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Media manufactures Ranil’s relevance

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The return of Ranil (RW) has created an unnecessary media blitz of imagined relevance. Some in the media have attempted to create a tardigrade (a micro-animal thought to be indestructible) like figure out of the hollow shell that is the former Prime Minister. I have sung his praises when he has deserved it and I have noted his strengths and accomplishments. However, when one overstays one’s welcome by over a decade, whatever accomplishments there were become diluted to the point of insignificance. The speech in Parliament is being lauded by the media. I have been alive long enough to recall the oratory skills of Colvin R. De Silva, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Vivienne Goonewardene. RW is nowhere near this level though the media tries desperately to create an illusion of statesmanship.

RW represents more of a scarecrow than a tardigrade. There was a time when the elites of Colombo thought of him as a visionary leader, a man of integrity. Someone that will put the country before his party and the party before himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. His record of broken terms in high-office speaks volumes.

The manner of RWs return; through the back door without anything resembling a popular mandate is a microcosm of his political career. The media seems to be more interested than the public, ‘manufacturing relevance’ where there is none.

A recent article in a newspaper states he must make a “positive and constructive contribution to discourse”. There is nothing in recent history to suggest that RW has anything new to add. His rambling speech in Parliament served as a reminder that this is a politician with literally zero charisma. As someone that ‘inherited’ power, he seems to believe that his seat in Parliament is a birth-right. There is also reference to the UNPs traditional moderate voter base. What is this UNP base? As far as I can tell whatever base that existed has moved towards the SJB as per the last election.

He returns to his ‘entitlement’ either in complete ignorance or indifference to the simple fact that the electorate rejected not only him but also his entire party and by extension, his stewardship of the country. Yahapalanaya is little more than part of a punchline of an over-used joke.

“Ranil’s Return” continues to state that “it is widely accepted that the SJB has been a dismal failure”, but I am not so sure about this. The present government is under pressure, the Opposition must have played some part in this, surely.

Even if the thesis holds and the opposition is inadequate, nothing in RW’s past suggests he has anything new to offer in this situation. There is also a line in this article which suggests that Sajith has failed to “capture the imagination”. None of the recent electoral victories have come due to a candidate ‘capturing the imagination’. There are currently no personalities in our politics that transcend their immediate base. Our current Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa is the only politician that has come close to exceeding those boundaries.

The charge that Sajith Premadasa (SP) is too nationalistic is very interesting to me especially considering the counter charge against Ranil throughout his career; that he was not nationalistic enough. My personal belief is that the emerging new electorate is far more cynical than we realise. Modern elections are more about the lesser of two evils than of positive voting FOR a candidate or movement. Will minorities flock to the SLPP because SP is too nationalist? It seems a bizarre contention to make.

At this stage, we must consider what the Yahapalanaya regime tried to accomplish with regard to the ‘National Question’. We must also remind ourselves that this project was driven by RW and I contend that it was his unabashed acquiescence to the UNHRC and ‘internationalism’ that drove a wedge between the factions of Yahapalanaya and led to its demise.

I refer to an article by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka from 2015 (http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/44576), where he clearly sets out that RW was either confused or deliberately disingenuous. RW stated time and again that his plan was to implement the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution whilst preserving the ‘unitary nature’ of the state. Dr. Dayan quotes RW as trying to establish an Austrian model of devolution by giving the provinces primacy on some matters over the Parliament and reminds us that Austria is “an explicitly, unambiguously Federal State”. RW clearly had little understanding of how deeply unpopular the idea of a Federal System was, and still is, with the masses. Further still, it is quite alarming that after multiple decades in politics, RW has no appreciation of the effects on the national psyche of the existence of a “huge landmass with 70-80 million co-ethnics” a mere 19 miles away from our Northern frontier. Dr. Dayan concludes “converting to the perennially pro-Western, pro Indian doctrine of the Federal Party, the regime has crucified the island on the Indo-US axis”

Perhaps, what the writer of “Ranil’s Return” is trying to establish is that the SJB needs the UNP to become a greater electoral force, yet this is nothing to do with RW who, given his last vote tally, is an electoral liability of epic proportions.

I hope SP understands the intricacies of “devolution of power” in the current context given the Easter attacks and the Arabisation of the Eastern province. Perhaps, the SJB could once and for all denounce a federal state as a viable solution to the national question as a means of exorcising the demon of Western internationalism that so taints the UNP.

Thus far, I personally have seen nothing from SP that would isolate moderates. I would bet that any coalition with RW would contain the unmistakable stench of the bond scam and of the fugitive Mr. Arjuna Mahendran, a close friend of RW.

If, as some analysts think, the TNA joins a Ranil coalition, that party too will have the same fate as the UNP and SLFP; disintegration into the fringes.

Ultimately, this article only adds to the ‘hype’ surrounding “Ranil’s Return” but it seemed necessary to combat the media’s delusion of Ranil’s grandeur.

 

Rienzie T. Wijetilleke

(rienzietwij@gmail.com)



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Opinion

Talangama Wetlands in danger due to highway sanctioned by CEA

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I read with great interest the following articles published in the Sunday Island and Daily Island, “Proposed elevated highway across wetlands provokes uproar” by Randima Attygala and “De-gazetting and Re-gazetting Gazettes” by Jomo Uduman. Then I came across another article in the Sunday Island, “Some politicians, businessmen don’t understand value of wetlands -Amaraweera “.  The Minister of Environment said this while addressing the media on World Wetlands Day and also stated, “The government had taken legal action against those who destroyed wetlands. Anyone who destroys wetlands will be brought to justice,” Minister Amaraweera also stressed that it was the responsibility of everyone to protect the wetlands.

The Talangama Wetlands is a gazetted EPA as per 1487/10 of 2007 where permitted uses are only fishing, bird watching and paddy cultivation. Shockingly, this very same Minister of Environment  has on 15th July 2021 signed an amendment to this gazette to also permit a four lane elevated highway to be built over these wetlands! This has been done while there are three Writ Applications pending in the Appeal Court pleading for the preservation of these wetlands as per this gazette. Is this possible? Can he and the CEA be in contempt of court? Why are they not considering the practical alternate route proposed by Prof Sarath Kotagoda? Are we seeing mega skulduggery in action here?

We also hear that a Chinese Company will build this elevated highway over a period of four years. The eating habits of many people in China are driving endangered animals there to extinction. Their favourites include monitor lizards, snakes, owls, eagles, exotic plants and small mammals all of which are trapped, killed, skinned and eaten.  According to the National Wetland Directory of Sri Lanka, 41 plant species, 90 bird species (13 are migrants), 12 species of reptiles, 10 species of mammals and 15 freshwater fish species have been recorded from the Talangama tank and its environs. How can we ensure that all of these fauna and flora will be preserved and not consumed during the four years of construction and the 15 years of operations thereafter? Will there be any left thereafter?Ministers and other public officials never answer queries from lesser mortals like yours truly.  So I do hope Mr. Editor that your newspaper will ask the Minister of Environment how and why he signed such a damning amendment to gazette 1487/10 of 2007.  Both gazettes are attached for your reference.

As the appointed custodian of the country’s environment, particularly the Environmental Protection Areas (EPAs) the Minister is accountable not only to the present generations of  the country, but also, to the unborn future generations, including the living animal and plant  species who are  without a voice, concerning the protection and preservation of their habitat and  environment. 

Denver David Hokandara

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Disguises of belief and disbelief!

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A young father is bathing at the not so deep garden-well with his two kids and the bucket suddenly slips into the well. The little girls look distressed. Their dad thinks that it’s a good opportunity to have some fun at their expense. He pretends to be reflective for a few seconds and tells them that they had better let the bucket be in the well so that the fish could bathe with it! The kids seem scandalized and look at each other and at the father disbelievingly. The father enjoys his joke immensely- for a few seconds, though.

The elder kid picks up the bar of soap ingenuously and drops it into the well telling him “The fish need soap too, don’t they?” Now, it was the poor father’s turn to look dismayed- he had been too slow to have divined what she was up to. That’s hardly the climax, anyway. Down goes the towel next and the younger kid says, “Oh, don’t they need a towel too?” A visibly upset father whose sense of humour is no match for that of his progeny knows not where to put himself. True, the two scamps had looked confused at the beginning – but only for a moment. Next they pretended to believe that the fish actually needed soap and a towel, so that they could afford to have the last laugh by turning the tables on their father.

The episode narrated by a much wiser father to a sniggering audience of officemates the next day might provide comic relief to a layperson’s idle thoughts about belief and disbelief. Did the father succeed in wheedling the girls at least momentarily to visualize a weird shoal of fish bathing with a bucket? How did they, after recovering from the fleeting confusion, build on a blatant falsity to give it a preposterously logical end? Is there a neat fact/belief and fiction/disbelief pairing? Do we use trust and doubt at our own convenience to play the life’s game? Let the experts seek definitive answers. The rest of us may speculate.

Both belief and disbelief accompany us to the grave. They are not averse to sleeping in the same bed, and life is sure to be worrisome if you choose to hold on to one to the total exclusion of the other. And, each of them comes in handy every now and then. It seems as though scarcely anybody could live a normal life without judiciously shifting between these two states of mind- belief and disbelief, or, as some may call them – the twin gears for “cruising in life.” Perhaps, a person newly diagnosed with a terminal illness may find himself amidst the strongest currents of belief and disbelief; the others would navigate between the two consciously as well as unconsciously to the end.

Take children for example. They are natural skeptics and believers at once. Many parents find themselves out of their depth when their children start asking endless “why” questions about anything and everything they see, starting from things like the moon, fire, cow, puppy, shadow, wind, rain, sky or stars and moving towards “metaphysical” questions about birth, ageing, time and death. Even well-informed parents get stumped when they are called upon to explain why the moon and stars wouldn’t fall, why mommy and daddy too have to die one day or why dead people wouldn’t talk, much less wake up. Often the “explanations” need to be fashioned to suit their level of comprehension- so the parents think. The kids continue to believe in them with waning conviction as months and years roll by and sagaciously drop them in favour of more acceptable pieces for the jigsaw of their expanding “universe.”

Some kids “suspend disbelief” long before they hear of Coleridge. As children become smarter or “prematurely mature”- as some hardnosed adults may choose to describe them, they become more and more skeptical about their parents’ obviously guarded explanations on “delicate topics.” They discreetly “suspend disbelief” to avoid embarrassing their parents. Very few of them who may perhaps happen to google Coleridge later would remember that the latter’s counsel to his readers was a trick they had warily used as children to make their parents enjoy their own unimpressive “stories.” Thus, it is hardly likely that they would ever recall using the selfsame trick to optimize their harvest of goose bumps on their arms as they sat cuddled up on the lap of their grannies to listen to the adventures of the brave podi gamarala.

Feigning belief is not the exclusive preserve of children, although the two brats in the above anecdote made use of it to outsmart their father who subsequently became famous among his colleagues for his unlucky ingenuity. Clever grandparents play the same game when they readily believe that their grandchild, who suddenly gets a tummy ache on a Monday morning, is too sick to attend school. When the kid “recovers” too soon and asks for a piece of chocolate to go with the breakfast, she realizes that grandma’s credulity has a sting in the tail. The old lady wouldn’t hear of letting sick children eat sweets- she needs plenty of convincing that chocolates wouldn’t make a stomachache far worse!

Often there is little difference between feigning belief and believing- in the former you deceive the other; in the latter you deceive yourself, although you won’t often be aware of it. Take any instance where you are accustomed to taking something as a fact because you have believed in it for ages. For example, you believe that the two people whom you have called “parents” all your life are your biological parents – of course, no reason to verify unless something serious happens to make the identification necessary. So is the case with your siblings. It’s the unrivalled example of an intimate term of family relationships gradually acquiring the nuances of an established biological fact.

However, if you were to ask your “parents” to prove their parenthood, you would be considered weird or, worse still, insane. Such a doubt would surely be made to seem irrelevant and redundant by convention. However, in rare situations requiring scientific validation, such “irreverent” identification would be perfectly in order. As such, under ordinary conditions, our habitual belief as regards family relationships amounts to more or less culturally-sanctioned and convenient self-deceit. Here, what should be highlighted is that a perpetuated belief can often pass for fact leaving you to be ignorant of it all your life. Of course, many would hasten to point out that such ignorance is harmless, sure enough.

Generally, we are hardwired to believe. We believe what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. Life would be practically impossible if we refuse to believe what our five senses communicate to us. For example, you suddenly spot a snake on your path but choose not to believe what your eyes report to you; you will immediately pay the price. In fact we have been relying so much on our physical perceptions that we hardly factor in “belief” in the transmission process. In other words, the vital role of “belief” in our sensory perceptions is taken for granted. Don’t we unconsciously provide proof of this when we say, “I could hardly believe my eyes.” As such, disbelief, with regard to physical living, is often the exception.

Faith in sensory perceptions is rarely challenged. When we look at the tree out there we ‘know’ that it is there and the question of “belief” scarcely arises. Yet, let’s take another example. Just as the tree in the garden, we “know” that there are stars in the sky, but we are told that perhaps some of them may not be there now, which immediately makes it clear to us that what we thought we knew was possibly an illusion. Only a scientific explanation of the phenomenon helps us to see our mistake.

So, we naturally take what we perceive through our senses to be a fact, and asking for proof is deemed redundant if not hilarious. However, we don’t necessarily have the same sense of complacency when it comes to responding to an explanation. For example, although we don’t ask for reasons to believe that stars are there, we ask for reasons if we were to believe astronomers when they claim that some of the stars visible now may have died out centuries ago. Thus, taking belief with a pinch of disbelief may perhaps make matters in life a little more wondrous and above all serendipitous.

Bernard Shaw is perhaps a bit too disparaging of belief when he says: “the fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

Susantha Hewa

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Opinion

A tribute to Panadura hospital vaccination staff

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After many days of hesitations, reluctantly I joined the long queue of people to get the first dose of the Sinopharm vaccination for Covid-19 on Tuesday around 11.15 AM at the Panadura base hospital. It was not a very long queue comparatively as I had seen the queues on previous days.

The queue was along the pavement beside the parapet wall of the hospital. There was one security guard manning the queue. As we entered the hospital premises all were requested to fill a form each and those were collected and taken to another place by a staff member. Then we were asked to sit on the beds (no chairs) that were arranged inside a nicely built makeshift enclosure with a roof to protect all from the sun.

There a pleasant male staff member (may be a doctor) neatly clad in the official attire, briefed us about the process, the vaccine, it’s after-effects if any and other related facts. Although pressed for time, he addressed all aspects that we should know. It was truly informative and a pleasure to hear.

Within a few minutes, people in batches were asked to proceed to a close by building. While we were standing near the building a nurse brought cards which were filled by the hospital office staff accordingly with the data provided by us. Then we were asked to go inside the building where the vaccinations were given. I did not feel anything although the vaccine was given to me in a matter of a few seconds. I came out of the hospital around 12.20 pm.

The date of the next dose is also mentioned in the card given to me.

The entire hospital premises were very clean and the well-maintained garden was full of flowering trees.

On behalf of all I wish to thank the Medical Superintendent and the doctors of the planning department for a job well done giving enough convenience to the general public. Also. to all staff members that we came across as they added luster, honour, stature and dignity to their respective professions when treating all of us.

Lalith Fernando

Panadura

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