift to coalition politics after 1960. In his “Revolutionary Idealism and Parliamentary Politics,” the late Ranjith Amerasinghe has provided a committedly scholarly assessment of the LSSP’s role both in 1953 and 1964, and locates them in a historical perspective while focusing on the Party’s “ideological and organizational adaptation to a Westminster–model parliamentary system.” But these weighty questions will perennially persist, even though in Sri Lanka’s current situation, when corrupt charlatanism is in the saddle and running (rather ruining) the country, it would be both a tragedy and a farce to raise them even esoterically.

As I noted at the outset, Bahu, Vasu and Kumar attempted to address these questions critically from within the LSSP beginning in 1970. The course of events after 1977 within Sri Lanka and outside have exposed the global forces that have been at play, and over which no Left Party anywhere in the world has been able to have any sway within the traditional revolutionary perspective that Left Parties have been functioning until then. Kumar David has consistently drawn attention to these global changes, principally the collapse of the socialist second world and its integration in the global market, and tried to redefine the terms of engagement for the Left in Sri Lanka. Kumar and Bahu have also been consistent in their criticisms of the LSSP leadership for the 1972 Constitution that was a total repudiation of everything that the LSSP stood for on the national question, in 1956, and dearly paid for.

In fairness, the two Left Parties and anyone and everyone ever associated with the Left in Sri Lanka have rallied to support the Thirteenth Amendment as a constitutional solution to the national question. In addition, the two founding leaders of the LSSP, NM and Colvin, have left behind a powerful legacy of opposition to the wholly abominable albatross created by the 1978 Constitution. It will not be an exaggeration to say that in his own way Kumar David has been carrying the same torch of opposition for nearly 15 years, and constantly reminding those in parliament that it is their business to operationalize this opposition in a practical way.

The LSSP has been a quintessentially opposition party, and it is this characteristic that has made the pursuit of politics worthwhile even when it does not lead to its ultimate consummation with power. At 80, Kumar David is possessed of the same passion for positive opposition as he was when he was 12, at the time of the Great Hartal. Over the years, he has scaled academic mountains, fought the good political fight, kept the socialist faith, but is not ready to call off the race. He deserves a break, at least, to celebrate his 80th birthday with his wife Rohini, son Amrit, his grandchildren, and his extended family. We say: Many Happy Returns!



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The Gem and Jewel of Pohottuva governance

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What a gem of a minister he is!

Who?

Who else, State Minister Lohan Ratwatte, the gem and jewel of today.

Why?

He resigned from his Prison Portfolio, not having done anything wrong, as he says it. He has gone beyond the stuff of any politician. He truly deserves to be given the highest regard by the Saubhagya Strategists. Just think of any politician of today, especially from the Pohottuva Team, who will resign from a portfolio for not having done anything wrong, when those who have done so many blatant wrongs, keep glued to their portfolios?

What do you think should follow?

Surely, it is so simple. Get promoted to the Cabinet. Take the “State” off his ministerial title and swear him in as the Minister of Prison Reforms, etc,, and Gem and Jewellery Industry.

Do you think that is the strategy of the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour of the Gotabaya Politics?

Why not? Promotion, elevation or unearned freedom is the very stuff of today’s Rajapaksa governance. We don’t forget the pardoning of former Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, convicted with death sentence, for the murder of eight Tamil civilians inlcuding three children, affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Come on. That is just one Saubhagya move.

OK. The next Saubhagya move was the pardoning and release of Duminda Silva, sentenced to death along with four others, over the murder of a rival politician and three others. He has also been appointed the Chairman, National Housing Development Authority.

Keeping with that trend of Saubhagya-Rajapaksa politics and governance, is it wrong to soon promote Lohan Ratwatte as a Cabinet Minister, giving him back the power over all prisons and prisoners, and the gem and jewellery industries, too.

But what about all these complaints about this Lohan man? Flying to the Anuradhapura Prison by helicopter, getting Tamil prisoners held there to kneel before him, holding this revolver against two of them ….

He says he has done nothing like that. He has visited the prison as the minister in charge, and never even touched a Tamil prisoner … Shouldn’t we believe such Ratwatte words? Should we not forget that the first public report on this came from a Tamil MP, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. Should we forget how the Ponnambalams have opposed the Sinhala Only politics of Sri Lankan progress?

Then what about all this talk of this Lohan minister’s visit to the Welikada Prison?

 C’mon, why must you believe such gallery nonsense, when there is no report from the Prison authorities?

It is not gallery nonsense, but the Stuff of the Gallows, with a beauty queen or cosmetics queen in his company.

Just remember that he went there too as the Minister of Prisons. As he says, he could go there at any time. That is the power of even a State Minister. The man who stopped the prison from burning, as he says it!

But, what about the gallows, of wanting to show it to his beauty/cosmetics queen?

I’m sure that Lohan R would have seen the opportunity to use the Welikada Gallows as a new tourist attraction.

What tourist attraction?

We are now in the process of reviving tourism, especially from Ukraine and Russia. They may like to see real gallows, and how it functions too. He may have been thinking of adding the Welikada Gallows as a special tourist attraction – where persons sentenced to death could be really hanged. There are many who applied to be hangmen when President Sirisena wanted the gallows to function again. They remain unemployed. Shouldn’t the gallows be revived to give more employment to future hangmen?

Just see the Saubhagya opportunity if the Welikada Gallows is promoted as a tourist attraction. How much would a ticket cost in dollars? Think how this would help Ajith Nivard Cabraal in his new plans to bring in more foreign exchange. This surely is the stuff of Lohan Ratwatte, apart from his continued interest in gems and jewellery.

But, surely didn’t he know that the UNHRC is now in session in Geneva. Has he not known anything about Michelle Bachelet, who is raising questions about Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka?

Now, now, don’t move into unwanted terrain. Human Rights and the Prevention of Terrorism Act are all being handled by Foreign Minister GL Peiris, with punditry of increasing question. You mustn’t try to put Lohan Ratwatte to the same rank of political and diplomatic punditry.

Just remember that Lohan Ratwatte is an elected SLPP – Pohottuva – politician. He is certainly one who likes both Gems and Jewellery. He was ready and fast in giving up Prisons and Prison Reforms, with no charges framed against him. There were only allegations about him, made by a Tamil and other Opposition MPs and such persons. Our system of governance and justice is far removed from what is known as the Rule of Law. It is the Rule of Power.

Let’s forget detainees in prisons (for many years), the so-called reports of a drunken minister with friends and beauty/cosmetic queen, just think of the Rule of Power – just now it is the Power of Lohan and Gotabaya.

When the President received Lohan’s letter of resignation from the Prison Sector, he was not asked to leave the Gem and Jewellery Sector too. He could look after and promote Gems and Jewellery, and remain the stuff of Pohottuva.

This is the Gem and Jewellery line of Rajapaksa Governance. Lohan Ratwatte has displayed his love for gems and jewellery. With his promotion to Cabinet status, will he be known as the “Muthu-menik Lohan Amathi, Sir”?  The true Gem of Pohottuva Politics and Governance!

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The wonder of youth

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The wonder of youth was best on display in the evening of 11 Sept., when two hugely talented teenagers, both unseeded, gave an amazing display of tennis in vying for the US Open title. Of course, I wanted Emma Raducanu, who represented GB, to win but had lingering doubts as her opponent, Leylah Fernandez was more experienced and had defeated players ranked 3, 16, 5 and 2, to reach the final. This was only the second Grand Slam Emma has played in, having to withdraw during the fourth-round match in Wimbledon due to breathing difficulties which made some wonder whether she had the mental grit to stand the rigours of tough competitions. She proved them wrong in a spectacular manner, reaching the final in an unprecedented way. She had to win three rounds to get into the tournament as a qualifier, and won the next six rounds, reaching the finals without dropping a set in any of the matches. By then, she had missed the return flight to the UK which she had booked as she never expected to be in the competition so long!

Sports are so commercialised that many Brits without Amazon Prime subscription were going to miss seeing the first British woman to play in a Grand Slam final after 44 years. Fortunately, in one of its rare good deeds, Channel 4 paid for screening rights and we could join over 9 million Brits on the edge of their seats for two hours. It was well worth it, as Emma won the final again in straight sets, creating yet another record by being the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam! In another rare gesture, Amazon had agreed to donate the fee for advancement of tennis for girls.

Emma Raducanu’s spectacular win was witnessed by Virginia Wade, the first winner of the US Women’s title in the open era in 1968, Arthur Ashe winning the Men’s. She was also the last British woman before Emma to win a Grand Slam; Wimbledon in 1977. Fortunately, Sir Andy Murray was able to break the even longer drought in Male Tennis by winning the US Open in 2012, 76 years after Fred Perry’s 1936 Wimbledon win.

It was very sad that Emma’s parents could not be there in person at the proudest moment of their lives due to quarantine regulations. Whilst shedding a tear of joy for Emma Raducanu’s ‘impossible’ victory, I was saddened to think of the wasted youth in Sri Lanka. How things changed for the worse in my lifetime continues to puzzle me.

We belong to a fortunate generation. We had excellent free education which we made full use of. We had good teachers, not ‘private tuition masters’! We could plan our future as we knew we could get a place for higher education as long as we got the required grades. Our progress in universities was not hampered by student’s unions controlled by unscrupulous politicians with warped thinking. I started my practice of medicine a few months after I turned 23 and was a fully qualified specialist by the time I turned 30. I was not one for sports but did writing and broadcasting. Therefore, I can look back at my youth with a sense of satisfaction.

Unfortunately, we lacked a political class with a vision. Perhaps, this happened because most of the politicians except those at the time of independence took to politics by exclusion than by choice. Lucky politicians got ministries, not because of competence or education, but on the basis of caste, creed, religion, etc. There were no shadow ministers in the Opposition and with the change of government another set of misfits became ministers. For some time, the status quo was maintained by senior administrators who were trained for the job after being selected following a highly competitive examination.

Anti-elite campaigners succeeded. Permanent Secretaries became secretaries and Ministers became permanent as long as they did not upset their bosses! No proper planning was done and the slippery slope started. Then came the terrorists; the JVP destroyed a generation of Sinhala youth and the LTTE destroyed a generation of Tamil youth. Now, there is a greater danger affecting some youth the world over––Islamic extremism.

When I started training postgraduate trainees from Sri Lanka in Grantham Hospital, the first thing I noted was their age and started diplomatically finding out why it had taken them so long to get into PG training. I was shocked at the unwarranted delays they faced which were not due to any fault of theirs. All of them were brilliant but the system had failed them. We need to reinstall discipline so that we have schools and universities functioning properly, ensuring valuable years in life are not wasted.

Perhaps, we need to get out of our insular attitudes. There may be some lessons to learn from studying the background of these two talented players. Leyla Fernandez, born in September 2002 in Quebec, Canada has an Ecuadorian father and a Filipino mother. Emma Raducanu was born in November 2002 in Toronto, Canada but moved to the UK when she was two years, with her Romanian father and Chinese mother. Three months before winning the US Open, she got an A star in Mathematics and A in Economics, in the A level examination whilst attending a state school.

These two teenagers, 23 years old Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese and 25-years-old Ashleigh Barty, whose father is of indigenous Australian descent and mother is of English descent, joined to form a ‘fab-four in women’s tennis, dawning a new era in tennis as the era dominated by the fab-four; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic of the men’s game is drawing to an end. Considering their dexterity, women’s tennis may become more popular than men’s. Who knows!

It is well known that mixing of genes has an enhancing effect. It is also well established that inbreeding leads to many genetic defects. Perhaps, this is another reason why we should get rid of artificial divisions like caste. Although one would have expected that we would have a more enlightened attitude, the matrimonial columns of any newspaper give enough evidence that archaic institutions are still strong.

It is high time we stopped protecting archaic systems and moved forward. This will give an opportunity for the talents of our youth to be displayed and it is our duty to harness the wonder of youth for the advancement of the country.

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A neutral foreign policy in current context

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By Neville Ladduwahetty

During a recent TV interview, the Host asked the Guest whether Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is in “shambles”. The reason for the question was perhaps because of the lack of consistency between the statement made by the President and the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry relating to Foreign Policy. For instance, the first clear and unambiguous statement made by the newly elected President during his acceptance speech delivered in Sinhala in the holy city of Anuradhapura in which the only comment in English was that his Foreign Policy would be Neutral. This was followed during his address to Parliament titled: The Policy statement made by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka at the inauguration of the Fourth Session of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka on January 3, 2020, in which he stated: “We follow a neutral foreign policy”.

However, the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry has on different occasions stated that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is “Neutral and Non-Aligned”. Perhaps, his view may have been influenced by the President’s Manifesto, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, that stated that out of 10 key policies the second was “Friendly, Non-Aligned, Foreign Policy”

The question that needs to be addressed is whether both Neutrality and Non-Alignment could realistically coexist as policies to guide Sri Lanka in the conduct of its relations with other Nation-States. Since neutrality is a defined policy that has a legal basis and has a history that precedes Non-Alignment, there is a need for the Neutral State to conduct its relations with other States according to recognised codified norms with reciprocity. On the other hand, Non-Alignment was essentially a commitment to a set of principles by a group of countries that had emerged from colonial rule and wanted to protect their newly won independence and sovereignty in the context of a bi-polar world. The policy of Non-Alignment therefore, should apply ONLY to the members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Thus, Non-Alignment, being only a set of principles adopted by a group of like-minded sovereign States to protect and preserve their common self-interests, its conduct in respect of States outside the Non-Aligned Movement becomes unstated and therefore undefined. Neutrality instead is a clear policy that defines how a neutral country such as Sri Lanka conducts its relations with other countries, and how other countries relate with Sri Lanka primarily in respect of the inviolability of its territory.

NON-ALIGNED and the NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT

A statement dated August 22, 2012 by the External Affairs Ministry of the Government of India on the historical evolution of the Non-Alignment Movement states:

“The principles that would govern relations among large and small nations, known as the “Ten Principles of Bandung”, were proclaimed at that Conference (1955). Such principles were adopted later as the main goals and objectives of the policy of non-alignment. The fulfillment of those principles became the essential criterion for Non-Aligned Movement membership; it is what was known as “quintessence of the Movement until early 1990s” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “History and Evolution of Non-Aligned Movement, August 22, 2012).

“Thus, the primary objectives of the non-aligned countries focused on the support of self-determination, national independence and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States; opposition to apartheid; non-adherence to multilateral military pacts and the independence of non-aligned countries from great power or block influences and rivalries; the struggle against imperialism in all its forms and manifestations; the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, foreign occupation and domination; disarmament; non-interference into the internal affairs of States and peaceful coexistence among all nations; rejection of the use or threat of use of force in international relations; the strengthening of the United Nations; the democratization of international relations; socioeconomic development and the restructuring of the international economic system; as well as international cooperation on an equal footing” (Ibid).

These commitments did not deter countries such as India from violating the very principles India committed to in Bandung. To start with, India undermined the security of Sri Lanka by nurturing and supporting the training of non-state actors in late 1970s. Having made Sri Lanka vulnerable, India proceeded to coerce Sri Lanka to accept the Indo-Lanka Accord under which India was committed to disarm the militants. Having failed much to its shame, India violated the principle of the right of self-determination when it compelled Sri Lanka to devolve power to a merged North-East Province. All these actions amounted to a complete disregard and the mockery of the lofty principles of NAM undertaken to protect India’s self-interest. What is clear from India’s actions with regard to Sri Lanka is that when push comes to shove, self-interest overrides multi-lateral commitments.

In a similar vein Sri Lanka too, driven by self-interest, voted in support of UK’s intervention in the Falklands because of the debt owed by Sri Lanka to the UK for the outright grant given to construct the Victoria Hydro Power Scheme, although conscious of the fact that by doing so Sri Lanka was discrediting itself for not supporting the resolution initiated by NAM to oppose UK’s actions. These instances demonstrate that Non-Alignment as a Foreign Policy is subservient to self-interest thereby underscoring the fact that it cannot be a clear policy to guide how a State conducts itself in relation to other States.

Commenting on the issues of limitations imposed by being a Member of NAM Shelton E. Kodikara states: “For Sri Lanka as indeed for many of the smaller states among the non-aligned community, membership of the Non-Aligned Movement and commitment to its consensual decisions implied a widening of the institutional area of foreign policy decision-making, and collective decision-making also implied a limitation of the area of choice among foreign policy options…” (Foreign Policy of Sri Lanka, 1982, p. 151).

Therefore, arrangements with common interests such as those by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or any other group of countries with common interests, are mechanisms whose support and solidarity could be sought when needed to advance causes, as for instance when Sri Lanka advanced the concept of making the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace, and later in 2009 did so in Geneva. Notwithstanding such advantages, the hard reality is that Non-Alignment does not represent a clear statement as to how a State conducts its relations with Nation-States outside the Non-Aligned Movement. Therefore, it follows that Non-Alignment cannot be considered a statement of Foreign Policy by a State.

THE CURRENT CONTEXT

The statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of India cited above that the “quintessence” of the principles of the Non-Alignment lasted until early 1990s, was because the bi-polar world that was the cause for the formation of NAM had ceased to exist with the territorial break-up of one of the power blocks – the USSR. Consequently, the USSR lost its influence as a global power. In this vacuum what exists currently is one recognized global power with other powers aspiring to be part of a multi polar world. In the absence of recognized power blocks the need to align or not to align does not arise because Nation-States are free to evolve their own arrangements as to how they conduct their relations with each other. Consequently, the concept of Non-Alignment individually or collectively is a matter of choice depending on the particularity of circumstance, but not as a general Foreign Policy to address current challenges.

With China attempting to regain its lost territory and glory as a civilizational State following its century of shame, the geopolitical matrix has changed dramatically. The economic gains of China the likes of which are unprecedented alarmed the Western world to the point that the US deemed it necessary to adopt a policy of Pivot to Asia thereby making the Indian and Pacific Oceans the focus for great power engagement. This shift of focus has caused new strategic security alliances such as the Quad to emerge to contain the growing influence of China among the States in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With the Maldives joining India as the latest members of Quad, Sri Lanka has become isolated; a development that has brought Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean into sharp focus as being of pivotal strategic interest to great and emerging powers.

It is in this newly formed geopolitical context that Sri Lanka has to formulate its Foreign Policy that necessarily must be fresh if Sri Lanka is to equip itself to meet the new challenges created by a coalition of States to contain the rise of China. One option is to join the Quad. This could mean Sri Lanka distancing itself from engaging with China. The other option is to engage with China to the exclusion of the Quad. Either of these options would cause Sri Lanka to lose its independence and the freedom to protect its core values and interests. Therefore, the choice is not to settle for either option.

These unprecedented circumstances and challenges cannot be countered by harking back to the glory days of Non-Alignment, because major influences of the movement (NAM) such as India, have recently abandoned the original principles it subscribed to when it became a part of Quad. Therefore, although NAM still represents a body of likeminded interests with the ability to influence causes limited only to resolutions that further the interests of its members, it is not in a position to ensure the inviolability of the territory and the freedom of a State to make its

A neutral

own hard choices. It is only if a Nation-State proclaims that its relations with other Nation-States is Neutral that provisions codified under the Hague Conventions of 1907 that would entitle Sri Lanka to use the inviolability of its territory to underpin its relations with other Nation-States. Therefore, the Foreign Policy statement as made by the President to Parliament should guide Sri Lanka in its relations with States because it is relevant and appropriate in the geopolitical context that currently exists.

CONCLUSION

The Foreign Policy of a State is greatly influenced by its History and Geography. Historically Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy has been one of Non-Alignment. Furthermore, Sri Lanka participated in the Conference in Bandung in 1955; a date recognized as the beginning of the Non-Aligned Movement. Thus, although the geographic location of a State is well defined, the significance of its location could dramatically be transformed by geopolitical developments. The staggering economic revival of China from early seventies under the leadership of President Deng Xiaoping whose philosophy was to hide capacity, bide time and never claim leadership, was perhaps the reason for China’s tremendous transformations both economic and social, to proceed relatively unnoticed.

It was only with the announcement of President Xi Jinping’s policy of the Belt and Road Initiative announced in 2013, that the world came to realize that the power and influence of China was unstoppable. This policy resulted in China establishing its footprint in strategically located countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans by funding and constructing infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka happened to be one such country. The need for the U.S along with India, Australia and Japan to form a security alliance to contain the growing power and influence of China in the Indian and Pacific Oceans was inevitable.

India’s alliance with the US has shifted the balance in Asia causing China to be the stand alone great power in Asia. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned this new dynamic compels Sri Lanka to make one of four choices. One is to align and develop relations with the US and its allies. Second is to align and develop relations with China. The third is be Non-Aligned with either. The fourth and preferred option is to be Neutral not only with the Quad and China, but also with all other States, and develop friendly relations individually with all States.

The policy of Non-Alignment by a State is an external declaration of intent that a nation would not align itself with either a collective or individual center of power such as the Quad or China, in the conduct of its relations. Neutrality by a State, instead, means not only a statement that it would be Neutral when conducting relations with collective or individual centers of power and other States, but also how such a State expects all States to respect its Neutrality; a policy that would be in keeping with Sri Lanka’s unique strategic location in South Asia. Thus, while the former works outwards the latter works both ways. More importantly, how Neutrality works is governed by internationally codified laws that are in place to guide reciprocal relations.

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