by Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Ph. D.
My father, Sam Wijesinha from Getamanne, a village in Hambantota District, took pride in his Southern heritage. He knew D.M. Rajapaksa (DM), his brother, D.A. (DA) and their families well. Sam was Secretary General of Parliament for almost two decades till 1981, and the first Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman) for 10 years thereafter. He worked closely with several political leaders during that time. Always courteous, he respected MPs who worked for the betterment of the people they represented.
According to Sam, DM was the first Rajapaksa to enter politics. In his D.A. Rajapaksa Memorial Oration of 2005 (Sunday Observer, December 25, 2005), He said that in 1944 when he was seated with DM at the Royal-Thomian cricket match, watching his son, George, bat, “DM was in an expansive mood and I asked him about his school days. He said they were exciting times with Sir Ponnabalam Arunachalam leading us, how his speeches attracted big crowds …. Then he said how it was sad the way our people let him down, not giving him a place in the Reformed Legislative Council of 1920. That was the beginning of our present ethnic troubles, he thought. It was around this time that he seriously reflected upon politics and went back to the village to take part in public life…” and “….start a lifetime of dedicated service.”
He said “DM represented the people of the Hambantota District …from March 7, 1936 till his untimely death on May 18, 1945.” and “The Leader of the State Council, Hon. D.S. Senanayake, in moving a vote of condolence said that ” From the day D.M. left Wesley College during the First World War (1914-1918,) he made the back-wood people of Ruhuna his own cause. He devoted his whole life to them with courage, independence and straightforward dedication.” According to Sam, when DM died, an unwilling DA was persuaded that “it was his bounden duty by his brother and his family and the peasants of Ruhuna to follow in his revered brother’s footsteps.” Later, DM’s sons entered politics. In the 1960 Parliament, all three electorates of the Hambantota District were represented by Rajapaksas, DA (Beliatta), Lakshman (Tissamaharama) and George (Mulkirigala).
Sam related that soon after DA became a member of the State Council, DA had told him that his wife was expecting their second child. It was my father who suggested that DA name him Mahendra, the idea taken from Emperor Ashoka’s life in Nehru’s book “Discovery of India”, which my father happened to be reading. Whenever anyone referred to “Mahinda”, my father would say firmly “His name is Mahendra, not Mahinda. I am the one who gave him that name”. DA had a family of nine children, five sons and four daughters. Four sons are active in politics today.
Sam described the momentous event in 1951 when a disillusioned S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike took the extreme step to cross over the floor of the House to the Opposition, hoping to carve out a new era for the country. He said the only other Government MP to boldly risk the decision and follow SWRD was DA . “DA was not by any means an affluent person, but a loner, working honorably with dedication to his people. He had to bring up a large young family. He was abandoning a prospective position in politics ….. However, he sincerely felt that the best hope for the rural masses lay in his bold decision.”
Sam referred to” George Rajapaksa make one of the finest speeches in the annals of the Legislature of this country …” He quoted George as having said of DM ” The people of Ruhuna sent him to the State Council, and until his death, he fought relentlessly against the feudal overlords who were lording it over the backwoods from which I come. On his death the only inheritance he left me was the heritage of a name and this little brown shawl that I wear round me of Kurakkan colour, which symbolizes the struggle of the peasants in Ruhuna…” and further “He reminded members of the House of all their many duties and obligations, but that their fundamental and highest obligation was to the people of this country“
My father ended his oration by stating ” DA was a public figure and many have remarked on his integrity, courage and perseverance with which he carried out his duties. But to those around him, he was a kind man and a good man, in a sense in which very few are called kind and good.” and ” He abused no one personally nor from a political platform, in parliament or in his personal relationships”.
This was how my father and others described the Rajapaksas then. They were decent people, with no pretensions to wealth, position, power or greatness. They understood the hardships faced by the rural masses whom they represented and strived to serve them. Such was the symbolism of their kurakkan shawls. As he did for many others, my father helped DA’s family with their legal, financial and land matters, their education and employment opportunities. Were his efforts in vain to better their ability to serve the people? I think not, in the early years.
After finishing his schooling in the mid-sixties, Mahinda worked as a Library Assistant at the Vidyodaya Pirivena. Concerned about workers’ rights, Mahinda joined trade union activities and was Secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Union. After his father died in 1967, he entered politics in 1968 as SLFP organiser for Beliatta. Mahinda was very much a man of the people. He moved with the rural masses and understood their burning concerns for betterment. In 1970, he won his seat with a large majority, the youngest member of Parliament at the age of 24 years. Although he lost his seat in the landslide 1977 UNP victory, he continued engaging in politics and supporting the voiceless.
Regaining his seat in 1989, he continued to champion human rights, demanding justice for those who “disappeared” during the JVP insurrection, along with Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu of the Mothers’ Front, whose son, Richard de Zoysa, was murdered by UNP government forces. He was active in Geneva and at home, requesting the United Nations to look into what had happened. When his party came back to power in 1994, as Minister of Labour, he continued to lobby for workers’ rights. That was the Mahinda Rajapaksa I first knew of – a man who understood the problems of the rural majority and workers in Sri Lanka, and fought for their betterment.
Always personable, with no pretensions, he was well liked. At St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, his three sons were known to be well-mannered boys, talented on the rugby field. I am told that, as Prime Minister, Mahinda, with his wife Shiranthi, would come to watch their sons perform on the rugby field with no pomp or ceremony. I did not know the other three brothers, only that Chamal started his working life as a Police Sub-Inspector before entering politics, and that Gotabaya, a respected, disciplined army officer, retired from the army and went to the USA.
So what happened during the last 15 years, to the Rajapaksas who represented the rural masses of Sri Lanka?
Today, at astronomical cost, the Rajapaksas have given their base, Hambantota, – a colossal District Secretariat for its relatively small population, an unused International Conference Centre, a cricket stadium mostly idle, six-lane highways with no traffic, a white elephant International Airport and an International Seaport now given to the Chinese in lieu of debt repayments. Is this progress towards sustainable development for the people of Ruhuna?
The country faces multiple crises – inability to pay its foreign debts and essential import bills, most people unable to earn or feed their families, a pandemic still not brought under control, and an imminent food shortage following an impulsive ban on fertilizer – to name a few.
So, who or what do today’s Rajapaksas represent? Is it
rural agricultural masses facing food shortages and massive crop losses without fertilizer, or
able, educated urban professionals and skilled workers, leaving the country in despair, or
decimated rainforests, mangroves, wetlands, beaches and depleting wildlife suffering from rampant destruction by those with no understanding of our incredible, but fragile, biodiversity, or
rich businessmen with extravagant lifestyles of fast cars and fast living, aping the West, or self-serving advisors who have isolated the Rajapaksas from ground reality, or
the extended Rajapaksa family itself, captive in its self-inflicted gilded cage?
I pen these words wondering if they will strike a chord with any of DAs sons, Chamal, Mahinda, Gotabaya or Basil, to acknowledge their limitations and seek sound professional advice to move our country on a path to sustainable development.
NOTE: All quotes in italics were taken from the D.A. Rajapaksa Memorial Oration of 2005 delivered by Mr. Sam Wijesinha published in the Sunday Observer of 25 December 2005.
(The author retired and as Assistant Governor from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in 2007. As Director of Statistics, CBSL, she spearheaded the compilation of Provincial GDP data and the collection of survey data on living conditions in all 9 provinces after a lapse of 20 years since 1983. From November 2015 to December 2020, she was a member of the 3-member Delimitation Commission, one of 9 Independent Commissions appointed by the President under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution)
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe
The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,
The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.
Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.
Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”
For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.
The twins with the
late Sunil Perera
On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.
Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri
According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.
The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.
There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.
The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan
After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.
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