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Midweek Review

US-China power struggle: Impact on Sri Lanka

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2021 developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, MP, was a notable absentee at the Government Party Leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, on Dec 25th. Twice President, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa presided over the meeting. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who hadn’t obtained the membership of the SLPP (though he was that party’s nominee for 2019 presidential poll) was present at the three-hour long discussion that dealt with the current situation.

Tackling the Covid-19 situation, both local and foreign debt obligations and restoration of financial stability are formidable challenges, the government and all other political parties represented in the parliament should be concerned about. They cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the current instability in every sector.

The Dec 25th discussion covered the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic, the simmering crisis over the cremation of Covid-19 Muslim victims, long-delayed Provincial Council polls, fresh threat posed by armyworm, how some officials exploited the absence of PC polls et al. Over two hours into the meeting, former CPSL General Secretary and ex-Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera sought approval from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to speak on a couple of issues.

Gunasekera received an invitation to the important government group self-evaluation in spite of him giving up the Communist Party General Secretary post on August 30, 2020 to pave the way for Dr. G. Weerasinghe.

The veteran Communist didn’t mince his words when he drew the attention of the top government leadership to the growing danger in Western powers exploiting the cremation of all Covid-19 victims as part of their overall strategy meant to undermine Sri Lanka, the rapidly deteriorating economic situation here, and the need to take the public into confidence and what the electorate expected from the SLPP government in the wake of the sweeping 2019 presidential election victory. Gunasekera also questioned how Asanga Abeygoonasekera, a civilian attached to the Defence Ministry, took an extremely hostile stand on China in a recent article carried in the state media. Gunasekera alleged that such a hasty stand could be severely detrimental to the country against the backdrop of continuing US-China confrontation at regional and global level.

None of those present therein responded to Gunasekera’s concerns. The warning issued at the party leaders’ meeting was nothing but a stark reminder of the daunting challenges the country faced in 2021.

Gunasekera’s awakening call should jolt the government to take stock of the situation and take tangible measures to address the issues. One-time COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Chairman Gunasekera’s unpalatable advice to explain the dire economic situation, to the people, must have caused quite a stir among those present.

No less a person than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, without hesitation, has acknowledged the difficulties faced by the country as a result of the Covid-19 eruption. It would be pertinent to point out that the President, on April 29, 2020, told the then Acting Ambassador and Chargé d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy, in Colombo, Hu Wei, that due to the nose-diving of the global economy Sri Lanka lost its key income generating sources, like the apparel industry and tourism. The President’s Office quoted Rajapaksa as having said that it might take a considerable time for the global economy to recover, hence the long-time impact on Sri Lanka.

At the time President Rajapaksa made that statement, the country was coping with the first Covid-19 outbreak better than most countries, due to prompt military-like reaction to it.

The situation was brought under control by June. However, former Minister Gunasekera has issued the warning at a time the country was struggling to overcome the far more deadly Covid-19 second wave. The economy is in tatters with the bankrupt Opposition seeking to exploit, even the good work being done by the government, to its advantage. Despite the national economy having suffered irreparable damage, all political parties continue to play politics with the issue at hand.

The second Covid-19 eruption happened in the first week of October 2020. The government owed an explanation to the public as to how the second outbreak happened. In the absence of proper inquiry into widespread allegations that Covid-19 eruption may have originated at Brandix apparel facility in Minuwangoda, Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, issued specific instructions to the then Acting IGP C.D. Wickremaratne on Oct 27, Oct 29 and Nov 05 as regards the inquiry. The President’s Counsel directed the police to investigate negligence on the part of Brandix, and government officials, in what he called the creation of the ‘Brandix cluster.’

The public is yet to be informed of the outcome, or at least progress, of the investigation. Public Security Minister, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera should look into the status of the CID probe. A deeply concerned AG went to the extent of personally briefing the investigation team before the commencement of the inquiry. Most importantly, the AG stressed to the Acting IGP his (AG’s) legitimate duty and responsibility to issue instructions to the investigators, personally.

Against the backdrop of a much deteriorated economy, the government should establish how the second wave started. The government cannot turn a blind eye or conveniently forget the origins of the Covid-19 eruption. A really silly attempt was made by interested parties to blame the Covid-19 eruption on Ukrainian nationals. They also tried to pin the blame on members of a private airline crew who stayed at Hotel Ramada, Seeduwa, as well as group of technicians invited by the Air Force to inspect its AN 32s before them being dispatched to Ukraine for overhaul.

Let there be clarity and genuine understanding in this matter. The Opposition, the civil society and the media should push the SLPP government to bring the investigation to an early successful conclusion. The inordinate delay in finalizing the inquiry, or attempts to sweep it under the carpet, will only make matters worse.

Before we move onto other matters, the SLPP’s thinking on Provincial Council polls, too, should be examined. Several ministers, including Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Dayasiri Jayasekera, emphasized the need to conduct the much-delayed PC polls. However, some sections of the government are strongly opposed to the PC polls, in addition to the nine-member Expert Committee, headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, entrusted with the far more important and crucial task of formulating a new Constitution for the country. The proposal to conduct the PC polls under the ‘old system’ by moving an amendment in Parliament as suggested by the Chairman of the Election Commission, Nimal Punchihewa, can be quite disastrous as far as the formulation of constitutional proposals is concerned.

 

New Year wishes

Hiru’s main news bulletin on January 1, 2021, included statements issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and various others. Among them was President’s Counsel de Livera, who had followed an unprecedented path never even dreamt by any of his predecessor Attorneys General. Have you ever heard of a previous AG, on both print and electronic media, so much?

Addressing the AG Department employees, in Sinhala, De Livera said that as a functioning institution the department should definitely make a difference. But, making a difference wasn’t sufficient. The people should be able to realize and feel the difference. Livera emphasized the need to perform their duties and responsibilities in such a way, the public would know what was going on.

The New Year portends a series of challenges. The Office of the President, the Legislature and Judiciary face the daunting challenge of navigating a safer passage as the country faces both external and internal obstacles. Former Minister Gunasekera, in his own style, has reminded the powers that be of the need to identify major issues at hand and take remedial measures without delay. But, will there be political will to tackle the contentious issues?

The much-touted 20th Amendment, enacted in late Oct. 2020, hadn’t restored the desired political stability. The SLPP repeatedly assured that the 20th Amendment would be the panacea for all ills caused by the 19th Amendment, passed with an overwhelming 2/3 majority, in Parliament, on April 28, 2015. All those who had voted for the 19th Amendment, voted for the 20th Amendment whereas Maithripala Sirisena skipped the vote.

 

A silly strategy

Having backed the 19th Amendment to the hilt and prevailing on doubters in the UPFA to back it, Sirisena, now an ordinary lawmaker representing the Polonnaruwa District, excused himself from voting. However, 13 other SLFP lawmakers elected and appointed (Dr. Suren Raghavan) voted for the 20th Amendment. The SLFP group in the SLPP government is the second largest in the coalition. The SLFP is quite displeased over the way the SLPP managed coalition politics. As part of the SLFP strategy, the party sounded to the SLPP that it might go it alone at the next PC polls. Sirisena explained his party’s stance on several issues, including the possibility of contesting PC polls on its own devolution and the rights of the minorities, in an interview with Meera Srinivasan, The Hindu correspondent in Colombo. Even if the SLFP finally decides to go it alone, it is unlikely to pose a threat to the powerful SLPP, now in control of the vast majority of Local Government bodies, the Parliament and the Office of the President. The SLPP is unlikely to succumb to the SLFP tactics, regardless of Sirisena’s rhetoric and that of its General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera.

Let us reproduce the relevant section from The Hindu interview, posted on Dec 30, 2020, and updated on the following day. The Hindu Q: You recently remarked that the SLFP faced a “huge injustice” in the parliamentary elections and have hinted at possibly contesting the Provincial Council elections separately. Would you do that?

Maithripala Sirisena:

“We were treated unfairly when the candidates were picked ahead of the general elections in August 2020. Our party didn’t get a slot in either Kalutara or Nuwara-Eliya districts. In Gampaha, we were given only one. In Kurunegala, we were given only two slots. In the districts we are strong, we weren’t given a fair number of slots. We had asked for 30 candidates. Had we been given 30 slots in the last general election, we would have got at least 25 in Parliament. They [ruling party] organized political attacks on our candidates who had been nominated. So, while we still look forward to contesting the Provincial Council elections as a coalition, we insist on the fair share of seats due to us. If we get that, we will have no problem going to polls together with the government. If there is no fair treatment, our party will decide on a solo journey. We are ready for both options.”

The SLFP is in a pathetic situation. Formerly the major alternate political power, the SLFP, though being represented by 14 lawmakers in the current Parliament, is desperate. Of the 14-member group, only one is elected from the Jaffna District (Angajan Ramanathan) contested on the SLFP ticket (hand symbol). In other words, both the SLFP and the UNP, the two major political parties in the country, are reduced to one lawmaker each, elected under their own symbol. The humiliating and debilitating electoral setbacks suffered by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, caused permanent damage to the two parties. The emergence of the SLPP (145 elected members) and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB/54 members) should be examined against the backdrop of dilution of the UNP and the SLFP. Would it be too harsh, if one called for examination of the demise of those parties? The failure on the part of the UNP to resolve its leadership crisis, even five months after the last embarrassing defeat, is a grim reminder of its plight. The continuing disagreement on who should fill the only National List slot secured by the party at the last general election has further undermined the party. The party Constitution is silent on filling National List vacancies. In other words, if Wickremesinghe is so desired, he can keep the vacancy till the current term ends. The Expert Committee formulating the new Constitution should propose remedial measures.

The main Opposition SJB, too, is divided over policy. SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and its partner Rauff Hakeem are struggling to cope with dissidents. Over half a dozen lawmakers, elected on the SJB ticket, and one of its National List MPs Diana Gamage, voted for the 20th Amendment, much to their embarrassment.

The SLPP must realize though the disillusioned political Opposition doesn’t pose a challenge, the Covid-19 and a plethora of other issues threatened to overwhelm the administration.

 

Destabilized by debt

The China-US clash is perhaps one of the major issues Sri Lanka should be seriously worried about. With the growing US-India nexus entering a new phase, vis-a-vis Chinese challenge, Sri Lanka is under heavy pressure to join the US-led strategic coalition. Indo-Pacific Defense FORUM, in a recent edition, extensively dealt with the Chinese challenge and counter measures that were being taken (Volume 45, Issue 1, 2020). The edition is a must read for our decision makers and members of Parliament. Under a section titled Setbacks to OBOR (One Belt, One Road), the US Indo –Pacific Command categorized Sri Lanka and the Maldives as countries destabilized by debt.

The MOC (Memorandum of Cooperation) entered into in late May 2019 by the yahapalana administration with India and Japan on the ECT (East Container Terminal) at the Colombo harbour should be examined against the US-led global coalition built against China. Contrary to promises made in the run-up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, the SLPP is inclined to go ahead with the project. Against the backdrop of what can be certainly described as an economic downturn, even far more serious than during the height of the war, and intense pressure over the 99-year leasing of the H’tota port to China, the SLPP government may not have a way out of what can be safely called ECT imbroglio.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa MP, raised the finalization of the proposed agreement on ECT at the recent government party leaders’ meet. Weerawansa strongly opposed the deal on the ECT. His erstwhile colleagues in the JVP, too, are at least ostensibly opposed to the Indian role. They have quite conveniently forgotten that the original agreement was moved by President Sirisena’s government, which the JVP helped to install in 2015 and thereafter the comrades propped up that government nicely from behind the scene. The current crop of JVP Leaders no doubt came up in the aftermath of the then UNP government and its death squads wiping out the cream of the party and its leadership barring one, who managed to escape to India at the time.

A hard hitting statement issued by the National Joint Committee (NJC), carried in the Dec 30, 2020 edition of The Island, took a pretty hard stand on the SLPP move. Finely drafted statement flayed the government, the strongest warning issued by the NJC since the last presidential election.

Regardless of the US leaving Sri Lanka out of the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact recently over the latter’s hesitant approach, Washington continues to eye the country firmly. The US has already finalized ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement) in August 2017 though it was not successful with SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

In spite of repeated assurances given by Sri Lanka, Western powers remained seriously concerned about growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. In addition to the H’tota port, secured during the Yahapalana administration, China runs a major operation within the Colombo harbour. Set up during the UPFA administration, Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd., (CICT) is a joint venture Company between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). CICT is a listed blue chip company in the Hong Kong stock exchange. While H’tota lease covers a 99-year period, CICT agreement is for a 35-year Build Operate and Transfer operation. China holds 85% of the partnership while the balance pittance of 15% is being held by SLPA.

The Geneva sessions, in late February-March, can turn nastier with Western powers stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka over her decision to quit the 2015 Geneva Resolution. It would be important to keep in mind that those countries might gang up against Sri Lanka over her relationship with China and adopt a common stand in Geneva. That is the undeniable truth. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned human rights issue is nothing but a key element in their overall strategy meant to browbeat the country.

Some key recent happenings in Europe like the departure of the UK from the EU obviously with the intention to firmly align with its colonial cousins, like the US, Australia and Canada, the determination of Europe to complete Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia despite dire warnings from Washington (once completed, it is set to significantly increase Russian gas supplies to Germany), and even the recent signing of a free trade deal by EU with China despite Trump trying to line them up against Beijing are worthy fissures that might stand in good stead for us.

The growing hostility between China and India as well as the latter joining the US project against China certainly increase pressure on Sri Lanka, now in an unenviable position. Waste, corruption and irregularities in every sector and the failure on the part of Parliament to ensure financial discipline surely weakened the country, thereby paving the way for aggressive foreign interventions.



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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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