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Midweek Review

Solving the Human-Elephant Conflict

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By Rajitha Ratwatte

I am told that our new President is going to make another attempt to handle the burning issue of the human-elephant conflict (HEC). I have nothing but good wishes for his attempts and to those well qualified academics who have been appointed to a committee to handle the task. Engaging the groves of academe in the task is well and good, but please remember that practical experience in handling elephants is essential.

The following are extracts from my book; they deal with HEC as I see it and the hard problem of how we are going to reduce the wild elephant population of our country. It is undisputable that the Pearl has too many wild elephants and since reducing humans is not really possible; the elephant numbers have to come down.

Fortunately, we have a proven method, that needs some improvement for sure but is a real alternative to culling entire herds which is the method followed in the African countries. Happy reading dear readers!

“The human-elephant conflict in a country with a growing population and a level of politically patronized corruption that does not allow the implementation of conservation laws. A Chena cultivator stakes his future and the future of his entire family on a crop that gets raided by a marauding elephant a few days before harvest. The entire crop is ruined, and the farmer faces destitution. Can the farmer be blamed for trying his best to keep the elephants out? This leads to horrendous wounds on both sides and slow lingering death from gangrene or poison, for the elephants.

“The fact that the cultivation is inside a buffer zone of a national park or in some cases actually inside the demarcated zone for a national park can be blamed on local vote grabbing political patronage …. but what else is new!

In such a situation we have a real alternative to culling. We in this land that has been thrice blessed, have an ancient art that has been passed down for thousands of years. We know how to domesticate elephants and these elephants can support up to two families each. The people who look after elephants learn a trade, they are not unskilled workers and they have a life of dignity. If they take any pride in their craft the elephant too lives free of gunshot wounds, semi starvation and trauma and lack of sleep.

“Why are the politicians and the greenies blocking this? It can’t be lack of knowledge. Some of the leading politicians of this country come from families that have had elephants. Surely, even though their skills and aptitudes turned them towards one of the more questionable professions in this world, they have some memories? Anyone who has had the privilege of earning the trust of an elephant will never ever forget that. If they have never experienced it how can they speak with authority and make decisions if they don’t know the subject?”

Next is an extract from some actual trapping of elephants that I was privileged to watch and participate in:

“This herd lived in a tiny pocket of jungle surrounded by rice fields. The land had been cleared without getting the elephants out and therefore the animals had to compete with humans for food and water. The only way the elephants could live was to raid the cultivation and during the rice harvesting season it was an absolute nightmare. First, we went to the area and set up camp. There was no sleep in the night! All you heard was the shouting of men, the exploding of firecrackers and gunshots and the screams of angry elephants. It was like the soundtrack for Dante’s description of hell. Everyday there were reports of human and elephant casualties and some of the methods used by farmers to defend their crops were unbelievable. May I hasten to add that when one saw the conditions under which those farmers lived and realised that one raid from a herd of elephants meant the total loss of a crop for that season, a farmer was perfectly justified in defending his corp. My opinion is that it should have been the politicians’ who settled farmers on those lands in order to garner votes that should have been poisoned and shot!

“Poisoned fruit, trap guns that maimed horribly, pouring acid and boiling oil onto the backs of elephants from watch huts on top of trees and using six-inch nails driven into planks that when lodged in an elephant’s foot caused gangrene, were only some of the methods used. All this because the elephant was a “protected” animal and most of the guns that belonged to farmers had been confiscated by the authorities with the advent of war. To any sane man it was obvious that actually culling those elephants would have been much more merciful that subjecting them to what was and is still happening. We, in our country actually had an alternative. We knew how to trap, and train elephants and these elephants would provide a vocation and a means of livelihood for two families per elephant but there was politics and the “greenies” to consider. This was the only occasion that something would be considered on these lines and since it had a rather sticky ending, I fear those elephants are condemned to die slowly. It still pains me to think of what was done to us and how the project ended but I will not bore the reader with another anecdote of politics from the third world. This is supposed to be a book dedicated with love to elephants and I will describe the methods used by the traditional elephant trappers of Ceylon.

“The trappers arrived (not in loincloths) with their trusty ropes and we accompanied them on their initial recce of the territory. We were fortunate enough to encounter the herd of elephants resting in a small forest area and immediately the Pannikyars’ were transformed. “Civilised” attire vanished and loincloths appeared like magic. The oldest among them a gnarled veteran of indiscriminate age, said he would go in among the herd and come back to us with a report of how many animals were there and if there were any animals that were suitable for capture. We had permission to capture a few cow elephants to form the nucleus of a team of Monitor elephants that would be used in future plans to translocate pocketed animals. We needed half grown cows around 4-5-foot-tall as these were the best for training. The old man disappeared, and we sat in the shade, in the growing heat, waiting for a report. We all had one ear cocked for an elephantine scream, followed by a nasty thud and the resulting mayhem. Just as we were beginning to get worried the old man materialised, seemingly from the foot of the tree and he had good news, there were suitable animals and we could set our traps.

“We had a further advantage because this herd of wild elephants was actually trapped inside this pocket of forest because (can you believe it!) There was a musical concert going on in the adjoining village and the elephants’ only exit route was blocked by a noisy screaming bunch of music fans.

“The trap itself is basically a noose made of specially cured Sambhar hide. One end of which is tied securely to a stout tree and the noose end is connected to a weighted pulley which hangs from a branch of the same tree and buried in a shallow trench the size of the foot of the animal you wish to capture; remember the formula is 2xcircumferance of the fore-foot gives you the height at the shoulder). All this is then cleverly camouflaged and covered with thin twigs and earth. This ensures that when the elephant’s foot goes in the twigs give way, this then releases a crude spring mechanism that lifts the noose up the leg of the animal and tightens the noose. The elephant is then effectively tied to the tree and unable to free itself. The rope is so strong that even though elephants are known to have knelt down and bitten it with their immensely powerful jaws, it has held up.

“I followed the old man because I knew that he was the master. Everyone used the elephant paths to locate their traps in because when a herd is moving the majority of animals use the well-beaten path and consequently your chances of success increase. While assisting the old man, we got talking and he told me, “There is a lovely young princess (a high caste calf) and she even has tushes (very rare among female elephants in our country) shall we set a trap for her?” I couldn’t believe my ears. To get a female with tushes from whom it was possible to breed that most valuable of animals a tusker, was a fantastic bonus and I said, “Let’s do it,” thinking to myself that I would somehow arrange for permission because it was vital to save those genes from the terrible fate they were destined to. I was also a little skeptical as to how this man was going to set a trap for a specific animal although I didn’t dare ask.

“The old man selected a stout teak tree that grew in the middle of the elephant path. It had a fairly low branch about four feet of the ground on one side and no low branches on the other side. The path went around this tree and there was thick thorn bush on either side of the path at this point. Sulaiman selected a point under the low branch and began to set his trap. I couldn’t contain my curiosity anymore and was about to ask him why he had selected that spot when he began to explain. I think he was reasoning out to himself more than telling me. I was just a fortunate bystander. “The mother leads the herd and she will come first”. “The calf (or the child as he called it) will be close at heel and the adult will pick the easy path and not go under the low branch. The calf trying to keep at heel and getting jostled by the rest of the herd will take the route under the short branch as it is no obstruction to her and then she will be ours.” This is how this now dead master of his art put it. That is exactly how “Kiri” came into our lives!

“Rani and Khadira (two tame elephants) had been brought to the camp to assist in moving the captured animals as we still did not accept the use of tranquilizers. It was the age-old belief that a couple of good monitor elephants did the job with the least trauma to the new captives. Rani adopted Kiri immediately and although she didn’t have a calf at the time she actually came into milk and was feeding Kiri with mother’s milk (not really necessary at Kiri’s age) during her training and initiation into our lives.”

Below is an account of the training:

“We picked a coconut estate that belonged to my uncle, in a fairly remote area with good access to a river and plenty of room for stabling elephants to introduce Kiri to living with humans. We found Kiri in a terrible state. She was riddled with ticks and full of internal parasites. This little elephant calf had also been shot at and there was buckshot all over her body. She was so weak that when she lay down, she needed help to get up again and when she got any food, she ate so fast that it was obvious that she had been brought up on a diet of food snatched from angry cultivators. Kiri would probably have died if she had remained in the wild under those conditions. Even though we had Kiri forcibly removed from us by the politicians of the day, it was nice to know that we had rescued even one of that ill-fated herd of elephants.

“The first thing to do was to simply sit with Kiri and talk to her some of the “pannikayar” sang to her and get her to realise that all humans didn’t hate her. Of course, we also fed her with all kinds of tasty morsels, the treacle from the “kithul” flower and the “juggery”, which is the solidified form of this same product, were the most popular. Having Rani was also very helpful because she was able to communicate, and no doubt explain a few things to Kiri once her initial terror wore off. Rani, as mentioned earlier, was imminently sensible and although all elephants long for the wild—it is so obvious when working with elephants in the vicinity of wild herds—they do form a very good relationship with humans and more often than not adapt and settle down very well. The way I look at it is how we humans (originally hunter gatherers) have adapted to the “rat race”. It is essential to have good (sensible) monitor elephants when training wild ones as this makes a huge difference to the end product. I feel that ‘sensible’ monitor elephants explain the situation to their charges in the correct way and shape a correct attitude by the trainee. Rani however went silly over her charge. She, practical, sensible, down to earth Rani started lactating and decided that the calf was hers. Kiri was quick to realise that she could manipulate Rani and took advantage of every opportunity.

“Kiri hated bath time. Very strange in elephants because they usually relish bathing. This could only have been attributed to the fact that the pocketed herd that Kiri was part of, had to share their water source with humans and bathing was always fraught with danger. Usually, if you let an elephant off in a river it would “dive” straight in and lie down and roll around and it would be very difficult to get the elephant out again. With Kiri it was different. She would stand in the water petrified and try to find a way of getting out as soon as possible. However, to keep an elephant fit and healthy it is necessary to have them lie in water and we also used to give them a good scrub when they did lie down. This was the way to keep parasites off their bodies. Kiri wouldn’t lie down, and we had to make her do it. What ensued was the equivalent of a rugby union ruck, followed by a rolling maul and a total collapse. We had to physically tackle Kiri and get her down on her side, of course she resisted strongly and would accompany her struggles with loud bellows and Rani in spite of all her good sense would get up and come running to help with loud cries of her own.

 

Bath time would attract the whole village and we even had a request from the local school principal to have bath time after 1.30 PM as this was the time his school sessions were over for the day and he was having terrible trouble with truancy during the last period … Rani was so well trained and we were so sure of her that in spite of the noise and her physical presence she never actually intervened and, therefore, she was no threat. However, Khadira had to be used for the actual training because there was little room for sentimentality when training a good working elephant.

“Initially, Kiri was tied to Khadira by a rope attached to both elephant’ shoulders. This meant that Kiri was compelled to do everything Khadira did and she also learned to associate the commands that Khadira obeyed with the relevant action. They would go off on long walks in the countryside and Kiri did try her charms on her venerable teacher but the “old man” would have none of it. She tried everything, wriggling under the bull’s stomach and trying to entangle the guide rope on his legs and maybe trip him up. Kiri soon learnt that it was a waste of time to try to go the other way when Khadira was obeying an order and standing still really meant STANDING STILL. If the bull wanted to, he could easily have jerked the little calf off her feet and some have been known to strike them with their trunks and even kill them. Khadira was the best of the best. Wonderfully patient and so obedient! He just stood there with just the correct resistance on the rope and his trunk tucked into his mouth so that even if he was tempted… he could resist. Soon this attitude filtered down to the trainee and all unnecessary activities ceased and we had an obedient controlled young elephant so much so that after only a week or two we had Kiri walking all over the town and holding her own on the roads with buses horning at her and of course people falling in love with her. Kiri must have been fed by one in two people who saw her, and they would have little offerings of bananas and other fruit waiting for her when she went on her walks. The hill country villages of Ceylon love their elephants and some even worships them as elephants are associated with the Hindu god Ganesh.

“Kiri and Khadira got so used to each other that on the first occasion that Kiri was taken to have a look at what working was all about she went hitched to Khadira in the usual way and at the place of work she was unhitched and Khadira wheeled off to the right to get to work. The little trainee didn’t realise that she had been unhitched, for it was Khadira’s end of the rope that had been removed and she wheeled in perfect time keeping an even pressure on the guide rope! Of course, we all fell about laughing and Kiri looked rather hurt.

Politics intervened, and our project was deemed another elitist venture and we were accused of murdering some elephants in a cruel manner. One day the long arm of the law came to our estate and ordered us to load Kiri onto a lorry for transport to a life of drudgery in an “elephant orphanage”. Kiri wouldn’t go, and it was I, with a breaking heart and Rani, who had to guide her onto the lorry and she bellowed and cried as the lorry was driving away. Rani’s cries that day were so terrible, and I never want to hear an elephant cry like that ever again. There was nothing I could do, so I hugged her trunk and I wept unashamedly until I found Rani comforting me with the gentle rumbling call that a cow elephant makes to her calf to tell it that “things will be alright because mother knows best”. It took the wisdom of this matriarch of elephants to point out to a humble human that life is cruel and sometimes we have no control of what is to happen to us”.

fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

 



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Midweek Review

Queues, Cues and More Queues

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By Kalinga Tudor Silva

One of the important ways, the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka has directly impacted our lives is having to go through long and seeming unending queues, to access petrol, diesel, kerosene and even our dear passports. Queues have multiplied, sprung up on either side of the road and across the road in some instances adding to traffic jams, accidents and related road risks and public grievances stemming from the economic crisis. Frustrations arising from the failure at the end of the queues to secure what they were queuing for long hours have also become an important driver of public protests and clashes between different groups of public, consumers and fuel station staff and the public and law enforcement personnel. This is not the first time that scarcities hit consumers in Sri Lanka, but this is the first time in our memory that queues have become a routine and blatantly visible sign of the desperate position we are in with our foreign reserves nearly exhausted and essential imports like fuel, consumer goods and medicines severely curtailed in consequence. While the rising cost of fuel in the wake of the war in Ukraine may have partly contributed to this situation, the totally irresponsible and reckless way our foreign reserves were handled and high-risk international credit using International Sovereign Bonds were obtained by our political leaders and their hand-picked bureaucrats at the top largely contributed to the economic meltdown producing heavy scarcities and the resulting queues. I am writing this short reflection based on my personal experience of long stays in petrol and LP gas queues and brief conversations I had with different stakeholders in the supply chain and the fellow victims in the queues.

Queue Jumping

While Sri Lankans are notorious for jumping the queues and doing so shamelessly at times wearing ties and all the external trappings of modernity, they have also found ingenious ways of blocking queue jumping. I came across two such devices in the two sets of queues in which I joined. One was the bumper-to-bumper vehicle parking in overnight queues blocking any big enough empty space to be occupied by intruders big or small. The other was tying of empty gas cylinders to one another forming their own queues using a metal chain to prevent any forcible insertions in between, with chains and empty gas cylinders serving as actants in this instance, as the social theorist Latour would identify them within his actor-network framework. In adaptation to the circumstances as well as in outsmarting the habitual queue-jumpers, it is as if queues take cues from one another. That said I find these multiple queues imposed upon us a total waste of our time and resources. For instance, some people exhaust the limited fuel stocks they have in their vehicles in the slow-moving vehicle queues, only to find when they reach their destination that there is no more fuel to be sold. This is the point at which some people get into serious conflict with either the fuel station employees or other parties perceived to be manipulating the supply lines. These confrontations have sometimes ended in serious injuries or even manslaughter.

It must be stated here that while some fuel stations have done a reasonable job of handling this difficult situation, others have made a mess of distributing the limited supplies. In one fuel station that I visited I came to know that there was one long queue to secure tokens for the next day and another even longer queue using the tokens to access fuel. Despite all the seemingly logical efforts such as allocating different days for accessing fuel according to the last number in the license plate, and the introduction of the QR code system, they have further complicated the distribution of fuel and made life difficult for the consumers. The token system was introduced to do away with the queues, but it has in fact multiplied queues, with queues for obtaining the tokens superimposed upon separate fuel queues. It appears to be the case that there is no monitoring or follow up of the various interventions made by the Energy Ministry to make sure that these interventions work in the way expected and fix any inevitable mistakes in the system. As of now some of the interventions such as the token system has only served to make life difficult for the consumers simultaneously hit by the scarcities on the one hand and sharp and repeated escalation of commodity prices on the other. Where yesterday’s queues end, today’s queues begin in anticipation of tomorrow’s uncertain supplies. In the meantime, the number of people collapsing and instantly dying in the queues has recorded an all-time high in this land of prosperity and splendour!

Black Market

Another unhealthy development we are witnessing currently is the emergence of a black market for fuel and perhaps other commodities in short supply. This black market has several manifestations. One is that the fuel issued for one legitimate purpose such as operation of mechanised fishing boats essential for the fishing industry being diverted to the black-market catering to the motorists. The relevant boat operators perhaps make a good income by illegally selling their fuel supplies instead of catching any fish. Another is that hired vehicles such as three wheelers being used for securing fuel supplies for the black market, these vehicle operators making more money illegally selling their fuel stocks than by hiring their vehicles as expected. This also perhaps partly explains why the fuel queues keep extending despite the supply chain being in operation and replenished from time to time. The police have successfully caught some of these illegal operators, but the number caught may simply be the tip of the iceberg. Some black-market operators reportedly dilute their fuel supplies with whatever bubbling substances at their disposal causing havoc in the vehicle engines to which they are introduced. This again may be a lucrative income avenue for the expert mechanics, but a serious risk faced by the motorists compelled to turn to the black market to obtain fuel supplies during emergencies. Thirdly charges by commercial vehicles such as trucks, taxis and three wheelers have risen so much because of the fuel scarcity and the black market in fuel supply that they rely on to an extent that many users have virtually given them up. The QR code introduced to overcome the resulting problems such as diversion of fuel supplies to the black market, is yet to be implemented across the board and adopted by all parties concerned. Obviously, the ground situation has not been properly assessed in respect of availability of devises and the competence of the fuel station staff and the latter have not been prepared for adoption of this intervention prior to its introduction.

Muscle Power

Another parallel development to the black market is the control of certain terminal points in the fuel distribution system by a mafia-like local group with muscle power, heavy street presence and possible connections to the long arms of the law and at times law makers themselves. This group obviously benefits from the black market and perhaps tries to perpetuate it because it serves their interests. This will make it difficult to go back to a free market of the type that prevailed prior to the onset of the economic crisis even when economy has recovered, and the fuel supplies are back to normal. This group can either subvert the efforts to regularise the fuel supply or manipulate them for maximising their own benefits in ways that entrench the black market and enhance their control over it.

Considering the adverse effects of this black market and its potentially irreversible social consequences, it is essential that innovative approaches are pursued in order to prevent it from advancing to the next stage. While the queues may be here to stay for some time, we must find ways and means to ensure that they do not get out of control and destabilise the entire social system and the market economy connected with it. Allocating different types of motor vehicles for fuel supply on different days or to different fuel stations, proper implementation of the QR codes having done the necessary groundwork and preparations, fuel supply for essential services through approved government outlets with required police protection are among the steps that can be introduced on a pilot basis and expanded to the whole system if they prove to help overcome the current crisis. Finally, a systematic assessment of the current situation must be made by a team of competent people also getting feedback from the public with a view to identify the way forward.

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Midweek Review

Orwellian Isle Ordeals

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By Lynn Ockersz

‘Big Brother’s’ surveillance lens,

Is now at greatly magnified strength,

In the Isle thrashed by crisis waves,

Piercing every prospect of the land,

With scorching interrogatory rays,

Aiming to cow into silence,

Citizens demanding real change,

And the deliverance of Justice,

To crime victims long forgotten by time,

But all that would be left in the end,

We are compelled but sorry to say,

Is a fear-driven, straitjacketed state,

Where ‘Big Brother’, with his all-seeing eye,

Will be the power with which to contend.

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Midweek Review

Proposed all-party govt: Prez wins support from unexpected quarters

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The secret vote on the new President as well as the Emergency sharply divided the SLFP. In spite of talks among members of its parliamentary group, the party, led by one-time President Maithripala Sirisena, has not been able to reach a consensus on a strategy to deal with the new President. Of the 14 SLFPers, including National List MP Dr. Suren Raghavan, five have thrown their weight behind Wickremesinghe’s move to impose the Emergency rule. The remaining SLFPers abstained at the vote on the Emergency, though all 14 members exercised their freedom at the secret vote to elect the new President by parliament. The SLFP parliamentary group was reduced to 09 in the wake of 05 switching their allegiance to Wickremesinghe. Even out of the 09, Lasantha Akagiyawanna, Duminda Dissanayake, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and Jagath Pushpakumara wanted to vote for the Emergency, whereas Maithripala Sirisena, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Angajan Ramanathan, Shan Wijelal and Sarathi Dushmantha felt the party should vote against.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lawmakers sharply differ on a solution to developing the political-economic-social crisis. Election of UNP National List MP Ranil Wickremesinghe as the 8th Executive President and the vote on Emergency on July 20 and July 27 respectively further highlighted the growing differences among political parties, represented in Parliament, as well as individual members.

The Parliament consists of 196 elected and 29 appointed (National List) members. They have entered Parliament on the ticket of political parties mentioned below: The parties are Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (145 seats), Samagi Jana Balavegaya (54), Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (10), Jathika Jana Balavegaya (03) Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (02), Eelam People’s Democratic Party (02), United National Party (01), Sri Lanka Freedom Party (01), Our Power of People Party (01), Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (01) Muslim National Alliance (01), Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (01), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (01), National Congress (01) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (01).

In the wake of the UNP leader receiving parliamentary blessings to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has emerged as one of the leading demanders of an immediate parliamentary election, notwithstanding the perilous state of the country. The MEP with just three members (Dinesh Gunawardena, his son Yadamini (National List) and Sisira Jayakody) received the premiership.

The three-member Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) parliamentary group, comprising JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake (Colombo district), Vijitha Herath (Gampaha district) and Dr. Harini Amarasuriya (National List) campaigns for an early general election. The JVP leader, one of the three contestants, received just three votes, including his own, at the July 20 vote.

Having backed Dullas Alahapperuma (Matara district) at the presidential contest, the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, campaigns for an early general election. The 54 member SJB parliamentary group is obviously divided over its political strategy, though its leader, Sajith Premadasa seems confident an early general election can resolve the crisis. The SJB group includes seven National List members.

The SJB and the JVP believe an early general election is the panacea for the worst-ever crisis that has brought Sri Lanka to its knees, thereby facilitating external interventions at an unprecedented level.

The rapid developments and the growing uncertainties should be examined, taking into consideration President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s stand on an early general election and that of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Both Wickremesinghe and the SLPP are unlikely to accept the holding of a hasty national election, under any circumstances, in the current situation. They agree on Wickremesinghe finishing his predecessor’s five-year term and the Parliament continuing its stipulated period. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fielded by the SLPP won the last presidential election, conducted in mid-November 2019, and the general election in August, 2020.

Dissident SLPP National List member Gevindu Cumaratunga discussed the issues at hand on ‘Thulawa’, anchored by Sudarman Radaliyagoda, on the Independent Television Network (ITN) on July 28.

Responding to former JVP MP Nalinda Jayatissa’s declaration that general election was nothing but a prerequisite as bankrupted Sri Lanka struggled to cope up with an unprecedented economic crisis, lawmaker Cumaratunga strongly argued for an all-party government as the urgent need to restore the gravely ill country.

The outspoken nationalist politician stressed the need for a consensus on what he called an ‘all-party-arrangement’ and the responsibility on the part of President Wickremesinghe to take tangible measures to achieve the desired objective. Civil society group ‘Yuthukama’ leader Cumaratunga explained how a dissident group of SLPP MPs and others tried to convince the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to dissolve the Cabinet-of-Ministers to pave the way for an all-party government.

Cumaratunga asserted that consensus on an ‘all party arrangement’ was required as a fresh general election couldn’t guarantee a stable government. The civil society activist asked whether anyone could guarantee how long a government elected at a hastily called general election will last.

Referring to the fate of world leaders, such as the UK’s Boris Johnson, elected in 2019, but forced to announce his resignation recently, Cumaratunga stressed that political parties should be mindful of the impact the corrosive and highly manipulated (especially by foreign interests) social media was having on the entire political party system here.

The MP was obviously commenting on the fate that befell elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with an overwhelming majority and the SLPP. The first time entrant to Parliament pointed out that today posters weren’t required. The MP explained how social media platforms could influence the electorate to topple any elected administration by poisoning the minds of the people against it. Therefore, it would be sensible to have a consensus among those political parties represented in Parliament than going for a fresh election that may not facilitate a solution at all.

Rebels divided over political strategy

Lawmakers Cumaratunga and ‘Yuthumaka’ activist Anupa Pasqual (Kalutara district) elected on the SLPP ticket at the last general election, voted for the Emergency, the day before the live telecast of ‘Thulawa.’ Of those lawmakers representing 10 political parties and groups affiliated with the SLPP, Gevindu Cumaratunga and Anura Pasqual joined Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila in backing the continuation of the Emergency rule.

However, regardless of a decision taken at a meeting of the group held at the Communist Party office, on the previous day, Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Democratic Left Front), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (Lanka Samasamaja Party), Weerasumana Weerasinghe (Communist Party) and Ven. Athureliye Rathana (Our Power of People Party) skipped the vote. The proposal to continue with the Emergency received 120 votes whereas 63 voted against the move. Quite a number of others abstained. Some of those who voted for Dullas Alahapperuma, at the presidential contest, voted for the Emergency, while some of his other supporters abstained. The dwindling Dullas Alahapperuma-Prof. G.L. Peiris camp voted against it though some of its members suffered in the hands of the protest movement. Did they quietly and conveniently forget the killing of MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale on May 09?

Appearing on ‘Thulawa’, MP Cumaratunga questioned the JVP strategy as regards an earlygeneral election, in spite of sensible assertions that an ‘all-party arrangement’ was required to deal with the current unprecedented situation.

The ‘Yuthukama’ chief recalled how the JVP intervened during CBK’s presidency to avert external interventions (reference was to the Pariwasa government) and how the party helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the 2005 presidential election at a time the UPFA candidate lacked the wherewithal. But, the JVP squandered the opportunity to achieve the desired objectives due to ill-fated decisions, the ardent nationalist MP asserted.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga didn’t mince his words when he accused the JVP of being part of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s murderous strategy in the late 80s. The reference was to the second JVP-inspired insurgency, which was eventually crushed by the Premadasa regime itself by outmatching its mindless violence after all attempts made by him to appease its demands failed, after having come to power with some help from their brute violence that had been unleashed, especially in the aftermath of the forced Indo-Lanka accord.

MP Cumaratunga reiterated his call for the JVP et al to change their strategies as part of the overall measures to overcome the daunting challenges faced by the country.

Responding to the interviewer, lawmaker Cumaratunga declared that their proposal for an ‘all-party government’ handed over to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is still valid. Urging President Wickremesinghe to initiate action required to achieve consensus on an action plan, MP Cumaratunga referred to two instances of US interventions. The lawmaker questioned the circumstances one-time Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam ended up as an USAID paid advisor to yahapalana Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, and how the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), too, benefited from USAID funding.

Before voting for the emergency on July 27, the MP reminded the House how the military top brass, at a meeting chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena at the parliamentary complex on July 13, sought a clear cut direction from the political leadership regarding the ways and means of countering the threat posed by those who sought to undermine the country’s democracy.

MP Cumaratunga said that attacks on SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and several of his MPs on May 09 afternoon near Taj Samudra, assault on MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne at a different location and threats on JVP trade union activists, whether staged or not, revealed the dangerous intentions of those who masqueraded as peaceful protesters.

The Yuthukama leader urged President Wickremesinghe to go beyond the UNP’s thinking and take appropriate measures required to restore public confidence in his administration. He expressed confidence and faith in the new Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena whose appointment was described as the most apt at a time of crisis.

Protest movement slams Fonseka

SJB MP Sarath Fonseka’s declaration in Parliament on July 27 before the House extended the Emergency that a campaign, similar to the one that ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa on July 09, would be mounted in Colombo on August 09, angered the protest movement. The Sinhala Regiment veteran urged the military not to interfere with the protest movement.

The protest movement appeared to have been quite surprised and angered by the Field Marshal declaration.

Though the Field Marshal has openly spoken sympathetically towards the protest movement, in actual fact he has no stomach for violent blood thirsty brutes conveniently wrapping themselves in the national flag to hoodwink the nation and the world.

Sarva Parkshika Aragalakaruwo in a hard hitting statement dated July 29 alleged that the Field Marshal’s declaration was meant to cause harm to the protest movement. They called the war-winning Army Chief’s action part of the government conspiracy. The grouping urged the public to be cautious of those seeking to exploit the developments to their advantage at the expense of the overall objectives of the protest movement. Obviously, since Wickremesinghe, on the invitation of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accepted the premiership on May 12, differences have emerged among those who backed the protest movement. Various parties have questioned the role played by the UNP and its leader Wickremesinghe in the protest movement.

While acknowledging the right to dissent, President Wickremesinghe has sought to consolidate government authority, regardless of serious concerns expressed by Western powers. President Wickremesignhe’s decision to clear the Presidential Secretariat and its environs of protesters on July 22 underscored the new President’s resolve. In fact, the UNP leader won the appreciation and the admiration of many, even from usually unlikely quarters, like perennial ardent critic of Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Myanmar Prof. Nalin de Silva, for his prompt action.

At the same time President Wickremesinghe shouldn’t risk causing further turmoil by any overhasty actions. Last Friday’s raid on the Nugegoda party office of the breakaway JVP faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), at least on the surface, seems an utterly idiotic move on the part of law enforcement authorities. Such actions wouldn’t help President Wickremesinghe’s efforts to secure cooperation of all political parties represented in Parliament. Instead, overzealous law enforcement operations might undermine the President’s efforts and result in pressure on those lawmakers who voted for the Emergency. Rethinking of strategy is required, urgently to prevent creation of an environment conducive for those hell-bent on ruining the country to come back to saner thinking. Maybe an iron fist in a velvet glove might be the answer.

However, we cannot blame the security apparatus for not taking any more chances. As not only Field Marshal Fonseka who warned of turmoil, but many in the JVP/FSP hierarchy have publicly vowed to drive out President Wickremesinghe the same way they chased out Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In fact just early this week IUSF leader Wasantha Mudalige vowed to bring Wickremesinghe to Galle Face on his knees.

The country has seen enough of those masquerading as non-partisan and non-violent protesters going on the rampage since March 31, when the opportunity permits. We were shocked to see how the US ambassador Julie Chung had the audacity to issue a statement urging the security establishment here not to use force against protesters on May 09, as well-prepared anti- government violent mobs were going on the rampage across the country. Maybe she should issue such statements to the US marines!

Civil society activist Chirantha Amarasinghe has released a taped conversation he had with President Wickremesinghe soon after the police and the military chased out protesters from the environs of the Presidential Secretariat. Amarasinghe questioned the rationale in President Wickremesinghe advising him to seek an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremeratne as regards the July 22 incident against the backdrop of him personally briefing Colombo-based diplomats. Declaring their intention to mount an ‘operation’ in Colombo on August 09, Amarasinghe representing an origanisation called ‘Freedom Defenders’ insisted that the SLPP should be defeated for once and for all !

WW ready to cooperate with Prez

Having voted for the Emergency, considering the gravity of the situation facing the country, obviously instigated by his erstwhile colleagues in the JVP/FSP, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa has offered the support of his party, comprising six parliamentarians, to the government depending on the new President’s readiness to pursue a strategy meant to counter external interventions.

The former firebrand JVPer declared his support for President Wickremesinghe’s all-party government depending on the latter’s response to their proposals. Lawmaker Weerawansa’s stand should be appreciated especially against the backdrop of long standing animosity between the UNP leader and the NFF leader. MP Weerawansa, in his letter dated July 28, has warned President Wickremesinghe that whether he accepted it or not, he too, had only two options namely (i) be part of the despicable Western operation meant to transform Sri Lanka to Haiti’s status and (ii) take tangible measures to address the issues at hand by taking advantage of the current political-economic-social crisis to reach consensus on what the former minister called a social contract.

Weerawansa lost his ministerial portfolio in early March this year. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, too, lost his ministerial portfolio at the same time. The then President sacked them in response to their leading role in a high profile campaign against the controversial Yugadanavi deal finalized in Sept 2021 under highly questionable hasty circumstances.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to pay a very heavy price for not recognizing serious concerns expressed by SLPP constituents. Instead, the former President sought to justify the actions of those who exploited an utterly corrupt system to finalize the US energy deal. Many an eyebrow was raised when the then CEB Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando defended the Yugadanavi deal at a media briefing arranged by the then presidential spokesperson Kingsley Ratnayake at the President’s Media Division (PMD). Ratnayake conveniently took leave before the cultivated public anger exploded at the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pangiriwatta, Mirihana. The former President’s Director General Media Sudewa Hettiarachchi quit several days before the protest movement overran the President’s House on July 09.

Weerawansa made a 12-point set of proposals including a mechanism to accommodate representatives of the protest movement. Amidst fears expressed by some that interested parties would take advantage of the crisis to appoint a jumbo-sized Cabinet, MP Weerawansa’s party has proposed that the Cabinet-of- Ministers should be restricted to 30 and they be deprived of current ministerial perks and privileges (suggestion number 09).

The readiness on the part of the likes of Wimal Weerawanwa and Gevindu Cumaratunga to explore ways and means of reaching a consensus on a recovery plan should be appreciated. The country is in such a desperate situation no one can stick to old policies and strategies unless they want the bankrupt country to collapse, thereby suffering irrevocable damage.However, MP Weerawansa’s recent response to Wickremesinghe invitation for talks indicated the extreme difficulties in reaching consensus on matters at hand. What all, including the President should keep in mind is that they need to address the concerns of the IMF or face the consequences.

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