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The road ahead for the Left



The government has given the Left a chance to reorganise. I don’t mean the Left of the LSSP, the Communist Party, the JVP, the FSP, or even the Socialist Equality Party. I mean the Left of the Left, cutting across affiliations and antecedent: the Left there on the streets, the Left of students and their teachers, of unions and their leaders.

Three years ago, Wasantha Samarasinghe threatening to get employees to withdraw from the public sector would have been met with anger. Now, hardly anyone’s complaining. Having antagonised the people, the regime has hence revived the Left.

The recent wave of demonstrations was significant not because they took place despite the spread of the most dangerous COVID-19 strain so far, but because people cared little for the virus and its implications for the protests. Perhaps rashly, every critique of the strikes was dismissed as pro-regime, a simplification as crass as the anti-protest rhetoric of pro-regimists. Yet neither medical concerns nor fears of state reprisals kept these strikers back.

That they came in such large numbers made two points clear: one, the potential for a democratic resistance in the country, and two, a shift in anti-regime opinion to the Left. The prospects for a socialist resistance have clearly never been better.

The obvious question here is what strategy socialists should adopt. There’s the Left Populist option, but as the Bring Back Mahinda campaign and its hijacking by the Gotabaya chapter reminds us, it bears the seeds of its own antithesis.

The experience in Mexico and Peru shows how Left Populism can be mobilised against neo-liberals and neoconservatives, but short of a cohesive engagement with material issues and an appraisal of the weaknesses of similar past interventions, no Left Populist line will prevail in the battle of ideas; I have outlined these points and their relevance to what we are seeing in not just Mexico and Peru, but also Brazil, in a previous column.

To recapitulate, the failure of the Latin American Pink Tide had to do with a lack of working class and peasant participation in the electoral revolutions that pushed the Right out of power. Populist and socialist though they may have been, many of the governments that replaced the Right allowed themselves to be penetrated by the bourgeoisie.

The rise of Left Populism in these countries was pegged to two factors: the massive growth of China, and the equally massive recession in the West. Once the magnitude of these two factors had dissipated somewhat – with China’s growth slowing down and parts of the West recovering after 2011 – the bourgeoisie asserted its influence to the exclusion of more progressive elements in these governments. This gave some space for the comprador Right to co-opt the nationalist bourgeoisie (who are more bourgeois than nationalist) and pre-empt any progressive measures proposed by the government. As the recent return to power of Marxists in Peru and Left Populists in Mexico show, it would appear that these countries have learnt the lessons of their failures well. The question is, have we?

The Bring Back Mahinda campaign showed how trade unions could be mobilised against neo-liberal policies aimed at the reduction of the State, yet it also revealed how a movement opposing neoliberalism could easily be taken over by a neoconservative monolith. This is why the recent spate of protests is significant: because it points at the waning influence of the Rajapaksa-allied unions and the emergence of an FSP-JVP-IUSF bloc. The implications of this conjuncture should not be lost on anyone, least of all on the protestors themselves. If a viable Left movement is to emerge at all, it must therefore resolve two questions: what issues it must engage the public in, and what opposition it must ally with.

Sri Lanka’s Left student movement has not infrequently been accused of peddling issues to suit their interests. This is, of course, a hilarious accusation to make, but it bears scrutiny for two reasons. First, as the demonstrations against the KNDU Bill show, the IUSF can attract middle-class opposition to the government’s actions. Second, the middle-class can be counted on to sustain a potential Left programme against neo-liberal reform.

However, the suburban-urban middle-class’s support of the IUSF must be taken with a pinch of salt. They oppose the government, yes, but does that mean they support the IUSF’s wider aims of opposing the idea of privatising education? Probably not.

In fact, far from supporting these movements, middle-class youth are more likely to reject the IUSF’s stances on education, outside the KNDU demonstrations. This is why it is important to distinguish between those opposing the militarisation and those opposing the privatisation of education, and point out that these two issues are not mutually non-exclusive.

Already middle-class youth circles have drawn the line between their support for student bodies in the fight against the KNDU Bill and their opposition to these bodies with respect to their other stances. Some among these circles have gone further: while supporting the spirit of the protests, they deny the role played by the IUSF in those protests.

This is strange, but not inexplicable. As slogans of protest, both the threat of the militarisation of education and teachers’ salary anomalies seem valid concerns to middle-class youth. Yet, conditioned by a bourgeois, upward aspiring worldview, this youth does not seem to focus much attention on other IUSF concerns, prime among them being, of course, the privatisation of education. As far as their political ideals go, letting public education and healthcare be penetrated by private interests is not as problematic as, say, militarising higher education. The latter is more symptomatic of the regime’s failures, while the former presents no problems at all, since the middle-class youth generally accepts the idea of privatisation.

This explains why SJB MPs, even nominal supporters of the JVP, can get so riled up when Mr Bimal Ratnayake tweets on the shocking disparities between private and public healthcare systems in the country and argue that they illustrate what he calls the “disaster of capitalism.” Middle-class youth may look up to the JVP and the FSP for their honesty, but the trust they repose on Marxist outfits does not go as far as a critique of the private sector.

The truth is that this youth is too invested in capitalism even to care that they are living through the most acute crisis of capitalism the world has seen in perhaps half a century. In a country where think-tanks dish out the virtues of privatisation and right wing economic ideas discarded even by the West are presented, of course, this is nothing to be surprised at.

The lesson that the Left can pick up from these observations is that it does not do any good to the Left or the future of Left outfits to rely on middle-class youth support. Their goal must be, not to play to the gallery, but to convert it to their philosophy. However, this requires an intelligence and imagination that is sorely lacking among many MPs.

Yes, the JVP has the potential to convert voters, but does it have the MPs who can make that happen without pandering to middle-class voters? As the results of last year’s elections show, it is these middle-class voters, overwhelmingly young, who celebrated the virtues of the JVP, touted it as the party of the honest and the competent, and then voted for, among other outfits, the SJB, on the pretext that “Marxist parties” were an unrealistic choice. The FSP is better in this regard because it has managed to avoid the pitfalls of relying on middle-class protest slogans. Yet even that party doesn’t seem to have matured enough.

Which brings us to the question of which opposition the Left must ally itself with. Anura Kumara Dissanayake has gone on record suggesting that he is ready to take up the leadership of the opposition. Mr Dissanayake forgets that there is already a democratically elected, or should I say democratically appointed, opposition leader. Mr Premadasa may or may not be the weakest man in that post that we have had in years, but he is, as the Left should realise, more pragmatic than his less than illustrious predecessor from the UNP. This does not mean the Left should absolve him or his party of everything.

As Marxist critics of the SJB will readily concede, there are comprador elements in the SJB that look up to the West, ask us to go the IMF, demonise China (among other non-Western allies), and idealise a conception of rights that sidesteps the issue of sovereignty. The task of the Left is to ensure that the SJB remains free of these elements. Indeed, that exchange on Twitter between Mr Ratnayake and the SJB makes it clear that engagements with the SJB from the Left are not only possible, but desirable. Desirable, because this is the last chance socialist opponents of the regime have to convert the Opposition from its neo-liberal past into a more progressive movement. The Marxist Left needs a radical revaluation within its circles before it can try converting us. From such revaluations flows the tide of all future revolutions. Its task here is thus eminently clear: it must radicalise the mainstream.

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Presidential pardons: an unchecked executive power



by R.J. de Silva,Attorney-at-law

A pardon is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary ‘as an act of grace’. In the Oxford Dictionary it is defined as an “action of forgiving or remission of the legal consequences of an offence or conviction”. Some argue that the power to grant a pardon is a check on the powers of the judiciary rectifying any miscarriage of justice. But this executive power unchecked could result in the abuse of power.

In recent times, President Sirisena granted two pardons – one within six months and the other within nine days of relinquishing office while President Gotabay Rajapaksa granted two pardons – one within four months of becoming president and the other seven months after he received a two thirds majority in Parliament.

The practice of giving Presidential pardons to political friends came to the limelight when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a notorious Buddhist monk Ven. Galaboda Eththe Gnanasara who had received a pardon from President Sirisena earlier, as the Head of the Presidential Task Force to study and prepare a law to implement the concept “One Country One Law”, as though the monk was an epitome of righteousness.

In view of the controversial manner in which Presidents Maithripala Sirisena and Gotabaya Rajapaksa had granted pardons, the proposals to tighten presidential prerogative in granting pardons was a strident demand during the course of the recent Aragalaya. However, the course of action provided in the 19th amendment for the Supreme Court to review pardons by way of Fundamental Rights applications, has become a positive feature in the hands of our independent Supreme Court which has maintained checks and balances on the executive power thereby preventing a culture of injustice undermining the Rule of Law.

Some murders highlight brutality and arrogance of the accused when committing crimes. Such acts bring immense agony, pain and suffering to the victims and their loved ones. That is why a president is expected to intervene with utmost care when using his prerogative to grant a pardon. In doing so, he is obliged to consider the gravity of the offence, the role of the police in containing crime, the specific role of the AGs department and the judiciary in imparting justice and not be arbitrary, unreasonable and ignore the public interest.

In Britain, the courts have jurisdiction to review the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of the Monarch to grant a pardon “in accordance with accepted public Law principles”. In India too, the Indian Supreme Court has held that in a landmark judgement in Epuru Sudhakar and Another vs Government of Andhra Pradesh , that the Indian Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to review presidential pardons.

The request for a pardon is generally forwarded by the Prisons Department based on good behaviour, age and medical condition etc. Of the prisoner. Therefore it plays a leading role in deciding on a convict’s life in prison. Also, the prisoner himself can appeal for a pardon.

Article 34 (1) of the Constitution, while stating that the President may in the case of any offender convicted by any court (a) grant a pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions, (b) grant any respite for an indefinite period, of the execution of any sentence, (c) substitute a less severe form of punishment imposed on the offender or (d) remit the whole or any part of the punishment imposed, has incorporated a Proviso to the Article 34 which states that : ‘where the offender has been condemned to death, the President shall call for the report from the Judge who tried him and shall forward that report for AG’s advice and thereafter the President shall submit all to the Minister of Justice, who shall forward the report with his recommendations to the President.’

Presidential pardons for offenses not amounting to murder

Presidential pardons are a regular feature in cases where prisoners are convicted of minor offences. Such pardons are granted marking special events like Vesak, Christmas and Independence Day. In such cases of non-murder offences, pardons are given mainly during national festivals. According to statistics available in the Ministry of Justice, Presidents J R Jayewardene, R Premadasa, D B Wijetunga released 72 convicts during 1978 to 1994. The first President J R Jayewardene pardoned gangster Gonawela Sunil in 1983 convicted for raping a 14-year-old girl in 1982. On that occasion, The President of the BASL, A C (Bunty) de Zoysa protested strongly. Zoysa was a working Committee member of the UNP at the time but had the guts to clash with his party leader. However, his protests were ignored.

This rapist gangster is alleged to have executed a plan to massacre 53 Tamil Prisoners in 1983. ( N Jordan, Retd Deputy Prisons Chief- CDN, 16 Nov. 1999 ). President Premadasa pardoned Manori Daniels, a teacher in a government school in the Batticaloa District and a mother of two, who was convicted of aiding and abetting the LTTE bomber Gagendran who caused the death of 40 civilians in a car bomb blast in Maradana, on November 9. 1987. She was given a six year sentence in October 1989. (President Premadasa expected the LTTE to reciprocate his goodwill. But as history has recorded, LTTE never reciprocated gestures of goodwill shown by either Presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa or subsequently Mahinda Rajapaksa).

President Mahinda Rajapaksa pardoned 10 former members of the Presidential Security Division ( PSD ) who were sentenced for over four years after they were found guilty of assaulting and causing bodily harm to a famous husband wife duo because they sang at an opposition political party musical show.

Presidential pardons where death sentences are pronounced

In murder convictions, the presiding judge always files a report. This report is available to the President and to the Committee sitting on the future of such convicts. If a presidential pardon is granted to a murder convict in death row, in most instances the death sentence is reduced to life imprisonment.

“Life sentence” means 20 years. From time to time, the term gets reduced due to good behaviour, age, medical condition etc. Finally, the prisoner is sent home before the reduced term is reached but under a supervisory licence and required to be of good behaviour.

During President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s presidency, a policy was formulated and is being followed today where a committee comprising of a retired judge as chairman, an official from the AG’s and Prisons Departments, Ministry of Justice and a psychologist sit in committee to decide on the future of a prisoner on whom a death sentence is passed. The committee decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Abuse of presidential power

But with time, unchecked presidential power began to corrupt, resulting in abuse of power. It expanded to instances where murderers were pardoned with impunity.

In the first of such cases was President Mahinda Rajapaks pardoning in March 2009, Mary Juliet Monica Fernando (a minister’s wife) convicted of a double murder in 2005. In view of the controversies surrounding the impunity with which President Mahinda Rajapaksa used his Executive powers in general, the Yahapalanaya government enacted the 19th amendment, in which provision was made for the Supreme Court jurisdiction to review the official decisions of a President by way of a Fundamental Rights application under Article 35 (1) of the Constitution. As a result, a way to check presidential excesses was made available to the people, thereby upholding the doctrine of “Separation of Powers” in the Constitution.

Despite the enactment of the said 19th Amendment by his own government, President Sirisena granted pardons to: (1) controversial Buddhist monk and Secretary General of the militant Bodu Bala Sena in May 2019. He had been sentenced to six years for contempt of court after failing in his appeal to the Court of Appeal in August 2019. This pardon was granted a mere six months before Sirisena relinquished office.

(2) to Jude Anthony Jayamaha on November 9, 2019, a mere nine days before he relinquished office despite the Supreme Court having dismissed Jayamah’s appeal confirming the death sentence.

In the face of severe criticism, a press release from the president’s office on November 11, 2019 stated that Ven Athuraliya Rathana Thero moved in the matter in writing and made verbal representation with Ven Baddegama Samitha Thero, Ven Karandawela Punnaratana Thero, Ven Balangoda Buddhagosha Thero and Catholic Bishop Raymond Wickramasinghe. They appealed to the President to pardon Jayamaha. Many allegations were made about large sums of money being paid to various persons for the services rendered but, astonishingly no formal inquiry was made to find out the truth about these allegations made by the president’s media division, although some of those named were MPs.

Aggrieved by the presidential pardon, a F R application was filed by ‘The Women and Media Collective’ challenging the use of the president’s constitutional power to grant a pardon as he does not have the freedom to grossly violate the Rule of Law, equity and rationality and has no right to recklessly disregard the sensitivities and sensibilities of the aggrieved family from whom a young life was taken away in a gruesome murder. When the case was taken for hearing, the court was informed by the Controller of Immigration and Emigration that after Jayamaha was granted the pardon, he had travelled overseas and is not to be found. The SC ordered overseas travel ban until further consideration.

A three-member Bench delivering the judgement found President Sirisena had intentionally violated the constitution and ordered him to pay Rs 1 m each to the parents of the victim and Rs 1 m to the petitioner and directed the AG to take tangible measures to secure the custody of the Jayamaha.

Despite mud in the face of the outgoing President Sirisena, the newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, also misused his constitutional privilege. Armed with a massive 6.9m voter mandate, he gave two pardons: (1) to an Army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake on March 26, 2020 – a mere four months after he assumed office despite a five Judge Bench of the Supreme Court affirming on April 25, 2019 the death sentence and (2) to former Parliamentarian Duminda Silva on June 24, 2021- a mere seven months after receiving a two thirds majority in Parliament.

It is heartening to observe that the Supreme Court has asserted its authority by judicially checking the presidential prerogative to grant pardons. It has already issued an interim order, nullifying the presidential pardon granted to Duminda Silva and fixed September 4 to hear the FR case challenging the pardon given to former soldier Sunil Ratnayake.

In the case of Duminda Silva, The Colombo High Court imprisoned this controversial parliamentarian for life in 2016 over the murder of MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a highly controversial Presidential Commission to investigate incidents of political victimization which recommended the release of Duminda Silva. The President promptly granted a special pardon to Duminda Silva in June 2021. But in May 2022, the SC issued an interim order directing the CID to place Duminda Silva under prison custody and impound his passport.

One of the most obnoxious and controversial acts of President Gotabaya Rajapakse was to grant Lance Corporal Suni Ratnayake a pardon for the murder of eight Tamil civilians in December 2000. This act of the president after the war victory and at a time the country required reconciliation to rebuild the country’s economy after a 30 year war and reconcile and integrate the Tamil community was not expected of a Head of a State and was a stab in the back of reconciliation.

Fortunately, The SC has granted leave to appeal in five FR cases filed by the family members of the victims and the Centre for Policy Alternatives, challenging the former President’s decision to pardon former soldier and directed service of notices on the former president and Ratnayake to be present at the hearing in September 2024, as both were unrepresented in court.

The people should recall the facts of this heinous crime and the court verdict, to understand the gravity of the crime committed on so many innocent lives. Lance Corporal Sunil Ratnayake, with a 20 strong military unit of the Gajaba Regiment was airlifed to Mirusavil, Jaffna, on December 18, 2000. The murder of eight villagers took place just one day later on December 19, 2000.

He was sentenced to death by a High Court Trial at Bar in June 2015 after almost 15 months since the date of the crime. A five judge Bench sitting in appeal in the Supreme Court affirmed the sentence on April 25, 2019. The court held that the prosecution had established all eight counts of murder (11-18) and count of causing hurt to Maheswaran ( 19 ) and confirmed the death sentence.

Briefly the facts are as follows: When the fighting intensified in 2000 and the LTTE overran Elephant Pass in April 2000, the army retreated to Ellathumaduwal and the villagers dispersed from their village Mirusavil to close by villages due to stray shells falling nearby. But the villagers developed the habit of visiting their homes in Mirusavil to clean their houses and collect whatever produce they can and return before dusk.

On December 18, 2000, a military unit of the Gajaba Regiment was airlifted to Mirusavil. On December 19, eight villagers comprising a five-year-old toddler accompanying his father, two 13- and 15-year-old boys accompanying their fathers visited their homes on cycles, as villagers used to do.

On this fateful day at about 4 pm, when the eight villagers were getting ready to return with whatever produce they had collected, the five-year-old had pestered the father to pluck a guava fruit from a nearby tree. The father not having the heart to disappoint his son, had with the others on their cycles, gone towards the fruit tree. But they were confronted on the way by two soldiers – one with a firearm and the other with a knife. After an initial questioning, one soldier went back and returned with four other military men who together had severely assaulted all the men with blunt weapons. When witness Maheswaran (only surviving witness) regained consciousness, they blindfolded him with his sarong and threw him over a fence. His sarong was entangled on the fence and he lay injured in his underwear.

Subsequent events narrated by Maheswaran, disclosed how he escaped not knowing the fate of the others and met his father who was searching for him. His mother to whom the story was related, had complained to the political office of the EPDP. Subsequently he was admitted to the Chandigar hospital. On information and pressure, the army authorities promptly started investigating the incident.

During the search of the area by the Military Police with Maheswaran, a few soldiers accompanied by Officer Commanding the unit Sgt Ranasinghe stationed about 50 meters away from the scene of the crime, had approached the search party. Seeing them Maheswaran had spontaneously cried out pointing at two soldiers as the two who had severely beaten them up. They were Lance Corporal Ratnayake and Private Kumarasinghe.

Subsequently at a Magisterial inquiry, five persons were identified among whom were the first accused appellant Ratnayake and Kumarasinghe. On court orders, a search revealed the bodies and the bicycles of all the eight unfortunate civilians killed and buried at a spot shown by Ratnayake – the accused appellant. The relatives had identified the bodies.

They were charged for unlawful assembly and murder and causing hurt to the only eyewitness Maheswaran and deceased Raviwarnam.

The entire case was based on circumstantial evidence and lay on the credibility of the evidence of the only eye witness, Maheswaran. The court had observed that the witness was traumatized and had even refused to go with the army to identify places if not accompanied by EPDP and ICRC officials.

Medical evidence confirmed the assault to be compatible with Maheswaran’s testimony. The doctor who did the post mortem examination stated that all bodies had injuries by assault and cut injuries around the back of either side of the neck, which severed the two main arteries and were necessarily fatal. The prosecution had contended that no firearms were used in murdering, as the killers were aware of the war situation in the area and took precautions not to make a noise by firing.

The defence argued that Maheswaran’s evidence had contradictions and omissions. But both courts held that they were all minor and insignificant. The SC further observed that the witness was a Tamil with no knowledge of Sinhala. His evidence was translated into Sinhala writing and some discrepancies may have occurred.

The SC commented that in his dock statement the accused appellant had admitted that he was present in the area on this fateful day. The SC having considered the totality of all the evidence, circumstantial and otherwise, came to the conclusion that: (1) there was irresistible inference that it was appellant and his group of men that had inflicted the fatal injuries to all deceased and (2) from the nature of injuries, it was safe to conclude that the injuries were inflicted with an intention to cause death.

It is hoped that the agitation launched by civil society will succeed and ensure that the process of granting a pardon by the Head of State will be strengthened by unambiguous constitutional and legal provisions, so that such a privilege is retained but not abused for collateral reasons.

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S.W.R.D Bandaranaike – (1899- 1959): laid low by six bullets from an assassin’s weapon



Prime Minister Bandaranaike in Rome

(Excerpted from Selected Journalism by HAJ Hulugalle)

Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike who was Maha Mudaliyar or Chief Interpreter to the Governor was born on May 22, 1862. Sir Solomon acted as extra A.D.C. to His Majesty King George V of England during the latter’s visit to Ceylon as Duke of York in 1901. He was well known in sporting circles and a proprietary planter.

Professor S A Pakeman of the Ceylon university wrote of the son: “Bandaranaike was a clever young man, the only son of Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, the Maha Mudaliyar, head of the leading upper-class family in the low-country. The Maha Mudaliyar was, technically, the ‘chief native interpreter’, a ceremonial position of great dignity. In this capacity he was closely connected for formal and ceremonial purposes with the Governors, and named his son `West Ridgeway’ after one of them.

“He was in fact a land owner on a large scale. His autobiography, Remembered Yesterdays, throws much light on the life and ways of thinking of his class. He was a man highly respected by people of all races.

“He sent his son to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he read Western classics and became Junior Treasurer of the Oxford Union, having a natural gift for speaking.

“On his return to Ceylon he entered municipal politics and then national politics. The way he was brought up meant that he had little acquaintance with the Sinhalese language but he made himself fluent in that tongue, though he admitted later that he could neither read nor write the script with any ease.

“His point of view differed completely from that of his father, and he became an enthusiastic nationalist, with emphasis on Sinhalese primacy.”

Dr. Howard Wriggins, a Professor from Princeton in the United States in his book Ceylon: Dilemma of a Nation, with less first-hand knowledge and depth of understanding wrote: “One fundamental rift within the UNP sprang from the problem of succession. When the Sinhala Maha Sabha was brought into the UNP, it was generally understood that Mr. Bandaranaike as second of the largest component of the UNP would succeed Mr. D. S. Senanayake who was expected to step down from the party leadership in the near future.

“But Mr. Senanayake did not step down. It became clear as time went on that Mr. Senanayake was not sure that the post should be reserved for Mr. Bandaranaike. On the contrary, it became clear that he was grooming his nephew, Major John Kotalawala, for the post instead. These manoeuvres were explicable as part of a long-standing competition between the Senanayake and Bandaranaike family clans.”

Dr. Wriggins continues that “there was little trust and confidence between them. Hence when the United National Party was formed, with Mr. D. S. Senanayake as the dominant figure, it was not surprising to those who knew the family background of these men that Mr. Bandaranaike should have been unwilling to subordinate himself to the elder Senanayake.

“On the other hand, Mr. Bandaranaike and others came to feel that the elder Senanayake did not trust Mr. Bandaranaike. It appeared that Mr. D. S. Senanayake kept foreign policy matters to himself, a circumstance already formalized in the Constitution in which the portfolio of External Affairs was merged with the office of the Prime Minister. With this interpretation in mind, it was not surprising that the Sinhala Maha Sabha, the creation of Bandaranaike, was not dissolved; nor was his resignation from the Cabinet in 1951 unexpected.”

Bandaranaike himself did not wish to separate the Ministry of External Affairs from that of the Prime Minister in 1956. Wriggins says in successive pages that “it became evident that he (Senanayake) was grooming his nephew” and that he “began to build up his son.” In fact his son was not interested in the post and, as Wriggins himself says, “finally accepted with reluctance and after much indecision.”

It would do less than justice to the memory of Senanayake and Bandaranaike to say that the break between the two leaders in 1951 was solely or largely due to family rivalries. They were both men of stature, devoted to the interests of the country but their background, make-up, intellectual processes and philosophy were different.

Bandaranaike was a remarkable speaker, apt to be carried away by the exuberance of his oratory, but he was skillful in drawing fine distinctions as when, after his resignation, it came to defining his position between the United National Party and the Marxists, both Trotskyites and Leninists, with whom he was ready to make electoral pacts to dethrone the UNP. As for Senanayake, although social reform and economic development were his aims, he was not known to have used the word ‘socialism’ and could not quite make out what Ceylonese speakers meant when they advocated ‘socialism.’

Hulugalle with Mr and Mrs Bandaranaike

The respective contributions of Senanayake and Bandaranaike to the modern history of Ceylon were, in a sense, complementary. The older man won independence for Ceylon, gave the country stable government and a viable administrative machine and identified agriculture, especially food production, as the principal target of Ceylon’s economic development.

If anybody seeks a monument to Senanayake’s work in the sphere of agriculture he has only to look round and see the irrigation works he constructed and the hundreds and thousands of acres of new land he helped to bring under cultivation in the sparsely populated areas of Ceylon. He appreciated British political traditions and sought the friendship of the people of Great Britain and of the Dominions. He was a practical man, patient, clear-sighted, friendly and prone to estimate any project solely by its practical bearing on the interests of the common people in Ceylon.

Admirers have compared Senanayake and Bandaranaike with Patel and Nehru in India. Bandaranaike had Nehru’s educational background, the same western culture, the power of speech and egalitarian perspectives, a sheltered life before plunging into the political maelstrom and a vague vision of the future. Senanayake on the other hand, was like Patel, a man of action, with a deep knowledge of human nature and human weakness and a vision deeply grounded on the hard facts of life.

Though repeatedly he disclaimed Marxist doctrines, Bandaranaike’s politics were radical and had socialist overtones. He set out to build a new society which suited the genius of the Ceylonese people in the context of a changing world. To do this he had to take note of the new political status of the country.

In a speech shortly after his resignation, Bandaranaike said: “But how did freedom come? It came not after a fight upon definite principles. policies and programmes, but it really came in the normal course of events, that is, attempts to persuade Commissions sent from England to grant this little bit or that little bit extra; and finally, in the wake of freedom that was granted to countries like India, Pakistan and Burma. Our Soulbury Constitution was altered to extend to us the same type of Dominion Status. There was no fight for that freedom which involved a fight for principles, polices and programmes which could not be carried out unless that freedom was obtained. No. It just came overnight. We just woke up one day and we were told, ‘You are a Dominion now.

“What was the psychological effect that was created, particularly among those who in the previous 15 or 20 years had been working the other Constitution, who came into the free Parliament, many of whom became Ministers of this free Constitution? The psychological effect was to go along the same road. That was quite understandable. It did not involve any dishonesty or some deliberate wrong-doing on the part of any individual. That was the natural way one thought in those circumstances.

“It is quite easy, for instance if, after the Englishman has made a road, when he is driving his car along the road, he suddenly stops and says, ‘Well, look here my dear fellow, I am getting off this driving seat; you can sit there; I shall sit behind, for the driver to continue along the same road with the same thinking and acting in the same way.

“We are thinking on different planes, probably all of us bona fide. While one set of people were thinking on that line, another set were thinking quite differently. I, for instance, was thinking that freedom meant something much more than that, particularly that in the context of world affairs today this free country, with great difficulty and trouble, had to cut a new free road through the forest and to make its own vehicle travel along that final goal of prosperity and happiness which every free country has the right to expect. That was the psychology out of which this situation has arisen.”

Bandaranaike went on to say that the backbone of the Government from which he had resigned was “the reactionary capitalistic elements” and that “a tendency in the Cabinet system towards a form of dictatorship seems to have unquestionably developed.”

Bandaranaike was already mobilizing the various elements in the country dissatisfied with Senanayake’s domination of the Government and of Parliament. The argument that the UNP was supported mainly by reactionary capitalistic elements was a useful card to play when the poor were in a majority and had the power of the vote to overturn any Government. Bandaranaike foresaw that, in a developing country with a fast-growing population under a system of adult franchise, political power must necessarily pass to the masses.

“His own political future, as he saw it, depended on his ability to give leadership to the new generations of voters. In a speech made in the House of Representatives on July 30, 1952, he said: “The feudal system itself gave way and broadened out into what we understand as capitalist democracy. The small ruling feudal class broadened out into a plutocratic governing class, which was still large. The capitalist democracy is a thing that is dying hard. It has been dying since 1940. It is dying still – not quite dead yet.

“When you say that this is the age of the common man – a phrase I think was first used by Henry Wallace in the United States of America – that power is widening out into the hands of the people. I, who believe in democracy, would term it in this way: that capitalistic democracy is widening out into a people’s democracy. I am not using the word ‘democracy’ in a certain totalitarian sense that may be used by certain others. I am using the word ‘democracy’ in the true sense of the word and the entire emphasis today must be on the needs of the people. That is the position – the international position – of changes that are taking place, and in that context we obtained a large measure of political independence.

“The task, therefore, that faced us was two-fold: to convert socially, culturally, economically and administratively a colonial system into a free system and also to do it in a manner calculated to give effect to the second need of changing world conditions when the true needs of the people were attended to as a primary condition.”

Bandaranaike built his strength on a rural basis. Sinhala as the official language, a special position for Buddhism as the religion of the majority, the delegation of power to village councils and the magic word ‘socialism’ were the most effective weapons in his armoury. He was the most articulate politician of his time and found little difficulty in getting his message across. He drew into his fold the village school teacher, the ayurvedic (indigenous) medical practitioner and the ambitious and capable young politician who would otherwise have had to be content with a modest post as a Government clerk. The General Election of 1956 proved that his efforts had not been in vain and the successes of the political party he created after he had himself departed from the scene show that he had read the signs correctly and acted shrewdly and with prescience.

Bandaranaike was a master of retort. Once when a Communist leader in the State Council had attacked him and when the same member pretended to be asleep, when it was Bandaranaike’s turn to counter-attack, he turned to an interrupter and said “Let sleeping dogs lie!” On another occasion Dr. N. M. Peres the Trotskyite leader, during the Budget debate said that Bandaranaike could not help being merely the “famous son of a famous father.” The merciless retort by Bandaranaike alluded to his opponent as the “obscure son of a still more obscure father.”

Six bullets from an assassin’s weapon laid him low.

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Ships, vel palam and other concerns



President Ranil Wickremasinghe got a bellyful of criticism in the print media last Sunday – June 30.  Why? His Address to the Nation which he named Good News and believed would descend, Cass is certain, like manna on an adoring public; consolation and salvation brought unto them singly and solely by him throughout-negotiating the IMF as he outdid the bankruptcy of the country. True, if bankruptcy is solely measured by queues for gasoline products.

He did accept the challenge when the House of the Rajapaksas was in a shambles with the PM Mahinda R, slinking home after being made to shed his premiership; and President Gotabaya fleeing overseas, shorn of his presidency, leaving the country headless. Sajith and his team made unfulfillable demands to steer the country forwards; he was cowardly. Ranil accepted the challenge, working with the Pohottu Cabinet.

He succeeded to a large measure in steadying the country but definitely not all by himself and not really satisfactorily. He is widely accused of shielding the corrupt and allowing corruption to continue like receiving commissions and handouts. The culmination of his appeasing greed in others, in his greed to continue as Prez, will be if he permits luxury car licenses to the present MPs and gives in to their demand for insurance for life in addition to the pensions for life, they get from serving just one term in Parliament.

Cass speaks as a householder. Her burdens have increased. Her domestic expenses have not decreased much. The meager interest earned from depositing her stringently saved earnings when she was employed is taxed; having a meal in a restaurant is now an unrealised dream since a heavy tax has to be paid. More people have fallen below the poverty line.

Malnutrition is on the rise and the education and health sectors are not at all what they should be. Past leaders lived it up and we have to pay; they borrowed heavily and built useless vanity structures and we have to pay. We the poor bear so much of the expenses of the state, which state they crashed. And they live carefree in comfort.

To come back to the broadcast to the Nation by the President, his good news was that the country is now on an economic even keel and repayment of taxes is off our shoulders for a long time. We are far from economically all right and repayment of borrowed money has to be done, though temporarily debtor countries have given us grace periods.

The analogies, similes, metaphors, comparisons were what took Cass’ goat as the saying goes. She was astounded and then giggled uncontrollably. Ranil equated himself to Grusha of the Caucasian Chalk Circle. Bertolt Brecht had Grusha, the maid in the Governor’s mansion save the deserted Governor’s child and carry it to safety and then when the Governor’s wife claimed the child as hers, Azdak the Judge, very wisely decreed the child belonged to Grusha, who had proved herself a genuine mother.

And so Ranil Wickremasinghe himself decreed that he carried deserted, bereft Sri Lanka to a safe economic state and thus (though unsaid in so many words) should be rewarded with getting Sri Lanka as his: continued protector alias its next Prez. Quite an analogy included in his Address to the Nation, said before too, and later in his address to Parliament on 02 July.

Another analogy cropped up at a recent political meeting of a motley collection of members of different political parties with Harin Fernando leading the bandwagon. He said that Ranil Wicks, wisely, adroitly, most cleverly, and with remarkable seamanship (economic knowhow) steered the ship – Sri Lanka – to safe waters, a haven where all people can now breathe free and be happy, their economic and other burdens lifted. Listening, Cass spat out: What nonsense!

Then, when it came to the one being lauded and launched (as likely Prez), Ranil made his speech of acceptance of being lauded and launched by upgrading the ship he steered to safety as the Titanic! He was successful in steering it to a safe haven (even if it is to pretend economic recovery) unlike Captain Edward J Smith, who had his Titanic sink to the bottom of the ocean on April 14, 1912.

You have to admit that Wickremesinghe did bring sanity into government madness, a kind of stability to the situation in Sri Lanka; got the economy going and influenced the IMF and funders to help the country. But definitely not single-handedly. So many helped.

Ranil W is not safe and settled.  He has not in plain Sinhala announced he is contesting the to-be presidential election? Not in English nor Tamil either. However he has been strongly hinting so and Harin Fernando and others who bawled out at the meeting on June 29 indicated definitely it was a launching of candidature event.

Now Cassandra comes into her own; meaning she is able to make prophetic pronouncements like her Trojan ancestor who shouted ‘I see blood’ and soon enough her abductor/patron/keeper, King Agamemnon, was dead – murdered by his queen’s lover. Present day Cass’ warning is to Wickremesinghe. She says: “Some of the politicians seen at the Harin Fdo meeting which means they are in your camp are sure too heavy ballast to carry on your ship as you secure it.

The ship will sink even in shallow water with such on board.” Another warning: “Remember Winston Churchill lost the parliamentary election of 1945 soon after the victory of the Allies of which Britain was a partner in WWII. More than your achievement, RW, he was instrumental in winning a world war that raged for five years and Britain was almost invaded by the Nazis.” So, beware whom you take on board. You worked with a Cabinet including some dubious characters, or should it be said ‘most’? Now don’t have those who are known for thuggery and thieving.

The Sea around Sri Lanka

Cass joins in mourning the death of a Navy person who was shot and killed by Indian fishermen illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters. Priyanka Ratnayake, aged 40 and father of two, lost his life in service. He was said to be a competent swimmer and diver and a man well-spoken of. This focuses very necessary attention on fishers’ poaching, of which thieving act South Indians seem to outdo very much our own. A solution must be negotiated. Easier said than done, but another cliché is apt here: If there is a will, there is a way.

Four deep sea fishermen have died because of their greed, stupidity and the common factor of anything free is fair fare. Sri Lankans are notoriously known to accept even a headache if free. A bottle floating in the high seas is dragged or fished in and contents consumed. These men surely had to be already inebriated on drink or drugs to swig off a bobbing bottle. Did they not fear it could contain a spirit caught and bottled and flung into the sea as is done by our kattadiyas?

Last bit of sea news. A seascape of mountains fairly distant from the south of the island but within its territorial waters has attracted commercial attention. Believed to be rich in cobalt it is to be exploited. And who is a forerunner businessman wanting to lay his hands on this treasure – Gautam Shantilal Adani, great friend of PM Modi and exploiter of our land. Cannot we keep the cobalt to ourselves or is it to be sold cheap to fill a couple of rogue pockets, as is usual in this land like no other?

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