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UNP to present young leaderhip line-up shortly – Ranil

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The tusker from 5th lane

by Maheen Senanayake

Continued from last week

What is your advice to someone who is interested in joining a party as old as the UNP, whose members have to take forward its history and carry the burdens of its past?

You join a party to see what they offer at the present. That is all. Nothing more. History is something else. This is history (pointing to the poster above him on the wall, the first election poster printed in Sri Lanka -in this case by the UNP for D.S. Senanayake).

I don’t know about that but today I feel that people join a party to see what they can get out of it?

That is also there. What I am saying is that there are people who are against us in one election and join us at the following election. History is not an issue.

It is rather like a man giving a bribe. These people don’t mind as long as the job gets done?

I am not talking about that. I am talking about people on political view points. There are for instance MPs who are against us in one election and with us in another.

In order to advance their electoral prospects!

Some do. Some don’t. For instance people supported us in 1977 because we represented change; not that they expected everything. Some elections you keep promising. That is why Lee Kwan Yu said we are auctioning non existent resources.

(A discussion on the UNPs 1977 landslide ensues and Wickremesinghe is told that the then United Front’s 1970 landslide, like the UNP’s 1977 success, resulted in tyrannies of absolute majorities. 1970 – 77 were periods of the worst hardships endured during the country’s contemporary history. Also the JVP, as a result of the way the 1971 insurrection was suppressed, had a hand in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s rout in 1977.)

Everyone agrees. But I would say not only because of political positions but also for economic reasons, etc. We were not sure of the two thirds (majority). About four or five days before the election, the last time I came to Colombo (I was staying in Biyagama) I met President Jayewardene and had a chat with him. He asked me ‘ What do you think?’ I said we will make it this time but will we get two thirds? He said ‘I am not sure Ranil, we are somewhere there but I hope we can get two thirds. Then he asked me ‘what do you think of Biyagama?’’ I said according to the last survey It looks as if I can win by a majority of about 1,500, so I think I will make it. (RW laughs reminiscing and says my majority was 6,500 and we had five sixth of the House. It came to a point where we were telling each other ‘ when someone said so and so had won’, “are you sure?”, because we had expected him to lose.)

If we look at the economy today what are your thoughts given that in any entity there is revenue and there is expenditure and everything happens in between. We have raised capital through a variety of debt instruments and payment continues to pile up as our own revenue does not increase. What would be the UNPs approach to managing the economy and steering it in a positive direction?

Look, in 2001 when I took over it (the picture) was negative. You remember we had problems with the LTTE. In 2015 debt was the biggest problem. Much bigger than we thought. So I spent most of my time looking at the larger picture. We worked with the IMF. We had to put down the VAT and in 2017 we had a primary budget surplus meaning that we could pay for all our expenditure except debt servicing. So we have to increase the surplus. The other problem was the Balance of Payments. We had a big gap there. That you couldn’t do overnight. For that we had to bring in investment and to bring in genuine Foreign Direct Investment we had to change macro economic policy here.

So it was only around 2017-2018 that people (investors) began to look at us. While they were looking came the 52 days (with two prime ministers in the country) and then the Easter bombings. But it (fundamentals) were there.

This government did not carry that on. A lot of the businessmen told them to cut taxes. Even in the first quarter of 2020 before Covid hit, us our performance was coming out (advancing). So again we have to do this and this time it will take longer. We must also have an economic framework that will attract people to come and invest here. To do that you need support. I told them to go to the IMF because they are the only people who may do this and a lot of countries have given them the authority to do so including China. But they said ‘No’ and said they will get it from elsewhere. Where can they get it from?

In 1977-78 and again in the 1990-91 period we see a new baseline for both the GDP and GDP growth for Sri Lanka. So much so that the people expect some magic from the UNP every time they are in government. However, the last time you were in power this was not the case. What do you think happened? What was missing? Was it talent? Young blood? What was it?

No, no, no. We handled the economy. Our first objective was getting a primary surplus. After Sir. John, no one has been able to achieve this. Not even President Jayewardene. We were able to stabilize the economy. The situation that prevailed between 2010 and 2015 was an artificial one.

In 1991 the JVP problems were over and there was a boost as we opened the country up. I did the negotiations with the IMF on that occasion. 2001 was a different situation getting it back to a positive. And if you ask the people or look at the number of vehicles that were coming in 2017-18 they were much better off than in 2010-2015.

If you have a primary budget surplus you have to be well off. Then what is it that you are looking at?

Debt too has to be serviced?

Within those five years, the middle class expanded in this country. We had put the debt on a sound footing. Money had to come in. We lost billions of dollars, 500 million on the East Container Terminal 400 million on the MCC and the other three LNG plants including one from China. We had also lost the money on the Trincomalee development. So we may have lost about four billion which would have given us a boost. And another billion would have come in with the start of the port city.

How would you describe the demonization of the MCC by the opposition and, since you appear to stand by it, what do you think went wrong?

Well it was a public offer and they turned it down. Now they are paying the consequences. Just like in 1970 When Mr. Dudley Senanayake wanted to build a highway to Katunayake, they all objected and they stopped it. It took another 20 years. There are so many things that we had started that they stopped. And they can’t show any other results.

What is your position on India, China, the USA and Europe in terms of interactions with them?

We will deal with everyone. We must know how to not align ourselves with anyone.

Are we still non-aligned?

Well we are not aligned with anyone, but I think we have lost the balance in our international relations. On the one hand we have antagonized India, Japan, the USA. We are fighting with the EU, Britain and the UK on the Human Rights issue. Now we are fighting with China on the fertilizer issue. As you know they have black listed the People’s Bank and we are fighting that. We deserve to go into the Guinness Book of Records because this is the only country in the world which has fought with all the big forces – anyone who matters.

What is your position on the global vaccination program? I am not referring to the roll out. I am asking you this from a fundamental perspective.

I am for vaccination. Unless you can be exempted medically I think from 12-years upwards, (12-18) you need parental consent). Remember vaccines are a way of controlling. They are not the solution. To get a drug out it can take five to 10 years. In this case instead of 50,000 guinea pigs you have now about three or four billion. But there has been so-called Vaccine Nationalism where the bigger countries had not given (vaccines to) the smaller ones in need. Delivery systems have also broken down and they – the G20, haven’t come out with an answer to that. It would have been good if China and the other countries – the QUAD – had worked together in the delivery and roll out of vaccines globally.

How do you see government information. I suspect that there is somewhat of a loss of confidence where this is concerned. As a citizen what is your view?

People have lost it (confidence). Also the government is not anxious in implementing freedom of information. We have the oversight committee which they want to scrap. In different ways they are trying to hinder progress on that front. Even in the case of central bank data, it is suspect.

What can parliament do to improve this situation and or at least bring in some form of due diligence?

We had it. In this parliament it is difficult. We have to now think of what the people want. Digitalization for instance will make information more accessible. Information will be more accessible if we go for a full digitalization programme.

When Arjuna Mahendran was selected as the Governor of the Central Bank, my first question was how could he champion the interests of the people of this country while he held dual citizenship – a question I raised with him when I interviewed him at the time. In light of the fact that the Central Bank at the time of your last government came under the purview of the Prime Minister, what are your thoughts on this?

I think as far as a country is concerned, we must get the best and the best systems. For instance the UK went through the difficult times with Mark Carney as their Central Banker. He was a Canadian. So there are instances when a country should get people down. Similarly Singapore went up when Dr Albert Winsemius (a Dutchman who was economic adviser to the Singapore government from 1961-84) was advisor. But my view is that elected members cannot have two citizenships, whether it is the president or members of parliament. Another is the Judiciary. The rest of it does not matter. Also dual citizenship is becoming a common thing. Another point is we have now removed restrictions on dual citizenship.

What would your advice be to youth in Sri Lanka within the framework of bringing in change to this country? What would your call to action be to those who will probably cast their first votes next year?

I don’t think that going to another country is the solution. Because those countries also are having economic problems during and post Covid. Also they will not welcome everyone. So going out is not an option. I can only think of giving them the same advice I gave myself in 1972. Stay, fight, change the system. But at the same time the political parties also have a duty to change themselves so that they respect the views of the young people.

As far as the UNP is concerned, we have opened up and at the moment we have about 10 new leaders who will be presented to the public soon. It will up to them to effect the change and hopefully by about next year you should see the change. We are working silently in changing the party to reflect the views of the young people.

In terms of campaign funding where are we headed and what is your position on capping campaign financing?

Well we have to take from those donors who give us (money). But it is not a satisfactory position. First we must cut down expensive elections. We must move towards a middle system. Parties will give (candidates) a percentage with restrictions on spending. Till 1977 we had restrictions on spending. Then President Jayewardene brought in the Proportional Representative (PR) system. Then it was not an individual candidate (but a list) and this law became irrelevant because now we were dealing with a list. The party then had to fund an entire campaign. After we took the law away we went and amended it to have the preferential system and that has led to a lot of corruption with people sometimes spending 50 million on a campaign. So I think that we should go back to a system of mixed (representation) with restricted spending. Media makes a lot of money (during elections) through advertising.

The Election Commission will have to control all this. And finally I am for state funding for political parties and election campaigns in the German style where you are responsible to the Elections Commission and the people. Anyone can go to courts against you. There are so many actions that have to be carried out including holding your branch elections annually. It is a very comprehensive system where even members have to disclose their income etc. because it is an exhaustive law. What I am saying is that we need not take the whole thing but we can certainly consider what is relevant to us and even add to it. And I must say it will require a year or two of discussion before we can do it. Then the parties have to act within democratic principles.

For instance there is now an inquiry in England against an MP where she had served cake to those in attendance (at an event) without declaring it. And this is in England where the laws are not so tough.

On the subject of Education, What do you – not as a politician but as ‘citizen’ Ranil Wickremesinghe feel or believes is the purpose of education?

One is the value system that is needed to be inculcated. Secondly you have to be prepared for the future for the country to develop economically and socially.

Do you believe in democracy? Do you think its relevant and do you think we are democratic and if not can we be democratic again?

We should be democratic. We shall be democratic. As Churchill said it’s the best of bad systems.

(End note by interviewer: Mr. Wickremesinghe is a knowledgeable man who carries with him years of experience. He was suave during the conversation and remained convinced on certain matters. I understood why he may have difficulty relinquishing power to another, who I think still does not exist, who can carry the mantle of party leader. President Jayewardene had successors. As for us citizens searching for turmeric, sugar, cooking gas, price hikes tantamount to hyperinflation and the possibility of a fuel shortage and consequently power cuts, we now understand The Time has Come. Cometh the man?)



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Ontario’s Bill 104: ‘Tamil Genocide Education or Miseducation Week?’

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By Dharshan Weerasekera

In May 2021, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario adopted Bill 104. The stated purpose of the Bill is to, a) designate the week following May 18 each year as ‘Tamil Genocide Education Week’ and b) educate Ontarians about ‘Tamil Genocide and other genocides that have occurred in world history.’ The crucial question is, whether the charge of ‘Tamil genocide’ is true.

To the best of my knowledge, there has been very little substantive discussion of the above question in Sri Lankan or Canadian newspapers or academic journals in recent years and it is in public interest to begin such a discussion. Otherwise, there is a danger that the proposed ‘Tamil Genocide Education Week’ would turn out to be an exercise in mis-education of Canadians, most of whom are relatively unfamiliar with Sri Lanka.

In my view, there is absolutely no factual basis for anyone to claim that Tamils have been subjected to genocide in Sri Lanka. In this article, I shall briefly summarise the arguments made in a case filed in the Court of Appeal in September 2014, Polwatta Gallage Niroshan v. Inspector General of Police, Members of the Northern Provincial Council and others, CA/writ/332/2014. It is a public document. I was the Counsel in the case. The petitioner sought a writ of mandamus to compel the Attorney General to take action against members of the then Northern Provincial Council who had signed a letter (forwarded to the UN Human Rights High Commissioner) alleging genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, the Court declined to take up the case on technical grounds, namely, that the petitioner had failed to file a police complaint. The petitioner, a humble three-wheeler driver, did not have the financial wherewithal to pursue the matter further, but the case is very important in the present context because of two reasons: First, it shows that Sri Lankan citizens have rejected the allegation of Tamil genocide and even gone to the courts with regard to this matter.

Right of reply

Second, and more importantly, since the provincial legislature of a foreign country has asserted that Tamil genocide has happened, it is incumbent on the said legislature to provide a right of reply to all concerned Sri Lankans who reject the charge. Otherwise, one cannot expect the stated purpose of the Bill, education, to genuinely take place. In this regard, it is well to recall that natural justice, which includes the injunction “hear the other side” is an overriding principle (jus cogens) of international law.

Furthermore, one could argue that any funds allocated by the Ontario legislature, to advance the goals of the Bill, should be made available to members of Sri Lankan origin living in Ontario as well, who wish to tell their side of the story during the week in question. For all these reasons, the Sri Lankan case is important as a starting point for a substantive discussion of the charge of Tamil genocide. I give below the relevant portion:

“The 3rd – 35th Respondents, 28 of whom are members of the Northern Provincial Council and five are members of the Eastern Provincial Council, are signatories to a letter sent to the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navinetham Pillay, titled, “Joint letter by members of the Northern Provincial Council and Eastern Provincial Council, 17 August 2014.” In the said letter the 3rd – 35th Respondents request the former UN Human Rights High Commissioner to acquaint her successor, as well as the investigating panel presently investigating Sri Lanka, with the matters contained in the letter.

Petitiner’s contention

The Petitioner contends that the said letter contains explicit statements capable of causing disharmony, ill-feeling and discord among the different ethnic groups of Sri Lanka, particularly the Sinhalese and the Tamils, that the 1st and 2nd Respondents have not taken any steps to investigate or prosecute the 3rd – 35th Respondents for the said statements under Section 120 of the Penal Code (raising discontent or disaffection or feelings of ill-will and hostility among the people) and therefore the Petitioner has a right to request the court for a writ of mandamus to compel action.

The letter makes three requests of the High Commissioner, the second of which is: “The Tamil people strongly believe that they have been, and continue to be, subjected to genocide in Sri Lanka. The Tamils were massacred in groups, their temples and churches were bombed, and their iconic Jaffna Public Library was burnt down in 1981 with its collection of largest and oldest priceless irreplaceable Tamil manuscripts. Systematic Sinhalese settlements and demographic changes with the intent to destroy the Tamil Nation, are taking place. We request that the OHCHR investigative them to look into the pattern of all the atrocities against the Tamil people, and to determine if Genocide has taken place.”

The Petitioner respectfully draws the attention of the court to two matters in the above passage:

i)

The assertion that Genocide has been practised against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

ii)

That “Sinhalese settlements and demographic changes” are being carried out with the “intent to destroy the Tamil Nation.”

The Petitioner is of the view that, the above two assertions are demonstrably false, and, as a citizen of Sri Lanka, is personally offended and angered by them, and considers that thousands of other citizens of this country feel this way also.

The Petitioner further considers that, false accusations regarding highly sensitive issues made directly to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urging her to investigate the purported offenses constitute an attempt to “raise discontent or disaffection amongst the People of Sri Lanka, or to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of such people” for the following reasons. The crime of genocide has a technical meaning in international law, and one can assess objectively whether or not that crime has been committed. The definition of genocide is set out in the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide (1948) and is as follows:

“[Article 2] In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a)

Killing members of the group;

b)

Causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group;

c)

Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

d)

Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

e)

Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

From the above, it is clear that the crime of “Genocide” has two components: the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, and also the committing of one or more of the acts enumerated under points a – e. It is possible to objectively assess whether, in a given set of circumstances, each of those components is present. Similarly, the accusation regarding settlements and the claim that the intent behind these settlements is to destroy the “Tamil Nation” can be objectively assessed.

The Petitioner asserts that, the Sinhalese people have not committed genocide against the Tamil people, or imposed settlements to destroy the Tamil People, or any “Tamil Nation” within this country, and that facts exist to prove these matters. In particular, the Petitioner wishes to draw the attention of the court to the following points: With respect to the accusation of genocide, the following facts are relevant:

Statistsics

Firstly, if the charge of ‘Genocide’ is with respect to the period from Independence to the start of the war, roughly 1948 – 1981, then statistics are available regarding key economic factors such as income, production assets in agriculture and manufacturing, employment, access to education, and access to health services. ((The most recent island-wide census was in 2012 which is after the war. But there is a census for 1981.) If discernible discrepancies exist between the statistics for the Sinhalese and the Tamils with regard to the above factors, a reasonable inference can be drawn that the Tamils have been systematically discriminated against, which would support the contention that the Tamils have been subjected to a genocidal campaign.

The Petitioner is of the considered view that a comparison of the aforementioned factors will show no discernible differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and draws support for this contention from the assessment of Professor G.H. Peiris, one of Sri Lanka’s most respected scholars, who analyses the said factors in a chapter titled “Economic causes for ethnic conflict” in his book, Sri Lanka: Challenges for the new Millennium (2006). The said assessment is as follows:

“To generalize, the overall impression conveyed by these conclusions is that, except when the “Indian Tamils” of the plantation sector (who still suffer from various deprivations compared to other groups) are taken into account, up to about the third decade after independence, socio-economic stratifications—variations in wealth, income, power and privilege, or dichotomies such as those of “haves versus have-nots” or “exploiter versus exploited”—did not exhibit significant correspondences to the main ethnic differences in the country. And, there was certainly no economically “dominant” ethnic group.” (p. 436.)

Secondly, if the charge of “Genocide” is with respect to the period of the war, census data exists which indicate that between 1981 and 2001 (the period of the war) there was a substantial increase in the Tamil population in the Sinhalese-majority areas due to the migration of Tamils from the North-East to that area. Such a movement of Tamils could not have occurred if the Tamils were being subject to genocide.

Also, one can consider the fact that throughout the 30-year civil war, the salaries of government workers in the North and East, large parts of which were under the de facto control of the LTTE, were paid by the Government. Medicine, food, and other essentials were also sent to those areas throughout the conflict. All this does not bespeak an attempt at genocide, rather, the exact opposite.

Finally, if the charge of “Genocide” is with respect to the last phases of the war, i.e. January 2009 – May 2009, the undisputed fact that the security forces were able to rescue approximately 350,000 Tamils who were held hostage by the LTTE indicates the absence of “Genocide.” The Petitioner therefore draws the natural inference suggested by all of the facts set out above, namely, that the Tamils have not been subjected to genocide in this country.

Settlements

With respect to the accusation about settlements, the following facts are relevant. Firstly, if by “Tamil Nation” what the signatories mean is a territorial unit, what are the boundaries of this unit, and by what law is it recognized? If answers cannot be provided to these questions, then no “Tamil Nation” exists. If the existence of such a territorial unit cannot be established, the assertion that the intent behind the settlements is to destroy the “Tamil Nation” cannot be sustained, since that which does not exist cannot be destroyed.

Secondly, if by “Tamil Nation” the 3rd – 35th Respondents mean the areas of the island where Tamils comprise the majority ethnic group relative to the Sinhalese and the Muslims—i.e. the Northern and the Eastern Provinces—it is true that a certain number of Sinhalese settlements were established in the course of various development projects. Nevertheless, statistics exist in the public domain that show Tamil settlements were established along with the Sinhalese settlements, and that, taken as a whole, the distribution of the settlements, when considered in terms of area, as well as development project, was done in an equitable and fair fashion. (See for example, Professor K.M De Silva Separatist Ideology in Sri Lanka: A Historical Appraisal, 2nd ed. International Center for Ethnic Studies, 1995).

Thirdly, if the 3rd – 35th Respondents are claiming that settlements are being systematically established at present, it is incumbent on the 3rd – 35th Respondents to name what those settlements are, and to address the following matter: the Sri Lanka Constitution guarantees to every citizen, “Freedom of movement and of choosing one’s residence within Sri Lanka” (Art. 14(h)) which means that anyone who claims that Sinhalese settlements are illegal or wrong must show that those settlements are being established in excess of, or in ways that contravene, the aforesaid right.

The Petitioner repeats that, facts related to the points enumerated above are in the public domain. Therefore, the claim by the 3rd – 35th Respondents, that the Sinhalese are committing genocide against Tamils, and also imposing settlements to destroy the “Tamil Nation” are deliberate falsehoods, unless they can present some evidence to justify and explain their claims.

The Petitioner is of the view that, deliberate falsehoods such as the ones mentioned above can have only one result: the promotion of feelings of ill-will and hostility between different groups in this country, in this case the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and that if the signatories cannot produce evidence to justify and explain their claims, those claims show an ex facie intention to promote the said feelings of ill-will and hostility between Sinhalese and Tamil people.”

Conclusion

The stated purpose of Bill 104 is to ‘educate’ Ontarians about Tamil genocide. However, there is a grave danger that this will result in ‘mis-education’ of Ontarians along with Canadians in general, about the issue in question leading to a possible break-down in good relations between Canadians and Sri Lankans which should be a matter of concern for the Canadian Federal Government. Therefore, a substantive public discussion about whether or not Tamil genocide has occurred is urgently needed and this must necessarily involve giving Canadians a chance to ‘hear the other side’ of the story. Polwatta Gallage Niroshan’s case offers a good starting point from which to offer Canadians and other foreigners a glimpse into that ‘other side’.

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law and consultant for the Strategic Communications Unit at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute.)

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India-Russia ‘special relationship’ surviving global political tensions

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That this is so, is plain to see. India’s alliance with the US continues to be robust and multi-faceted. A case in point is the QUAD grouping which has India’s support and is focused on blunting China’s influence and power in the Asia-Pacific. However, India remains a principal pillar of the BRICS grouping as well, in which China and Russia figure prominently, besides other formations where India and Russia collaborate. Pragmatism is clearly the high note in India’s foreign policy.

If there ever has been an ‘all-weather friendship’ in international politics thus far, it is this ‘special relationship’ between India and Russia. So great have been the political storms this tie has survived over the decades that it could be considered almost a model bilateral relationship.

The relationship began to acquire particularly modern political nuances during the Nehru years. Those were times when the Cold War was at its height. Former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru began to give visionary and dynamic leadership to the Non-aligned Movement, the core principles of which formed the cornerstone of the foreign policies of many a Third World country. The NAM’s anti-colonial and anti-Western bent rendered its fundamental principles and values amenable to Russia and China. In this way was cemented India-Russia solidarity.

Considering that the bi-polar international political system of the Cold War decades has given way over the past 30 years to a multi-polar one, non-alignment in its traditional sense has no validity currently. This is on account of the USSR-dominated Warsaw Pact disintegrating since the nineties, when the USSR began to lose its super power status. However, Russia continues as a major world power in an international political system, which unlike the Cold War decades, is characterized by VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

The latter backdrop renders Russia’s moves on the world stage particularly engrossing. For example, what special meaning is Russia reading into its ties with India in present times? In what ways will India’s current tensions with China affect Russia’s special ties with India, considering that Russia and China generally tend to have identical positions on important questions in world politics?

These and many more issues are thrown-up by the India-Russia ‘special relationship’ which continues seemingly unruffled by current uncertainties and tensions in global politics. Right away it could be stated, though, that the enduring tie is in good hands on the Indian side.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, being a consummate pragmatist, is bound to look at the relationship through a range of angles with India’s national interest taking foremost position. With Modi at the helm, India is likely to have largely trouble-free ties with all those powers that are proving important from the viewpoint of India’s prime interests. For instance, India would be conducting cordial ties with the US while pursuing mutually-advantageous relations with Russia.

That this is so, is plain to see. India’s alliance with the US continues to be robust and multi-faceted. A case in point is the QUAD grouping which has India’s support and is focused on blunting China’s influence and power in the Asia-Pacific. However, India remains a principal pillar of the BRICS grouping as well, in which China and Russia figure prominently, besides other formations where India and Russia collaborate. Pragmatism is clearly the high note in India’s foreign policy.

Recent developments in India-Russia ties bear the latter point out quite emphatically. Russian President Vladimir Putin has just been to India to participate in the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit. Several new dimensions have been added to this summit through the introduction at the end of the talks of what is called the ‘2+2 dialogue mechanism’ at the countries’ foreign and defense minister levels.

Of particular interest is the defense minister level parley. A number of agreements were arrived at between the countries that have a close bearing on their defense capabilities, besides enhancing their ties in the field of armaments manufacture. For example, the sides reportedly signed contracts for the manufacture of some 610,000 AK-203 assault rifles through a joint venture in Uttar Pradesh. The deal is said to be

worth $ 6.66 million. Agreements in the logistics field and a navy-to-navy cooperation MoU are also reportedly taking shape.

While the foreign policy orientation of India could be said to be relatively free of ambiguities, the same could not be said of Russia which could be expected to have many more challenges to cope with. Some tight rope walking awaits it in South and South West Asia, for example.

In these regions Russia has to relate cordially with India while ensuring that its ties with China are not undermined. The arduous nature of the latter task is underscored by the fact that China is losing no time to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan, which was created by the US troop withdrawal in August. China could be said to be Russia’s natural ally in South and South West Asia, but its need to keep its relationship with India going would oblige Russia to maintain a neutral position in the India-China power struggle. Thus, Russia would be compelled to finely balance its relations between China and India.

Russia and other major powers would also need to come to terms with the fact that unlike in the heyday of NAM, India is almost on equal terms with the US and China. This is particularly so in the area of armaments manufacture, not to mention its increasing stature as a number one economic power. Its long-range missile technology, for instance, is not second to that of China. In fact, it enjoys a slight edge over China in this area.

Besides, India has grown into a major arms exporter. Of late it has exported armaments worth $5.06 billion to 84 countries. Thus, it is reaping the fruits of having developed an indigenous arms manufacturing base over the years. It has quite adequately risen to the challenges posed by its major competitors in Asia and outside. All these capabilities and more of India need to be factored in by those powers that are seeking to compete with it for power and influence globally.

Accordingly, the India of today, Russia would realize, has come a very long way from its NAM years in the fifties and sixties. India has by no means overcome some of its negative legacies of the past, such as widespread poverty, but in some crucial respects, it is on par with quite a few major powers of the West. If the agreements Russia has just arrived at with India are any pointer, it too has come to realize that it is in the economic field that relations with India would bear most fruit today. Like India, Russia too has come to prize economic pragmatism in inter-state ties.

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Sri Lankans, for better or for worse

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There were no words to explain to a Singaporean why a stranger bought us cakes and coffee simply because he and I were born in the same country. No, that’s something my Chinese friend would never understand.

Capt Elmo Jayawardena


elmojay1@gmail.com

I wrote some articles to the newspapers mainly about Sri Lankan matters and the political climate after the war ended. It was just to share my humble thoughts on where we should be heading in search of peace. Many acknowledged my line of thinking, and some asked me why I did not write something about aviation? Not a bad idea, considering I have been around aeroplanes for more than 50 years. But I did wonder who would want to know how I landed through a snow-laden sky in Alaska, or how I flew over the Golden Gate Bridge on my way from San Francisco to Hong Kong? At best, it could all be a bit on the boring side. Yes, I do have some unbelievable fairy tales to relate of times I flew VVIPs for Air Lanka, but such involve names, and names are a dangerous game. I like to keep my home intact and not see the roof going up in flames. Let me change track and tell you some stories I have in connection with aviation and meeting fellow Sri Lankans. All this is true––in black and white and not drawn with colourful crayons.

Singapore to Auckland is a long night trip, 10-plus hours and I was walking to the aeroplane, passing the checking counters. They were all empty, passengers labelled and weighed and sent to wait in the lounge for the doors to open. That’s when I noticed something familiar. There were two men standing by the counter, one look, and I knew where they were from. The Halmilla and Burutha suits were unmistakable and we Sri Lankans stand out like shop window dummies in dark browns and navy blues that Hameedia stitches for us. The two waiting by the checking-in counter appeared to be having a problem––solemn faces, like those of funeral directors.

“We could not get on the flight; it is full, and we have to be in Auckland tomorrow for a cargo meeting.” Well, they were Sri Lankan and that was all the qualification I needed.

“Put them on the flight deck and I will take them.” This was pre 9/11 when the world was a little less violent; the instruction was to the checking desk clerk and the Captain’s words carried weight in SIA. Matter sorted out, Halmilla and Burutha got an instant promotion to cockpit status, not to be folded in the cheese class like sardines, but in pole position, Lewis Hamilton style, right in front. Off we went in the big jumbo jet, 400-plus passengers with two Chinese and three Sri Lankans in the cockpit.

It was a long night and the autopilot was doing the work and we chatted away; no “machang-bachang” talk, but palatable conversation to pass the time cruising in a beautiful star-sprinkled sky on a black velvet night. Indonesian islands went underneath while we ate cock-pit dinner, and time crawled and the night got long as the aeroplane crossed the vastness of the Australian continent. The talk was Sri Lankan and of home; who they were; who I was and many more mundane conversations. We discussed how the fabulous Moonstones had come to the limelight of music and how Clarence rode his bicycle, carrying his guitar to the Malawana house, where they created the immortal lyrics of Mango Nanda and Dilhani and coined “numbata ridainam, hemihita vatiyan, Dunhinda manamali.

Great stories to swap, especially because Halmilla was a Moonstone musician.

The night dragged on and the two Chinese pilots took care of the cruise work and we talked and talked till the distant sky turned tangerine and heron blue promising the dawn, and it was time for me to get to work and bring the big bird down.

I wonder whether an Englishman standing at a ticketing counter in Heathrow could tell a British Airways Captain that he is from Liverpool and get to go in the cockpit because he is English? My two cargo friends are big businessmen now. One I saw some time ago sipping champagne, seated in the business class. He’s obviously done well, has traded his Halmilla to travel in a T-shirt; that is progress. The other I met at a book launch and I was so happy when he came up to me and said, ‘Hello.’ He is in the top rung of corporate businessmen, but the same simple man who took the flight-deck ride to Auckland. Maybe, they will read what I have written and remember how they flew on an SIA 747 with a fellow Sri Lankan. This is not about Airline Captains; nor am I soliciting brownie points for assisting stranded passengers. It is all about being Sri Lankan!

I was walking once in New York with my Singaporean co-pilot, and here comes a familiar face; he looks Sri Lankan. With a broad smile, he asks, “From Sri Lanka?”

“Yes.”

“From where?”

“Moratuwa.”

Aiyo! I am from Panadura, no, so what are you doing here?”

He sounded like he owned New York. “You have a Green Card?” That was a pricey question. “No, just a short time,” I replied. “You are from Moratuwa, I had a friend there you know, Fernando.” I scratch my head; there are ten-thousand four-hundred and seventy-eight Fernandos in Moratuwa.

“You are Ok? Prashnayak naane

hat part sans English must have been to keep my companion out of the private conversation.

“If you have a problem, tell me.” That was straight Sri Lankan.

“Moratuwa no! We are neighbours, no! Come! We will have some coffee.”

That is exactly how it happened. He, the Singaporean and I sat in a wayside Big Apple Turkish joint and had cakes and coffee. He told me of people he knew in Moratuwa (Fernando included) and I asked him about people I knew in Panadura, and we did discover some common friends. The bill came and Panadura jumped and paid. We exchanged telephone numbers (pre-email era) said good-bye and walked our separate ways.

“Captain your friend, nice man,” says my co-pilot.

“No, he is not my friend; I have never seen him in my life.”

“But he paid for us, too,” says my companion. “How come?”

There were no words to explain to a Singaporean why a stranger bought us cakes and coffee simply because he and I were born in the same country. No, that’s something my Chinese friend would never understand.

I have met so many in my years of vagabonding, like the cake and coffee man who owned New York or Halmilla and Burutha who rode on my flight deck. Off and on there have been a thief or two who spoke pure nonsense in capitals. That is acceptable as the instant excellent camaraderie of Sri Lankans I have met and enjoyed far outweighs the few that went sour.

Then there was an Old Ben with a gospelic name, Kotahena-bred, now living in Connecticut. We met in Pretoria whilst watching Sri Lanka play Shaun Pollock’s men in a one-day battle. The Ben and I sat together and cheered, two against South Africa, friends after that. We lost the match, but the whole stadium heard our cheers that resounded in typical Sri Lankan fashion. Thank God by then the country was Mandelised and dark skins like us had permission to shout.

In life, anything is not completely won, nor is it lost. It is the count that matters, especially in people we come to know. As for me, I won most and lost a few, and with pride I say it was wonderful to fly aeroplanes and walk the world as a Sri Lankan. The friends I have made are many, all over the world, and they have come to my life for no other reason than us being simply Sri Lankan and left me richer for having known them.

This is our motherland and its people, kind in heart and endowed with laudable human qualities. Irrespective of what ethnic roots they sprung from or which God they worshipped; the core was Sri Lankan. Of course, there are those spitting venom and blowing fire from their nostrils labelling people and separating their own countrymen. If the truth be trumpeted, it is mostly fanned by political ambitions.

Where is the end to all this? Is it near or far or nowhere?

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