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Midweek Review

The Revenge of Power

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by Fr J.C. Pieris

It is vitally important to value our freedom more than anything else, as Patrick Henry did and declared: “Give me liberty or give me death. My humanity diminishes the less I am free; my humanity is enhanced the more I am free.” Moises Naim has written a book that every freedom loving human being must read to become aware of the treacherous dangers to his/her freedom.

The book is about how our freedom won with so much trouble, toil, blood and sacrifice is being corroded today, not from outside forces, like in the past such as tribal chiefs, kings and dictators, but more insidiously from within, subtly and deceptively, with something that looks like truth or democracy.

The mortal enemy of freedom is power. The gradual defeat of power by freedom and democracy we enjoy is being slowly strangulated by power returning to battle in unsuspecting hidden ways and means. That is why the book is titled “The Revenge of Power”.

The book is about the 3-P autocrats who steal our freedom and kill democracy. The three Ps are populism, polarisation and post-truth. The corrosive and corrupting consequence of the trio – populism, polarisation and post-truth – is a criminal and complete takeover of the state.

Populism

Populism is a set of practices and strategies. Through this, the autocrats become not only the sole voice and face of the government but also of the state. It empties the meaning of the authentic exercise of the will of the people as it weakens popular and civic organisations, and eliminates the function of political parties as channels of alternative ideologies.

Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) perfectly fits the bill for a populist leader. He came to power through democratic and legal means unlike Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) who became the President through trickery. No autocrat can beat the executive powers of the President of Sri Lanka, thanks to J. R. Jayewardene, who introduced the 1978 Constitution. Slowly, MR began to show traces of an autocrat. Even the few checks and balances that were in existence were disregarded. Self-promoting useless extravaganzas increased. He openly became nepotistic. He began to interfere in the judiciary by removing Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Shirani Bandaranayake, and brought in 18th Amendment in a bid to become the President for life. In the meantime, more and more allegations of huge commissions on mega projects, robberies, scams and crimes of family members, relatives and cronies increase. Pandora Papers disclosures as regards Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband has revealed only a fraction of what the Rajapaksa family has amassed.

MR’s younger brother, Gotabaya, entered politics in the wake of the Easter Sunday massacre declaring that he alone could protect the country’s national security. He said at the very beginning of his presidency that his word took precedence over government circulars. He banned agrochemicals. His idiotic economic decisions bankrupted the country.

Polarisation

Polarisation is the age-old idea of divide and rule. The autocrats generate intense hatred against the rivals and neutralise them. Since they exploit the atavistic fears and prejudices of and the social cleavages and divisions among people, they have a huge fan-base, and hence emerge as Messiahs.

Creating an enemy, the Other, is the speciality of our politicians. The Tamil minority was the first enemy. JR, the autocrat deliberately organised the 1983 July riots, and the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. Then, we had the 30-year civil war. They demonised the Tamils in the North and the East. GR came to power after Easter Sunday tragedy, promising to ensure national security and making the Muslims, the Other or the enemy.

Creating and accusing the Other, the enemy is part of the political practice in Sri Lanka. Rulers speak of imperialist conspiracy, Tamil separatism, Muslim Wahabism, NGO betrayals, Christian conversions or what not. They make ‘others’ monsters ready to pounce on the hapless majority, destroy them and conquer Sri Lanka.

Divide and rule is the name of the autocrat’s game. RW has called the Aragalaya youth fascists making them The Other. By using the PTA he has made the university students terrorists. Anti-riot police in full gear with tear gas masks, water cannon trucks and hundreds of men and women armed with batons and shields are sent to suppress the fundamental rights of the people to protest of small groups of unarmed non-violent civilians.

Post-truth

Post-truth is the confused conceptualisation and uncontrollable diffusion of fake news that distorts reality. It has such a power that it can systematically block the knowledge and diffusion of the truth. It is not simply spreading lies. It is about muddying the waters to such a point that it is difficult to discern the difference between truth and falsehood. Post-truth is the baby of the modern mass communication media.

“Post-truth has been defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “the disappearance of shared objective standards for truth.” It is a condition that arises in public life when the dividing line between facts and knowledge, on one side, and belief and opinion, on the other, withers away, or at least when they are used interchangeably so often that the dividing line between them is no longer widely agreed upon.” (Quoted from the aforesaid book)

With easy access to millions, social media, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, etc., we are inundated with facts and messages that can be true, partially true, false or fake. Often contrary facts and news are presented to us and we are confused as to what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. This weakens our democracy. A country of confused citizens is easy prey of the rapacious populist autocrat.

How to protect our freedom

The author has proposed methods of fighting the 3-P autocrats by battling against their five most used tactics.

The battle against the Big Lie

The Big Lie was the slogan given by Trump to his election loss. Here are some of our Big Lies. “Dharmishta Samajaya” sounds so pious and nice but the reality of the JR presidency was just the opposite. Then MR presented the vision of “Suba Anagathayak.” Now, we are in the Rajapakses’ ‘Anagathe’, you can decide whether it is ‘suba’ or ‘kalakanni’. “Yahapalanaya” was another fantastic goal to be achieved, but the UNP and its cronies carried out the Treasury bond scams, and the SJB footnote gang shamelessly tried to protect the culprits. Finally, we have the “Saubagya” of GR, well, the country is bankrupt and economically bogged down and ruined. The sweet dream of ‘Saubagya’ has become for the people a nightmare! These are the Big Lies of Sri Lankan politics. There are many small lies that are brazenly proclaimed in public like when Namal R said that “No Rajapakse has robbed anything. Take us to courts and prove the charges.” Of course, GR had “Nidoskota nidahas” all the cases against the Rakapakses and their crony murderers and thieves. Or take the television channels that promoted the Dammika Peniya as a cure for Covid-19.

Now for the battle. Democracy and freedom can be saved only if the citizens are well informed of how the government works. Ways of educating the youth and even the elderly must be found and implemented. They must be taught to check always the myriads of facts, figures and information they receive and even double check them before using them to make decisions or sharing them with others. The perpetrators of the Big Lie must never be allowed to win an election again. Even the supporters and promoters of the Big Liar must be dealt with similarly. The electorate must be made to feel seriously responsible for the election results.

Battle against criminal regimes

There are countries where criminals are no longer underground but very much above ground and in the highest places of power. Since the 1970s, Sri Lanka has also joined the club or the mafia of such countries. A good example of where it started is when JR made the notorious criminal, Gonawala Sunil, a Justice of the Peace after pardoning and releasing the latter from prison! We have a person convicted of “Kappan” as the Chief Whip of the government and most others are all thieves or at least collaborators of thieves. It is not for nothing that people call them Ali Baba and the 225 thieves.

As every government deal, whether oil, gas, sugar, medicine, vaccines or other essentials, is suspected to be a scam and the allegations are never investigated or admitted, we sure have a kleptocracy consisting of the politicians, top administrative officers and their crony businessmen openly robbing the wealth of the nation. The kleptocrats robbed and bankrupted the country. They have taken out the wealth of the country and stashed it away in black tax havens.

When the people of Aragalaya led by the youth, protest publicly against the criminal government, they are arrested and jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Saving democracy and freedom from a criminal regime is going to be a war of attrition. Then we must investigate the route of the stolen money and confiscate it. So far, nothing has been done in this regard. All that we know about Nirupama Rajapaksa, Jaliya Wickremasuriya, Udayanga Weeratunga, Air Bus scam, etc., has been revealed by investigations conducted overseas. We cannot expect a criminal government to conduct such investigations. It will have to be the work of NGOs, journalists, detectives and lawyers. Anybody, even charities that receive funds from autocrats who need character laundering must be named and shamed.

The battle against autocracies that seek to undermine democracies

Powerful autocracies and even some democracies competing for global domination have always interfered in the smaller democracies. It is clear how funding for elections is received. It is no secret that China funded Rajapaksas or the US funded some others. There were allegations that North Korea funded the old JVP and India funded the LTTE. Funds apart, now they use the social media on a global scale to disinform, mislead and tarnish the images of politicians who are undesirables, or support their favourites. They have found that Russia has interfered in the Trump election and in the Brexit referendum.

The only defence of the democracies against such onslaughts depends “on three priorities: fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, and advancing human rights.”

The battle against political cartels that stifle competition

Democracy is a way of organising political competition. In a democracy, those unhappy with the current state of affairs can change things, but only if they can persuade enough fellow citizens to vote for them. Ensuring fair and lawful political competition is the central purpose of democratic checks and balances. (Quoted from the book)

But political cartels that include the judicial, administrative and military sectors unleash anti-competitive pressures to stifle freedom and democracy. They are rigging the game to stay in power. The autocrats become political monopolists. In Sri Lanka, the practice of bribing MPs to switch sides is part of anti-competition.

“To defeat them, we need a kind of political anti-trust doctrine, one designed to protect the competitive dynamic at the heart of democracy. Whether dealing with campaign finance, redistricting, voter registration, or media regulation, policymakers must squarely confront one question: Do the current rules foster fair and constructive competition? Where the answer is no, a strong prima facie case exists for intervention and reform.” (Quoted from the book)

Battle against illiberal narratives

The autocrats create the Big Lie that they are the saviours of the people harassed by poverty, and the elites are insensitive to the people’s plight. They cater to the people’s gut level feelings and make their adrenalin work. But the democrats find difficult to achieve such results as they will offer only abstract principles of truth and fair play; freedom and competition. Usually, the democrats are always at a disadvantage.

“The populist frame is too powerful to be defeated permanently. Like a virus, it reappears in outbreaks again and again throughout history. But the rhetoric is hollow. And pointing out that hollowness gives us an opening we must exploit to sell people once more on the promise of democratic life.” (Quoted from the book)

In our country, Aragalaya has opened the eyes of people as never before and now many of them can see how they have been deceived and abused by populist autocrats.

“Sobriety is in order. The fact that democracy has survived over the last three centuries in no way guarantees that it will prevail against its enemies once more. But if we can defeat the Big Lies, sideline criminalized governments, parry the attempts at foreign subversion directed at democratic elements, face down the political cartels that stifle competition, and beat back the illiberal narratives that sustain autocratic onslaughts, we’ll have won the war to preserve democracy.” (Quoted from the book)

Conclusion

As I finished reading the book, I realised that we had found the local antidote to the 3-P autocrats. It is our own way of dealing with our own variety of 3-P autocrats. It is what emerged as Aragalaya in April this year, climaxed in July and is still simmering like live coals in the ashes. Proudly, I called it the Beautiful Revolution. However much its detractors howl against it, it is now a historical fact. Aragalaya happened and nobody can deny, delete or forget it. Our youth led it and were responsible for it and all, their mothers, fathers even little children joined them whole heartedly. The world was stunned by its success. Not a drop of blood was shed by the protesters.

I gauged them at the Galle Face Gotagogama. Aragalaya can be defined with the three words they always use, Nirpakshika, Nirprachanda and Aadaraya. Nirpakshika means they are not followers or slaves of anybody, any party or any ism. They are strong free adults; they think for themselves and they decide for themselves. Nirprachanda means non-violence stemming from human solidarity. Aragalaya was an experience of solidarity; not the narrow solidarity of groups of the same race, religion, language, class, caste or political party but the all-inclusive solidarity of the human race. At Gotagogama there was open trust and friendliness among all sorts of people. I remember one incident clearly; when the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu said that he was going to send food-aid to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, a young Tamil took the mike at Gotagogama and sent a message to the Chief Minister; Sir, either send food-aid to Sri Lankans or don’t send at all. Yes, we are Sri Lankans, period. Finally, they called their movement Aadaraye Aragalaya. I suppose it is inevitable; nirpakshika and nirprachanda leads naturally to the peculiar ethos of Aragalaya; an ethos of love, peace, friendship and brotherhood.

Aragalaya led by the new generation revealed what is truly necessary for democracy. It was democratic as it never had a clear leader. All were welcome to come forward and share their opinion. Various individuals were spokespersons for it but Aragalaya went on, a common project of the people. Everybody shared equal responsibility for the spontaneous project, in such a way that all were leaders. Aragalaya formed free citizens fit for true democracy. And this is the best antidote to the 3P autocrats. Democracy, not just in name but in practice, is possible in Sri Lanka. The good news of Nirpakshika, Nirprachanda and Aadaraye Prajatantravadaya must be spread island wide. This is the foundation for the system change we are looking for. And this is what frightens the enemies of Aragalaya, Ali Baba and the 225 thieves. They know their evil system is in its death throes. With PTA, emergency, suppression, new alliances, new parties, fake news and all kinds of crooked deals they are fighting for their survival. They will be vanquished.

Let us keep in mind; the price of sweet freedom is the hard work of eternal vigilance or a sort of permanent Aragalaya.



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Midweek Review

Sri Lanka caught up in Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy

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Eric Walsh, the New Canadian High Commissioner, arrives at the President’s House, in Kandy (above), to present credentials to President Ranil Wickremesinghe (right) on Feb 02, 2023 (Pic: Courtesy Foreign Ministry)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Eric Walsh presented his credentials to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Feb. 02, at the President’s House in Kandy. Wickremesinghe was flanked by Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Presidential Secretary Saman Ekanayake.

Canada, with the concurrence of Sri Lanka, appointed Walsh as High Commissioner of Canada to Colombo.

Walsh, who had served as the Canadian Ambassador in Seoul (2015-2018), succeeded David Makinnon, amidst the ongoing controversy over Canada’s declaration of two former Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015), and Gotabaya Rajapaksa (2019-2022), as war criminals. Ottawa has unilaterally found them guilty of alleged offenses, without going through any acceptable legal procedure, during the time they held the posts of President and Defence Secretary respectively (2005-2015). It was during this period that the LTTE, which was for a long time generally regarded by the West as being unbeatable, was well and truly vanquished, in the battlefield, by our valiant security forces, in May 2009. This is all the more shocking as some leading military/academic experts in the West had given written evidence that we did not commit any war crimes. May be nature alone will give justice to all the victims of the white man’s unimaginable crimes, especially against the natives of the Americas, who were the victims of genocide, since the arrival of Christopher Columbus there, and millions of Africans enslaved there, while outwardly espousing “all men are created equal”. And they continue to practice similar heinous acts against those people, while claiming to follow the gospel of the Lord!

The new Canadian High Commissioner was among several foreign envoys who presented credentials on Feb. 02, at an event that drew wide condemnation at a time Sri Lanka is continuing to experience severe economic difficulties. The criticism was so much that the President’s Media Division (PMD) issued a statement justifying the event. Colombo-based Walsh also serves as Canadian High Commissioner to the Maldives.

A section of the public, as well as the media, questioned the extravagant event at a time the vast majority of Sri Lankans was struggling to make ends meet. However, President Wickremesinghe, receiving credentials from the new Canadian High Commissioner, didn’t receive public attention.

Would Canada have imposed sanctions on Gotabaya Rajapaksa if he remained the President? Ottawa would have done so, probably as part of its overall strategy to appease Tamil Canadian voters of Sri Lankan origins. Public protests compelled Gotabaya Rajapaksa to give up the presidency on July 14. Of course it is also pretty obvious Ottawa is merely behaving as Washington’s pet poodle doing the bidding of its master.

“The Special Economic Measures (Sri Lanka) Regulations impose on listed persons a prohibition on any transaction (effectively, an asset freeze) by prohibiting persons in Canada, and Canadians outside Canada, from engaging in any activity related to any property of these listed persons or providing financial or related services to them,” the Canadian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The individuals listed in the Schedule to the Regulations are also rendered inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” the statement added.

Having negotiated the Ottawa Treaty, banning antipersonnel mines in 1996 to 1997, Walsh couldn’t have been unaware of the origins of the Sri Lanka war. No one demanding accountability on the part of hapless Sri Lanka ever questioned the origins of the war here. Canada is no exception. Canada wouldn’t have been home to such a large group of Sri Lankans if not for the despicable Indian destabilization project launched here in the early ’80s.

On January 11, Sabry summoned Acting Canadian High Commissioner, Daniel Bood, over the imposition of sanctions on the Rajapaksa brothers, Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayaka, and Lt. Commander P. Hettiarachchi over what Ottawa called ‘gross and systematic violations of human rights’ during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The acceptance of the new Canadian High Commissioner’s credentials meant that the humiliation of war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya, who played a significant role in Sri Lanka’s successful war against the LTTE, is not an issue at all. The then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009. Interestingly, Canada has not found fault with Fonseka, who contested the 2010 presidential election, with the backing of the United States.

The Foreign Ministry owe an explanation as to how they intend to counter the latest Canadian move that has given a turbo boost to the ongoing campaign against Sri Lanka. Imposition of sanctions on the two Presidents followed the Canadian Parliament’s recognition of “Tamil genocide” in Sri Lanka on May 18, 2022. The then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government failed to address the issue having been overwhelmed by violent domestic issues.

“Canada becomes the first national parliament, in the world, to recognize May 18th, of each year, as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day,” tweeted Gary Anandasangaree, MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park, who brought forward the motion on the 13th anniversary of the LTTE’s crushing defeat at Mullivaikkal, on the Vanni east front. The Canadian MP’s father is Point Pedro-born Veerasingham Anandasangaree, an ex-lawmaker and one-time TULF stalwart.

Gary Anandasangaree hasn’t acknowledged India’s culpability in terrorism here or atrocities committed by his own community during the conflict.

Parliament Hill agenda

The Tamil Diaspora has received access to Canada’s Parliament in a big way. Against the backdrop of Canadian recognition of Tamil genocide (May 2022) and sanctions on Rajapaksa brothers (January 2023), Canada allowed the Federation of Global Tamil Organizations (FGTO) to address the accountability issue on Parliament Hill.

Canadian media quoted the member of the FGTO board, Vel Velautahpillai, as having called for a new Nuremberg-like tribunal to prosecute the leadership of the government of Sri Lanka.

President Wickremesinghe received the new Canadian High Commissioner’s credentials, a few days later. The FGTO recently requested Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mélanie Joly, to bring Sri Lanka before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). That request was repeated by Velautahpillai, in Parliament Hill.

Sri Lanka should be grateful for the impartial coverage of the latest developments by the national news agency of Canada. In fact, the Canadian Press handled the FGTO onslaught much better than the Sri Lankan government did.

The Canadian Press quoted Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Canada, Anzul Jhan, as having said: “Some of the extreme groups, with separatist agendas, do not wish to see progress in Sri Lanka, as it will jeopardize their livelihood in Canada. It is only natural for these groups to be motivated by the Canadian sanctions. The sanctions come in the backdrop of tangible and meaningful progress made by the government in addressing issues of accountability and reconciliation, and in strengthening the country’s democratic and governance structures.”

Career diplomat Jhan said, in her response to the Canadian Press inquiry, “Given the significant community of Sri Lankan heritage of all ethnicities, Canada should play the role of peacemaker.”

Jhan alleged Ottawa harmed both its own relations with Sri Lanka and her country’s internal reconciliation process. Canada imposed sanctions on the Rajapaksa brothers, on January 10, 2023.

Hats off to Jhan and the Sri Lankan High Commission for the intrepid stand taken on behalf of Sri Lanka at a time the Foreign Ministry seems to be so unsure of its strategy, possibly in fear of President Wickremesinghe, who, as PM, previously ensured the sponsoring of a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights body. Perhaps Sri Lanka lacked even the basic strategy to counter the Western agenda. Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Ottawa, Harsha Kumara Navaratne, has been trying to set the record straight. The one-time prominent civil society figure faces a daunting task in neutralizing the growing Canadian threat.

In the absence of a cohesive Sri Lankan action plan, the FGTO may well succeed in convincing more countries to follow suit. In his Parliament Hill statement, Velautahpillai urged the G 7 countries to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka. However, Velautahpillai refrained from urging India to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka. Did Velautahpillai fear at least to mention India’s culpability? Did the likes of Velautahpillai, and his associates ,who used Parliament Hill to promote separatist agenda, at least bother to inquire how many Tamils died in the hands of the LTTE, and other Tamil terrorist groups, trained by India? Did they want to know how many Tamils perished in the hands of the Indian Army, deployed in Sri Lanka during the July 1987-March 1990 period?

The death of nearly 1,300 Indian soldiers, and twice that number wounded, some maimed for life,underscored the fierceness of fighting.

The new Canadian High Commissioner must be reminded how the Indian-trained Sri Lankan terrorists made an abortive bid to grab power in the Maldives in early Nov. 1988. Those who have conveniently forgotten the origins of Sri Lanka terrorism, and want the international community to haul Sri Lanka up before the ICJ, must be compelled to acknowledge the ugly truth.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as recommended by the government of South Africa, and accepted by Sri Lanka, can examine the entire range of issues, including the attempt by the People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to assassinate the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to pave the way for a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee, to seize power.

Luthufee may never have had an opportunity to challenge Gayoom without the PLOTE support. At the time of the sea-borne raid, the PLOTE operated under the guidance of the Indian Army, as well as India’s premier intelligence service Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The PLOTE carried arms and ammunition, provided by the Indian military. In fact, it was one of the groups extremely close to Indian intelligence services, and the beneficiary of both weapons as well as funds. Did somebody, within the Indian intelligence community, know about the PLOTE operation? How the PLOTE preparations for the Male operation went totally unnoticed is an unfathomable question? And, most importantly, what would have happened if the coup attempt succeeded?

None of those seeking to establish the circumstances under which the combined Sri Lankan forces eradicated the LTTE, on the Vanni east front, were bothered about regional instability and uncertainty caused by the Indian action. India thereby, unwittingly, caused the assassination of one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, by LTTE terrorists.

The UN, the EU, as well as the Commonwealth, didn’t even issue statements regarding the Male crisis, caused by Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Instead, India was praised for saving democracy in the Maldives by swiftly responding to the sea borne raid, mounted by Sri Lankan terrorists. Had the terrorists succeeded, there would have been a bloodbath leading to a protracted conflict. Strangely, the security crisis, caused by Sri Lankan terrorists, had never been an issue at international forums, particularly because the government in Male was sensitive to India’s concerns. The bottom line is that the Maldives didn’t want to embarrass India. The Sri Lankan government largely remained silent for reasons best known to the then UNP leadership.

Indo-Pacific strategy

Sri Lanka is among the countries under Canadian sanctions over alleged human rights issues. The following are the other countries sanctioned by Ottawa: Belarus, Central African Republic, China, North Korea, Congo, Haiti, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar , Nicaragua, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine (linked to Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity according to Global Affairs Canada), Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

According to a message, posted on the Canadian High Commission website, new High Commissioner Walsh has declared that in terms of their Indo-Pacific Strategy, his country was ready to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to achieve meaningful and lasting post-war national reconciliation. Actually, Canada owe an explanation on how it intended to promote national reconciliation by targeting those who spearheaded Sri Lanka’s war effort. On one hand, Canada, and the like-minded countries, want to protect those who had perpetrated atrocities on behalf of the LTTE and other Tamil groups and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people. On the other hand, they are determined to humiliate the war-winning political and military leaderships.

Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, launched in 2022, should be examined, along with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, unveiled the year before, by the Biden-Harris administration. Truly, the Canadian initiative can be safely described as an integral part of the overall Western response to the Chinese challenge.

Obviously, Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with a deepening balance of payments crisis, and its inability to pay back its debt, is under tremendous pressure to align with Western powers. The accountability issue is being cleverly exploited to build up pressure on a hapless country that wouldn’t have experienced war on such a destructive scale if not for the West allowing New Delhi to go ahead with its destabilization project here.

Western strategy, in respect of Sri Lanka, is absolutely clear. Western powers have been rattled by Sri Lanka’s relationship with China, an all-weather friend, like Pakistan, at a time the US and Europe hesitated to help Colombo fight terrorism, though New Delhi gradually changed its approach, after a Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991.

According to the Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy, its actions, as well as the response of like-minded countries, are influenced by their assertion that China is a disruptive global power. Having perused the Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy, the writer is quite convinced of the exploitation of the Sri Lanka accountability issue to advance their agenda. Sri Lanka has been entangled in a conflict, due to its strategic positioning.

The Canadian response to the Chinese challenge is dealt at domestic, bilateral, regional and multilateral levels in their Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Seventy five years after gaining independence, from the UK, the country is at the mercy of Western powers, and India, the regional power and key member of the US-led ‘Quad ‘military alliance, despite New Delhi’s often proclaimed ‘Neighbourhood First Policy.’ Bankrupt Sri Lanka needs to overhaul the corrupt, wasteful and extravagant political system responsible for ruination of the national economy.

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Midweek Review

Alienness within walking distance

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(Text of a lecture delivered

by Rajan Hoole

at ICES, celebrating Malaiyaham 200 on 21 January 2023)

Citizenship was not originally a contested area. At the first session of the Ceylon National Congress, on 11th December 1919, where Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was elected president, it was assumed without dissent that all communities in the Island would be represented. In 1927, the Donoughmore Commissioners, who proposed universal adult franchise for ordinary residents did not themselves envisage a distinction. But it was clear to the Sinhalese plutocrats that under the scheme of one man – one vote, the balance of power would shift to the labouring classes.

In 1928, W. A. de Silva, president of the Ceylon National Congress, wanted the most vulnerable Plantation Tamils denied the vote because ‘their highly deprived living conditions and isolation made their vote a danger to the ‘community.’’ Any outsider visiting them was legally an intruder and subject to prosecution. Asked by the Indian journalist, Sant Nihal Singh, why not remove the restrictive regime in the Plantations, including his own, and allow the labour freedom to mix freely? De Silva admitted that then, the chief reason for denying them the vote would be gone. Seeing such specious denial of the vote made universal franchise farcical, the British Administration settled for minimum five years residence as condition for the vote.

Proof of five years residence seemed reasonable in 1929 and the Plantation Tamils too exercised the franchise in the 1931 and 1936 elections, but were by 20 years of insult and administrative harassment based on small-minded technicalities, rendered voteless in 1949. In 1941 the Legal Secretary had told the Council that 80% of the Plantation Tamils were either born here or had resided more than 10 years. Any government with a meagre sense of justice would in 1948 have taken the five years’ residence for granted. But even though they were paupers at the backbone of the economy, they were denied citizenship and the vote, making them slaves, on the risible pretext that they were, as D.S. Senanayake put it, citizens of India.

During the 20 years of the Donoughmore era, education too followed the social hierarchy; in 1927 a teacher in an English medium school could earn Rs. 70 to 200 and in a vernacular school from Rs.35 to Rs. 60. But the estate children were nominally taught reading, writing and arithmetic by teachers paid almost a plantation labourer’s salary of Rs. 20 a month in 1948. The labour was totally unprepared for the challenges of contesting disenfranchisement in the courts by proof of five years’ residence, even when many judges were sympathetic. The Registration bill of 1941 aimed at the Plantation Tamils, showed Senanayake whom the British favoured for the transfer of power, with the Left opposition jailed, established a stranglehold over the House. Amazingly, with the Left behind bars, no Sinhalese voted against the Bill. When the independence bill was put to the State Council in 1945, no Ceylon Tamil was willing to face up to the tragedy in train.

In the process, we destroyed the trust and good neighbourliness within the country to the point of driving the Tamil minority to seek lethal weapons; and in the unfolding dynamic, the majority and minority sought to overcome internal dissent by terror.

In today’s reality, this was defending the unaffordable Army doubling up as archaeological experts; scouring the North-East for tokens that could be turned into grandiose monuments for the Sinhalese among non-Sinhalese; and in turn driving the starving Sinhalese to desperate measures.

Academic historians and archaeologists have from their dull enclaves been shot into stardom as their professions became politicised. Written history will be of value only if it broadly reflects truth, rather than confirms the reader’s bias. The writer must interrogate his writing to check the validity of his conclusions.

To prove that the Indian labourers came only for short stay, Prof. S.U. Kodikara argued from the comparatively low proportion of unemployable elderly persons on the estates in the early 20th Century, that the elderly generally returned to India. But, in truth, conditions were harsh and the relative death rate very high, so that few survived to return. The blackout of Indian labour’s crucial contribution which kept the economy afloat, during the second world war and long after, to the tune of 65 per cent of our foreign earnings until 1965, is an injustice committed by both Sinhalese and Tamil politicians. That began the move to devalue everything Tamil.

The systematic denial of the Pallava (namely Tamil) contribution to Buddhist Art was to suppress the Tamil role. With scant evidence, the credit was shifted further north to inspiration from Amaravati of the 3rd century. This necessitates suppression of an episode of Indian Tamil immigration in the 8th to 10th centuries that led to excellence in art, expansion of trade, identification and internationalisation of the port of Trincomalee and the coming of China, by invitation.

Movement between Lanka and India was there all along, be it religion, trade, war or peace

The political need for the citizenship Act therefore inserted an official culture of systematic falsehood. Lankan professor of archaeology, Sirima Kiribamune, in ‘Tamils in Ancient and Mediaeval Sri Lanka’ of 1985, says, passing over the Pallava era in silence: “the 8th century, which saw some dynastic stability in the country, appears to have been relatively free of Indian troop movements.” Of Manavamma’s return following more than 20 years in service of the Pallavas, K.M. de Silva, remarks that there was augmentation of royal authority and sophistication of administration.

D.K. Dohanian, however, points out in his paper ‘Sinhalese Sculptures in the Pallava Style’ in Archives of Asian Art Vol. 36 (1983), Duke University Press:

“Lanka’s awareness of Indian neighbours was never so dynamic than during the nearly four hundred years following the flight of the Sinhalese prince Manavamma to political asylum in [Pallava] Kanchi, to the court of Narasimhavarman I. In 684 AD he captured the throne of Lanka in the wake of naval aid from the Pallava monarch, which set off from Mamallapuram. Following his reign of about 35 years, he was succeeded by his sons Aggabodhi V (AD 718 – 724), Kassapa III (724 – 730) and Mahinda I (730 – 733). These sons of Manavamma both shared his exile and were born in the Pallava country. In consequence Pallava influence at the Sinhalese court was quite strong.

“Both the stability and prestige of the Government of Lanka were related to the unbroken alliance with the Pallavas that lasted until the extinction of the Pallava dynasty near the end of the 9th Century. During this time the kingdom of Lanka benefitted from the might of the Pallavas” – who in the late 7th or 8th Century AD turned Trincomalee into a throbbing port city, judging by its wealth from the seabed ruins of Koneswaram Temple, and Mahayana Buddhist remains all over.

The relevant history of Tamil Nadu – inspiration of Buddhism and Jainism

Tamil Nadu has a blank in its history, after the 3rd Century AD, up to about 550 AD. Nilakanta Shastri tells us in his History of South India: “This dark period marked by the ascendancy of Buddhism and probably also of Jainism, was characterised also by great literary activity in Tamil.” Though characterising it ‘the dark period,’ being the great historian he was, Shastri followed with the brighter side of what has been termed the Kalabhra era, a time that saw the golden age of Tamil literature. He added: “Most of the works grouped under the head, the eighteen minor works were written during this period as also the Silappadikaram, Manimekalai and other works. Many of the authors were votaries of the heretical sects.”

It was a period marked by pluralism, if not secularism. David Shulman is a citizen of Israel, who works actively for justice to the Palestinians, from whom we in the University of Jaffna were privileged to have a visit. In his book of 2016, Tamil – a biography – provides a solution to the Kalabhra riddle that avoids the fantastic: “The once prevalent notion of a dark interregnum in which a mysterious dynasty of ‘Kalbhras’ penetrated with devastating effect, into the Tamil country now seems rather exaggerated, if not, indeed, entirely fictive.”

The Kalabhra period had witnessed a social upheaval in which the Buddhists and Jains gained in economic importance. In dealing with a revolution, which was largely pacific, the Pallavas, the emergent power in the Chola country from 550 AD on, whose rulers in turn embraced Jainism and Hinduism, wisely chose to buy into the revolution rather than suppress it. Thus, the Pallava capital Kanchipuram became a city of Jain, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist learning. The merchant marine of the time with Kanchipuram as headquarters carried Mahayana Buddhism and the Tamil language to East Asia. The social atmosphere of the time is captured in the Silappadikaram and Manimehalai, and in Anne E. Monius’ book ‘Imagining a Place for Buddhism.’

Amaravati or Pallava?

Senarat Paranavitana, the doyen of Ceylon’s archaeologists, in his Art of the Ancient Sinhalese (1971), advances the ‘overwhelming’ influence of ‘Andhra art on that of early Ceylon and a branch of that school in Ceylon, producing the sculptures on the frontispieces of the ancient stupas.’ This was speculative, given the censorship of Mahayana in the chronicles of Ceylon and the 400 years that separated Amaravati from the flowering of Pallava art. Nilakanta Shastri traces Roman influence in the ‘vigorous and supple realism, characteristic of all Indian sculpture, particularly from the days of Asoka and Sanchi to the Pallava sculptures of Mamallapuram … Roman influence in the art of Amaravati that foreshadows that of Aihole and Mamallapuram.’

Osmund Bopearachchi, from Sorbonne, one of our eminent archaeologists has pointed to the mass discoveries from the 7th and 8th centuries of statues of Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara, the protector of sailors, along the island’s ports, rivers, and overland routes. He also points to famous Mahayana Buddhist statues in the southeast of the island, as in Budurugala, from this period. But he remarkably fails to make the crucial Pallava connection and leaves these facts as curiosities hanging in the air. The Amaravati claim is focused on one instance. Paranavitana quoted the authority of Ananda Coomaraswamy on the well-known statue in the Abhayagiri grounds [in Anuradhapura], ‘dignified as are the Buddhist statues of Amaravati, the great Buddha at Anuradhapura surpasses them in grandeur.’

Dohanian (ibid) adds: “Perhaps the most celebrated Sinhalese sculpture in the Pallava style is the stone Buddha of the Outer Circular Road in Anuradhapura [cited by] Coomaraswamay … Though originally from the Mahayanist shrine at Abhayagiri vihara, with three similar, if not identical Buddha images, it has been given space in virtually every publication on Buddhism and Buddhist art in modern times. The stone sculpture isolated from its shrine has been much commented upon, and has been placed within dates, ranging as a rule from the 2nd century A.D. to the fifth; there have been some attempts to date it much earlier … The shrine of which this image is a component has been dated within the first half of the eighth century, and I have demonstrated elsewhere, that the sculpture was contemporary, in manufacture, with the shrine.

“Although most scholars have been content to see ‘Gupta’ qualities in it, this image most convincingly resembles the figures carved on the face of the great rock at Mamallapuram, the ancient city of the Pallavas.”

No Lankan scholar seemed to have commented on Dohanian’s paper of 1983. At a seminar in University College London on 6th July 2005, Bopearachchi, repeated Paranavitana’s thesis on the ‘overwhelming’ influence of Amaravati-Nagajunakonda art on the earliest Buddha images in Sri Lanka as having ‘gained unanimous acceptance.’ This he partially retracted on 30th December 2014, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts:

“D.K. Dohanian sees a parallel between this type of ascetic Avalokiteśvara and Śiva of the early Pallava style depicted … in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). If this hypothesis is correct, the stone Avalokiteśvara images cannot be dated before the 7th century because the Pallava sculptures at Mamallapuram are generally dated to the reign of Narasimhavarman (630–668 CE).”

But Dohanian’s case on the actual origin of the Statue and its date to 8th Century AD went unanswered. All the while local archaeological publications have tried to protect the State’s ideological positions on the East of the country, particularly Trincomalee.

(To be continued)

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Midweek Review

The Jailor’s Loneliness

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By Lynn Ockersz

Rest comes slowly in snatches,

For our Jailor of master class,

All alone with his designs,

Keeping heavy-lidded eyes on cells,

Filled with spirits calling for a way out,

Of travails mounting by the day,

Refusing to be weighed down by chains,

Thrust on them by iron fists,

But our Jailor oozes high confidence,

And dares not show lassitude,

Since he has his work cut out,

Which is to carve out an Orwellian Isle,

Where a Big Brother syndrome would thrive.

e.

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