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Midweek Review

The life and works of Leo Tolstoy

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By Dr. SIRI
GALHENAGE
Retired Psychiatrist

[The following is an abbreviated and a modified version of a presentation to the History, Philosophy and Ethics Section of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – WA Branch, on 15 June 2021]

“Tolstoy serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature”

– Anton Chekov [1860 -1904]

 

The Russian literary artist, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy [1828–1910], better known in the world over as Leo Tolstoy, is generally regarded as one of the most potent creative forces of world literature. He was primarily a novelist and a short-story writer, and was considered to be the master of realism – having written ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Ana Karenina’, the high peaks of realist fiction occupying the foreground of his rich literary landscape. Tolstoy was also a philosopher, social reformer and a religious activist who blended his ideology into prose fiction.

Through this essay, I wish to track the journey of self discovery of the great novelist that shaped his personal philosophy and in turn his literary artistry.

 

JOURNEY of SELF DISCOVERY

The story of the great story teller is as enthralling as the stories he wrote. It was so dramatic that a Tolstoy biographer, referred to his life as ‘more war than peace!’ As the drama of his life unfolded, he wore, consecutively, the mask of aristocrat, land owner, soldier, social reformer, religious activist, moral crusader, pacifist and wandering ascetic, against a backdrop of Imperial [Tsarist] Russia in transition from a feudal to an industrial society. His life is intricately linked to the evolving socio-cultural and political developments of his era.

Tolstoy was born in 1828 to an aristocratic family of landowners in the ancestral property of Yasnaya Polyana, hundred kilometres south west of Moscow.

Death was a regular visitor throughout his formative years. He lost his mother at the age of two years, followed by his father and his grandmother when he was nine. He was then taken away [along with his sister and his three brothers] to Kazan, a regional city to live with his aunt, who too died when he was fourteen. The emotional impact of the series of losses on young Leo is not clearly known.

What is known is that, due to a lack of structure and guidance, Leo entered a life of youthful debauchery during his adolescence and early adulthood. He was attracted to the brothels and gypsy cabarets of Moscow, and ‘sowed his wild oats on peasant and gypsy women’. He abused alcohol, gambled and fell into debt, and was forced to sell off some of his inherited property to pay his gambling debts.

But Leo’s intellectual potential was never in doubt. He joined the University of Kazan to study Law and Languages. He read Oriental as well as Arabo-Turkic languages and was also conversant with French, German and English. Unfortunately, his restlessness made him leave the University, before graduating.

Tolstoy was strongly influenced by the philosophical concepts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1712-78], the French-Swiss thinker and social reformer. Rousseau believed in an inherent goodness in man which is corrupted as he gathers power and wealth in a so-called sophisticated society, leading to unhappiness. Man’s salvation is to be found in returning to a primary culture and leading a life of simplicity and selflessness. Rousseau’s thoughts on greater social equality, rejection of organised religions in favour personal conscience, promotion of child-based education etc. had a particular impact on moulding Tolstoy’s personal philosophy and in turn his literary offerings.

In an attempt at reforming himself Tolstoy had a shot at being a model farmer and a scholar, at the same time, but failed miserably in his endeavour.

Perhaps needing external control, he headed off to the Caucasus to join his brother who was posted as an officer with the Russian army in a Cossack village, bordering Chechnya, fighting the local rebels. After a period of idling, gambling and sexual misdemeanours, he joined the army as a cadet and started writing! It was during this period, recuperating from Venereal Disease, that he wrote his first literary piece, ‘Childhood, Boyhood and Youth‘– semiautobiographical – gaining a reputation as a writer of promise.

Tolstoy then joined the Russian forces in Crimea defending the strategic Black Sea port of Sevastopol against an invasion of allied forces of the British, French and the Ottomans [1854-55]. Here he adopted a dual role as combatant and war reporter. In his latter role, accompanying the reader to the theatre of war, he portrayed a plethora of emotions in the faces and in the hearts of civilians and combatants alike – sadness, cowardice, terror, hatred and even an admiration for the enemy. He gained acclaim as the first war correspondent and was credited for his descriptive precision. ‘At Sevastopol…. there was a camera with intelligence called Tolstoy’. His dispatches to the Journal, ‘The Contemporary’, which came to be known as the ‘Sevastopol Sketches’ became part of his literary canon. He wrote, “The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the strength of my soul, whom I have tried to set forth in all his beauty, and who has been, is, and always will be most beautiful, is – The Truth”.

The experience of living through the horrors of the hostilities in Crimea made him change his attitude towards war, as reflected in his writing – from a patriotic fervour to futility, leading to a lifelong doctrine of ‘pacifism’.

On returning home from Crimea, Tolstoy identified himself with the peasants, developed an affinity for the rural landscape and felt deeply about the social inequity that existed between aristocracy and peasantry – attitudes strongly reflected in his later writing. He wore peasant clothes, grew a beard and ‘gave up the pen for the plough’. He fell in love with a peasant woman, Axinya, who bore him a son, Timofei, in 1858 – a matter that haunted him for the rest of his life.

At this stage there was increasing pressure from the family for him to get married and settle down. In 1862, having reached the age of 34, he married Sofia Behrs – half his age – the daughter of a respected doctor. Few days before the wedding, in an act which could be described as brutal, Tolstoy forced his fiancé, young and tender, to read his diaries with sordid details about his past – his drunken episodes, sexual encounters, gambling sessions, venereal disease and his relationship with the peasant woman who bore him a son. In return, he demanded the truth about her past. Nevertheless, the marriage went ahead with a grand ceremony at the Kremlin as he was seen as a promising young man – a wealthy, land-owning aristocrat with literary potential. A suitable boy!

There was relative harmony during the first decade of marriage. It was during this period that Tolstoy wrote his masterpiece ‘War and Peace”. But there was not much intimacy between husband and wife: they communicated their feelings through each other’s diaries! He believed that sexual intercourse was purely for procreation. Sofia bore 13 children in all; four of them died during childhood. He did not believe in the emancipation of women. This was in marked contrast to the sensitivity he has shown towards the female sex in his literary expression, exemplified in the characterisation of Marsha in the novella, ‘Family Happiness’ [in which he occupies the role of Marsha, the protagonist, and narrates the story in the first person] and in other great works such as ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Kreutzer Sonata’.

Despite the tenuous relationship, Sofia remained loyal to her husband. She was unable to pursue her own intellectual development she longed for. Instead she performed the thankless task of copying and recopying voluminous manuscripts in preparation for publication, in addition to attending to her husband’s needs, looking after the children, running the estate and keeping accounts.

But with the escalation of domestic unhappiness, Sofia became preoccupied with physical ailments and death, entertained thoughts of suicide, with a wish to join her dead children. She started abusing opium, at times was incoherent in her speech, became suspicious of her husband and harboured thoughts of killing Axinya, the peasant woman who bore him the illegitimate child. But she persevered!

There was a fundamental change in the life of Tolstoy in the final quarter of the 19th century with a spiritual awakening. He challenged what he thought was the hypocrisy of the Russian Orthodox Church for moving away from the central tenets of Christianity, aligning itself with the authoritative administrative machine. His religious activism resulted in his excommunication from the church. He was influenced by the eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, and advocated a synthesis of all faiths, highlighting man’s desire for love as reflected in all religions.

Embarking on a spiritual quest, he campaigned for universal love and pacifism, gave up hunting and alcohol and stopped eating meat. He advocated celibacy, stating that he had no pity for the extinction of the human race. He depicted celibacy as the central theme in his novella, ‘Father Sergius’.

Tolstoy protested against the continuing gulf between the land-owning aristocracy and the peasantry, acting as a catalyst for the revolutionary change taking place – harbingers of the Russian Revolution [1917 – 23]. The Tsar imposed a ban on his writings. The Bolsheviks saw him as a guide.

Tolstoy brought about a synthesis of thoughts on spirituality, morality, social justice and art, a form of Christian Socialism, in an attempt at establishing a new social order. His doctrine came to be known as Tolstoysm. He was held in high regard as a sage and a prophet, and his cult attracted a large following. His pacifist ideology influenced the thinking of Mahatma Gandhi [1869 – 1948] and Martin Luther King Jr. [1929-68]. Gandhi came across a letter written by Tolstoy to Taraknath Das, a Bengali scholar and anti-colonial activist, based in Vancouver, supporting his struggle for independence. The letter which was called ‘A Letter to a Hindu’ made a deep impression on Gandhi who considered Tolstoy as a mentor, and adopted his principle of non-violent resistance in the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. Gandhi communicated with Tolstoy until the latter’s death and set up an institution called the Tolstoy Farm [in South Africa where Gandhi was living at the time] to propagate the doctrine of the Russian philosopher.

At home, Sofia resented what she thought was the hypocrisy of her husband’s transformation – preaching universal brotherhood while showing no empathy towards her! In the meantime, Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy’s main proponent, confidant and secretary, in a sinister move, planned to alter Tolstoy’s will in his favour with the intention of gaining copyright of his literary wealth. He encouraged Tolstoy to leave Sofia at a time when his leader was considering moving on and letting go of his material and literary wealth and his family.

In an autobiographical essay, titled, ‘A Confession’, Tolstoy revealed his vulnerability – that he had undergone a ‘spiritual crisis’ and that he had entertained thoughts of suicide ‘by means of a noose or a bullet’. Rational thinking, he wrote, made him realise that life had no meaning, and that he had wanted to do away with his self, but faith provided the meaning of life and the possibility of living – in psycho-social terminology he was facing an ‘Existential Crisis’.

In 1910, aged 82, Tolstoy left home accompanied by his youngest daughter, Sasha, and his doctor, intending never to return. He was forced to break journey at a remote station – Astopovo – with a severe bout of pneumonia, and took refuge at the station master’s lodge. He died, few days later, on 7th November 1910, surrounded by some of his followers, few family members, government officials and the world’s press. Sofia rushed to her husband’s death bed but was prevented from seeing him by Chertkov, until the legendary author lapsed into a coma. This final episode has been brilliantly presented in the movie, ‘The Last Station’, featuring Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.

LITERARY ARTISTRY

There are several distinctive features of Tolstoy’s literary artistry that have contributed to its potency.

Tolstoy, as stated above, was a master of Realism with an exceptional ability to incorporate real life into his imaginative construct. He presented reality in a lyrical art form. He incorporated real life figures of his era and representations of individuals in his community, and projected his own biographical experiences in his art of characterisation. He was skilful in depicting the evolving inner life of a character in its depth and paradox. Tolstoy’s powers of creativity were borne out of his intuitive grasp of human nature with a remarkable ability to investigate conscious and unconscious states and their behavioural correlates, ‘by creeping into the deep crevices of the human psyche’, unearthing psychological insights. To echo the words of the French novelist, Gustave Flaubert [1821-1880] about Tolstoy: “What an Artist and what a Psychologist!”

Tolstoy is renowned for his descriptive precision based on his deep penetrating powers of observation. He created ‘word pictures’ of characters, situations such as war, landscape and nature with clarity and exactitude, not to diminish his skill in aesthetics.

The aesthetic features of his work are not limited to a mere exposition of beauty but to the deployment of a wide array of literary devices that evoke a range of emotional and critical responses – imagery, irony, symbolism, metaphor, simile, satire, to mention a few.

Tolstoy was an inspiring moral thinker. In a monograph titled, ‘What is Art?’ [1898], he asserted that Art, including literary art, should carry a moral message, transcending any aesthetic value, for it to be of benefit to mankind. His moral wisdom was based on his deep social conscience and his spiritual awakening developed throughout the latter part of his life.

Tolstoy’s writing carries a historical critique of his era by targeting several aspects of society such as social inequity [between the aristocracy and the peasantry], depravity and falsity of the aristocracy and the ruling elite, the church’s complicity with the state and the ineptitude and corruption of the administrative machine.

Above all, as reflected in his clever manipulation of plot and the vitality of his narratives, Tolstoy was a gifted story-teller with extraordinary narrative skill.

His power of creativity, built out of the above ingredients along with his intuitive grasp of human nature, has appealed directly to the sensibilities of the reader, resulting in works of enduring value.

“When you read Tolstoy, you read because you cannot stop”….”He was the greatest artist in Russian prose”

—Vladimir Nabokov [1899-1977, renowned Russian literary critic.

LITERARY ENDOWMENT

With his creative activity spanning over half his lifetime, Tolstoy endowed the world with an abundance of literary wealth. It includes 3 novels – War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Resurrection, the least known and the last to be written by Tolstoy; half a dozen ‘provests’ [Russian equivalents of novellas], for example, The Death of Ivan Ilych, The Cossacks, Kreutzer Sonata etc; and a multitude of short stories.

NOVELS

‘War and Peace’, the magnum opus of Leo Tolstoy, written over a period of seven years, runs into 587,000 words. It is a novel that many people aspire to read but only a few get round to reading it due to its enormity and complexity. It is more than a novel: an embodiment of a socio-political landscape, historical critique, philosophical reflections, moral teaching and psychological insights, with different readers viewing it from their own vantage points. It is a powerful and complex narrative set against the broad canvas of the French Invasion of Russia at the dawn of the 19th century, depicting its impact on contemporary Russian life, with myriads of characters – real and fictional – entering and leaving the pages.

From my perspective, Tolstoy, by a clever manipulation of plot, takes five prominent families of the Moscow aristocracy through the ravages of war. He recounts the challenges they face, the coping strategies they adopt, resolve their crises and consolidate their psychological and spiritual gains – individually and collectively – in building inner peace. Those who survive the crises are brought together, symbolically, in a country residence, getting them to reflect on issues such as developing a moral relationship with their peasants, family unity, a simple way of life, generosity and love. Pardon me for my impertinence in offering a simple formulation to an extremely complex narrative!

‘Anna Karenina’, considered by many to be one of the best novels ever written, is an epitome of realistic fiction. Skilfully crafted with two parallel plots with pleating strands of narrative, it is set against a background of Tsarist Russia, tying up at the end with a moral message. It provides a contrast between aristocracy and peasantry, city and country life, and between happy and unhappy families with a memorable stating line, ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’.

The main plot represents decadence, decline and death, while the parallel plot illustrates stability, harmony and progress. The main plot depicts the inner struggle of a woman who takes up a challenge at her own peril against the prevailing social norms and succumbs to the forces within and outside her soul. Tolstoy demonstrates his deep understanding of the female psyche through the character of Anna Karenina. The parallel plot that grows out as an offshoot of the main narrative is the shoot that bears the blossoms of love, humanity and spirituality. Tolstoy’s philosophy of life is represented through the characters of Levin and Kitty in this plot.

NOVELLAS

I have chosen three of Tolstoy’s popular novellas for a brief overview.

‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ depicts the ascent, descent and death of a fiercely ambitious lawyer preoccupied with climbing the social ladder. In a masterly display of character construction Tolstoy takes his protagonist to the top of the social ladder, and makes him fall off it, both literally and metaphorically. The crisis that leads to a terminal illness makes him re-evaluate his life: that he has lived a life of falsity [‘a huge deception that had hidden both life and death’]; that life is a series of escalating suffering with no escape. Realisation of that truth about life brings Ivan the freedom to face death. [‘In place of death there was light’].

In this popular novella, apart from its spiritual theme, Tolstoy raises interesting issues regarding ‘the doctor-patient relationship’ and the ‘illness behaviour’ of patients, which may be of interest to the medical profession.

The theme of ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ resonates with what the German Psychiatrist Ernst Kretschmer [1888-1964] postulated regarding the aetiology of paranoia: the cumulative influence of a noxious social environment, sensitivity of personality and an experience meaningful to the individual. The novella tracks the motivational path and the psychological processes leading to paranoia [morbid jealousy] with a disastrous consequence, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Othello.

“Trukhachevski’s talent for music; the nearness that came of playing together; the impressionable nature of music, especially of the violin and his apparent lustful gaze towards his wife; tormented Pozdnychev and heightened his suspicion and jealousy. He began to suspect that the sound of the piano was purposely made to drown their voices and probably their kisses, as they practiced”.

Pozdnychev’s paranoia was brought to a head at a concert when Trukhachevski and his wife played Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. During a surprise appearance at a subsequent practice session, Pozdnychev stabs his wife to death. The court decided that the accused was a wronged husband who killed his wife defending his outraged honour! Tolstoy raises awareness of a range of contemporary societal values and of the criminal justice system.

Depicting the ideology of Rousseau, that man’s salvation is to be found in returning to a primary culture and leading a life of simplicity and selflessness, and drawing heavily on his experience in the scenic Caucus Mountains and its inhabitants, Tolstoy wrote the novella, ‘The Cossacks’, which gained acclaim as his ‘mini-masterpiece’. Tolstoy re-lives his experience by sending his fictional representative, Olenin, a young nobleman of the Moscow elite, disillusioned by the falsity and depravity of his urban lifestyle, on a journey of self-discovery, seeking contentment among the Cossacks who inhabit the foothills of the scenic Caucasus. The Cossacks, renowned for their military prowess, sustain themselves by farming, fishing and hunting. Olenin befriends Eroshka, a stereotypical wise old man, who engages him on enthralling conversations; narrates folk tales and rhymes; introduces him to nature; and instils in him a sense of social conscience. The young aristocrat falls in love with a Cossack girl but his affection towards her is not reciprocated as she is betrothed to an injured Cossack warrior giving him an opportunity to re-evaluate love, in contrast to the carnal pleasures he indulged in Moscow. He returns home with a wealth of experience.

SHORT STORIES

The following is a sample of the many Tolstoyan short stories: ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need’ is about a man driven by greed that leads him to his downfall. ‘The Coffee House of Surat’ reflects the need for mankind to unite in one faith under a universal temple. ‘The Bear Hunt’: [semiautobiographical] the protagonist on a hunting expedition shoots a bear which falls at his feet resulting in a major emotional impact on him. He gives up hunting and becomes a vegetarian. ‘Little Girls Wiser than Men’ depicts the innocence of childhood: a children’s story that should be read by adults! ‘Three Deaths’ is a portrayal of our common humanity with a brilliant display of symbolism.

CONCLUSION

Leo Tolstoy, the Great Russian Novelist, has endowed us with an enormous literary wealth replete with philosophical concepts, moral wisdom, psychological insights and historical critique; and not without aesthetic value. With his extraordinary literary skill and descriptive precision he has turned real life into an art form with the development of characters in all their complexity, against a contemporary socio-political background. The life of one of the greatest storytellers of all time is an extraordinary story in itself that outshines the stories he wrote. His contribution to humanity has been made at a great cost to himself and his family, especially to his wife sofia, whose commitment towards his work has remained sadly unrecognised.

[sirigalhenage@gmail.com]



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Midweek Review

Rightwing economics or centre-left Opposition?

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By Dr. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

The situation is ripe for a progressive, social democratic, centre-left Opposition with necessarily populist appeal, but can there be one if an archaic, conservative, rightist economic theory is propounded as an alternative to the government’s oligarchic crony-capitalism?

How can the main Opposition party become a truly progressive-centrist formation which can be a magnet for voters from the vast bloc that voted for the Rajapaksas/Pohottuwa? What must it do?

The answer to that is clear and simple, and it isn’t mine. Thirty years ago, the UNP held power at the Presidential, Parliamentary and Pradesheeya Sabha levels, i.e., executive, legislative and local authority levels. That was the last time it did so. The leader responsible for that achievement made a typically unorthodox and fascinating remark while addressing his last May Day rally in 1992, at Galle Face, a year before he was assassinated by a Tiger suicide-bomber. Ranasinghe Premadasa made a surprising and pointed reference to SWRD Bandaranaike:

“…The late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike…left the UNP and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party because he thought that his views cannot be implemented through the UNP. If one were to take into account the changes that have taken place in the UNP between then and now, I am sure that if he were still alive, he would have rejoined the UNP…When you look at it from that point of view, you will be able to guess which May Day rally he would have attended if he were alive—the rally at Galle Face or the one at Campbell Park.” (President Premadasa: His Vision and Mission, Selected Speeches, p 192)

What Premadasa says here is that SWRD Bandaranaike with the progressive, moderate nationalist, centre-left views (the SLFP’s founding document used the definition ‘social democratic’) he held at the time he ruptured with the UNP because he thought they could not be accommodated, would have felt compelled and comfortable enough to rejoin the UNP because it had been transformed so radically as to be able to accommodate and represent such personalities and perspectives.

Translated into today’s politics, it can be understood as an injunction to the post-UNP successor party (led by Premadasa’s son) to be a party so configured that it can win over the voters and personalities of the progressive centre, the moderate nationalists, by representing their ideology, sentiments and grievances. In short, an Opposition party capable of winning over the centre-left SLFP and SLPP voters; the Rajapaksa voters.

JR-Ranil or Premadasa?

The ongoing and deepening economic crisis is tailor-made for a ‘Premadasist’ intervention, for three reasons:

(a) Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has been acknowledged as proving the need for more investment in public goods and social infrastructure, rather than rely on the ‘magic of the marketplace’ with its profit motive.

(b) President Premadasa demonstrated that even in a context of extreme crisis, is it practically possible to revive economic growth, increase industrial exports and foreign investment while simultaneously, not sequentially, transferring real income to the poorest, increasing the real wages of the people and reducing inequality.

(c) The Opposition is led by his only son. It would be as absurdly incongruous for an Opposition party, led by President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s son not to adopt the Premadasa development paradigm and policy as it would be someday for an Opposition party led by Namal Rajapaksa, not to have his father Mahinda Rajapaksa’s as symbol, his achievements as template, and Mahinda Chinthanaya as the basis of its guiding ideology.

The problem is that there is an ideological inclination on the part of some in society and Opposition politics, to ignore the Premadasa development model and philosophy, pat him on the back for ‘reforms’, and elevate instead, rightwing economic doctrines. In international terms these are the economic ideas that President George HW Bush (Bush Sr.), a moderate Republican, derided as “voodoo economics”.

The UNP never won a Presidential election, won only two parliamentary elections, 15 years apart, with never a second consecutive term in governmental office, after it dumped the Premadasa development paradigm and shifted to neoliberal economics, or shifted back to the pre-Premadasa economic model which helped cause the Southern uprising.

With its leadership and Presidential candidate who did far better in November 2019 than the party did before (Feb 2018) or since, the post-UNP Opposition is more organically suited for a frankly neo-Premadasist strategy for economic revival and social upliftment, which the current crisis demands.

JR+BR?

A slightly surreal slogan was tweeted recently, claiming that “we need JR+Shenoy reform once again”. This relates to the ideas of rightwing economist BR Shenoy who produced a pamphlet in 1966 which was adopted as a policy platform by JR Jayewardene, then a Minister in the Dudley Senanayake Cabinet of 1965-’70.

This policy perspective is wrong headed several times over, starting with the contextual fact that the JR+Shenoy platform was not conceived as alternative to the parental precursor of the current Rajapaksa government’s policies, namely the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-NM Perera policies of the coalition government of 1970-’77.

The JRJ-Shenoy policy doctrine was one corner of an intra-governmental UNP policy debate in the mid-1960s. Today it is being revived at the second corner of a bipolar patterning of policy discourse, i.e., in an unhealthy polarisation.

Shenoy Syndrome

As a precocious lad who spent time in the editorial offices of Lake House and hung out with my father and his journalist colleagues and buddies, I was quite aware of the Shenoy episode real-time, because BR Shenoy was tapped, and his product promoted, by Esmond Wickremesinghe, the Managing Director of Lake House (and Ranil’s father). That episode was part of a policy debate that rocked the UNP government of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake in 1965-1970.

Far from being the antipode of the statist closed economy of the Sirimavo regime, the JR+Shenoy (actually JR+Esmond+Shenoy) platform squarely targeted the genuinely liberal-welfarist economics of the PM Dudley Senanayake and his Planning Ministry tzar, Dr Gamini Corea.

It is absurd and dangerous to exalt the JR+BR Shenoy line today, when the logic of the Dudley Senanayake-Gamani Corea response at that time has been tragically validated by our political history: “It is wiser to spend on welfare, than to cut welfare and have to spend much more on military expenditure later.”

As the John Attygalle Report (he was the IGP, but the report was co-authored by D.I.G Ana Seneviratne) on the pre-1971 JVP revealed, and the statements of the accused in the main trial of the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) confirmed, the movement was founded for armed revolution partly as a response to the ideological struggle within the UNP government. Rohana Wijeweera’s view was that the JR Jayewardene-BR Shenoy project would require the ouster of the Senanayake faction, the installation of an Indonesian style dictatorship, and the scrapping of national elections scheduled for 1970.

This was not as wildly outlandish as it seemed. The Indonesian coup and massacre had taken place in September 1965. Esmond Wickremesinghe and those who backed the JR+Shenoy programme against Senanayake liberal-welfarism, were applauding the post-coup Indonesian economic model. My father Mervyn de Silva had been in Indonesia (with his wife and son) at the invitation of President Sukarno’s Foreign Minister Dr. Subandrio for the celebration by Afro-Asian journalists of the 10th anniversary of the Bandung conference virtually on the eve of the coup. Mervyn was the last foreign journalist to interview DN Aidit, leader of the PKI (the non-violent Indonesian Communist Party) who was murdered by the Army a few months later while in hiding, unarmed. My father was among the few (I’m being generous here) in the Lake House press writing against the Indonesian coup and the massacre of 1965, while “the Indonesian model” was being promoted.

Coiled for armed resistance to a dictatorship which never came at the hands of the UNP Right identified as JRJ and Esmond Wickremesinghe equipped with the BR Shenoy agenda, the JVP uncoiled uncontrollably on the watch of the elected successor government, the SLFP-led UF coalition in 1971.

It is not that today’s JVP or FSP is dabbling in any way with violent resistance or ever likely to, but a worker-peasant-student social movement radicalised by the policies and political culture of the Gotabaya presidency, has grown to almost the same capacity as in the 1960s, and if ‘JR+Shenoy’ economic policies are followed after the Rajapaksa regime is inevitably turfed-out, the social explosion will occur no less inevitably on the watch of the incoming ex-UNP administration.

Development Debate

Today’s Lankan economic neoliberals (who call themselves ‘economic liberals’) target a giant of Third World economic thinking, Raul Prebisch. The bridge to the tradition of Prebisch, and indeed the great Ceylonese contribution to the global economic debate, was not the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-NM Perera regime, but rather, those who had been the targets of JRJ and Shenoy in the policy debate within the UNP of 1965-1970: the liberal-welfarist progressives of the Planning Ministry under Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, namely Dr. Gamani Corea and his deputy, Godfrey Gunatilleke.

In the 1970s, the Lankan node of ‘Third Worldist’ progressive development thinking was the MARGA Institute, which was targeted by the UF coalition government, especially the rightwing Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike and the Communist Party.

The Gamani Corea-Godfrey Gunatilleke perspective that JRJ+BR Shenoy (plus Esmond Wickremesinghe) had targeted within the UNP government of 1965-1970 and eventually supplanted, found itself revived, revised and reaccommodated within the economic paradigm of Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Prime Minister Premadasa’s extempore remarks at the panel discussion on the sidelines of the UNGA 1980; his invocation of justice for the global South at the UNGA 1980 and the Nonaligned Conference in Harare 1986, are evidence of his commitment to the international tradition of development thinking which Dr. Gamani Corea was a giant of, but is reviled by today’s para-UNP economic neoliberals. (https://www.unmultimedia.org/avlibrary/asset/2114/2114561/)

It is hardly accidental that the founder-Chairperson of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), at its initiation by Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel and through the Premadasa Presidency, was Dr. Gamani Corea rather than an ‘economic libertarian’ or ‘classic economic liberal’.

Premadasa Project

The formula that ‘we need JR+Shenoy reform once again’ also overlooks the history of the evolution of policy within the UNP in the Opposition in 1970-1973. The Dudley Senanayake line was being eclipsed, the JRJ line was becoming dominant, but a third line was coming into view, which was to be validated by real history when the ‘JR+Shenoy’ paradigm was a causative factor of the civil war in the south.

This ‘third paradigm’ was Ranasinghe Premadasa’s, an early articulation of which was his 4th April 1973 address to the Colombo West Rotary Club. He was so committed to that speech (delivered several years before Susil Sirivardhana joined him) that he republished it in the ‘SAARC Summit special supplement’ of the Daily News during his Presidency, accompanied by an introduction in bold type which read: “The seeds of today’s concepts were sown years ago…President Ranasinghe Premadasa, then First Member of Parliament for Colombo Central was invited by the Colombo West Rotary Club to deliver an address on the topic ‘A Plan for Sri Lanka’ at a luncheon meeting of the Club. The speech was delivered when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was only an Opposition member of Parliament and portrays the vision of a young politician of what he thought was the best for Sri Lanka”.

That he chose to reproduce it in the SAARC special supplement (1991) indicates that this perspective is one he wanted the outside world to know about, and which he hoped to radiate in the region.

In April 1973, he wrestled with the same problem that the economy faces today– the crisis of foreign exchange and dependency—and gave an answer that is distinctively redolent of the Rooseveltian New Deal (his 1988 Presidential election manifesto was to be entitled ‘a New Vision, a New Deal’):

“…If the problems of foreign exchange, development and unemployment are to be satisfactorily tackled, a massive development venture has to be launched to provide the necessary infra-structure such as a network of roads, a network of electricity, a network of irrigation and a network of domestic water supply. With the launching of such a scheme large number of people could be gainfully employed. Together with development of the infrastructure the country’s agricultural and industrial ventures will automatically improve. As a result, foreign exchange could be conserved. People will get more money into their hands thus enabling them to purchase their requirements. The question of subsidies will eventually be eliminated. We can solve our problems. Scarcity of foreign exchange is no obstacle. To earn foreign exchange, we must increase production; to increase production we must develop our national resources, and if we are to develop our national resources, we must harness the human potential that we have in abundance. It is futile to go on bended knees to foreign countries begging for assistance…” (Republished as ‘People’s Participation in Government’, CDN Nov. 21, 1991.)

After the UNP victory of 1977 and the installation of ‘JR+Shenoy reforms’ the evidence of its downside piled up in the 1980s from the reports of various UN agencies which had replaced ‘classical liberal economics’ with indices of inequality, the physical quality of life index (PQLI) and later the Human Development report (HDR), under the intellectual impact of a global struggle for ‘Another Development’ (as it was conceptualized) in which Gamini Corea and Godfrey Gunatilleke were the foremost Sri Lankan figures.

Prime Minister Premadasa appointed the Warnasena Rasaputram Commission. Janasaviya was Premadasa’s response to the revelations of the Rasaputram Report. The hubris of the Open economy and the ‘JR +Shenoy reform’ model had evaporated with the bloody near-extermination of the UNP in the latter half of the 1980s by Sinhala youth from the South (just as Premadasa had predicted).

Open Economy, ‘Economic Democracy’

“If anything, I am for economic democracy” Premadasa told civil service legend Neville Jayaweera in a substantive interview given to the latter published as ‘Charter for Democracy’ (1990). For him, ‘economic democracy’ meant “turning the nation into one where ‘have-nots’ become ‘haves’”.

This was Premadasa’s perspective on the open economy:

“In a world of economic interdependence, those who are self-dependent grow in strength. We live in a world society. We cannot close ourselves off from the world. Yet, we must be free to live and develop as we wish to. We will provide all the conditions for economic growth in an open economy. But an open economy does not mean an economy dictated to by others. An open economy does not mean an economy run for the benefit of others. An open economy must first benefit Sri Lankans before it benefits outsiders.” (‘Address at the Inauguration of the Koggala Export Processing Zone’-June 14th 1991, in ‘President Premadasa: His Vision & Mission-Selected Speeches’, pp 89-92.)

The Premadasa economic philosophy, though partly based on the Open Economy, is not that of ‘JR+BR Shenoy reforms’ of 1977 still less of 1966. It is a different, far more progressive policy paradigm or economic episteme. It is Sri Lankan Social Democracy.

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Midweek Review

9/11 Imperatives

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By Lynn Ockersz

Twenty years and counting,

The 9/11 horrors rage on,

With the first splurge of civilian blood,

Which was unleashed in New York,

Soon transcending time and space,

And spilling into and becoming a flood,

In fiercely contested Iraq and Afghanistan,

Where it triggered aftershocks all around,

But blessed are those who see,

In this worldwide Slaughter of Lambs,

A shameful hour for mankind,

And hear in the tragedy a rallying call,

To lose no time to come together as one,

And bring healing to angry hearts and minds,

That by designing demagogues of divisive strife,

Are tamely led along self-annihilative paths.

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Midweek Review

Easter Sunday imbroglio!

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Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith reiterates demand for justice at a recent media briefing. The Church has sought the intervention of the Vatican as well as the UNHRC to pressure Sri Lanka over the Easter Sunday probe

Can Parliament, as an institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for tainted political parties? The House did nothing when the TNA recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. Both Parliament and the Election Department/Election Commission conveniently remained silent. Both institutions turned a blind eye when the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, in blatant violation of the right to vote, ordered the Northern electorate to boycott the 2005 presidential election to ensure the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe as they thought it would be easier to prosecute the war successfully with Rajapaksa in power as he was unpopular with the West. May be the West, too, had a hand in that strategy for they, too, merely kept silent over TNA’s undemocratic demand to the Tamil electorate to boycott the vote. The TNA declared that the presidential poll was irrelevant therefore no point in the Tamil electorate exercising their franchise. But, the move was meant to ensure that normally pro-UNP majority of Tamils did not vote, thereby sealing candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat and helping Mahinda Rajapaksa win. When the writer raised this issue with Kumaran Pathmanathan aka ‘KP’ in Aug. 2009, the one-time Chief LTTE procurer of weapons, too, declared that Rajapaksa’s victory would have created an environment conducive for an all-out war. Within three weeks after the 2005 presidential election, the LTTE resumed claymore mine attacks in the Jaffna peninsula. In January, 2006, the LTTE rammed suicide boats into a Fast Attack Craft off Trincomalee harbour. In late April 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The Eelam war IV commenced in the second week of August 2006, just weeks after the Army neutralised the LTTE threat at Mavil-aru.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A reference to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage at the commencement of the 48th sessions of the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was expected. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, in her oral update delivered on Sept.13 on the Situation in Sri Lanka dealt with the Easter Sunday massacre as revealed by Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, spokesperson for the National Catholic Committee for Justice (NCCJ).

The former Chilean President (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) Bachelet made two separate references to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. Let me reproduce them verbatim to ensure that The Island is not accused of trying to misinterpret facts.

Bachelet declared: “Despite various inquiries, the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice, and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks.”

Referring to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Bachelet said: “The Government has reaffirmed its intention to revisit the Act and established a Cabinet sub-committee for this purpose. However, I am deeply concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people. Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a court. Likewise, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020. I urge an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act, and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal.”

Bachelet conveniently refrained from stating why the one-time Attorney General’s Department Counsel Hizbullah (2005-2010) is in government custody. Bachelet was careful not to include Hizbullah’s arrest in the paragraph that dealt with concerns raised by the Catholic Church as regards the investigation into the heinous crime. In fact, the UK-led self-appointed Sri Lanka Core Group at the UNHRC on more than one occasion raised Hizbullah’s detention without making reference to the Easter Sunday carnage.

Now that the Catholic Church has declared that it had no option but to seek the intervention of the Vatican and UNHRC to pressure the government over the Easter Sunday investigation, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith should explain his stand on the detention of lawyer Hizbullah in connection with the Easter carnage.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Hizbullah on April 14, 2020. The lawyer was charged on March 3, 2021.

Why did Bachelet make reference to Hizbullah’s arrest without directly naming him as an Easter Sunday suspect? Did UNHRC conduct its own inquiries before taking up Hizbullah’s issue at the 48th session?

Although Sri Lanka Core Group had referred to Hizbullah in its statements (44th, 45th, and 47th sessions) previously, Bachelet, in her statements to the council, had never mentioned the lawyer by name before the 48th session. May be Bachelet is simply prostituting her independence like so many UN big shots on matters of Western interests. No wonder, one of the first things that the Iraqi rebellion against the US-led invasion of that country did was to blow up the UN compound in Baghdad!

Sri Lanka Core Group comprises Germany, Canada, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom.

Obviously, both Bachelet and the Core Group have taken the Sri Lanka civil society (read Western backed NGOs’) stand on the lawyer. A number of civil society organisations made public statements on behalf of Hizbullah though the government insists on the lawyer’s involvement with extremists. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in the run-up to the Geneva sessions declared that the government had irrefutable evidence as regards Hizbullah’s role in the suicide attacks blamed on the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and other organisations with similar ideology.

Those who stood for him have described the lawyer as a minority rights advocate and legal counsel for Muslim victims of human rights violations. Amnesty International is among the groups that expressed concerns over Hizbullah’s arrest. The lawyer, held under the PTA, has handled litigation before the Labour Tribunals and Magistrate’s Courts to the Supreme Court.

Let us, however, not forget a very important fact about AI. It corroborated a fantastic piece of ‘evidence’ after the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in which a weeping teenager told the US Congress how she witnessed the invading Iraqi army pulling premature babies from their incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital. Later it came to light that she was merely acting from a prepared script and she was none other than the daughter of Kuwait’s then ambassador to Washington. And she was nowhere near the action. Her performance would have easily beaten Bush/Blair’s Weapons of Mass Destruction script.

Truth certainly is a first casualty when states go into war, but what about so-called neutral umpires like AI when they too make truth a casualty?

The European Parliament’s June 10, 2021 Resolution on Sri Lanka referred to Hizbullah. The lawyer seemed to be blessed with sufficient support both here and abroad to move even the UN system. The UNHRC taking up the Easter Sunday issue should be a matter for serious concern. The UNHRC meets thrice a year. With the Vatican, too, taking an active interest in the controversial investigation, UNHRC and Sri Lanka’s self-appointed Core Group are likely to keep it on the Geneva agenda.

SLPP in quandary over MS

 The Church accuses the SLPP government of turning a blind eye to the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry the (PCoI). In spite of repeatedly assuring the Church of transparent investigation and judicial process, free of political interference, the Church is furious over what it calls the the government’s failure to act on the PCoI report. The bone of contention is alleged attempts to save former President Maithripala Sirisena and the then head of State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.

Before taking up the PCoI’s specific recommendations pertaining to the former President and the Senior DIG, now turned state witness and in charge of the Central Province, it would be pertinent to name members of the PCoI appointed by Sirisena on Sept 22, 2019. Senior DIG Jayawardena received appointment as Senior DIG, East, in early January 2020 in the wake of the last presidential election.

Supreme Court judge Janak de Silva (Chairman), Court of Appeal judge Nishshanka Bandula Karunaratne, retired Supreme Court judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksha and A. L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice W. M. M. R. Adhikari. H. M. P. Buwaneka Herath functioned as the Secretary to the Commission.

 The PCoI handed over its final report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 1, 2020. The first and second interim reports were handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on December 20, 2019 and on March 02, 2020 respectively.

In spite of President Rajapaksa no sooner after assuming office inquiring from Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith whether he wanted to suggest a new member or two to the PCoI, the Archbishop declined the opportunity for obvious reasons.

Rev Father Cyril Gamini Fernando has declared that there couldn’t be any justifiable reason for the refusal on the part of the government to implement the PCoI recommendations.

Rev. Fernando described the appointment of a six-member Committee, headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa to study the PCoI recommendations as well as the report of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security submitted to Parliament, as political intervention meant to derail the process.

The six-member committee comprised ministers Chamal Rajapaksa, Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena.

Rev Father Fernando declared they were quite horrified by Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera’s revelation that Senior DIG Jayawardena, named by the PCoI, would be a state witness. Rohanadeera made the declaration in his capacity as the Director General, Legal Affairs, President’s Office.

Rohanadeera was on Hiru ‘Salakuna,’ a live weekly programme telecast on Mondays. Obviously, those in authority hadn’t given due consideration to their own report, the Church spokesperson said, vowing to pursue a campaign for justice.

The Island sought a clarification from those closely following the case. The writer was told that Senior DIG Jayawardena would be a prosecuting witness in respect of indictments filed in cases to be heard beginning next month. But, in respect of cases pertaining to negligence, the Senior DIG wouldn’t be there as a prosecution witness.

SLPP troubled by key recommendations

The PCoI declared that there is criminal liability on the part of former President Sirisena for failing in his duties and responsibilities. The PCoI alleged Sirisena’s failure exceeds mere civil negligence. On the basis of evidence gathered, the PCoI recommended that the Attorney General consider criminal proceedings against the former President under any suitable provision in the Penal Code (PCoI Final Report, Vol. 1, p 265).

This recommendation, the first in a series of references, posed quite a political challenge as the former President Sirisena is now a member of the ruling SLPP parliamentary group. As the leader of the SLFP, the main constituent of the SLPP, judicial or otherwise measures against Sirisena who returned to Parliament from his home base of Polonnaruwa at the last parliamentary election can place the SLPP-SLFP relationship in jeopardy. The SLFP parliamentary group headed by Sirisena consists of 14 members, including the leader. Of the 14, 12 successfully contested on the SLPP ticket, one entered on the SLPP National List (Dr. Suren Ragavan) and one entered on the SLFP ticket.

The issue is whether the SLPP-SLFP partnership can survive if the Attorney General moves court against the former President. The Church is unlikely to take that factor into consideration as it steps up pressure on the SLPP administration. The government will find itself in an extremely difficult situation. Similarly, the UNHRC, too, faces a dicey situation. On one hand, Geneva wants Sri Lanka to go the whole hog against perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks. And on the other hand, it is seriously concerned about lawyer Hizbullah held over the Easter Sunday carnage. The UNHRC, too, is also in a dilemma.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris is on record as having compared the role of Hizbullah to that of the late Anton Balasingham, British national of Sri Lankan origin, who functioned as the LTTE’s ideologue until his very end.

The government parliamentary group comprises 145 members. The SLPP leadership is aware that their relationship with the SLFP is on thin ice against the backdrop of pressure to move against the former President. The SLPP does not want to lose the SLFP’s support at this moment.

The PCoI also recommended criminal proceedings under any suitable provision in the Penal Code (PCoI Final Report, Vol 1, pages 287-288) in respect of Senior DIG Jayawardena.

The government seems largely reluctant to implement the recommendations or delve into certain observations made by the five-member expert P CoI. Interestingly, the Church, in a missive dated July 12, 2021, addressed to President Rajapaksa, has questioned the rationale in the PCoI conveniently failing to make any specific recommendation in respect of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in its final findings, thereby literally alluding to possible bias on the part of PCoI vis-à-vis the UNP Leader.

To be fair by the PCoI it clearly pointed out Wickremesinghe’s lax approach towards Islam extremism, which deprived the then administration of an opportunity to take tangible counter measures. The PCoI asserted the UNP leader’s failure facilitated the Easter Sunday carnage (PCoI Final Report, Vol 1, pages 276-277). The Church declared: “Our view is that there should be additional investigations on this matter. We need not stress that there on that fact, Wickremesinghe, in spite of his holding special powers under the 19th Amendment, followed a soft approach. It is, in our view, a serious act of irresponsibility and neglect of duty.”

Links between suicide bombers and political parties

A wider investigation is required to find out the actual links between the Easter Sunday attackers and political parties. The SJB has repeatedly demanded justice for the Easter Sunday victims. But, Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now in judicial custody, remains with the main Opposition party. The SJB demands implementation of the PCoI recommendations but has chosen to remain silent on Bathiudeen. The PCoI has recommended criminal proceedings against Bathiudeen under any suitable provision of the Penal Code whereas reference was also made to his brother, Riyaj Bathiudeen now also back in custody.

It would be pertinent to mention that Riyaj who had been taken into custody was clandestinely released by the CID under controversial circumstances. The release coincided with some members of the ACMC voting for the 20th Amendment passed by the Parliament in Oct 2020.

A majority in the SLPP demanded an inquiry from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa into Riyaj’s release. The then Attorney General, too, sought an explanation from the CID. The government never revealed why Riyaj was released. However, he was taken back into custody later following a growing outcry over his abrupt release.

The ACMC leader has served in the cabinet of Mahinda Rajapaksa (2020-2015) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The incumbent government cannot ignore accusations that during Rishad Bathiudden’s time as the Trade and Commerce Minister of MR and MS cabinet, the politician supported the Colossus copper factory at Wellampitiya managed by the family of two of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers, Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim and their father, Mohamed Ibrahim, the founder of Colombo-based Ishana Exports, which describes itself on its website as the ‘largest exporter of spices from Sri Lanka since 2006.’

The JVP never really explained the circumstances Mohamed Ibrahim ended up on their National List at the 2015 parliamentary election. Ibrahim is in custody.

Colossus management had direct access to the highest Offices in the land. During the Yahapalana administration, the Colossus sought supply of copper from the Presidential Secretariat. Interestingly, defeated UPFA lawmaker Shantha Bandara had been the recipient of the Colossus letter at the Presidential Secretariat. Shantha Bandara is now a member of the ruling SLPP. Bandara represents the Kurunegala District.

2019 presidential election

Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and Rohanadeera recently countered accusations that the 2019 Easter attacks were meant to benefit SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. ‘Salakuna’ anchor Chamuditha Samarawickrema raised the issue with Rohanadeera, who pointed out that the results of the 2018 Feb Local Government polls indicated the ground situation at that time. Gen. Gunaratne declared at a recent meeting that there was absolutely no basis for such accusations and it was a despicable attempt to tarnish President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Academic Dr. Rajan Hoole’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ discussed the circumstances leading to the Easter carnage. Hoole shed light on the complex web of secrets/situations/relationships that led to the Easter carnage. Dr. Hoole, who authored ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ in January 2001, blamed the State elements for the attack. Dr. Hoole is unambiguous in his accusation that those who backed SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa created an environment to deprive the Muslims of an opportunity to vote at the Nov 2019 presidential election. The author asserted that attempt failed while making reference to the plantation Tamils being disenfranchised in 1949, consequent to the 1948 Citizenship Act.

In Chapter 4, Dr. Hoole briefly discussed the possibility of the failure on the part of the now proscribed NTJ to secure representation in Parliament at the August 2015 general election. Had the NTJ succeeded in securing a foothold in Parliament, the Easter Sunday carnage might not have happened, Dr. Hoole asserted, declaring that the NTJ adopted an aggressive strategy, in the wake of the electoral failure. Dr. Hoole based his quite controversial assessment on an electoral agreement, involving the NTJ, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah of the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) and Abdul Rahuman and Shibly Farook (both members of SLMC-Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a constituent of the UNP-led coalition).

Dr. Hoole likened the attempt made by Kattankudy-born Zahran Hashim to have some of his nominees, in Parliament, to that of Prabhakaran’s successful arrangement with R. Sampanthan of the TNA. In terms of the agreement finalised in 2001, the TNA acknowledged the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, two years after the high-profile assassination of TULF lawmaker, Neelan Thiruchelvam, in 1999.

President Sirisena had no qualms in accommodating defeated M.L.A.M. Hizbullah in Parliament on the UPFA National List. Hizbullah was among over half a dozen defeated UPFA candidates, accommodated on its National List. National List MP Hizbullah functioned as the Batticaloa political lord until he resigned in January 2019 to pave the way for President Sirisena loyalist, Shantha Bandara, to enter Parliament (The man who helped Colossus procure scrap copper from the state at a nominal price usually reserved for craftsmen and cottage industrialists). Hizbullah was named the Eastern Province Governor. At the time of the Easter attacks, Hizbullah served as the Eastern Province Governor and Chairman of the controversial Batticaloa Campus (Pvt) Limited.

In a report presented to the Parliament Sectoral Sub-Committee on Higher Education and Human Resources, the scandalous politician identified himself as Dr. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. In spite of failing to get elected from the Batticaloa District with NTJ backing, did Hizbullah serve the interests of Zahran Hashim?

Whatever the political parties may say, both major political alliances, the SLPP and the SJB are tainted. There is no point in denying the fact that the way the TNA continues to politically suffer due to its disgraceful alliance with the LTTE sometime ago, other political parties and alliances experience difficulties as a result of their relationship with Zahran’s group.

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