The previous version of this piece was written soon after the Mirihana Incident, but I was unable to send it to The Editor of The Island as intended due to some reasons which are of no importance to the reader. Whilst accepting that during the past one month many developments had taken place beyond anybody’s control, I am sending an edited version to the Editor of The Island as it consists a preamble to a publication, I am compiling tentatively titled, “End of Democracy in Sri Lanka?” Anybody is free to argue if any semblance of democracy is in existence in Sri Lanka now and call the writer a prophet of doom! Since things are unfolding at a rapid pace it is difficult to cluster them in an abridged form in a one-off article.
In the evening of 31 March, as a friend of mine telephoned me that a large body of protesters had assembled at the Jubilee Post Junction, I just went there to see what was happening. The protesters in their outward appearance and by the language they used seemed to belong to a cross section of middle and upper middle classes. In the midst of the simmering crowd I was able to identify a couple known to me, staunch haters of MR from the days of his presidency who later collaborated with the Yahapalanists rejoicing at his downfall in 2015. It is true that some carried toddlers and the demonstrators were behaving peacefully at that time. But the slogans they chanted and what was written on the placards they carried were provocative and inciting people to rise against the Rajapaksas. The biggest question is who drew this peaceful crowd towards Pengiriwatta Road to besiege President’s private residence. Earlier Hirunika Premachandra, the SJB defeated candidate had set an example for these protesters to proceed towards the President’s private residence without any obstruction. It was fascinating to watch mostly the women demonstrators taking selfies as they have done before at nine arches bridge at Demodera and immediately posting those photographs in social media platforms to say that with the hashtag, “I was there” or “it’s me”.
News spread like a wildfire, thanks to FB friends. Protesters converged from Maharagama, Delkanda and Thalapathpitiya areas and occupied the main road from the Embuldeniya Junction up to Pengiriwatta. This was how a peaceful demonstration of middle and upper middle classes that started at Jubilee Post Junction peacefully was hijacked by some unidentified political elements and rabble rousers.
Around midnight, the Embuldeniya Junction was set ablaze ruining the magnificently carpeted road. Parapet walls on either side of the road were smashed and brickbats were used as projectiles to attack the security personnel. I was a witness to this mayhem until the wee hours of the following day. The rest is known to all.
So, this was the beginning. The ‘Gota Go Home’ cry gathered momentum. By carefully watching all the television footage and social media posts and identifying the men and women shown therein we were able to come into the conclusion that none of these celebrities who protested at the early stages of this protest campaign have languished in long gas and kerosene oil queues and had problems in feeding their kids. Most of these protesters who assembled in front of Nelum Pokuna, represent anglicised, pro-Western, comprador bourgeois interests who live in luxury apartments, who dine at luxury hotels, whose children attend either private denominational schools or international schools, having one foot here and the other in a Western country, who go on safari tours not to either Yala or Wilpattu as ordinary folk do, but to Maasai Mara in Kenya, Serengeti in Tanzania and Kruger National Park in South Africa. Some were on vacation, as furlough during the time of the Britishers! (This is not a figment of imagination of the writer; I stand for what I write).
Why this sudden change in behaviour of this privileged lot? The answer is a simple one. It’s all economics and related to business and disturbances to their lifestyles; not love and solidarity to toiling masses who undergo severe hardships. It was an irony of history that these elitist groups protesting along with petty-bourgeoisie, toiling masses and different elements of the lumpen proletariat
The culmination of these protests was the establishment of a “Gota Go Gama”. If Ranasinghe Premadasa could establish villages within villages which had a historical foundation giving those clusters of homes esoteric names, why can’t a set of protesters do the same in the heart of the city? Evidence is not needed to state that most of the other protests held in the city and elsewhere and in front of the houses of ruling party politicos are organised by hidden hands affiliated to two well organised cadre-based political parties. Can the elite remember how they lived without electricity switching off lights when all the power houses were generating electricity to their full capacity fearing the bitter repercussions after receiving the “chit” sent by the DJV, the military arm of the JVP in the late nineteen eighties? Are we to believe that class identities, class barriers, class consciousness and class distinctions were outstripped and antagonistic class contradictions between these classes were resolved overnight with the cry of “Go Gota Home” campaign? But now we see this class except a few of the former top bureaucrats who helped the politicians of different colours and hues to feast over the cadaver of Mother Lanka and theoreticians who formulate absurd theoretical formulations to the present agitations have slowly and steadily retreated from the hotbeds of agitations. This class is craft enough to identify the wind direction and to have some rough gauge of wind intensity in advance. Very soon publications will appear as Linda Herrera’s “Revolution in the Age of Social Media, The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet” (2014) for the consumption of the western pundits
We should be mindful that this so-called Aragalaya is not led by a Marxist party having workers and peasants as its nucleus providing leadership to a broad national united front. It is an unorganised loose outfit representing many interests, classes, ideologies and cultures
It is like a beach carnival with free entry and exit at will. I do not know whether they are knowledgeable of the Paris Commune, Bolshevik Revolution, Chinese Revolution or any other national liberation struggle. Maybe some are aware of the escapades of Che Guevara.
Yuppies who were ignorant of political, economic, social and cultural change brought forth by SWRD were so ungrateful that they blindfolded the bronze statue of SWRD sculptured by that great Soviet sculptor Lev Kerbal, professor, academician and Vice-president of the then USSR Academy of Arts, a pioneer of Socialist Realism Sculpture, considered as a masterpiece of urban art by their own NGO godfathers. This was a gift by the people of the former USSR to the people of Sri Lanka. An economic refugee domiciled in a Western country lamented that it should have been brought down. Even if this happens, we will not be surprised as we have seen statues of Lenin and Stalin brought down by regime changers and the names of great cities such as Leningrad and Stalingrad changing.
Protesters at the Polduwa Junction were asked to bring underwear and hang them on police barricades which male and female protesters enthusiastically did so, calling it “Nandeta Jangiyak” (lingerie for GR). A well-respected medical specialist texted me that according to his psychiatric knowledge a used/old panty is a highly valuable object to perverts and within a few days all other garbage will remain by the roadside, sans panties.
It’s better not to go into details of the contents of the songs sung, poems recited, posters and other visuals exhibited at these protest villages. A wreath carried “Gota ta Nivan Dukha” as its condolence message. For Buddhists, nibbana is the supreme bliss, not suffering as the protesters allude. It is unfortunate that the political monk who acts as the godfather of these protesters is blind to such sub-culture aspects emanating from the protest sites. Wearing Guy Fawkes masks is child’s play when one studies these sub-culture aspects emanating as not seen before.
What next? The call has now turned into ousting of all 225 lawmakers (except 3!) and the camping sites have encircled the perimeter of Diyawannawa. Very soon these protesters will have their own clandestine broadcasting and television stations as they are well funded by sources not unknown to the analysts who follow the present scenario. (Do not ask who will provide them with frequencies. See the enormity of funds pumped to “Gota Go Gama”.) As they have come to the perimeter of the Parliament how can one rule out them storming the Parliament electing their own government as now many claimants have appeared to “rescue” the nation. I do not want to discuss this scenario any further and its consequences. As there are many claimants for leadership internecine, military crackdown, a reign of terror and anarchy cannot be ruled out. Will the middle and upper middle-class agitators at Mirihana enter the history as gravediggers of democracy in Sri Lanka?
A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka
Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.
Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!
They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.
Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.
Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.
The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.
Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.
What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.
Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.
Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW
It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.
These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.
Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:
* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees
* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees
* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.
These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.
As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!
Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.
UPULl P Auckland
Edward Gunawardena: ‘The IGP the country never had’
On a seemingly fine Friday afternoon, day two of the England v India second Test of the LV Insurance Series (that turned out to be a day five thriller), oblivious to how his day would tragically pan out, our dad, retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Edward Gunawardena, was glued to his television enjoying the contest between the two cricket giants. As time passed by that afternoon, he felt uncomfortable, weak and had minor discomfort in breathing. Our family doctor, Dr Lakshan Fernando, swiftly visited home and on strict instructions to bed rest, our dad enjoyed his chicken soup for dinner that was prepared by his beloved wife, our mum.
Later that night tragically he took the last breath of his life, and he completed the last heartbeat of his life in the presence of two of his most trusted people, our mum and our family doctor.
This day was that dreaded “Friday the Thirteenth” – in the month of August last year. Our tragedy was upon us.A year has passed, by but the loss is still deep rooted, although it was comforting that his passing was peaceful knowing that he had the assurance of having Dr Lakshan beside him, who in fact rushed him from our home to Central Hospital in Colombo that night in his own vehicle in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ever so determined to save our dad’s life. It was a blessing to know that our dad had our mum and Dr Lakshan beside him as much as it was possible.
Edward Gunawardena had a successful journey starting his early years through St Joseph’s College, Colombo, Peradeniya University, Michigan State University, USA through sheer determination to succeed, despite him and his three brothers losing their mum when he was at a tender age of just four years. He served our country for nearly three decades in the Police Service in various capacities, including as the Director of Intelligence, Director of Presidential Security, DIG Metropolitan and Senior DIG Administration; and continued his services as the Special Advisor to the Chancellor at the University Grants Commission, Chairman of the National Lotteries Board and in the Board of Directors at the Lake House Newspapers Corporation.
Most would consider retirement in the ripe old age of sixties, but our dad was blessed to have joined JF&I Printing and Packaging Company, an international company with the head office close to our home. This enterprise was owned and led by renowned late Dr Neville Fernando and his son Neomal Fernando. Edward Gunawardena found his renewed passion and purpose of working with such a talented and committed group of colleagues, where he thrived in making a significant difference to a spectrum of many individuals with a common goal. There was a family atmosphere with abundance of gratitude whilst professionalism was being maintained. The feelings were mutual, and this was evident at a time when our dad was unwell and required a blood transfusion – seven of the junior colleagues at JF&I showed their willingness and donated their blood with heartfelt love and gratitude towards him. Knowing that such generosity and love existed in a working environment was a sincerely humble attitude. This is a true reflection of our dad’s character and personality of giving where reciprocation was demonstrated.
Patriotism and loyalty were two of his strengths. His dedication and professionalism in the Police Service were commendable. This was once clearly expressed by the late Professor Carlo Fonseka at the launch of our dad’s second novel “.. Edward was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) that the country never had”. A truly inspiring and a remarkable Officer and a Gentleman.
His generosity and care extended way beyond his professional arena. One of his many philanthropic contributions was the resurrection of the village Buddhist temple’s school ‘Daham Pasala’ with the support from the late Deshamanya H K Dharmadasa well known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the founder of the Nawaloka Group. Our extended family and many thousands of youth in the Battaramulla area have benefited and continue to imbibe the doctrine of Buddhism, thanks to the dedicated committee led by it’s Chief Monk, Jinarathana Himi.
As an enthusiastic writer and a passionate citizen, he wrote many thought provoking and fearless articles to the newspapers, which were very well received by the readers. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up for those who did not have a voice, and he became a respected contributor maintaining honesty and integrity. One of his most poignant articles we recall was days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, titled “The Unpardonable Blunder” bravely challenging the chain of command and with deep sorrow on the devastating destruction, loss of lives and many innocent people maimed and scarred for their entire lives.
Today, we are relieved that he didn’t have to witness the dismal state of affairs our country is going through as a consequence of decades of poor leadership, mismanagement, and most of all, unprecedented levels of corruption in the recent era of respective governments.
As our dad, we are immensely proud of who he was, his achievements and most of all for how he has bettered many lives throughout his life, with his generosity, professionalism and willingness to help, advise, guide, nurture and mentor all with a selfless attitude. We believe that his legacy has been passed on through many who he has had close connections with. We are thankful that his writing legacy would also continue through his creations of the two novels “Blood and Cyanide” and “Memorable Tidbits…”.
Even until his last days and hours he was sharing his experience and wisdom with everyone around him, that was the calibre of the gentleman. His humble stories of meeting President Nixon at the Fulbright Scholar Dinner at the White House, meeting the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito at the Akasaka Palace, and his conversations with the great Arthur C Clarke, will always be fondly remembered by us. One of the famous quotes that our dad hilariously shared was the quote from Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about his political nemesis, the former and the predecessor Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, but if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”
Our dad was and will continue to be our hero and mentor. Today, we wish to extend our utmost appreciation to each and every one of you who had a close bond with him and made his life purposeful, joyful and complete. We thank them sincerely.
His last day of life was instrumental to the creation of the Edward Gunawardena Memorial Trust that is being organically grown, currently sponsoring medical students at the Rajarata University who are striving to become medical professionals, and as with Dr Lakshan, who was taking care of our dad, these students will have the opportunity to potentially treat and care for many deserving people and make their lives better, and also save many lives.
Whilst we take this opportunity to once again thank all those who were in his life,we would love to hear and treasure all the memories they shared with him. We welcome your recollections, your thoughts and your appreciations of Edward Gunawardena and please do send them via the email
My sister and I would value and appreciate the stories that you have had the pleasure of experiencing with him and of him.
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