(Excerpted from the memoirs of Rtd. Senior DIG Police Edward Gunawardena)
Until the mid fifties there were no organized sports facilities for the youth of the village. However much pleasure was gained by young people particularly males by participating in community activities such as harvesting and threshing, thatching of roofs, New Year celebrations etc.
A remarkable feature of pleasant community living was the harmony in which Christians and Buddhists enjoyed the spirit of Christmas. For about three or four nights continuously Carol Singers from St. Mathew’s Church visited homes, irrespective of religious differences. There were other ad-hoc musical groups some even in fancy dress that visited homes and provided a few minutes of entertainment.
The heavily decorated carol cart that was annually organized by the Headman Lennet Ralahamy drew large crowds on the roads. This carol cart with singers who were well trained, even went up to Moratuwa and sang carols in competition with the Moratuwa carol singers. The support that Lennet Ralahamy received to organize this from even the Buddhists was indeed noteworthy.
Ang adeema and Polgeseema were keenly contested between adult groups known as the Udupila and Yatipila. These traditional contests took place annually and the venue was the Seeniduwa. Significantly the people who participated in these games belonged to the Udupila or Yatipila by birth, a tradition with obscure beginnings.
Villagers turned up in large numbers at Seeniduwa to cheer vociferously for either of the two “pilas” or sides particularly when Ang Adeema took place. What I remember most in this contest was the co-ordinated pulling of a rope, tug-of-war ‘style by the Udupila. This rope was tied to the top of a large columnar post made out of a trunk of a tamarind tree; and with every tug this post which was called the ‘Henakanda’ rocked forward giving a booming sound.
The rivalry between the Udupila and Yatipila was apparent only during this annual contest. There were no arguments or quarrels. It was such healthy rivalry that it resulted more in the promotion of friendship and cordiality than division or animosity. Indeed, it is the curse of party politics that has led to whatever friction that exists or erupts from time to time today.
Football comes to Battaramulla.
In the late forties my brothers and I were keen participants in sports at St. Joseph’s. My eldest brother Owen was a keen sprinter who was a member of the Josephian team that won the Junior Tarbet Cup competition at the Public Schools Athletics Meet when it was introduced for the first time. My brother Irwin was a keen pole vaulter. The coconut land presently occupied by the Maha Vidyalaya which was under my father’s control had sufficient open space for us to run freely. A jumping pit filled with sand and a crude vaulting box was constructed. A 75 yards track was also measured out.
Whilst practicing several track & field items we also started kicking a foot ball about amidst the coconut trees. It was a ball that my father purchased from Diana’s on Chatham St. It was of thick leather with an inflatable tube inside. The lacing of the leather cover was also made of hide. We little realized that this kicking about of a ball was to lead Battaramulla to football fame within three to four years.
Starved of recreation, particularly without a playground in the village, one by one children as well as adults began to join us in the evenings to play football. Even a young priest from Sudassanarama Temple that is on the adjoining land joined in kicking the ball about Leading citizens of the village, Edmund Caldera, Lennet Perera, the village headman, and Edward Rupasinghe also began to take a keen interest. Although Caldera did not play, the other two became keen players. For the first time the youngsters saw the Headman and Rupasinghe dressed in shorts playing with the youth enthusiastically.
By the mid-fifties the Nugegoda District Football league had been formed. The president of the league was that devoted football enthusiast, I.D.M. Van Twest, Superintendent of Police. The Nugegoda league was affiliated to the Ceylon Football Association (CFA) and Van Twest was also a Vice President of the CFA.
There were about six or seven clubs from Maharagama, Kotte, Kalapaluwawa and Rajagiriya affiliated to the Nugegoda league. The most formidable teams were Cotta Park, Red Star and the Nugegoda Police. Red Star had that respected parliamentarian of Kotte the late Stanley Tilakaratna as the patron.
At this time the enthusiasm of the footballers at Battaramulla was very high and they were all eager to play competitive football. However, what was lacking was a formal organization. My brother Irwin was playing for the Colombo University under Peter Ranasinghe. I was playing for Peradeniya. My eldest brother Owen who was a law student enjoyed the game and my younger brother Aelian had the makings of an excellent centre-forward.
P. P. de Silva who was a young engineer at Walkers, Tillekeratne of the Inland Revenue Dept, his brother-in-law Nihal of the Prisons, Leslie Weerakkody who was an engineering student in the University, Jayasena, Munidasa and Premadasa who was the lift operator in the New Secretariat Building formed the backbone of a playing side. Lean and wiry Jayasiri and Muin, a young Malay boy, were daring forwards.
It was in this backdrop that all the football enthusiasts of Battaramulla met one Sunday morning in 1955 under the shade of a large jak tree in the land that we played on. I was on vacation. So was my brother Irwin. The purpose was to form a Football Club and formulate a constitution. With no controversial issues and the camaraderie that existed, the meeting was concluded within hours.
A proposal that the club be named ‘Winger’s Sports Club’ made by me was unanimously adopted and a constitution drafted then and there accepted by all present. Edmund Caldera, Lennet Ralahamy, Edward Rupasinghe, Oliver Almeida and Tony Blake were the architects of the constitution. With my basic knowledge of constitutional law gathered at the lectures of Prof. A.J. Wilson I was able to provide the finishing touches. Edmund Caldera, a senior officer of Ford Rhodes and a respected elder of the village, was unanimously elected The President of the Club.
With a unanimously adopted constitution embodying the basic principles necessary and with a set of office bearers who were all honourable and reputed gentlemen, before a month lapsed Wingers Sports Club was admitted to the Nugegoda Football league.
Within a short space of less than two years Wingers had become a popular outfit drawing large crowds whenever they played. In 1957 captained by my brother Aelian, Wingers went on to beat the much fancied Red Star and Cotta Park and qualify to meet the Nugegoda District Police in the league final.
If I remember right this match was played on a Sunday at the Mirihana Police Grounds. The outer fringes of the grounds were decorated with colourful bunting; and with music relayed from a public address system a carnival atmosphere prevailed. By 4 p.m. large crowds had gathered all round the grounds needing uniformed police to keep the crowd from entering the playing area. The arrival of the chief guest, Osmund de Silva, the Inspector General of Police accompanied by I D M Van Twest, Superintendent of Police, was greeted with crackers.
When the two teams lined up, Wingers in red and yellow jerseys looked smarter than the police team dressed in blue. Police with two or three national players were the favourites. When Mantas, the referee, blew the whistle for the commencement of the game there was a roar from the crowd.
In the tenth minute a sharp drive from midfield by Tillakaratne took the police goalie by surprise. Wingers led from this point onwards until the break. Police played far more aggressively in the second half and equalized through a penalty goal. With a one all draw imminent and about a minute to go P.P. de Silva started dribbling the ball solo from midfield and tapped the ball past the police goal keeper. Wingers had become the Nugegoda District Champions; and the toast of the village of Battaramulla.
The Wingers Football Club had by this time become the foremost social organization in the village. Well organized and with a highly disciplined and honourable membership ‘Wingers’ was able to provide leadership to village community activities such as the weeding and cleaning of the cemetery, organizing musical shows with the Talangama Police, and the removal of salvinia that had invaded the paddy fields. The strengthening of cordiality, goodwill and camaraderie among the youth of the village was indeed the lasting contribution of Wingers. Even today the few core members of Wingers who are living meet often to reminisce the glory days of the Club.
The tragic ending of Wingers as an active organization came about with the waning of enthusiasm of the football enthusiasts resulting from the loss of its playing field and meeting place. With the takeover of this land by the Education Department and the development of the Maha Vidyalaya it became the preserve of the school and declared out of bounds for village activities. All the efforts of Winger’s to use the grounds were of no avail. The greater tragedy is that this playing field is used only once or twice a year for a sports meet or Avurudu Celebration and even the children of the school are not seen using this land regularly for cricket, football or athletics. This ‘dog in the manger’ policy of the education authorities sounded the death knell of an admirable village organization.
Personally I have good reason to remember and cherish this wonderful organization. December 24, Christmas eve 1957, is a date deeply etched in my memory. At about 7 a.m. when I drowsily looked for the Ceylon Daily News which was delivered to our home every morning, I found it shredded to bits by a garden fowl that had settled on it. It was common to see our free run hens lay eggs at all places including chairs and even the beds.
It was indeed typical of an all male home of a motherless foursome of teenage brothers living with their father and grandfather. I had missed the good news that this paper had for me.
However, a few moments later there was a virtual invasion of our home by a large group of members of the Wingers Club led by Walter Rupasinghe, the younger brother of Edward Rupasinghe. The others in the group included Oliver and Ratna Almeida, Marshall, Jayasena, Jayasiri, W.A.C. Perera, P.P. de Silva and Victor Henry. They were all smiles and shouting ‘Congratulations’ all the way.
When my brothers and I expressed surprise, Walter asked me, ‘Did you read the good news in the Daily News? I then showed them the newspaper that was in shreds. But they had brought a copy along. In the front page one of the headlines read, ‘Three New Probationary ASP’s.’ The text read as follows:
“The Public Service Commission has announced the selection of the following three candidates to be appointed as Assistant Superintendents of Police in order of merit: Mr. S.D.E.S Gunawardena, Mr. P. Mahendran and Mr. E.S.R. David.
We all had a sumptuous breakfast of hoppers, String hoppers, sambol and plantains. All this had been brought by the crowd to celebrate the occasion. And then it was back to routine — football until the sun became too hot. Such was the wonderful camaraderie among the membership of Wingers.
I entered the Police Training School Kalutara on the 15` February 1958. Sometime before this date, the Wingers organized a formal reception for me at the residence of Mr. Edmund Caldera who was the President of the Club. Respected citizens of the village too had been invited. It was indeed an evening of music and fun. Several speeches were also made. Many of those present expressed surprise that a young man of 23 had become an Assistant Superintendent of Police.
The highest ranking officer that most of them had seen or heard of was Sub-Inspector V. T. Dickman who was the Officer-in-charge of Welikada Police Station. Battaramulla then came under the Welikada Police. The memento that was presented to me that night was a Gold Capped Parker 51 set. I still have the pen in good condition.
The guest artiste to keep the musical show alive on this occasion was Police Sergeant Wally Bastians. But this reputed baila singer did not know what the occasion was. I was to meet him later when in 1959 1 was attached to Colombo West as the understudy to R.A. Stork who was the ASP of the area. Wally Bastian then was a live wire in the Colombo Traffic Circus that conducted hilarious Street Shows to promote good road manners. It is a great pity indeed that a popular artiste of the caliber of this great exponent of baila could not live to see the cassette and DVD age.
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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