Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd) Edward Gunawardena
Continued from last week
On June 2, 1981, the day following the acts of arson in Jaffna when I was resting in the afternoon in the Residency an Army officer woke me and told me that one Shan had come to see me. He was dressed in Verti like most Jaffna gentlemen. For a moment I could not recognize him. I had met him last at a Madras hotel where I shared a beer with him. I had come to know him when the Indian Prime Minister Moraji Desai came to Sri Lanka and I was his Security Co-ordinator. Shan came in Moraji Desai’s advance security contingent; and I remember taking him and another officer Medhekar, who later became the IGP of Mumbai, to my brother’s home in Kandy for lunch one day.
Shan had a brief chat with me. He told me that he was in a hurry as he had to see the Indian High Commissioner in the evening. When I asked him what brought him to Jaffna his reply was, “our mission is to see that the government does not win the election”. Without my soliciting an opinion he also added, “This (meaning the burning of he library) will make Sri Lanka international pariahs”. Apparently RAW was aware of the advice received by the LTTE and what the latter was planning to do. My suspicions were confirmed. It became clear to me that there was a nexus between the disruption of the elections and the burning of the library.
Balasinghams active in Madras
Although it was too late for analysis and any meaningful conclusions, for nearly a week prior to June 1, 1981 the District Intelligence Bureau of Jaffna had been getting information regarding the activities of Anton Balasingham and his wife, Adele, from informants who had actually attended the lectures of the Balasinghams.
Although they were usually resident at 54, Kelvendon House, Guilford Road, London SW8, they had taken up residence at a state guest house in Madras with the help of a Tamil Nadu politician, a friend of Prabahakaran. Obviously Prabahakaran had wanted to have Balasingham close at hand for urgent advice. Apparently things had begun to move fast.
The main thrust of Balasingham’s lectures to the ‘Boys’ in Madras had been:
(a) The time was appropriate for as many Tamils as possible to seek asylum in the capitals of Europe, America, Canada and Australia. This should be to convince the foreign sympathizers that the Tamils are an oppressed race, they are being harassed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the Police and the government of Sri Lanka is violating Human Rights.
(b) The need for some sensational act to attract the attention of the world to the cause of the Tamils and also provide adequate grist to the mills of the world media.
(C) The need for a steady flow of funds if the movement is to be sustained particularly if an armed struggle had to be launched. Balasingham had stressed that an armed struggle was inevitable.
(d) Adele Balasingham had specifically mentioned that she was in touch with the Australian immigration authorities and the latter welcomed asylum seekers from oppressed communities.
Balasingham had emphasized that something to galvanize world media attention had to be accomplished early. This ‘something’ was apparently known only to the Balasinghams, the LTTE high command and a selected section of the media.
How l happened to be in Jaffna at this crucial time
On May 24, 1981 Dr. Thiyagarajah the Chief UNP candidate for the DDC elections was shot at Moolai in the Chankani police area after an election meeting of the UNP. He was rushed to the Jaffna General Hospital and died the following day.
With his assassination the intensity of the police patrolling was increased. The Army and Navy were also called in to assist the police. All police officers were to be armed, Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors with revolvers and Sergeants and Constables with repeater shot guns. There were no assault rifles issued to the police at the time. Large numbers of police from different parts of the country were ordered to be sent to Jaffna.
At this time I was the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the Colombo Metropolitan Range. This range covered the Police Divisions of Colombo, Peliyagoda, Negombo, Nugegoda and Mt. Lavinia. The superintendents in charge Douglas Ranmuthugala, Henry Silva, A.C.A. Gaffoor, Amarakoon, Serpanchy and M.D.A. Rajapakse were all excellent officers whose competence, initiative and integrity could be trusted.
On May 30, I was summoned to Ward Place by the President at about 6 p.m. When I went to ‘Braemar’ the Prime Minister and the IGP were also there. I was ordered to proceed to Jaffna, but I was not assigned any specific duties. P. Mahendran was the DIG of the Northern Range, but I was senior to him. When I asked the IGP what my role in Jaffna was going to be, he merely said, “you just be there”. As for the Metropolitan Range, the IGP undertook to overlook the work of the Superintendents.
The President and the Prime Minister were pleased that I had readily agreed to go to Jaffna at such short notice. They felt that my presence in Jaffna Would be a morale booster for the rank and file whose ‘chips were down’.
I reached Jaffna by helicopter at about 4 p.m. on May 31. My car with Inspector Sathiyan and driven by PCD Anthony had arrived from Colombo by then. I tried to contact ‘Brute’ Mahendran, the DIG but failed. At the Jaffna Headquarters station I met the S.P. Jaffna Tony Mahat and several other officers who had come on ‘Special duty’. I remember meeting SP Dennis Peter and ASPs D. Weerakoon, M.D. Perera, Edmund Karunanayake and Jinasena.
HQI Jaffna, Lalith Gunasekera, in about 15 — 20 minutes gave me a complete run down of all that had happened in Jaffna from the time the elections were announced. Lalith Gunasekera of whom I had only heard earlier — captured by JVP insurgents when he was a young SI in charge of the Rambukkana Police Station was a courageous officer who had escaped from JVP custody. He certainly had a total grasp of the situation in Jaffna. His main worry was that the government was panicking and the LTTE could take advantage of the confusion to advance their cause.
Having had a discussion with all the senior officers present, dressed in civvies I left in my car driven by PCD Anthony and accompanied by Inspector Sathiyan on a recce of the Jaffna town. At about 10 p.m. I overheard on Police radio that police on duty at the Nachiamman Kovil meeting had been shot and the injured officers taken to the Jaffna General Hospital.
I decided to go to the hospital. Although I was in civvies I was armed with a Webley 9 mm pistol. Inspector Sathiyan who was also in civvies had an Uzi automatic. As we walked in there were several police officers in uniform and many civilians. I raised my voice and ordered the police to clear the ward of all unwanted persons. I even spoke in the little Tamil I knew to disperse the crowd. It was only then that the police at the hospital realized that I was the DIG Metropolitan who had been specially assigned to Jaffna.
That was the manner in which I announced to the rank and file of the Jaffna police of my arrival as the specially sent DIG. Listening to the gossip that went through the police airwaves gave me the impression that they welcomed my presence in Jaffna. However, it was noticeably clear that the police were gripped by a sense of fear and insecurity particularly after the Nachiamman Kovil shooting resulting in the death of Sergeant Punchi Banda. This gruesome murder coming on top of a series of killings of police officers certainly had a chilling effect.
Influx of special—duty police
By this time about 400 policemen from different police divisions had arrived in Jaffna. Surprisingly the number of senior officers was quite disproportionate to the number of Sergeants and Constables. It had fallen upon the shoulders of HQI Lalith Gunasekera to arrange for their billeting and food. The situation had been so bad that the HQI had at one point pleaded with Col. Hamilton Wanasinghe and Major Denzil Kobbekaduwa for food for these large numbers of policemen. He had even spent his own money to purchase some dry fish and rice to be given to the Mess for cooking.
The complete lack of co-ordination between the DIG of the Northern Range and Police Headquarters had resulted in a chaotic situation which had to be tactfully sorted out by HQI Gunasekera and myself.
If I was to deviate from the sequence of the narrative, from the point of view of food for the hungry policemen and also many other officials who had come to Jaffna on duty, the arrival of Mr. Gamini Dissanayake on June 3 was indeed a blessing. As soon as I heard of his arrival I called on him at King’s House. When I went there he was having a chat with Mr. T.B. Werapitiya who was the Deputy Minister of Defence. The latter was in fact briefing him on what had happened in Jaffna on the May 31 and June 1. I too joined in the conversation and was able to convince both of them that the acts of arson, especially the burning of the library, could not have been committed by the police, the armed services or any unruly mob. They were certainly apprehensive of the possible consequences.
Mr. Gamini Dissanayake specifically asked me whether the police have had adequate food. Apparently he had heard of the difficulties the police were facing. When I told him that even I had not eaten anything other than a boiled potato with salt and pepper he laughed. Having thought for a while he telephoned Navaloka Mudalali who undertook to send 1,000 packets of bread, seeni sambol and hard boiled egg. Mr. Dissanayake made arrangements for these to be airlifted. This exercise was repeated on the following day too.
Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security
The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :
‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’
The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.
Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.
But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.
Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :
“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”
And that :
“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”
These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
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