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Wigneswaran’s tribalist shenanigans

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By ROHANA R. WASALA

The feature article: ‘False historical perspectives of Wigneswaran’ jointly written by Rienzie and Kusum Wijetilleke (The Island of September 4, 2020) provided the cue for the following comments. The Wijetillekes’ article makes interesting reading, though Wigneswaran’s tribal perspectives are hardly worth talking about, except for the danger of their acquiring a false validity due to halo effect (for, after all, Wigneswaran is a retired Supreme Court judge).

His attempt to falsify the long history of the country of the Sinhalese (the unrecorded part of it is much longer than the recorded part, as being archaeologically established at present) is like trying to chip off a splinter from the Sigiriya rock with his bare head. Be that as it may, the more recent post-independence history of our country is more relevant to the point, I think. The young people today may or may not know that, before our country was made a republic by their heroic parents and grandparents in 1972, our country had been officially regarded as a ‘dominion’ (i.e. ‘a semi-independent state’ under the British Crown) since 1948, the year of independence. So, it was a monarchy until then under the British monarch locally represented by an appointed official called ‘the Governor General’.

In terms of the 1972 Republican Constitution, the last was replaced by a figurehead president. A few years later, the currently operative 1978 Constitution created the post of executive president. But the official naming of the country as ‘Sri Lanka’ in 1972 was a shortsighted, though significant, change introduced as a novelty. The people were heroic; but the leaders were not wise enough to retain the traditional name/s of the island, which were the formal ‘Lanka’ or the informal ‘Lankawa’ (for the Sinhalese majority, and its Tamil version ‘Ilankei’ for the Tamil speaking minorities) and ‘Ceylon’ for foreigners and the English speaking local elite. The important point is that ‘Ceylon’ was a derivation from ‘Sinhale’ (the Land of the Sinhalese), which had been the historic name of the country from time immemorial until 1815. The interior part of the island which had remained independent of the British, known as the Kandyan Kingdom, was still called ‘Sinhale’, while the surrounding littoral part under British imperial occupation was identified as ‘Ceylon’, which means that, actually, the whole island was a single entity known as Sinhale/Ceylon. 

In their opening paragraph, the writers express the view that ‘Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s recent comments regarding racial and religious politics were most timely. In a climate where religious leaders seek to become political leaders, to hear the Archbishop state so unequivocally that religion and language should not be the basis for a political party is ‘at least mildly reassuring’ OK. But why only ‘at least mildly reassuring’? From my point of view, the Archbishop, who abhors divisive politics, is putting his finger on what is ailing the Sri Lankan body politic today: racial and religious politics and we know what the parties are that depend on race and religion issues.

But the writers seem to have mixed up or equated with each other the extremists following racial and religious politics, and whom they call ‘religious leaders seeking to become political leaders’ (by which they probably mean the three monks who are currently engaged in an unseemly struggle over a national list seat in parliament won by a certain political party, or all monks including the three, who have been agitating against a number of longstanding issues affecting the majority community, the Buddhist establishment, and the unitary status of Sri Lanka, which are aspects of a single entity, but whose approach is apolitical.

 If the writers mean by ‘a climate where religious leaders seek to become political leaders’ the handful of vocal Buddhist monks who are raising a voice for rescuing the country from the aforementioned anomalies, and from what the Archbishop himself is denouncing (pretty much the same as the issues that the former are raising), they need to correct their terminology. These monks cannot be identified as ‘religious’ leaders among Buddhists. The Buddhists’ religious leaders are the Nayake and Maha Nayake monks, who are what the Archbishop is among the Christians. The activist monks feel obliged to do what they are doing because the Maha Nayakes are not seen (as clearly as the Archbishop for some reason) to be doing for the Buddhists what the Archbishop is doing for the Catholics. (The Archbishop is trying to ensure that the government fulfills its obligations to the Catholics for whom he is responsible as their ordained leader, without stooping to politics; but we know that his concern is for the welfare of all Sri Lankans without discrimination. Buddhists also felt protected under his moral leadership in the critical aftermath of the April 21 bombings, because he had won their trust as he had already repeatedly stressed the vital importance of preserving the age-old Buddhist religious cultural heritage our country). The monk-politician-centred episode that is being currently staged should be regarded as the last flicker of the culturally embarrassing Buddhist-monks-in-parliament politics novelty introduced in 2004, which hardly survived the few years of its experimental stage. 

Talking about racial politics, the enduring nationalism that the first prime minister (of post-colonial, at least nominally independent, Sri Lanka) D. S. Senanayake championed was Ceylonese nationalism. That’s why, asked by the Soulbury Commissioners how many Tamils he wanted to have in his cabinet, he replied without hesitation, as H. A .J. Hulugalla, his biographer recorded, ‘I don’t mind the number if they act as Ceylonese’, a non-racist attitude that is still alive among the vast majority of the majority Sinhalese community; although it is not acknowledged by the few real racists who currently have sway among minority politicians. While D. S. Senanayake and other Sinhalese leaders were committed to non-communal nationalism, the racists among Tamil leaders opposed them. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike left the UNP to form his own party because he found the trust that his and party’s leader D.S. placed in the treacherous Tamil leaders was not being reciprocated by them. Bandaranaike understood that his boss’s expectation that they’d come round to accept his kind of Ceylonese nationalism was not going to be fulfilled. Because of this fact I see no justification for the writers’ apparent treatment of Sinhalese and Tamil leaders of the time as equally guilty of racist prejudice.

Bandaranaike, who was as much a Ceylonese nationalist as DS, was not wrong to speak in terms of the following in the then prevailing circumstances in mid-1950s, as quoted in the Wijetillekes’ article: “… the fears of the Sinhalese, I do not think can be brushed aside as completely frivolous. I believe there are a not inconsiderable number of Tamils in this country out of a population of 8 million. Then there are 40-50 million Tamil people in the adjoining country. What about all this Tamil literature, Tamil teachers, even films, papers and magazines? … I do not think there is an unjustified fear of the inexorable shrinking of the Sinhala language. It is a fear that cannot be brushed aside”. Bandaranaike was opposed by those who did not care about the existence of the native Sinhala and Tamil languages or about the serious anomalies that the Sinhalese majority suffered because they were Sinhalese. 

Maybe there were only 40-50 million Tamils in India (Tamil Nadu) then. But today, there are over 72 million there, and a several more millions of Tamils scattered across the globe. And some ethnic Tamils, not necessarily of Sri Lankan origin, occupy powerful positions in international bodies that can exert adverse influence on Sri Lanka if they wish, though this is unlikely as they are also originally from a non-violent, peaceful, cultural background. However, if unreasonable viewpoints are promoted among them against the beleaguered global minority that the Sinhalese are, it will be nothing short of something genocidal, because Sri Lankans are engulfed in much more dire circumstances than in the 1950s, being constantly threatened by potential exigencies that could become reality in the boiling geopolitical cauldron that is fast emerging in our region.

It is the sort of nationalism that DS believed in that inspires today’s nationalists. Recently, some bogus critics of the founder of the UNP have started promulgating the misconception that the word ‘national’ in the name ‘United National Party’ was divisive, because it was an erroneous recognition of the alleged presence of a plurality of ‘nations’ (based on race, religion, etc.) in Sri Lanka. Nothing could be further from the truth. This sort of thing is nothing but false propaganda spread by the few separatist racists there are and their opportunistic sympathisers. The UNP has been decimated in terms of parliamentary representation, but that is due to the inefficiency and lack of love for the country on the part of its ageing, narrowly self-seeking leaders. This affords a good chance for a vibrant young leadership to emerge who can bring the divided party together, ousting the current squabbling, leadership qualities lacking leaders, and forge it into a strong oppositional force that can work both with as well as against the SLPP government, to make Sri Lanka the kind of prosperous stable country that the traditional Guardians of the Nation, the Maha Sangha, are determined to help forge, with the cooperation of our other spiritual leaders like the Archbishop. This is an urgent need of the hour. The SLMC leader Hakeem’s justification, at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Attack, of a separate administrative unit for Tamil speaking Muslims in a part of the Eastern province is ominous. Are these purveyors of racial and religious politics seeking cooperation or confrontation with other Tamil speakers (Hindus)?

His Eminence Malcom Cardinal Ranjith urged the authorities a few days ago, at an annual religious service held at the Tewatta National Basilica Church at Ragama, to expose and punish, without any further delay or vacillation, the evil extremist forces and their agents who were actually behind the April 21 attacks that left 269 innocent persons killed and over 120 permanently disabled; who provided the perpetrators of those crimes financial and logistical support, he demanded to know. He was unequivocal in condemning religious extremists who believed in killing adherents of other faiths to affirm their faith in their own god. The Cardinal wanted the responsible persons at the highest level under the previous administration, not only the politicians but also the officials, to be dealt with according to the law for failing to prevent, at least in the name of humanity, those heinous crimes, even though they had been previously warned many times by intelligence agencies; and his incidental but no less urgent call for a ban on political parties based on religion and language, still reverberates in our ears.

For so boldly expressing his personal conviction regarding the subject, the Archbishop has already earned the deep respect and gratitude not only of Sri Lankan Catholics but also of ordinary Sri Lankans of other faiths as well, including the majority Buddhists, who are helpless victims of the oppressive trends set in motion by the policies of such parties and the sectarian religious movements behind them. 

The Archbishop’s call needs to be heeded by the leaders of the present administration who have been democratically elected by the pan-Sri Lankan electorate, with overwhelming majorities to rescue the country from, among other things, the undue pressures exerted on parliamentary decision-making by parties based on race and religion, which enjoyed their heyday during the Yahapalanaya, taking cover behind bogus reconciliation politics imposed on the country by external interventionist forces. However, this does not mean that the opposition must step aside and look on passively, leaving everything to be accomplished by the government.

The most recent triumph of nationalism that the patriotic people have achieved (in November 2019, and August 2020) under the SLPP transcends, in its reach, promise and potential, all the previous watershed moments arrived at in 1956, 1972, and 2009, which, unfortunately, were reversed by racists. The same reversal should not be allowed to happen this time. It should not be forgotten that, without the selfless exertions of the Buddhist monk activists, the nationalist triumph would never have been possible. The united Maha Sangha will remain the anchor sheet and guarantor of the wholesome unitary state of Sri Lanka. But that historic role of the monks is intrinsically non-political, and eminently compatible with the principles of modern secular democracy. The Maha Sangha have been the Guardians of the Nation without a break (even during periods of foreign invasion) ever since the official establishment of Buddha Sasana in the island by Arhant Mahinda Thera twenty-three centuries ago. Politicizing the Maha Sangha, despite the existence of the Maha Nayakes, is the surest way to undermine its power.



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Opinion

Sunil, your slip is showing!

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It is rarely that veteran JVPer Sunil Handunetti leaves room for criticism. Perhaps, the JVP’S refusal to join the proposed all-party government had to be explained by a senior respected member – Handunetti being the obvious choice.

To an independent observer, he did not fare in a recent interview. Quite innocently, he trotted out a very puerile explanation, which could, perhaps, be applauded by school-going children in the lower grades. The tendency to be jealous, inability to appreciate the good, even in a bad situation, and the unwillingness to give credit where credit is due, coupled with age-old theoretical bug-bears and prejudices , perhaps, provoked him to quote trivialities; such as President Ranil W is on a journey to consolidate his Party and to gain kudos as the saviour of the Nation.

This exposes himself and his JVP as anti-national and narrow-minded in a situation where the country is now at its lowest depths, where everyone is expected to put his or her shoulder to the wheel. It comes ill from a JVPer who has proved himself as a useful and capable politician, and a member of a party that actively and gleefully participated in the notorious FCID outfit, organized by the then PM, Ranil W.

What a world!

I.P.C. MENDIS

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Opinion

LYDIA THAMPOE

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Appreciation

Lydia Rasamani , one among four girls, was the daughter of Sabapathipillai and Rathinamma, of Alaveddy. She was educated in Jaffna, entered into the teaching profession, and qualified as a trained teacher at the Teachers’ Training College, at Palaly. She taught in schools wherever she was appointed, later followed suit at stations where her husband was ministering with the churches.

Samuel Thampoe,

one among seven siblings, was the son of Maruthappu Thampoe and Rose Nagamma of Sanguvely, in Uduvil, born on 30th August, 1925. Sam was educated at St John’s College, Jaffna, took to teaching as a career at his alma mater. In response to God’s call to ministry, he pursued his theological studies at Serampore College, in Calcutta, and joined the ministry of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, in the year 1955, and was ordained Deacon in 1957.

Lydia Rasamani Sabapathipillai

and Rev Sam Thampoe were joined in Holy Matrimony at Alaveddy Church, in the year, 1957, solemnised by the late Rt Rev Dr Sabapathy Kulandran, bishop in Jaffna. They were blessed with three children- Joyce Suganthy, Daniel Rohan and Noel Suresh, all of whom were born at the Green Memorial Hospital, Manipay, while the parents were serving in Alaveddy, Pungudutivu and Earlalai respectively.

· Alaveddy (1955-1959)

· Pungudutivu (1959-1963)

· Earlalai North and South (1963-1967)

· Delft (1967-1971)

· Navaly (1971-1975)

· Atchuvely (1975-1979)

· Manipay (1979-1983)

· Pandateruppu (and Vaddukoddai) / (1983-1987)

· Chavakachcheri (1987- 1988)

Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe

faithfully served in the above-mentioned parishes of the JDCSI. Lydia played a great role in the ministry of Rev Thampoe in the areas of Pastoral Care, Singing and playing eastern instruments during worship services, Pastoral Visitation to homes of members of the church and communities, leading Church women’s groups in evangelism, ministry and mission, and been a tower of strength as a Pastor’s wife. Lydia, even after the passing of her beloved husband on the 12th September, 1988, while serving the parish of Chavakachcheri, continued to discharge her duties as a mother (and father) towards her children’s progress in life. She migrated to Canada to be with her daughter and family. A few years later, she moved to an Aged Care facility for a long term high care due to her health condition, where she received her ‘Home Call.’

Joyce,

eldest child of Lydia studied at Uduvil Girls College and later joined the academic staff of Uduvil Girls College, proceeded to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at Bharathiyar University in Trichirapalli, India, continued in teaching at UGC while completed her Diploma in Education. She was the Vice-Principal at Uduvil Girls College and upheld the high standard of the school in various aspects. Joyce attended a Summer School at the Institute of Bossey in Switzerland in 1988. She migrated to Canada and married Pastor Ravi Kandiah, and were blessed with four children Priscilla, Jessica, Johnathan and David. Both Ravi and Joyce are actively engaged in Church ministry with a congregation and the four children active in the Church with their parents.

Rohan

, son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and later worked for a while in the Maldives and later emigrated to Germany. After a few years of waiting, he married Bhamini, the love of his life, in Melbourne, Australia. They are blessed with two sons in Jayden and Shayan. They, in addition to their regular work, are actively supporting the local and Tamil churches in ministry.

Suresh,

the youngest son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and graduated with a first degree at Madras Christian College, obtained his Master’s degree in public administration in the same University. He joined the Jaffna Diocese of the CSI as the Director of Projects, in which he cheerfully served the Church’s Social ministry, managing number of Day Care Centres, Children Homes and Vocational Training Programmes with the paid Staff of these projects, coordinating with Pastors-in Residence. He married Padmini, the love of his life, and is blessed with a daughter Shobi and a son Joshua. In the meantime, he was sent on a scholarship to the University of Birmingham to pursue on Mission and Development studies over a year. His contribution to JDCSI was very much appreciated by everyone in Sri Lanka.

The Pastoral Ministry of the Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe has been well received by the communities wherever they served in their own vocations, well supported by each other. Her children and their spouses have also devoted their lives in God’s vineyard. In the new settings, they continue to witness to Christ in variety of ways.

As the Psalmist prayed:

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!”

Another version says:

You have been our refuge in every generation.”

Yes! It is true in every sense of the word for the “Thampoe Family”. We thank God for them, in particular, for Lydia Rasamani Thampoe, whom God in His time received at the eternal Home.

Contact:

Joyce: 00111 647 213 1257 (Canada)

Rohan: 61-400 547 120 (Australia)

Suresh: 61-400 131 982 (Australia)

Rev T S Premarajah

Former colleague in ministry in the JDCSI, now in Melbourne, Australia

Trinity Close

Unit- 1

22 Camira Street

Malvern East

VIC 3145

AUSTRALIA

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Opinion

The National Airline: A financial catastrophe in the making!

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Delusion appears to be a national affliction in Sri Lanka.  When confronted with stark realities, the state consistently refuses to take proactive measures to avert dire consequences.  It refers to national liabilities, like the national airline, as national assets.  Despite regular doses of life-saving intravenous injections in the form of hard cash by the Treasury, bleeding of the state-owned enterprises continues.  The senior management of the national Airline, which has been in deep red for nearly a decade and a half, its employees and trade unions collectively fail to appreciate that the general public cannot continue to pay for its existence.

Recently, a local daily revealed that the national Airline made Rs. 71.8 billion profit for the first four months of 2022 and suffered a loss of Rs. 320.3 billion, including a one-time exchange loss of Rs. 145 billion, during the same period.  It added, “as at the end of April 2022, UL had Rs.618.7 bn worth liabilities, including a sovereign guaranteed US$ 175mn international bond.” The irony is that according to the former Minister of Aviation, Nimal Siripala de Silva, SriLankan Airlines had posted Rs. 171 billion (USD 476 million loss in the financial year ending March 2021, while the accumulated losses had reached Rs. 542 billion (USD 1.5 billion).  The total liabilities of the Airline were estimated at Rs. 618 billion (USD1.7 billion).

Amid the country’s economic woes, Sri Lanka defaulted on its loan obligations to international lenders in May.  With that, SriLankan Airlines too followed suit, which might result in legal action against SriLankan Airlines by aircraft leasing companies, as was Sri Lanka’s recent experience with Aeroflot, the Russian Airline.  However, on July 26, the airline reported that it had serviced the interest relating to USD175 million Treasury guaranteed bond due in 2024.

The predicament of SriLankan Airlines is not entirely new.  The national Airline has been gasping for breath since its takeover from the Emirates in 2008 and all attempts made to divest the Airline five years ago ended without a positive result.  Considering the loss-making behemoth was an asset, the government attempted to identify an investor who would take over the Airline while reserving its right to retain 51 per cent shares of the venture.  Several international firms sniffed around but understandably failed to take a bite.

SriLankan Airlines can continue its wayward behaviour as long as the Treasury coughs up millions in foreign currency as it used to do over the years.  However, this time around, Treasury itself is in deep trouble and will not be able to come to the rescue of the national airline yet again.  That means operations of SriLankan Airlines will grind to a halt soon, which might happen within a few months, not in years.

The national airline will soon be gone as the dodo unless the Finance Ministry, the senior management and the trade unions recognise the dire situation and decide to take proactive action to avoid a financial catastrophe, which Sri Lanka cannot afford.

The danger is that not only SriLankan Airlines would fail but also all operations at the BIA, as ground handling facilities provided to all other airlines are part and parcel of SriLankan Airlines’ operations.  With ground handling services coming to a standstill and the computer systems leased by the national Airline ceasing to operate, the airport will not be able to service even other airlines that still fly to Sri Lanka.

Since SriLankan Catering is an independent entity, it may survive the crash.  Still, it will not be able to function due to foreign airlines deciding against flying into the country due to a lack of airport facilities and aviation fuel.  That will put the last nail on the coffin of the already ailing tourism industry, which brought as much as 4.3 billion US dollars as recent as 2018.

SriLankan Airlines is not the only Airline that has faced similar financial predicaments.   Air India, which operated a fleet of over 153 owned and leased aircraft, was also in the red for many years.  The Indian government tried various stratagems to sell off the Airline.  All those attempts failed, and eventually, it settled all debts amounting to INR 61,000 crore and sold the Airline to the Tata Group for nearly US$ 2.4 billion.  It was sweet revenge for Tatas, as it was their Airline, which the government took over in 1953 and eventually returned to them in early 2022, unable to shoulder the mounting burden of losses.  In that sense, SriLankan Airlines is an orphan with no home to return to!

Clearly, the Sri Lankan government cannot follow the Indian example, as it does not have the resources to settle Srilankan Airline’s debts before trying to divest the Airline.  All it could try to do in the current circumstances is to avoid an uncontrolled nosedive, which would isolate Sri Lanka with a non-functioning international airport, even for a short period.

However, all is not lost, and the government could still take decisive steps to address the situation.  However, it has limited time to succeed.

First, it should arrange an urgent study to assess how many weeks or months the national Airline could operate with current finances.  By doing so, the government will not repeat its mistake of delaying an intervention by the IMF to save the national economy.

The second measure is, while that study is being carried out, it should put a team consisting of representatives of the national Airline, the Finance Ministry and the AG’s Department to unbundle ground-handling operations from SriLankan Airlines and make it an independent entity like SriLankan Catering Services.

The third measure is to decide how to dissect the national airline so that interested parties could take over operations of its revenue-generating routes.

It is abundantly clear that Sri Lanka will not be able to repeat the performance of India by settling its national airlines’ debt, which is said to be in the region of USD1.7 billion.  The newly elected President is fully aware of the ground situation.  The question is, will he be allowed to take crucial but unpopular hard decisions in the interest of the national economy?

An economic tsunami affecting the island’s tourism potential is at close range.  Already foreign airlines are curtailing their flights to Sri Lanka due to the non-availability of fuel, and SriLankan Airlines is forced to seek the precious commodity outside the country.  Should the government wait until the inevitable calamity occurs or prepare in advance to manage the looming disaster?  It is time to take hard decisions.

This is a PATHFINDER ALERT of the Pathfinder Foundation. Readers’ comments are welcome at www.pathfinderfoundation.org

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