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I referred last week to the manner in which Chandrika and her cohorts were promoting Reconciliation. In the nineties she and Mangala had embarked on the Sudu Nelum movement, which did not win hearts and minds but at least that functioned in areas which were supposed to have a majority mindset that was to be changed.

In time however the idea of Reconciliation through cultural activity became the preserve of the elite. As I noted when I took over the Peace Secretariat, vast amounts of money were given to those with good connections to produce propaganda supposed to promote peace. I used to call this the Dancing Butterflies syndrome, different coloured youngsters moving together so as, in theory at any rate, to encourage ethnic binding. Not entirely coincidentally, those who governed the funds awarded money to each other, Uyangoda being a principal culprit in this regard through the Social Scientists’ Association, while Young Asia Television was by far the largest beneficiary.  No one bothered to measure the impact of all this work, or rather of all this money for very little work.

Now the practice has begun again, and the elite have produced what is termed ‘A Conversation across Generations’, targeted at ‘bridging a gap between the generations – a gap of comprehension, a gap of empathy, of knowledge or perspective’. The technique employed was, it seems, to interview older people and create monologues from their memoirs.

I was invited to a performance of four monologues, and am very glad I went, since a couple were most entertaining. The most entertaining told us little about the past though, one being a wryly amusing account of an old lady trying to cope with the modern technology through which her children, now living abroad, try to maintain contact. Pia Hatch, daughter of two memorable stage stars of the seventies, Graham and Michelle Leembruggen, was delightful as an old lady not sure what buttons to push or how to deal with a Skype call.

The second lively performance was in fact a dialogue, between a lady who had been great friends with those who plotted the 1962 coup and her devoted manservant. His asides were most amusing, while Ranmali Mirchandani captured superbly the cocooned life of ladies of leisure in those distant days. I suspect nothing much has changed, except that they now have to jostle with those whose wealth is more recent to exercise influence with decision makers. Read the rest of this entry »

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qrcode.30761940In the second section of chapter 8 of my book on this subject, I look at how the initially peaceful agitation for devolution turned to violence. This was despite a measure of autonomy finally being granted to elected bodies at local levels during the eighties.

District Development Councils and their Shortcomings

In the 1970s, the various Tamil parties came together to form a Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). They fought the next election by asserting the right of Tamil-speaking people to self-determination, with reference in particular to the northern and eastern provinces.  Initially, the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the party of the Indian Tamils who worked on the plantations in the centre of the country, was also part of the TULF. The TULF won an overwhelming majority of seats in the north and the east in the 1977 election, and emerged as the major opposition party. The constituent parties of the USA, having parted company in 1975, were decimated.

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qrcode.30756486Seeing all the posters asserting that ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen was murdered, I was struck by the similarity to the allegations made when Chandrika Kumaratunga was President regarding Batalanda. The Sunday Leader in December 2001, soon after the UNP won the election she had called, wrote

The legacy of evil that Kumaratunga has left behind is so rich that she is driven to defend her turf with all the tenacity she can muster. This is in part the genesis of her evil rhetoric in recent days, with talk of murders, plots and killing’.

The Sunday Times had the same idea about President Kumaratunga, and highlighted three occasions on which she came out with very harsh allegations about her then great enemy, Ranil Wickremesinghe. In August 2010 it noted that ‘Even those with short memories will recall that it was only a few weeks prior to the presidential election in December 1999 that the Batalanda Commission report was released to the media’.

Ranil-ChandrikaThat report was very hard on Ranil Wickremesinghe, but President Kumaratunga did nothing about it. This may of course have been because of the terrible injuries she suffered at Tiger hands just before the election. But by the time of the parliamentary election in October 2000, she was ready to resume the charge. In August of that year the Times reported the return of Douglas Peiris who had given evidence against Ranil as follows – ‘The ‘arrest’ of Peiris will surely be a prelude to major onslaught on Ranil Wickremesinghe linking him to the alleged atrocities committed at the so-called torture chamber in Batalanda.

The language is interesting. I have no idea whether Ranil was responsible in any way for what happened at Batalanda and would prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing how readily Chandrika jumped to conclusions and then found evidence to support her prejudices. One has only to remember her claim that it was the UNP that killed Vijaya Kumaratunga, which paved the way for her to enter into an alliance with the JVP, an alliance that now seems to have been renewed, though the common enemy now is the SLFP rather than the UNP. But even assuming as I would like to do that Ranil was not guilty of the atrocities at Batalanda, there is no doubt that atrocities did occur there, the death of Wijeyadasa Liyanaarachchi being only the most prominent amongst many horrors.

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CA

Chanaka Amaratunga died 19 years ago, on the 1st of August 1996. He died a disappointed man, for he had not entered Parliament, which had been his dream. Only Chanaka, imbued in the Westminster style of Liberal Democratic politics, could have written an article entitled ‘In Praise of Parliament’ at a time when the Executive Presidency was well entrenched in Sri Lanka, and the tradition of the independent Parliamentarian long lost.

qrcode.30571558He had hoped to enter Parliament in 1988, when he was on the SLFP National List, but the defeat of the SLFP then had led to the sidelining of Anura Bandaranaike, who had been his great friend. He told me that, when he went to Rosmead Place on the day after the election, Sunethra had met him with the claim that the only hope for the party now was to bring Chandrika back. He had said this was nonsense, and that perhaps put paid to his chances. After her defeat, Mrs Bandaranaike too felt that the policies Anura had promoted had been a mistake, and moved back to the left.

Anura still had residual support, but he was soft-hearted to a fault, and gave up the Secretaryship of the party when he was appointed to the post on a split decision. The newspapers at the time reported that his mother had stormed out of the room, and he had followed her, and agreed to a compromise whereby Dharmasiri Senanayake became Secretary. The latter worked for Chandrika, and as we know she came back and took over. By then, though, it should be noted that Sunethra was supportive of her brother and when, forgetting the change that had taken place, I asked her what her sister was up to, she told me that she was trying to throw ‘my darling brother’ out of the party.

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good governanceI have sent the letter below to the Minister of Good Governance, along with the schedule beneath it. I realized how appalling the situation was when I was Secretary to a Ministry, and the personal staff ran riot (including ensuring the election of Mr Thevarapperuma).

 

Dear Mr Jayasuriya,

I had written to you before about simple measures that could be taken to promote Good Governance and I hope we might be able to meet soon to take things forward, There seems to be too little interest in this at present, and that might lead to the people losing faith in us.

 I gather the JVP has already drafted a Code of Conduct, and I am sorry this has not been shared with party leaders and with parliamentarians in general. But pending that, I will send you some ideas which I hope will be incorporated. My first suggestions are with regard to Personal Staff and perks given to Ministers, which are often not used for Ministry work. I realized how bad the situation was when the Secretary of the Ministry I held commended my staff. None of them is related to me, and they have all been working full time at the Ministry since I took up responsibilities.

Let me add that, if the changes I suggest below in the Schedule are made, I will not take advantage of the additional support for Parliamentarians. Otherwise it will be claimed that I would like to get back some of the advantages I have given up in resigning from the Ministry – though obviously I do not need them since I do not have a constituency.

The cost to the country will be about the same, and more Parliamentarians will have less incentive to obtain executive office for the sake of the perks and privileges.

Yours sincerely

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

 

 Schedule

One of the reasons for everyone wanting to be a Minister is the perks Ministers enjoy. These are often used for personal gain, but in addition they are used for political advantage. This also badly affects productive work. The general principle followed it seems, in forming a Cabinet, is not to select those who understand the subjects allocated to them, but rather to give portfolios for the purpose of ensuring electoral success – both to keep people happy so they will not change sides, and to give them resources to fight elections.

The Minister for Good Governance thought we have an unfortunate political culture and that it would be difficult to change, but we must start now. I would suggest therefore that we adopt a principle of distinguishing between the executive and the Parliamentary roles of politicians and limit them using Ministry resources for electoral or personal purposes. I believe there will be less need of excessive resources when we change the electoral system. But even then, what we should do is give ordinary Parliamentarians a bit more, while cutting down on the waste now.

These measures will also reduce the assumption that the main purpose of a Ministry is to be able to give jobs to people, with little regard for qualifications or ability.

I therefore suggest the following – Read the rest of this entry »

Richard De ZoysaI was deeply saddened earlier this month to hear of the death of the marvelous Engish actress Geraldine McEwan. I had got to know her 30 years earlier, shortly after I joined the British Council, when she toured Sri Lanka with her one-woman Jane Austen show.

I had been determined to take the tour all over the country, but by then we were advised not to go to Jaffna. So we went instead to Batticaloa, where we found a most appreciative audience. Geraldine also had what was for her a first time experience, in that bats swooped in and out of the hall during the performance.

But she, and her Stage Manager Catherine Bailey, were infinitely adaptable, and said they had enjoyed the tour thoroughly. After the Batticaloa performance, we had a cyclone scare, and had to leave Passekudah, where we were staying, before dawn broke.

That should have been the high point of the tour, but what Geraldine and Catherine remembered most vividly, during our long friendship over the next three decades, was the previous night. After a performance at Peradeniya in collaboration with the university, Richard de Zoysa turned up at the Citadel, and we had a lively dinner which went on into the early hours.

Richard was a fantastic companion in any context, and he struck exactly the right note for Geraldine and Catherine who had a deep sense of social commitment. They would ask after him often in the years that followed, and were profoundly upset when he was murdered, 25 years ago. The fact that it was because of his passion for social justice added to the poignancy of his death, for them, as it should for all of us. Read the rest of this entry »

By Camelia Nathaniel

 

Reputed for his outspoken nature Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe feels that the government has been too hasty in proscribing the Diaspora groups, and the Foreign Ministry has done nothing about the LLRC recommendation to build up positive relations with the Diaspora. Instead, Professor Wijesinghe said, in an interview with The Sunday Leader, “as happened with Dayan Jayatilleka, they engaged in adverse propaganda about those who talked to the moderate Tamils.

No attempt has been made to work with multi-racial groups in Britain or Australia, where there are very moderate Tamils. But when you have a lunatic situation where the person supposedly in charge of implementation of the LLRC initially was suspicious of people simply because they were Tamil, you have a recipe for disaster.” Professor Wijesinghe feels that the government has now institutionalized a blunderbuss sort of approach which will alienate the positive people, while having no doubt that those who are engaged in nefarious pursuits will still manage to slip through the net.

Following are excerpts:

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As this series draws to a close, bringing with it perhaps intimations of mortality, I thought of engaging in reflections relating to the death anniversaries of some people I admired tremendously. Closely connected to a range of human rights issues was the murder of Richard de Zoysa, 13 years ago this week, undoubtedly by government para-military forces.

At the time of his death government papers engaged in a campaign of disinformation and vilification, but the case resonated, and I believe it contributed to the disbanding of the forces that had been used to quell the JVP insurrection. Memories of those events have returned, with the discovery of a mass grave in Matale, but I am not sure that it would make sense to revive inquiries into the subject now.

That was a brutal period, with the initial provocation coming from a government that had completely subverted the democratic process. However the violence the JVP engaged in was disproportionate to the provocation, and lasted beyond the removal of the principal cause of despair. When elections were finally held, at the end of 1988, the JVP should have re-entered the democratic process, but the excesses that followed, directed also against the opposition party that had suffered so much from UNP violence, led to even greater violence on the part of the State.

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One aspect of politics that draws criticism but little analysis is the phenomenon of large cabinets, with Members of Parliament imagining it their right to be appointed to Executive Office on the grounds of seniority alone.

This is nothing new, though the opposition affects to forget the massive numbers to whom President Jayewardene gave executive positions, which is when the trend really began. Not all his appointments were to the Cabinet or to Deputy positions, since he also had 25 District Ministerships to play around with, in addition to the Project Ministries he had instituted. The result was that at one stage he had over 100 Ministers of various types, in a Parliamentary group of around 140.

It is true that Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to restrict numbers, at a time when the topic had been raised by the JVP, which had made it a condition of the probation period they gave President Kumaratunga in 2001 that she restrict her Cabinet to 20. Unfortunately they failed to insist on a Cabinet amendment to this effect, and Mrs Kumaratunga in fact made it 22, though this did not help her to stay in power.

Mr Wickremesinghe adopted the expedient of appointing 40 Ministers, but putting only 20 of them in the Cabinet, and managed in the process to leave out the Minister of Human Resources Development. He claimed this was an oversight, though in fact it contributed to his favourites, Kabir Hashim and Suranimala Rajapaksa, as Project Ministers of Higher Education and Education respectively, settling themselves in their respective Ministries and exercising equal powers with Karunasena Kodituwakku who was in theory their superior. It was only three months after he first constituted the Cabinet that Ranil expanded it to include Kodituwakku and some others. Despite his claims to be cutting government expenditure, he evidently had no qualms about establishing Ministries which seemed to have no work, for some of his Ministers had no operational funds, receiving only establishment costs in the budget.

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Chanaka Amaratunga died tragically on the 1st of August 1996. Almost exactly 9 years previously he had penned the Liberal Party statement on the Indo-Lankan Accord, which still stands as the most intelligent assessment of that seminal episode in modern Sri Lankan history. It was a ringing assertion of principle and moderation at a time when dogmatic opponents of the Accord were suggesting that disaster had struck us, as though a remedy was not urgently needed for the disasters the country had been going through for years.

The relentless erosion of democracy – with the referendum that postponed elections, the political arrests and torture and murder that were widespread (Ananda Sunil for example, and the state sponsored murders in Welikada in 1983), the intimidation of Judges of the Supreme Court who delivered unwelcome judgments or statements (which the West delighted in during those Reagan days, when ‘our bastards’ were protected whatever they did) – and the ruthless suppression of moderate Tamil opinion had led to violence that was corrosive. Though it is now argued that the Indians prevented what would have been certain victory over the Tigers in 1987, that was certainly not assured, nor could it have led to lasting peace and reconciliation, given the deep resentments in the country at the time, in the South as well as the North.

But while diehard opposition to the Accord was myopic, much worse was the acceptance of all its provisions without demur. Indeed the only change made because of opposition by those who were in favour was the removal of English from equal status with the other two languages – the Left Parties made this their only serious objection to what the President had agreed. There was no mention of the need to allow debate and discussion (media freedom was not something people were concerned about in those dark days), of the urgency of having elections nationwide, of the preposterous provisions regarding enforced merger of two Provinces. Even the usually idealistic Vijaya Kumaranatunga forgot some of the principles for which he had fought bravely in the previous period, and seemed to have no reservations about what had been agreed.

In such a context, the statement the Liberal Party issued, with its cautions that subsequent events showed were fully justified, deserves to be read again. Seventeen years after Chanaka died, his analyses of what Sri Lanka was going through, remain the most illuminating of our political writings. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2019
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