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Militarisation vs the People: Will there be confrontation?

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by Kumar David

From mid-September to late November the autocratic ambitions of the Gotabaya regime were in retreat, but the President’s hard-core has rallied and in the last fortnight we see a toughening tone. But is there substance to this posturing or is it a confused government running in circles around itself like a headless chicken? Can a stricken regime make an illegal grab for power? You may say stranger things have happened but the “best laid schemes o’ Headless Chickens an’ Men (usually) gang aft agley”. Take the Third Act of a recent comedy; the Daily Financial Times of 7 December says “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has decided to establish a Green Agriculture Operative Centre to systematically and sustainably fulfil the priorities identified to make Sri Lanka a ‘green’ country to be implemented under the direction of Army Commander Shavendra Silva”. It goes on, after an interminable list of whistling in the dark instructions, to stipulate that Army Silva and his minions will “coordinate all officials from the highest level to the ground level involved in agriculture, distribution of food crop products and the promotion of health education and communication programs on organic food consumption.” Or to put it briefly the military will boss of the public service.

Given the mood in the country, in the public service and among trade unions, efforts by the military to throw its weight around extra-constitutionally will be ignored if not defied. Act One of this lost in the woods malaise was on 10 May 2021 when the Presidential Secretariat issued a proclamation establishing a “Presidential Task Force on Creating a Green Sri Lanka with Sustainable Solutions to Climate Change” chaired by Basil and consisting of 46 (yes that’s right!) strong throng including five Cabinet Ministers, a Governor and highlighting the inclusion of a “female member of Parliament” (sic!). Has this august body ever met? What has it discussed and decided? What has it done? Or is it all just humbug!

https://www.presidentsoffice.gov.lk/index.php/2021/05/10/presidential-task-force-for-a-green-socio-economy/

Most likely it slumbered; so what next? “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a top-level task force of 14 to transform the Government’s green agriculture agenda into fruition, thereby enhancing its contribution to sustainable socio-economic development”. Chaired by Vijith Weikala, said the Daily Financial Times of 18 October 2021. This was the ersatz Second Act in a merry-go-round of a prancing headless chickens.

Pandemonium in other spheres of government is no less a theatre of the absurd. Here are two reports (on the same day) in The Island of 10 December 2021. One says SLPP MP Gevindu Cumaratunga held a press conference to condemn government and Cabinet policies and the President. Worse, another story followed up: “Cabinet ministers Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila yesterday made representations to the Supreme Court in support of the fundamental rights cases filed against the transfer of 40 per cent of government shares of the Yugadanavi Power Station to US-based New Fortress Energy”. (Anura Kumara told parliament that the avowal by these three jokers that the Cabinet did not approve the LNG deal at a Zoom meeting is a fib; Sunday Morning 13 Dec). Rather quaintly the Island added: “There hasn’t been a previous instance of members of Cabinet moving court against a Cabinet decision”. Yes, Cumaratunga, Nanayakkra, Wimal and Udya know the consequences of fork-tongued frolicking. The ship is sinking, the rats are leaping overboard and the regime is approaching its denouement. This is not say that it will expire before its constitutionally prescribed funeral date, but an obituary notice is being released in anticipation.

Can a muddled regime set out on a militarist extra-constitutional adventure? Well, deranged persons will attempt anything, but pause for a moment and look at the cards stacked against such folly. The public is outraged by uncontrolled cost of living inflation; the trade unions (electricity, station masters, teachers, health sector and others) are girding their loins for a show down. Farmers are on the warpath, the Catholic and recently the Tamil minorities have thrown down the gauntlet. “Conspiracy” holler the former, “External Self-Determination” proclaim the latter; the SLMC stammers “13A”. Foreign coffers in the Central Bank are as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard; Biden is taking aim at sundry human and democratic rights offenders; the Chinese are taking Lanka’s public institutions to the law courts and India rubbed the nose of the impecunious visiting Finance Minister on the toilet floor.

Can a regime in a pickle attempt a fix-all military adventure? Can it bring back the white-van, bump off critics and lock down press freedom? Well yes it can; worse things happen when a red rag is fluttered in the face of a goaded bull. But an attempt at a putsch will provoke mass popular resistance; a military adventure will be the forerunner to an uprising and all sides will lose. Public response will be defiance and as Einstein said “after the Third World War everyone will be left only with sticks and stones”. Lanka will enter a dark age of protracted turmoil – vide Burma and Sudan. The regime’s leaders will be hostages, and worst of all is that what the end will be is uncertain. Lasting chaos and anarchy, untethered minorities, an Indian game plan, and a deprivation of Chinese bail-out cash. All this and more is likely.

But whether things come to such a pass does not depend on Gotabaya, his military brass and his screw-loose advisors. It depends on us! Yes, you heard me right, it depends on us! A formidable and unified opposition will stop conspirators and putsch seekers in their tracks. They have to be frightened off before they dare start. The opposition must be manifestly united and well organised for this minimal task of self-preservation. This is not asking for much, it is not asking for a political alliance, a commitment to coalition government or a joint socio-economic programme. Sure, let the JVP, the SJB, the TNA and anyone else (SLFP, Dead-Left or SLPP dissidents willing to part company with conspirators) remain free to retain their platforms and their programmes to set up governments of their liking and making in the future if they can. There is room for sectarians as well. There will be explicit appreciation, as with the Single Issue strategy in 2015 that the purpose is to throw back a common threat. There is no expectation of consummation in a coalition government unless that is explicitly agreed between some partners. At the same time all will be free to grow their own strength; actually those seen to contribute the most to a common defence strategy will win the greatest individual strength.

Of course this presumes that these parties see that a grab for power in some form or shape is emerging. If they don’t see any danger I guess they will reckon that I am baying at the moon, that the sudden prorogation of parliament is routine, that the CEB power outage last week was not the work of a ‘black hand’ hopeful of the a State of Emergency and that pushing the public service under the military is customary. If they do not perceive an existential threat to democracy the studied complacency of the JVP, SJB and TNA avoiding defensive congregation makes sense. I grant that the previous drift of this essay has been to boohoo the gorillas, nevertheless isn’t it quaint to see maiden coyness from much ravished madams? All blush to be the first to declare “Let’s couple consensually”; they don’t know what they are missing! The TNA goes to Washington to wax eloquent that Lanka is on an authoritarian trajectory and holds forth that militarisation and a trend to dictatorship are intensifying. Really Abraham (Sumanthiran), you mean it! Or do you remember that only when you fly over the Statue of Liberty? When has the TNA said at home that unity of all communities, peoples’ organisations and parties for defence against a common enemy of democracy is imperative? Unity in practical actions will build a hundred stronger bridges between communities than denunciations of communalism.

The JVP and the SJB which should be taking the lead in this respect are no better; though the front liners they are sloppy. If you listen to Anura Kumara’s well researched presentations or hear Sajith, Eran, Harin and Harsha in parliament, you will be persuaded that the country is already in the jaws of a lion. But do they only espy a benign lion as did Androcles? Switch off the TV and there is no summons from these worthies to fortify a common defence. I would hate to have to one day say “I told you so” over the wreckage of a moderately democratic nation. My point is very humble, stop the State’s gross infractions of democracy before it gets any further. This can be done by a determined declaration of unified opposition. And there is a vital corollary to this strategy; when people see the consummation of a formidable phalanx, ten becomes one hundred; others are drawn to join because strength advances credibility.

Am I naïve to gape in bewilderment at the frivolity of JVP, SJB, TNA and Muslim leaders in that they are reluctant collaborators in repelling a common existential threat? Mind you I am only paraphrasing their own assessment of how dangerous these times are. Phew, I need a stiff drink!



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Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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