by Parakrama Jayasinghe
“Sanity has Prevailed No More Coal Power Plants” . This is the title of my article in the Sunday Island in October 2016 ( ) after the Secretary, Ministry of Power and Energy gave an undertaking to the Supreme Court on September 13, 2016 , that the proposed Sampur coal power plant will not be built. This undertaking did not result from the Ministry or the CEB exercising any rational reasoning of the insanity of continuing to push for more and more coal power plants, but due to the undeniable and obvious negative impacts of the proposed coal power plant laid before the Supreme Court. The writing was on the wall that if the plea by the Environmental Foundation Ltd supported by many other concerned organizations and individuals, if heard by the court would have resulted in the same outcome.
The euphoria felt by the country at large was spelled out by the first paragraph of my above article
“Sri Lanka and those of us who have battled for decades to highlight the dangers posed by use of coal for power generation, both for the environment in general and the health of the people without exception, can at last heave a sigh of relief. It is hardly necessary to emphasize that Sri Lanka not having any indigenous coal reserves, had no compulsion to even consider this option until all other options are exhausted.”
That was back in 2016. Anyone who has even a nodding acquaintance with the recent trends in the power sector in the rest of the world, would therefore be aghast to listen to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa declaring in the recent budget speech that a 300 MW coal power plant is proposed to be built at Norochcholai. It will be recalled that Rajapaksa in his Presidential Election Manifesto ” Vision for the Future ” declared
Indigenous energy resources will be developed to the optimum levels to minimise dependence on non-indigenous resources, subject to economic, environmental and social constraints. (Page 5)
This was in 2010. The changes in the last decade on all “economic, environmental and social constraints” without exception have made even consideration of any coal power plants totally insane._
And President Gotabaya Rajapakse went even further to declare a goal of achieving 80% renewable contribution to the energy sector by year 2030. As such there is absolutely no room for any more coal power plants as the present three are expected to continue to operate and limp along till then.
So we, the citizens are nonplussed by this turn of events with the Minister for Power and Energy Dulles Alahapperuma bragging in parliament (Nov 28, 2020) that work on the fourth coal power plant at Norochchloai will commence in two weeks.
Even though the Sampur coal power plant was shelved, the CEB never accepted that Sri Lanka could have a secure and reliable power supply in the future without depending on more coal power plants. Enough has been said about the harm being done by this power plant to the environment and the health of the people and will not be repeated here. The CEB continued its campaign to do further harm by proposing to add some 2,700 MW if coal power in their proposed Long Term Generation Plan for 2018-2037.
Fortunately the totally false assumptions and forecasts used to portray coal power as the least cost option was debunked by many and the PUCSL approved an amended proposal which had 4500 MW Natural Gas power plants instead of any more coal power plants. ( )
The CEB was not ready to accept this decision of the regulator, which is its legal responsibility and through its Engineers Union launched a campaign to discredit the PUCSL, the legally constituted regulator. The government did not have the backbone to lay down the law and tell the CEB authorities to abide by the LTEGP approved by the PUCSL. This would have been the procedure in any country when any licensee flouts the regulator’s orders and faces revoking of the permits issued to them. While in Sri Lanka, the country like no other irrespective of the government in power, such stipulations apply only to private sector developers of renewable energy.
Or does this portend the future way of doing things when there are rumblings of the Electricity Act to be changed to take away the powers of the PUCSL. The PUCSL has done yeoman service in past years to protect the rights of the consumers as well as the country, by debunking the totally fallacious arguments set forth by the utility, trying to pretend that coal power is the least cost option. Without an independent regulator for the sector, the CEB with the monopoly status could continue their totally irresponsible plans and programs.
It is unfortunate to see that they have managed to hoodwink the present government and the Ministry of Power and Energy as well, as they have continued to do so for several decades. The newest ploy was to propagate a myth of ” Clean Coal ” The fact that there is no such animal was clearly explained in the Article Dirty Coal Raising its Head disguised as “Clean Coal” ()
If these unwarranted and totally unwise power projects are permitted to go through, “The Vision for Prosperity and Splendour” of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa which the country hoped would embody the national policy of the present government, would be relegated to just an election manifesto like many others in the past, just promises with no intention of fulfilling.
But all that is required to reach a clear vision for the future of coal for electricity, is to view the dozens of postings on the internet. Many countries with vast indigenous coal resources are shelving plans for any more coal power plants and increasing numbers of existing coal power plants are being closed down. A few of these news item out of hundreds are listed below.
The World Scene – New Coal Plants canceled
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources proposed 350 MW Gazaria coal plant be dropped. Bangladeshi government officials have confirmed almost 90 per cent of proposed coal power plants may be scrapped,
Coal power is no more a cheap option and it’s becoming more expensive for imported coal. -Mohammad Hossain, the Director General of the Bangladesh Power, Energy and Mineral Resources research body.
Maharashtra’s Minister for Energy, Nitin Raut, rejected construction of a new 660 megawatt (MW) coal unit at the aging 910 MW Nasik plant owned by the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company
Donkin mine in Nova Scotia, which opened in 2017, closes
The 2000 MW Fiddler’s Ferry and the 1725 MW Aberthaw power stations have closed
Global coal power capacity declined by 21,200 megawatts (MW) in the first half of 2020 with the largest changes being the closure of 8300 MW in European Union countries and 5400 MW in the US,
Poland Could Phase Out Coal by 2030 in Business As Usual
French will close its 600 megawatt (MW) Provence coal plant in France two years earlier than planned.
Other countries shouldn’t settle for dirtier, high-carbon power projects now that China has decided to phase them out domestically, Han Chen in China Dialogue.
Romanian Government confirms no more coal plants to be built:
Marubeni Corporation, will exit from the consortium proposing to build the 630 MW Thabametsi coal plant in South Africa.
NGO groups in the Philippines have welcomed the decision by the South Korean utility KEPCO that it will not proceed with the proposed Sual 2 coal plant,
Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, said he would “fundamentally change Japan’s long-term reliance on coal fired energy” as the country moved to be carbon neutral by 2050
South Korea unveils 2050 carbon neutrality target. “We will create new markets and industries and create jobs by replacing coal power generation with renewable energy,”
Pakistan: Government considers ban on new plants that rely on imported gas and coal
( The web references to these news items are available if requested)
It is seen that these decisions come from all over the world and from many countries with their own coal resources. There is no earthly reason for Sri Lanka to take an opposite view, unless driven by private agendas. Furthermore the source of funding for coal power plants are also drying out.
No more Funding for New Coal Power Plants
Sumitomo announces suspension of loans for new coal plants
Review urges Asian Development Bank to support coal phase-out…
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has decided not to finance the proposed 1050 MW Lamu coal plant in Kenya.
Samsung’s key insurance affiliates pledge to halt coal investments
Coal is no longer the Least Cost Option
Solar and Wind power are now cheaper than coal in all countries. This has been proven time and again in Sri Lanka too as indicated by the responses to the recent tenders.
In addition to the concerns on the environmental damage the very clear evidence that Renewable Energy resources such as wind and solar are now far cheaper to generate electricity than even operating existing coal power plants. Therefore even on economic grounds opting for more coal power plants for Sri Lanka is sheer lunacy, unless of course there are other reasons which do not come into the public domain. Why this haste to commence work on a power plant in blatant violation of the Electricity Act as well as the due process for evaluating the environmental impacts? Maybe the plan is to get docile agencies to formulate the Terms of Reference and for conducting the EIAs as was done in the case of existing coal power plant, as well as in case of the Sampur coal power plant. It will be interesting to see to what extent the TOR will cover the recommendations by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri in his article (). In addition the SLEMA report on the externalities clearly shows that a minimum of Rs 10.00 per unit has to be added to the cost of generation from coal to cover the impact on the environment and the health aspects.
In this situation, a ray of hope is the directive given by the Chairman of the COPE that the Central Environmental Authority should have the jurisdiction to conduct the EIA process as the possible environmental impact would affect the whole country, beyond the boundaries of the North Western Province.
But then who knows to what extent the CEB or the Ministry will abide by the directions of COPE when they regard the directives of the Regulator PUCSL in utter disdain.
There are many Renewable Energy Projects and even Natural Gas projects already approved by the government , which will ensure the future energy security without resorting to this dirty coal option, whatever the effort to whilewash it.
As such Sri Lanka can only wait in hope for sanity to return as nothing seems to have changed in the power sector, irrespective of the change in government and lofty promises given.
Eng Parakrama Jayasinghe
28th Nov 2020
Sri Lanka’s diplomatic synchronicity with Its neighbourhood
By Dr. Srimal Fernando
Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has mainly been characterised by synchronising its policies with the multipolar system and balancing the foreign policy manifestation with outreach to different regions and regional groupings. Given the increased convergence of the strategic interests of Sri Lanka and its neighbours, the ever-changing geopolitical scope of the South Asian region has prompted Sri Lanka to forge closer neighbourhood ties. The rationale behind Sri Lanka’s synchronicity with its neighbours is clear, given that the neighbouring countries and regional organisations offer the potential for substantial growth and development. The benefits of accessing neighbouring markets are significant, particularly for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has for years benefited from the welfare gains of its neighbourhood engagements, and there is a lot more it could still gain.
The focus on neighbourhood diplomacy is a striking feature of contemporary Sri Lankan foreign policy. Notably, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government considers neighbourhood diplomacy a strategic prerequisite for Sri Lanka and its economy. The need to re-establish Sri Lanka’s strategic place in the Indo pacific region has been a significant motivation for the Sri Lankan government. This has emphasised the reinvigoration of and strengthening ties with Asian neighbours including the member states of regional organisations such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, and ASEAN. These developments highlight the need for a proactive engagement with Sri Lanka’s neighbours.
Sri Lanka’s Diplomacy with Its Immediate Neighbourhood: India and the Other SAARC Member States.
India’s rising leadership role in the region, growing engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is helping to protect the interests of India and Sri Lanka. Both these countries consider each other mutually important for geopolitical and strategic reasons. Under the new “India First” doctrine, Sri Lanka aims to further deepen its engagements with India and protect India’s strategic security interests. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s “India First” is a manifestation of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy from being western-oriented to being neighbourly. Moreover, India’s increased engagement with SAARC and other regional groupings such as ASEAN and BIMSTEC has helped protect the mutual interests of both India and Sri Lanka.
Equally, the strategic relations between Sri Lanka and other neighbouring nations such as Pakistan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan have been steadily getting stronger. In this regard, the South Asian Free Trade Area agreement (SAFTA) offers potential for increasing the rate of bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and its SAARC partners. Sri Lanka has also entered into trading agreements such as the Pakistan – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (PSFTA) and the Indo – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA), which offers Sri Lanka access to India’s 1.3 billion consumer market. Sri Lanka has also initiated free trade agreement talks with other SAARC member states like Bangladesh and Nepal.
Engagements with other Asian partners: BIMSTEC AND ASEAN.
Broader engagements with other Asian partners such as the East Asian nations and BIMSTEC member states have also been a striking feature of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy. With the right balance, Sri Lanka’s engagements with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) stand to benefit the island nation both economically and strategically. Sri Lanka’s engagements with ASEAN and other Asian partners in the East received momentum under the 2015-2019 government here. Over the past few years, Sri Lanka has successfully established closer political and economic ties with ASEAN and other East Asian nations. Notably, Sri Lanka’s engagement with ASEAN and other East Asian partners is mainly driven by economic necessity. These Asian partners provide Sri Lanka with an opportunity to seek profitable economic engagements within the Asian neighbourhood.
Sri Lanka has also been actively engaged with The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and its member states since its establishment. Notably, the engagements between Sri Lanka and BIMSTEC further increased when the nation assumed the organisation’s chairmanship between 2018 and 2020. BIMSTEC has emerged as a key ally for the future of Sri Lanka’s economy. BIMSTEC is an important channel for economic engagements with neighbourhood value chains and production networks such as India, ASEAN, and Bangladesh.
Championing a New Foreign Policy Model: The way forward
For Sri Lanka to reap the economic benefits of its diplomacy, the government should emphasise improving cooperation with neighbouring nations. Arguably, the nature of Sri Lanka’s relations with its immediate neighbours and other partners will go a long way in providing the much-needed impetus for Sri Lanka’s prosperity. Notably, the nature of relations with SAARC nations will determine Sri Lanka’s future in its pursuit of regional continuity, the promotion of Sri Lanka’s strategic interests, and strengthening each other’s economic prosperity. A good neighbourhood policy will undoubtedly help Sri Lanka exploit the vast economic opportunities presented by its neighbours.
About the Author
Dr. Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O. P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’
How confidence has been eroded
By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
On the threshold of the vote in Geneva, with disaster looming, I began to wonder at how Gotabaya Rajapaksa managed so soon to lose the confidence of the country when there was so much hope when he was elected. The Sugar Fiasco, if not quite in the league of the Bond Scam, suggests that corruption is beyond control. After the satisfactory control, initially, of the coronavirus danger, it burst forth through what seems confused reactions, including the preposterous flood of Ukranian tourists. Contradictory messages, with regard to cremation and burqas and even ages for vaccination, seem the hallmark of this government.
In the end, I think the President has to take responsibility for this mess, and I am sure, unless he is totally surrounded by sycophants, that he must realize where he could have done better. But at the same time, I do feel very sorry for him. As he must know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and he seems to have a chain where there are hardly any links with any bearing capacity whatsoever.
I was struck by this the more when writing the series, I am now producing about the Lost Generations of the United National Party. I have been dealing for the last couple of months with those who came to prominence in the period of the long UNP government of 1977 to 1994, in terms of how and why they did not fulfil their promise.
Contrasting them with those given prominence in the current government, one realizes that now there is no promise at all. To take perhaps the most vital portfolio today we have Pavithra Wanniarachchi, a pleasant enough person but known best for her utter obsequiousness to Chandrika Kumaratunga to begin with, and then Mahinda Rajapaksa and now Gotabaya. One contrasts this with the independent integrity of Gamini Jayasuriya, the first Minister of Health in the Jayewardene government, who resigned from his ministerial position when he disagreed with government policy.
That will not happen with Pavithra, not only because she will not give up her position but also because she cannot understand what it means to disagree about policy. And as for the tremendous innovations Ranjith Atapattu, the Minister of Health who followed, engaged in, his building up of Primary Health Centres and the role of midwives, it is absurd to think of Pavithra having any ideas, let alone such good ones.
That contrast alone makes clear the pitiful position the current President is in. But it is also true that he does not seem to have tried to rise above it. This becomes clear when we consider one of the saddest elements in today’s politics, the enormous responsibilities entrusted to the Prime Minister.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was 74 when assumed the role which he had first occupied when he was 58. Now we all love and respect him, even my sister who scolded him roundly the last time she met him, when he was still President. But it is unfair to expect him now to be a creative Minister and, even if the President needs him as Prime Minister for reasons I need not go into now, to entrust Finance to him as well as Urban Development and Housing is just plain silly.
It is of course true that Ranasinghe Premadasa did have a couple of important portfolios when he became Prime Minister under JR, but he was in his early 50 s at the time. These included Housing and Construction, where he made his mark though he also did much in the field of Local Government. And he did not have the vital portfolio of Finance which was in the hands of Ronnie de Mel, another of those I wrote about, who achieved much for the country, though also sadly for himself. But he too was in his early 50 s at the time, and when he came back into executive office when he was in his seventies he did nothing of consequence.
I am not for a moment suggesting that 70 is too old for office. J R Jayewardene did do much when he became President at 71, and his ultimate failure had to do with his vindictive delusions of grandeur, not his age. But Mahinda Rajapaksa, having done wonders during his first term as President, showed that he was no longer capable of constructive measures when he was in his mid-sixties. To expect more from him a decade later is just plain silly.
There is no need to labour the point, for it is crystal clear we are dealing now with satyrs to the Hyperions of an earlier generation. But it is worth nothing also the contrast between Lalith Athulathmudali, whom I have also written about, and those who now have been entrusted with the responsibilities he fulfilled so well in Jayewardene’s government.
He was in charge of trade which has now been handed over to Bandula Gunawardena. He was in charge of Shipping which is now with Rohitha Abeyagunawardena. And six years after he was first a Minister he was entrusted with National Security whereas now, with the President in charge of Defence, we have Chamal Rajapaksa as State Minister of National Security and Sarath Weerasekera in his first Cabinet appointment, a few months after this Cabinet took over, being Minister of Public Security. The latter seems to be the front man for burqa policy at present.
I don’t suppose anyone will question Lalith Athulathmudali’s intelligence and efficiency, whereas the four Ministers inclusive of one State Minister who now fulfil the functions he managed on his own have between them not an iota of this skills and competence. But this is the material which Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has to work with.
Of course, wonderful material is not a guarantee of success, for we know that, though today’s leading politicians are not a patch on those whom J R Jayewardene had in his Cabinet, that government too brought the country to disaster, with dissent bursting into violence on all sides.
We know too that Ranasinghe Premadasa did very well in some particulars though he worked without some of the brightest stars of the preceding period. And then Mahinda Rajapaksa did a great job in his first term, again without many effective workers. So ultimately it is a question of leadership, and what is so very sad is that Gotabaya, whom one anticipated would be a great leader, has shown himself quite incapable of taking the country forward.
Conversely, though one does sympathize when looking at the material through which he has to work, one does feel too that he is not using the few capable people he has to the full. With regard for instance to Foreign Relations, Dinesh Gunawardena does seem to me a cut above JR’s Foreign Minister, ACS Hameed. And though Dinesh would not claim to be intellectually in the class of G L Peiris, he has a solid base of principle which should hold the country in good stead, which doubtless is why Uditha Devapriya, one of the brightest of our young journalists, characterizes him as the best Foreign Minister we have had in years.
It is tragic therefore that he seems to be floundering, not least because, as so many papers have highlighted in recent weeks, there seems to be no clear sense of direction in the Foreign Ministry. So what we have now is ridiculous efforts by a range of government commentators, including Dinesh and G L Peiris, to prove that we did not in fact suffer defeat in Geneva at the recent vote, a folly Devapriya duly chastizes.
So much verbiage that does not convince anyone is not the way forward for the country. What is needed now is concerted action to ensure that we do not suffer in the way the West has planned for us. But there are no signs of such planning, indeed there are no signs of anyone in authority with the capacity to engage in such planning. Jayantha Colombage, from the little I know of him, seems a decent man with some thinking capacity, but certainly not the thinking capacity or the experience to plan alone as say Lakshman Kadirgamar was capable of, or even Ravinatha Ariyasinha, constrained though the latter was by a host of silly or scheming Ministers. But there are no signs that he is talking to people who know better.
There are two obvious examples of people he and Dinesh together should consult. The most obvious is Dayan Jayatilleka, but since government is wary of him, I will talk first about Tamara Kunanayagam who understands the UN system backwards. Why Dinesh has not consulted her on how to cope with the next stage, which is the discussion in the General Assembly on the budget requested to destroy us, is beyond me. She has excellent relations with the Latin Americans, and indeed Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he sacked her, wanted to use her in Latin America but the mafia that then ran foreign relations stopped him. But even now it may not be too late to use the intelligence and experience she possesses, while also working out guidelines on how to do better in Africa, which too we have woefully neglected unlike in the glory days in Geneva from 2007 to 2009.
Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario
by Kumar David
“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach
Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.
I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA2Zl1mVrOo); the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0WcSiJiJs0). Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.
Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.
Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.
The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.
You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.
What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.
We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.
The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?
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