A personal story as recalled by Capt F.R.A.B. Musafer 4th Regt SLA (Retd)
The year 1971 was ushered in with a very pleasing political utterance to the public that the Army did not need guns but needed plowshares – agricultural machinery and tools to support the food drive. It was at a time when the Army, an essentially peacetime operation entrusted with the internal security of the country, had turned its attention to assist with national paddy cultivation and other agricultural projects countrywide.
With an estimated strength of around 8,000, the army was not a well equipped force by any means. It was frugal in outlook and dependent on existing resources. The military hardware was virtually hand-me-downs of the British Army and of World War II vintage. The bulk of the small arms in use were the old .303 Enfield rifles the rest were made up of light machine gun (LMG), sten gun (SMC) and the sterling sub machine gun (SMG) and the .38 Smith and Wesson pistols. The infantry units were being re-equipped with the 7.62 mm self loading rifle (SLR’s), a sophisticated and automated weapon in use by the British Army.
The Armoured corp was the glamour regiment equipped with Ferret scout cars and Daimler armoured cars that were impressive and operational. The Artillery regiment had four 76mm mountain guns gifted by Yugoslavia that were also operational, though the need for their use was considered far fetched. The regiment also had a battery of 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns used for ceremonial gun salutes and a battery of 40mm Bofor anti-aircraft guns that were obsolete.
The army was subjected to a fair share of austerity as was the rest of the country; petrol was issued on a quota basis, the use of ammunition for training strictly monitored and some basic military essentials hard to come by.
The State of the Nation
In May 1970 the Sri Lanka Freedom Party under the leadership of Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike was swept into power with an overwhelming majority with the help of the left parties with whom the SLFP ran as a United Front (UF). The JVP, though not a political party, gave its support to the coalition as it was socialist in outlook and totally opposed to the capitalist ideologies of the United National Party.
The victory instilled in the people a new hope and they labeled it as the “Apey Anduwa” (Our Government) hoping that there would be an improvement to their lives. However as time progressed the hardships faced by the people did not appear to improve as the economic situation only worsened. Strict import and exchange control regulations were in place. Basic items such as bread, sugar, dhal and infant milk were rationed. Food, clothing and vegetables were expensive if not scarce. The transport of rice and chillies was prohibited. The cost of living had sky rocketed and the people feeling its effects were a disillusioned lot .
At the beginning of 1971 there were instances of bombs accidentally going off in various parts of the country predominantly in the Kegalle and Kandy districts. The roof of one of the buildings in the Peradeniya campus was damaged as a result of one of these explosions. Mixed signals were beginning to emerge that there was trouble brewing and the JVP, often dubbed the Che Guevara Movement, was behind the plans to initiate an armed insurrection. Intelligence gathered by the police revealed that the JVP was operating via a network of cells where members were indoctrinated by “Five Lectures” and directed to collect firearms and funds by robbing banks and individuals. Political rallies and clandestine meetings held by the JVP were gathering momentum and causing some serious concern to the government.
Around the beginning of March security around the Army cantonment at Panagoda was strengthened. Rumour was rife that there were elements of officers and soldiers sympathetic to the cause, if not members of the JVP. Extra precautions were taken to double the security of the arms and ammunition held in the camps. There was an air of suspicion and a lack of trust among the rank and file. There was also some concern that food and water was to be poisoned, so much so that the stray dogs in certain camps were fed before the troops.
In mid March a state of Emergency was declared with special powers of search without a warrant being entrusted to the Police. In conjunction with this the Army was to be deployed to assist the Police in search and cordon operations. Captain Satchi Ratnasabapathy from the Regiment of Artillery was sent to Hambantota to reconnoiter the area and liaise with the Police and Government Agent to assess the threats posed in the event of any actions initiated by the JVP that would disrupt the internal security of the region.
Meanwhile suspected high profile JVP activists and their leader Rohana Wijeweera were arrested and imprisoned in Jaffna. There was an assumption that the “Che Guevara” as they were referred to had plenty of sympathizers and supporters as there were several well attended, popular public meetings conducted in the Hambantota region. Intelligence reported that secret meetings of cell members were being held and basic military type training was being given to trusted cadres. JVP plans to collect weapons and raise funds by robberies etc were not taken seriously and pursued. The Hambantota/Tissamaharama district was considered to be a hotbed of JVP activity and identified as one of the most likely trouble spots in the island.
At that time I was a lieutenant posted to 10 Battery at Trincomalee but was temporarily stationed at Panagoda in preparation for the Army inter-unit rugby tournament. On the evening of March 15 whilst at rugby practices I was summoned by the adjutant, Capt Siri Samarakoon, to his office where he told me in a voice dripping with sarcasm that I had won the lottery and was to take an IS (Internal Security) platoon and leave for Weerawila in the Hambantota district at the crack of dawn on March 17.
At the same time two artillery platoons from Trincomalee under the command of Capt Tissa Tillekeratne and Lt Lionel Balagalla were also to be deployed to Polonnaruwa and Hingurakgoda. There were other deployments to the Kegalle, Kandy, Anuradhpura and Moneragala districts from infantry and armoured corp detachments.
. On March 16 I was given my operational orders. I was also briefed by Capt Ratnasabapathy who assured me that based on local intelligence provided by the police he was of opinion that there was NO significant information of violent JVP activity in the Hambantota area but cautioned me about the wild elephants that roamed in the vicinity of the salt pans at night.
The platoon consisted of 31 men, which included three sergeants as section commanders and a cook. The platoon was armed with .303 rifles. A light machine gun (LMG) and three sterling sub machine guns (SMG) . As an officer I had the least effective weapon, a Smith and Wesson .38 calibre pistol that was more of a status symbol of authority. I was also issued with a sealed box of a thousand rounds of .303 ammunition with strict instructions not to break the seal unless absolutely necessary. It was also emphasized that I be very mindful of my personal security and that of the weapons at all times.
My transport was an old Willys jeep AY 3665 which on independence day parades looked very impressive, freshly painted with its windscreen down and hood taken off although it was patched up with paper and spray painted over to hide the rust and holes. There were three trucks detailed to carry the troops of which one would return to camp and the other, a new Indian five ton Tata Benz and a Beep (smaller version of a truck), to be used for operations. I was to be supplied with additional transport by the Government Agent Hambantota on my arrival in Weerawila.
On March 17 morning I left Panagoda at the crack of dawn having been bid farewell by Captain Noel Weerakoon who was the Battery commander of 11 Battery whose men I had taken charge of. He wished me “Good luck and God bless and take care of yourself “. Sadly it was a last farewell. He was killed in an ambush on April 8 at Ambewewa/Welioya. I think he was the first officer of the Army to be killed in action in this conflict and perhaps in the short history of the Ceylon Army.
The designated route was via Ratnapura and en-route we stopped at an army camp at Embilipitiya. The soldiers here had conveyed to some of the platoon that there were threats made of possible attacks on the camp via open postcards and were on extra guard duty.
Our base at Weerawila was to be the Old Tuberculosis hospital complex which had been uninhabited and abandoned. The GA and his staff had done their best to make this building habitable by restoring electricity and water.
The building we occupied, devoid of any furniture or fittings, was located in the middle of nowhere, isolated and off the main road and surrounded by dense overgrown shrub. In unfamiliar surroundings and not feeling secure I came to the conclusion that I could take no chances of being taken by surprise. The first thing I did was to disregard my orders and break the sealed box of ammunition and distribute some of it to the men and instruct them to keep their weapons by their side at all times.
Espirit de Corps and loyalty of the Regiment
It was a decision I made taking into consideration the utmost trust and loyalty of the soldiers under my command. “The Gunners” as those belonging to the regiment of artillery are generally referred to, were a close knit family (the gunner tribe) . Their loyalty and espirit de corps were always talked about in the army, best described in a message in the centenary celebrations of the Artillery in Sri Lanka in 1988 by the late Lt General Nalin Seniviratne, the commander of the army which said as follows:
“In the rich and colourful tapestry of Gunner history, an unbroken golden thread that runs across the entire fabric is that vibrant vitality of the Regiment, is their sense of unity and their espirit-de- corps “.
” Gunners are a unique family; in our family we the officers are very close to our men. The well being of our men has always been close to our hearts. We are proud of them,” as said by Lt Gen Hamilton Wanasinghe a gunner and a former Army commander would aptly describe the relationship we enjoyed. It was a unique bond between the officers and the men which made my decision so much easier at this time of great doubt and suspicion.
Late in the evening two soldiers from the Ridiyagama farm that was being dismantled turned up and requested a guard. They too had received open postcards that their camp was to be attacked but had no weapons to defend themselves. I obliged by detailing two men. Unfortunately it became a daily assignment and was seen as a punishment chore. Weerawila was to be our home and operational base.
On March 18 I reported to The Government Agent Hambantota, Mr Sonny Goonewardene, who briefed me on the situation and reiterated that even though a state of emergency had been declared I was there only to assist the police and had no other powers. I was to work in liaison with the Assistant Superintendent of Police Tangalle, Mr Jim Bandaranayake who would coordinate my daily activities, in the absence of the ASP Hambantota. I was provided with two additional vehicles with civilian drivers to carry out my tasks.
The presence of the army in the Hambantota district may have intrigued the general public curious about why we were there. It was after a long time that the public had seen an army deployment in their locality and were perhaps bemused at the gun toting soldiers. The last time a military operation conducted in the Hambantota/ Tanamalwila area was in the late 1950’s named ‘Operation Ganja” where armoured cars and troops were used to destroy illicit ganja plantations in Tanamalwila and surrounding areas.
It was an operation made infamous for the unsuccessful legal action taken to prosecute Lt. Eustace Fonseka, a gunner officer, for the ill treatment meted out to the village headman of Hambegamuwa. who was alleged to be the mastermind and king pin of the ganja cultivation in the area. This operation was of a different nature.
Whilst we made our presence felt and were quite friendly the locals kept a fair distance from us wondering what the hell was going on.
Commencement of Operations /Searches
Initially we assisted the police traveling around the countryside in the military vehicles displaying our weapons which the police did not carry. We accompanied them to search homes of people suspected of involvement with the JVP. There was hardly any credible intelligence as most of our searches were more of a routine show of force and nothing else. There was no intimidation of the general public and not a single arrest was made in these joint operations.
One day when accompanied by the police sergeant at Walasmulla I observed that he was using these searches to intimidate some people whose political alliances were not the same as the govt in power. Every home and shop he took us into had a photograph of the former prime minister. It was not the first time this had happened but the continuation of this routine irked me.
This was not something that I could tolerate or an action that I could condone as it was in breach of my orders and furthermore the searches were fruitless. I contacted ASP Jim Bandaranayake and told him what was happening and that I was not prepared to assist the Police any further if this was all the intelligence they had.
Incidentally some months after the insurgency had been quelled the sergeant concerned was charged for the murder of some insurgents who were fleeing from army operations in the Sinharaja and Deniyaya areas being conducted by the army. They had been taken into custody by the police and on the pretext of being released shot and buried in a mass grave.
We continued to patrol and make our presence felt in Beliatta , Middeniya, Walasmulla, Ambalantota, Tangalle, Tissa, Kirinda and Hambantota with the assistance of the Police. We searched Wijeweera’s home in Tangalle occupied by his mother and sister. There were magazines titled ” Red China” and nothing else in this very clean and neatly kept house. This magazine was found in a number of places we searched including temples. His mother told us that she detested what her son was doing and had advised him to keep clear of politics. He had been arrested and imprisoned in Jaffna. They had a small poultry shed which I presumed gave them some sort of income.
Whilst there was very little of any material evidence to support an armed insurrection we did come across some very personal revelations. There was an instance when we found a diary of a person who had virtually kept a daily record of his sexual exploits in an affair with a girl across the road. The Kama Sutra may have been his manual. The sergeant who found the diary did not find the contents to his moral satisfaction darted across the road to the school nearby and divulged the contents to the head master. His audience showed no concern as perhaps they knew what had been taking place but were no doubt amused by the colourfully detailed narrative.
(To be continued next weekweek)
Full implementation of 13A – Final solution to ‘national problem’ or end of unitary state? – Part VI
by Kalyananda Tiranagama
Lawyers for Human Rights and Development
(Part V of this article appeared in The Island of 02 Oct. 2023)
Six months later, in July 1986, further talks were held between the Sri Lankan government and an Indian delegation led by P Chidambaram, Minister of State, a person from Tamil Nadu. Based on those talks, a detailed Note prepared containing observations of the Indian government on the proposals of the Sri Lanka government as the Framework was sent to the Indian Government.
The following three paragraphs from this Note were cited in the Judgement of Wanasundara J in the 13th Amendment Case as relevant for its determination:
1. A Provincial Council shall be established in each Province. Law-making and Executive (including Financial) powers shall be devolved upon the Provincial Councils by suitable constitutional amendments, without resort to a referendum. After further discussions subjects broadly corresponding to the proposals contained in Annexe 1 to the Draft Framework of Accord and Undertaking and the entries in List ll and List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution shall be devolved upon Provincial Councils.
It is strange that this paragraph suggests to bring constitutional amendments to devolve Law-making and Executive (including Financial) powers on the Provincial Councils, without resort to a referendum. It is not clear on whose suggestion this phrase – without resort to a referendum – was included, Sri Lanka or India? But it is most likely that it was India, feeling the sentiments of the vast majority of the people in the South and knowing the most probable outcome of a referendum.
Inclusion of this phrase – without resort to a referendum – may have had some impact on the minds of the Judges in arriving at a determination on the Bills.
There can be no doubt that the phrase – the entries in List ll and List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution shall be devolved upon Provincial Councils – included on the suggestion of Indian side.
2. In the Northern Province and in the Eastern Province the Provincial Councils shall be deemed to be constituted immediately after the constitutional amendments come into force……..
What does this mean? Can they come into being even before the Provincial Councils Bill and the Provincial Councils Elections Bill are passed and the Elections held? Where is People’s sovereignty? This also appears to be an Indian demand.
3. ‘‘In a preamble to this Note, it was agreed that suitable constitutional and legal arrangements would be made for those two Provinces to act in co-ordination. In consequence of these talks a constitutional amendment took shape and form and three lists – (1) The Reserved List (List II), (2) The Provincial List (List I); and (3) The Concurrent List (List Ill) too were formulated.’’
‘Suitable constitutional and legal arrangements to be made for those two Provinces to act in co-ordination’. This is another subtle and mild formulation used to convey the idea that the Northern and Eastern Provinces would be merged into one unit.
Mr. Chidambaram may have seen to it that the aspirations of the TULF are incorporated into the agreement to a certain extent.
‘‘The Bangalore discussions held between President J. R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in November 1986 were the next stage of the discussions. At the Bangalore discussions Sri Lanka had to agree to all the Cardinal Principles of the TULF and other Tamil militant groups, which Sri Lanka had totally refused even to discuss at Thimphu talks and not included in the Draft Terms of Accord and Understanding reached in New Delhi in September 1985.
The Sri Lanka government’s observations on the Working Paper on Bangalore Discussion dated 26th November 1986 show that the following suggestions made by the Indian Government were substantially adopted:
Recognition that the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples who have at all times hitherto lived together in the territory with other ethnic groups;
Northern and Eastern Provinces should form one administrative unit for an interim period and that its continuance should depend on a Referendum;
The Governor shall have the same powers as the Governor of a State in India.
India had also proposed to the Sri Lankan government that
the Governor should only act on the advice of the Board of Ministers and should explore the possibility of further curtailing the Governor’s discretionary powers;
provision be made on the lines of Article 249 of the Indian Constitution on the question of Parliament’s power to legislate on matters in the Provincial list;
Article 254 of the Indian Constitution be adopted in regard to the Provincial Council’s power to make a law before or after a parliamentary law in respect of a matter in the Concurrent List.
To ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka would comply with these suggestions in enacting laws for the implementation of these suggestions, the two most crucial suggestions were included in the Indo Lanka Accord signed by President J. R. Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the 29th July 1987 in Colombo.
The First part of the Indo-Lanka Accord reaffirmed what was agreed at Bangalore that (a) the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lanka Tamil Speaking people who at all times hitherto lived together in the territory with other ethnic groups. It also provided for (b) these two Provinces to form one administrative unit for an interim period and (c) for elections to the Provincial Council to be held before 31st December 1987.
From the above material, it clearly appears beyond any doubt that the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Councils are not a solution reached through consensus between two independent states following free negotiations, but something forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka by India, with a view to placating the demands of the TULF and the other Tamil groups, contrary to the wishes of the Govt of Sri Lanka.
This explains why Indian political leaders and high officials of the Indian Govt frequently visit Sri Lanka and meet our political leaders demanding the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. That is why leaders of our Tamil Political Parties frequently rush to the Indian High Commission complaining of their grievances and requesting the Indian High Commissioner to bring pressure on our Govt to grant their demands.
As shown above, due to India’s pressure, Sri Lanka had to adopt the three main proposals made by India at the Bangalore discussions. If Sri Lanka had adopted all the proposals as suggested by India and implemented them it would have been the end of the Unitary State of Sri Lanka and created a fully Federal State. However, President Jayewardene, as a shrewd and far-sighting politician, has taken care not to give effect to some of the proposals at the implementation stage.
President Jayewardene has not adopted the Indian proposal that ‘the Governor should only act on the advice of the Board of Ministers and should explore the possibility of further curtailing the Governor’s discretionary powers’. Under the 13th Amendment the Governor, as the representative of the President, is vested with undiminished power of exercising his discretion, not on the advice of the Board of Ministers of the Provincial Council, but as directed by the President. It is this Governor’s unfettered discretion that has prevented Sri Lanka from becoming a full Federal State, with Provincial Councils as federal units.
The majority Judgement in the 13th Amendment case explains how this Governor’s discretion has prevented Sri Lanka from becoming a fully federal state, thus:
‘‘With respect to executive powers an examination of the relevant provisions of the Bill underscores the fact that in exercising their executive power, the Provincial Councils are subject to the control of the Centre and are not sovereign bodies.
‘‘Article 154C provides that the executive power extending to the matters with respect to which a Provincial Council has power to make statutes shall be exercised by the Governor of the Province either directly or through Ministers of the Board of Ministers or through officers subordinate to him, in accordance with Article 154F.
‘‘Article 154F states that the Governor shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice, except in so far as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.
‘‘The Governor is appointed by the President and holds office in accordance with Article 4(b) which provides that the executive power of the People shall be exercised by the President of the Republic, during the pleasure of the President (Article 154B (2)). The Governor derived his authority from the President and exercises the executive power vested in him as a delegate of the President. It is open to the President therefore by virtue of Article 4(b) of the Constitution to give directions and monitor the Governor’s exercise of this executive power vested in him.
‘‘ Although he is required by Article 154F(1) to exercise his functions in accordance with the advice of the Board of Ministers, this is subject to the qualification “except in so far as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.” Under the Constitution the Governor as a representative of the President is required to act in his discretion in accordance with the instructions and directions of the President.
‘‘ Article 154F(2) mandates that the Governor’s discretion shall be on the President’s directions and that the decision of the Governor as to what is in his discretion shall be final and not be called in question in any court on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted on his discretion.
‘‘ So long as the President retains, the power to give directions to the Governor regarding the exercise of his executive functions, and the Governor is bound by such directions superseding the advice of the Board of Ministers and where the failure of the Governor or Provincial Council to comply with or give effect to any directions given to the Governor or such Council by the President under Chapter XVII of the Constitution will entitle the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the administration of the Province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and take over the functions and powers of the Provincial Council (Article 154K and 154L), there can be no gainsaying the fact that the President remains supreme or sovereign in the executive field and the Provincial Council is only a body subordinate to him.’’ (Pp. 322 – 323)
That is why the Tamil political parties stand for the abolition of Executive Presidency.
(To be continued)
Judiciary necessary to protect democracy
By Jehan Perera
The government has allocated Rs 11 billion in the provisional budget for next year for the presidential elections due in September. This is a positive indication that the government intends to hold those elections. Free and fair elections being held when due is a core concept of a functioning democracy. This was called into question earlier in the year when local government elections were postponed. They were due in March but were postponed on multiple occasions and now have been cancelled. There is no indication when they might be held. The government justified its refusal to hold those elections on the grounds that the country was facing an economic crisis and the money could be better spent elsewhere.
The government’s refusal to hold the local government elections was challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court decided that the money allocated in the budget for elections should not be blocked by the government and needed to be released for the purpose of conducting those elections. Without respecting this judicial ruling, government members threatened to summon the judges who made the ruling to Parliament on the grounds that the judiciary could not decide on money matters that were the preserve of Parliament. They argued that the powers and privileges of Parliament had been violated by the order issued by the Supreme Court instructing the government to refrain from withholding funds for the polls. There was an outcry nationally and internationally and the government members did not proceed with their dubious plan to summon the judges before Parliament.
Due to the government’s prioritization of the economy over elections, the prospects for elections continue to be challenging. The economic crisis is in full swing with further price increases in fuel costs taking place and electricity costs about to be hiked. The economy continues to shrink though at a slower rate than before. The government’s failure to obtain the second tranche of IMF support is a warning regarding the precarious condition of the economy. The IMF has said that Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is still not assured. It has also said that the government has not met the economic targets set for it, particularly with regard to reducing the budget deficit due to a potential shortfall in government revenue generation. The IMF has said the second tranche under its lending programme would only be released after it reaches a staff-level agreement, and there was no fixed timeline on when that would take place
Unfortunately, the willingness of government members to challenge judicial decisions with regard to the electoral process is having its repercussions elsewhere. Parliamentarians have made use of parliamentary privilege to criticize the judiciary, including by naming them individually. The purpose of parliamentary privilege is to enable the elected representatives of the people to disclose the truth in the national interest. But this is a power that needs to be used with care and caution, especially if it is used to malign or insult individuals. Those who have the protection of parliamentary privilege need to understand it is a very powerful privilege, and they should exercise the privilege with restraint. It is the abuse of privilege that brings it into disrepute and undermines the wider perception of the central role that privilege plays.
The conduct of some parliamentarians has now reached a point where a judge who was deciding on controversial cases involving ethnic and religious conflict has chosen to resign and even leave the country. Successive rulings made by the judiciary in those cases appear to have been ignored by government authorities. The judicial decisions and rulings made have been subjected to disparaging and insulting remarks in Parliament and outside. Mullaitivu District Judge Saravanarajah, who ruled on the controversial Kurunthurmalai (Kurundi Viharaya) case, resigned and fled Sri Lanka due to alleged threats and pressure. In a letter shared on social media, the judge told the Judicial Services Commission that he was facing threats to his life. Such pressures placed on the judiciary are clearly unacceptable in a democratic country, especially in situations where the judiciary is being called on to defend the rights of the people who are being threatened by government overreach.
At the present time, democratic freedoms and space for protest that exist in the country are being endangered by the government’s efforts to silence public protest and criticism by means of the proposed Anti-Terrorist Act (ATA) and the Online Safety Act which are to be placed before Parliament this week. The draft ATA gives the government the power to arrest persons who are engaging in public protest or trade union action who can be charged for “intimidating the public or a section of the public”. The Online Safety Act seeks, among others, to “protect persons against damage caused by false statements or threatening, alarming, or distressing statements.” It will establish a five-member commission appointed by the President which will be able to proscribe or suspend any social media account or online publication, and also recommend jail time for alleged offenses which can be highly subjective.
The judiciary is being called upon to defend fundamental rights and freedoms in the face of the government’s bid to take restrictive actions. The draft ATA has been opposed by opposition political parties and by human rights organisations since it appeared about six months ago. The ATA was drafted as an improvement to the Prevention of Terrorism Act which had been highlighted by the EU as objectionable on human rights grounds for the purposes of obtaining the GSP Plus tax benefit for Sri Lankan exports. Additionally, it has brought in the Online Safety Act as a surprise instrument to stymie the dissemination of information that people need regarding the non-transparent conduct of the government. With the political and economic crisis in the country getting worse, it appears that the government is determined to go ahead with these laws.
The failure of the government to fulfil many of the IMF’s transparency requirements, such as posting its contracts and procurements on the website, and explain its rationale for tax holidays and those who benefit, have contributed to the loss of confidence in the government’s commitment to the economic reform process. There is a widespread belief that corruption is rampant and that the inability to get new foreign investment is partly due to this difficulty of doing business in Sri Lanka, quite apart from the leakage of government revenues. The government needs to address these issues if it is to win the trust and confidence of the people and cushion the difficulties faced by people in coping with their dire economic circumstances. In particular, it needs to hold elections that can bring in new leaders that the country needs and cleanse the Augean Stables.
Despite the allocation of Rs 11 billion for presidential elections in the provisional budget for 2024, there remain questions regarding the government’s plans for the future. The Chairman of the UNP, Wajira Abeywardena, is reported to have said that the presidential election may have to be postponed as it could undermine ongoing economic recovery measures. The provisional budget for 2024 is Rs 3860 billion, of which Rs 11 billion would seem to be a small fraction. However, the budget for 2023 was Rs 3657 billion, and the Rs 10 billion that was needed for the local government elections was likewise only a small fraction of that budget. But those elections were not held and the government argued that this money was better spent on development than on elections. The issue of postponement of elections due to the ongoing economic crisis may have to be faced once again when the presidential elections are due. The courts would be the better option for undemocratic actions to be contested than the streets. The courts and the judiciary need to be kept strong and respected. The judiciary contributes to the trust of civilians in good governance and sustains social peace which should not be compromised.
‘Lunu Dehi’…in a different form
The Gypsies, with the late Sunil Perera at the helm, came up with several appealing and memorable songs, including ‘Lunu Dehi.’ And this title is again in the spotlight…but in a different form.
Dushan Jayathilake, who was with the Gypsies for 19 years, playing keyboards, is now operating his own band…under the banner of LunuDehi.
Says Dushan: “I was really devastated when Sunil Perera left this world. However, I was fortunate enough to meet Nalin Samath, who stepped in to play guitar for the band. During Nalin’s one year stint with the Gypsies, we discussed my dream of starting my own band. Sunil had always urged us to work on our original compositions and follow our own unique path.”
With Sunil’s words in mind, Dushan and Nalin decided to leave the Gypsies and strike out on their own and that’s how LunuDehi became a reality…a year ago.
“We were pondering over several names as we wanted to have a name that would reflect the distinctive sound and style of our music. Ultimately, it was my wife who came up with the name LunuDehi.”
Both Dushan and Nalin agreed that this name is perfect, adding that “Since lunu dehi is a side dish used in Sri Lankan cuisine to make food have a bit of a kick to it, our music, too, gives listeners that much-needed kick.”
Elaborating further, Dushan said: “As a musician with 26 years of experience in the industry, 19 of which were spent playing keyboards with the Gypsies, I can say starting my own band was a dream come true. And when I met Nalin Samath, who has 35 years of experience in the music industry and was the original guitarist for Bathiya and Santhush, I knew that we had the talent and skill to co-lead a band.”
As the lead composer and arranger for LunuDehi, Dushan says he is constantly in awe of the incredible individual talents that each of the members brings to the table, and this is what he has to say about the lineup:
, in addition to being an accomplished guitarist and vocalist, is a true entertainer, always keeping the crowd engaged, and on their feet.
son of bassist Joe Lappen, has a gift for composing and arranging pop hits. His work includes ‘Mal Madahasa’ by Randhir and ‘Dias’ by Freeze.
former guitarist of NaadhaGama, who has played for prestigious concerts, is our current rhythm guitarist and vocalist. He is also an amazing composer.
, our drummer, has played for a number of bands and is always eager to learn more about music.
TJ,our vocalist, has an incredible voice that leans toward the deeper side and she can sing in over 10 languages. She participated in the first season of The Voice Sri Lanka in 2021 and is also a talented songwriter and composer.
Dushan himself has composed and arranged music for some of the big names in the local music scene, including The Gypsies, BnS, Lakshman Hilmi, and Chamara Weerasinghe.
Dushan went on to say that as a policy, they have always been selective about the venues they perform at.
“While we enjoy playing music for all types of audiences, we have always prioritized concerts, weddings, dinner dances, and corporate events over hotel lobbies, nightclubs, and pubs.
LunuDehi’s musical journey began at a BnS show held in Polonnaruwa. Since then, they have collaborated with BnS at concerts and have become known for their unique sound and energetic performances.
They will be backing BnS on their North America and UK tour in 2024.
“This is a huge milestone for our band, and we cannot wait to share our music with new audiences around the world,” says Dushan.
Whatsmore, next month, they are off to Indonesia to perform at ‘Sri Lanka Night 2023’ to be held at Hotel Le Meridien, Jakarta, on 25th November.
Dushan says he is grateful to those who have supported them and given them the encouragement to break into the scene.
“I would also like to extend my appreciation to Sunil Perera, who, unfortunately, is no longer with us. He was like a second father to me, and never failed to push me to be my best self, also Piyal Perera, who has been supporting us from the start, as well as Bathiya Jayakody and Santhush Weeraman, who have given us numerous opportunities to shine as a group.
“Our ultimate goal is to establish ourselves as a household name, with a repertoire of memorable songs that will secure numerous concert bookings and tours, hopefully worldwide.”
Their debut original is called ‘Rice and Curry.’
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