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Vladmir Putin’s Troubles!

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HERE’S EVEVRYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT . . . .

by Selvam Canagaratna

“We are never so easily deceived as when we imagine we are deceiving others.”

– La Rochefoucauld, Maxims (1665)

The following was put together by the staff of The Week:

Holed up in his mansion, Russia’s authoritarian leader is facing serious challenges both at home and abroad. Here’s everything readers need to know:

Why is Putin in trouble?

Well, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to have achieved his wildest dream in the 2016 US election, when the Russia-friendly Donald Trump narrowly won the presidency while benefiting from a concerted Kremlin campaign to hack and release Democratic emails and sow disinformation. Similar Russian interference helped bolster nationalist parties in Europe, including those that supported Britain’s exit from the EU.

While the former KGB agent succeeded in weakening Western democracies and dividing NATO, Russia itself has not materially benefited from his interference in other countries’ politics. US sanctions damaged the Russian economy and badly hurt the oligarchs on whom Putin depends. Over the past six months, plunging oil prices and coronavirus shutdowns have deepened the damage, leaving the Russian economy crippled. At home, a botched attempt on dissident Alexei Navalny’s life has galvanized the opposition, while abroad, unrest in former Soviet countries — which Moscow considers its sphere of influence — is mounting.

 

What unrest?

Moscow is worried about the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the ethnic-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has sizable minorities of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, as well as a mutual defense pact with Armenia, while Turkey is openly supporting Azerbaijan. Putin has called for a cease-fire but has refused to get involved. In Kyrgyzstan, anti-government protesters last week toppled the pro-Russian president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, just two weeks after Putin, in a rare in-person meeting, promised to “do everything to support you as Head of State.” Most threatening is the uprising in Belarus, a country that Russia is bound to in a nominal federal union. Putin’s support for longtime President Alexander Lukashenko, accused of rigging his re-election, has alienated many Belarusians. Huge weekly protests against Lukashenko show no sign of letting up, and Putin’s nightmare is that the protests could embolden his own opponents.

 

Who are Putin’s opponents?

In June, Russia changed its constitution to allow Putin, who has governed since 1999, the ability to run for two more terms — effectively making him a czar and abandoning all pretense of democracy. That amendment, Tatiana Stanovaya told Foreign Policy, signals a new era in Putin’s rule that is “much more conservative, less tolerant, more repressive.” The following month, Sergei Furgal, the popular governor of the far-eastern region of Khabarovsk, was arrested on politically motivated charges, and the region erupted in weeks of protest. Days later, Navalny released an investigative report on his blog detailing the corruption and vast wealth of Putin’s envoy to the far-east regions, Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, further inflaming anti-Kremlin sentiment there. That may have been the impetus for Putin to attempt to kill Navalny. On Aug. 20, the activist was poisoned with an even deadlier strain of the banned nerve agent Novichok that almost killed double agent Sergei Skripal in London in 2018.

 

Why go after Navalny?

Russia has long been “a country where members of the opposition die violently,” says Sam Greene, the Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London. Navalny has been a particularly irritating and dangerous opponent. His popular blog and YouTube videos, slickly produced and wryly comical, have exposed in startling detail how top Kremlin officials, including Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, amassed vast wealth through corrupt dealings. Lately he has begun organizing strategies for “smart voting,” helping the opposition solidify around whichever candidate has the best chance against the Kremlin. His poisoning brought more EU sanctions, further hurting the economy.

 

How badly off is Russia’s economy?

Western sanctions have erased more than 6 percent of Russian GDP since the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. This year alone, the ruble has lost 20 percent of its value. Russia is largely dependent on oil and gas sales, and the plunge in global oil prices — exacerbated by a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia — has cost it tens of billions in revenue. The pandemic is delivering another major blow. Putin lifted the country’s shutdown in May, and the virus has spread rapidly, giving Russia the fourth-highest total of infections in the world. Poverty and hunger are widespread. “There is mounting internal discontent, to say the least, over the economy,” economist Igor Nikolayev told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “I have the feeling that this is going to make authorities increasingly nervous, and the risk of a domestic crackdown is becoming greater.”

 

What about the US election?

US intelligence warns that Putin is again interfering on the side of Trump, using “a range of measures” to spread disinformation about Joe Biden and his son Hunter and to undermine confidence in the validity of the vote. Yet given the Democrat’s lead in the polls, Moscow is also preparing for a Biden win. State TV openly mocks Trump as Putin’s poodle, while Putin himself has begun extending overtures to Biden, praising him for supporting an extension of the New START arms treaty. That is “a very serious element,” said Putin, “of our potential collaboration in the future.”

 

The pandemic in Russia

Infections are soaring in Russia, which now has more than 1.4 million cases and is adding some 15,000 a day. Officially, the death toll is 24,000 people, likely a severe undercount. Yet limits on gatherings are few, and schools have reopened. Masks and gloves are required on the Moscow subway, but shops and restaurants are open almost as usual, with workplaces instructed to require just 30 percent of employees to work remotely. Having failed to contain the virus, Russia is pinning its hopes on vaccines. It has already approved two different vaccines for large-scale trials and is using them before the trials have ended. Putin, meanwhile, is taking no chances. He has sequestered himself at his palatial mansion outside of Moscow and sees only visitors who have quarantined for at least two weeks. Even then, the Kremlin has said, everyone who is granted an audience with Putin must first pass through a “disinfection tunnel” that sprays visitors with a fine mist of chemicals.



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Religious nationalism suffers notable setback in India

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People casting their votes in the recent Lok Sabha poll in India

Democratic opinion the world over could take heart from the fact that secularism is alive and well in India; the South Asian region’s most successful democracy. While it is indeed remarkable for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win a third consecutive term as head of government in India’s recent Lok Sabha election, what is of greater significance is the fact that the polls featured a resounding defeat for religious nationalism.

Consequently, India’s secular credentials remain intact. Secularism, which eschews identity politics of all kinds, including religious nationalism is, after all, a cornerstone of democracy and secularism has been a chief strength of India. The defeat of religious nationalism, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, is a triumph for not only the democratic forces of India but for their counterparts the world over.

It was plain to see that the Bharathiya Janata Party under P.M. Modi was going the extra mile to placate Hindu nationalist opinion in Uttar Pradesh and outside through the construction of an eye-catching Ram temple in the state, for example, but the vote-catching strategy has visible failed as the polls results in the state indicate. For, the number of seats won by the BJP in the state has shrunk dramatically. In fact, the BJP was resoundingly defeated in the very constituency where the temple was constructed.

Constructive criticism of religious nationalism should not be considered an indictment of the religions concerned. Hinduism is one of the world’s most profound religions and it would sustain itself and thrive regardless of whether vote-hungry political parties champion its cause or otherwise. However, the deployment of any religion in the acquiring and aggrandizement of power by political forces calls for criticism since it amounts to a gross abuse of religion. Religious nationalism is an example of such abuse and warrants decrying in democratic states.

Unfortunately, religious nationalism is rampant in South Asia and it is most alive and well in Sri Lanka. And to the degree to which religious nationalism thrives in Sri Lanka, to the same extent could Sri Lanka be considered as deviating from the cardinal principles and values of democratic governance. It is obligatory on the part of those posing as Sri Lanka’s national leaders to reject religious nationalism and take the country along the path of secularism, which essentially denotes the separation of politics and religion. Thus far, Sri Lanka’s political class has fought shy of taking up this challenge and by doing so they have exposed the country as a ‘facade democracy’.

Religion per se, though, is not to be rejected, for, all great religions preach personal and societal goodness and progress. However, when religious identities are abused by political actors and forces for the acquiring and consolidation of power, religious nationalism comes to the fore and the latter is more destructive than constructive in its impact on societies. It is for these reasons that it is best to constitutionally separate religion from politics. Accordingly, secularism emerges as essential for the practise of democracy, correctly conceived.

The recent Indian Lok Sabha poll was also notable for the role economic factors played in the determining of its final results. Once again, Uttar Pradesh was instructive. It is reported that the high cost of living and unemployment, for instance, were working to the detriment of the ruling BJP. That is, ‘Bread’ or economic forces were proving decisive in voter preferences. In other words, economics was driving politics. Appeals to religion were proving futile.

Besides, it was reported that the opposition alliance hit on the shrewd strategy of projecting a bleaker future for depressed communities if the BJP ‘juggernaut’ was allowed to bulldoze its way onward without being checked. For, in the event of it being allowed to do so, the concessions and benefits of positive discrimination, for instance, being enjoyed by the weak would be rolled back in favour of the majority community. Thus, was the popular vote swung in the direction of the opposition alliance.

Accordingly, the position could be taken that economic forces are the principal shaping influences of polities. Likewise, if social stability is to be arrived at redistributive justice needs to be ushered in by governments to the extent possible. Religious nationalism and other species of identity politics could help populist political parties in particular to come to power but what would ensure any government’s staying power is re-distributive justice; that is, the even distribution of ‘Bread’ and land. In the absence of the latter factors, even populism’s influence would be short lived.

The recent Indian Lok Sabha elections could be said to have underscored India’s standing as a principal democracy. Democracy in India should be seen as having emerged stronger than ever as a result of the poll because if there were apprehensions in any quarter that BJP rule would go unchallenged indefinitely those fears have been proved to be baseless.

‘One party rule’ of any kind is most injurious to democracy and democratic forces in India and outside now have the assurance that India would continue to be a commodious and accommodative democracy that could keep democratic institutions and values ticking soundly.

Besides the above considerations, by assuring the region that it would continue with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India has underscored her ‘Swing State’ status. That is, she would take on a leadership role in South Asia and endeavor to be an inspirational guide in the region, particularly in respect of democratic development.

As for Sri Lanka, she has no choice but to be on the best of terms with India. Going forward, Sri Lanka would need to take deeply into consideration India’s foreign policy sensitivities. If there is to be an ‘all weather friend’ for Sri Lanka it has to be India because besides being Sri Lanka’s closest neighour it is India that has come to Sri Lanka’s assistance most swiftly in the region in the latter’s hour of need. History also establishes that there are least conflicts and points of friction among democracies.

However, identity politics are bound to continually cast their long shadow over South Asia. For smaller states this would prove a vexatious problem. It is to the extent to which democratic development is seen by countries of the South as the best means of defusing intra-state conflicts born of identity politics that the threat of identity politics could be defused and managed best.

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AKD’s Speech on Rule of Law: Merits and Demerits?

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Anura Kumara

by Dr Laksiri Fernando

Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s (AKD) speech as the Leader of the National People’s Power (NPP) at the National Convention organised by the Retired Police Officers Collective on 9 June 2024 is quite promising in terms of establishing or reestablishing rule of law in the country. They have been talking about a ‘system change’ now for some time, and various independent critics and observers were asking the details of this promise, without merely depending on the slogan.

I was fortunate to listen to this speech online and live, through Horawa News, and one weakness or wrong that I immediately observed was its leading phrase ‘Malimawa shows its police power.’ I have no idea about who runs the Horawa but that was not what AKD was quite obviously advocating. “Power’ is not a good word to use in democracy, worst still is the ‘police power.’

State of the State

After an introduction, AKD ventured to explain the ‘state of the State,’ particularly during the last two three years, characterising it as a failed state with inability to pay back loans, to supply necessary medicine to hospitals, and failing to give children a proper education, and when they grow up, proper employment. He strongly characterised the State as in the grips of crooks and criminals (dushithayan saha aparadakaruwan), and the whole society being affected by this situation. He said, “this must be changed, and this to be changed like in all other changes. Sri Lanka should be a State based on rule of law.” Thereafter his speech focused, in detail, on the questions of rule of law. There were several principles that he enunciated.

First, equality before the law. All citizens in the country should be equal before the law. All citizens in the country should be able to go before the law against any discrimination by the implementation of law. He asked, “are we all equal before the law? No. Rich people have one law, and people who have political power have another law. At present, the Department of Police, the Attorney General’s Department and even the Judiciary have become a laughing stock. Let me ask you a question that I have asked once before. “

“Who knew best that Diana Gamage didn’t have citizenship? First, Diana. She knew that she came to the country on a tourist visa and even that visa had expired. Knowing all that, she came to Parliament. Knowing that, she also acted as a state minister. How did she do that? She knew that because of her political power that the law would not apply to her. An ordinary person even will not ride a bicycle without a license. Where is our law?”

“The second person who knew well was Ranil. But he protected her. This type of country cannot go forward. We need a state system which is entirely based on rule of law. I will give you an assurance. I personally or our movement do not have any financial fraudsters or criminals to protect. No underworld, no drug dealers, no rapists, no financial fraudsters, and no criminals to protect. If the existing powers given to the police to curtail these crimes are not enough, under our government, we will create circumstances to strengthen the police.”

Political Interference

AKD outlined some of the crimes and murders which were investigated, and the perpetrators were properly punished within the system. Those included the murder of the Manager of Noori Estate, Hokandara family killing, Killing of Sarath Ambepitiya, etc.

On the other hand, he emphasised the cases like Lasantha Wickrematunge, Eknaligoda murder, assault of journalists like Keith Noyar, Poddalla Jayantha and others that dragged on without a conclusion. Why? His correct answer was political interference. He praised the police but emphasised political interferences that hamper their tasks.

One of the aspects that he neglected was the ethnic bias in criminal investigations and other police matters. Will this be addressed by the NPP? That is my question. For example, I have known J. S. Tissanayagam as a student at Peradeniya who later became a prominent Tamil Journalist. He was abducted, beaten up and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. There are so many similar cases that were neglected by AKD, and I hope he will rectify his neglect in the coming future. I also failed to identify any Tamil participation in the crowd.

AKD was correct in emphasising that the police have a major role in maintaining stability in society. “If there were no police, no one would be able to pass the Borella junction peacefully” he said. He emphasised correctly, that these premises were established after a long struggle in building up rule of law in society internationally. “These were not there in tribal societies,’ he pointed out. “The leader of the tribe (Rehe nayakeya) did all together,” he said. ‘It was through struggles that separation of powers was established between Parliament to legislate, elected Presidents to execute, and the Judiciary to rule on justice,’ he continued.

“What we can see today is a tendency to go back to tribal society. We need a civilised society. Especially the department of police, criminal investigation and the attorney genera’s department should work independently, efficiently and correctly. It is our task under an NPP government to create these civilised conditions. Today the police department is in a mess due to political interferences.” He gave examples.

“Do we have a proper procedure in recruiting and promoting police officers? No. I know that there are some officers who are constables at recruitment, and also when they retire. We will establish a proper procedure in recruitment and promotions. At present, when change of governments occur, the police officers are punished or promoted. The main task of the police officers is people’s security. However, what they are supposed to do today is patrician (prabhu) security.” He mentioned that he has been an MP since the year 2000 and never sought any police security. He emotionally mentioned the difficulties that police security undergoes with so many difficulties.

Vision for Future?

“Under our government, people’s security is the primary task of the police, and not politician or patrician security. During the last 24 years as an MP, I have never called the police for any assistance. But this is not the case with other MPs. However, I have to say that to eliminate criminals and fraudsters, we will give the police the necessary leadership and encouragement. Today, the MPs consider the police as their servants. I have heard some saying ‘my OIC’ (mage OIC). This is not our attitude. We will preserve the dignity of police officers. They are well trained and educated. They should not be the tools of politicians. Their task is to punish criminality, present and past. There are people who believe their past offenses will be forgotten. But we will not forget.” AKD related a story.

“During the election campaign in 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga accused the UNP stealing people’s money and property under their government. Vijayapala Mendis has obtained 75 acres of coconut land for two rupees per acre, altogether for Rs. 150. She promised that these crooks would be brought to the Galle Face Green and would be ‘skinned’. People rejoiced and clapped. However, within 7 years, the same Vijayapala Mendis became a Minister in Chandrika’s Cabinet. There are so many examples like that. Perhaps she had forgotten and even the people had forgotten. Ranil Wickremasinghe who accused [Gotabaya Rajapaksa] as the ‘Mastermind of the Easter Sunday attack’ also became the President based on the same Gotabaya mandate.”

There were several other points connected with the above that AKD ventured into taking about 20 more minutes. All are worth reflecting on and even in my case I have not heard them before from politicians. One of his newest arguments was to consider the rule of law, law and order, and equality before the law as the necessary basis of economic development. However, given the necessary word limitations for this article those may be discussed in a future occasion.

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Raffealla Fernando Face of Sri Lanka for Prerna Gupta

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It’s not only her name that is famous but her face, too, and I’m referring, of course, to Raffealla Fernando – Founder and CEO at Raffealla Fernando Photography, and Fashion Designer and Stylist at Raffealla – who excels in what she does and shines bright wherever she goes.

Raffealla was in India recently and, I’m told, her face did bright up the fashion scene over there. And, guess what! Raffealla is now the face of Sri Lanka for Prerna Gupta as she expands her unique fashion label to take in Sri Lanka, as well.

Prerna Gupta couture is an award-winning Indian fashion house, from Nagpur, and she creates beautiful sustainable outfits and textiles made out of milk, aloe vera and orange peel, and what Raffealla is wearing in the photographs, on this page, are clothes made out of orange peel, aloe vera and milk.

Prerna Gupta has launched and showcased at reputed fashion shows where celebrities like Vicky Kaushal, Rani Mukherjee, Raj Kumar Arao, Evelyn Sharma, Sana Khan, Kailash Kher, Shankar Mahadevan and Bhapi Leheri have visited and adorned her label.

Says Raffealla: “I feel truly honoured and privileged to be working with a brand like this.”

Sri Lanka’s celebrity was also featured in the leading Bangladesh fashion magazine ‘Fashion People’.

“I’m super hyped because it’s the first time FELLA got featured in an international magazine.”

And FELLA is the brand name for Raffealla’s fashion designs.

Talking about her recent trip to India, she said one of the interesting and colourful fashion projects she did in Mumbai (photography and conceptualization) was connected with Kutch – a district of Gujarat state.

Raffealla went on to say that costumes of Kutch are exquisitely stylized and intricately embroidered.

Dazzling with vibrant colours, flooded with striking mirror work and stunning jewellery, it’s one of the most alluring custumes in India, she said.

“The mirror work and embroidery work forms an integral part of Kutch. Although handicrafts, irrespective of the community or ethnic group to which they belong, remain the same, the workmanship differs.

“In fact, the various communities can be identified by the pattern of handicrafts and dress, or costumes, they are in. For instance, the Garacia Jat women wear only red or black chunis, while Rabari women wear black open blouses, or cholis, with odhnis to cover their heads.

“In the rural areas, the women wear Chaniya choli the whole year, Chaniya choli’s are of many designs and fashion. A typical Kutch costume is incomplete without ‘Abha’ or ‘Kanjari’. ‘Abha’ is the name of the typical choli worn by women folk and ‘Kanjari’ is a long blouse, beautifully embroidered and with mirror work.

“Most men in Kutch wear loose trousers, a long-sleeved under-jacket, and a short coat, a plain or silk-bordered cloth. Normally men prefer white clothes except the Muslims who prefer coloured clothes.”

Raffealla is now ready, and excited, to do it for Prerna Gupta.

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