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qrcode.30341177In this 8th Chapter of my book on this subject I look at how the majoritarian system of democracy we had in this country contributed to increasing resentment by those who felt shut out of the decision making process. This played out principally with regard to racial differences, where what seemed majoritarianism on the part of successive elected governments contributed to the movement for autonomy and then for secession. But we should also remember that there were deep resentments based on class differences that led to two violent youth insurrections in the seventies and the eighties.

The Official Languages Act

In 1956 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister, in a coalition of nationalist forces dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). He had established the party after leaving the United National party (UNP). During the election campaign he had presented himself as a champion of the common man against the elite who had dominated Sri Lankan politics. But due to the pressures of political competition his victory was seen as the triumph of Sinhala nationalism.

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I continue surprised, though I should not be, given our infinite capacity for self delusion, at the virulence of attacks on India with regard to the several crises we brought upon ourselves. It is claimed that India was gratuitously nasty in supporting terrorists, and that it acted outrageously in 1987 in imposing the Indo-Lankan Accord upon us.

I think India was wrong both in supporting terrorists and in the final form the settlement of 1987 took, but in both instances there was nothing gratuitous about what was done, given our own conduct. It is claimed that India cannot claim to be a friend because she supported terrorism, but that is to ignore that countries will naturally act in their own defence, and we as it were started the problem by abandoning our traditional friendship with India and pursuing Western gods.

The appendix to the Indo-Lankan Accord says it all, in noting the decisions we had made which seemed to threaten India, the shenanigans with regard to the Trincomalee oil tanks, the agreement to allow the Voice of America a virtual self-governing enclave at a time when such entities were a significant part of Cold War armoury, and indeed what seemed efforts to flog Trincomalee to the Americans. This last is particularly ironic since I suspect the Americans – though their capacity to insure themselves against all eventualities, real and imagined, is infinite – did not really want the place since the British had flogged Diego Garcia to them and obligingly got rid of its inhabitants.

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I have entitled this series ‘Looking Forward’, because it is meant to suggest positive measures that would strengthen institutions. That seems to me the best outcome of the tensions that have arisen, with all sides now seeming to be convinced that, because of the inequities of others, they do not need to ensure that their own mistakes will also not be repeated.

JR-jayawardene

There were five distinct steps that Jayewardene took that led to protracted suffering for the country.

In this light, it may be useful also to look back at the mistakes of the Jayewardene government, because it is vital that, having so successfully overcome the terrorist threat, this government does not repeat some of the mistakes that Jayewardene did in his consolidation of a monolithic power structure.

There were five distinct steps that Jayewardene took that led to protracted suffering for the country. In essence they all arose from his determination to brook no dissent.

The first was the deprivation of Mrs Bandaranaike’s Civic Rights, using a Kangaroo Court, which he claimed was acceptable since it consisted of members of the Judiciary. The manner in which the three individuals he handpicked to destroy Mrs Bandaranaike made their decisions is ample evidence that judges are not necessarily trustworthy or guardians of democratic practice. Read the rest of this entry »

Chief Justice – Shirani Bandaranayake

It is ironic that, having been the only government Member of Parliament to complain over the year of the failure of the Judiciary to administer justice either effectively or efficiently, I seem now to be the only one who thinks impeaching the Chief Justice would be a mistake. This struck me when Ravaya was interviewing me about the matter, which was when I also realized how quickly history is forgotten, and in particular the perversion of justice that this Constitution seems to have entrenched.

My first active political intervention in this country occurred when I resigned from my job with Peradeniya University to protest the manner in which Mrs Bandaranaike’s Civic Rights had been taken away for seven years, the maximum punishment possible under the law. That was the most egregious instance of Parliament acting as a judicial body, and it was a horrifying sight. I can still recall then Prime Minister Premadasa claiming that one reason to punish Mrs Bandaranaike was because she was an example of absolute power corrupting  absolutely. He said this with no sense of irony while nearly 140 government parliamentarians cheered and jeered. The TULF had left the chamber, so Mrs Bandaranaike had barely half a dozen supporters, and the dignity she displayed on that occasion has remained the most impressive of my political memories. Read the rest of this entry »

Lakshman Jayakody 1930 - 2010

I am honoured to be able to speak today to record my appreciation of the service rendered by the late Lakshman Jayakody to this Parliament and the country. I got to know him in the seventies, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the then Prime Minister, Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, whom he served loyally throughout his political career. Those were difficult days, when the JVP insurrection had just been overcome, but the socialist measures taken by the government led to hostility and misrepresentation in the West. I recall meeting Mr Jayakody in those days at the house of Tilak Gooneratne, our High Commissioner in London, who had served in the Commonwealth Secretariat, and could not understand the hostility that we then had to face.

I remember in particular efforts to claim that the government had used excessive force in overcoming the insurrection, ignoring both the danger we had faced and the manner in which government soon restored normality, leading to the respect in which the JVP, after undergoing trial, subsequently held our judiciary. The rehabilitation process then, though slower than what the present government has achieved, was thorough and much appreciated at the time.

Even more telling with regard to the challenges the then Deputy Minister of External Affairs faced was the concerted attempt of the British press to highlight conditions on the plantations and claim that these were due to racism on the part of the government. That was shortly after the plantations had been nationalized, and government was trying to improve the appalling treatment of estate workers which the British plantation companies had indulged in, while claiming – as has been graphically explained by Colomel Derrick Nugawela in his fascinating memoir, ‘Tea and Sympathy’ – that the welfare measures Sri Lankan managers proposed could not be implemented because of obligations to shareholders. But the balance sheet has always been more important than politicians will acknowledge, and I suppose we need to keep that in mind in analyzing and developing international relations.

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

But before we look to the future, let us review relations in the past, and the generally positive tenor of interactions. In the first decade after independence there were some slight tensions, caused I believe largely by our own adherence to an Old Commonwealth model of independence, and suspicion on the part of at least one of our leaders of the emerging idea of Non-Alignment. I should note however that Nehru’s effortless superiority may also have contributed to a sense of resentment, as may be seen in the retort of Sir John Kotelawala when Nehru remonstrated with him for his unabashedly pro-Western speech at Bandung. Upbraided for not having consulted Nehru beforehand, Sir John responded that Nehru had not consulted him before his own much more significant speech.

Fortunately that situation changed with the election of Mr Bandaranaike whose approach to international relations was much more in line with Nehru’s. Personal affinities continued when Mrs Bandaranaike took over, and in time her own relations with Indira Gandhi took cooperation between the countries further. Thus we had Sri Lanka able to offer itself as a peace-maker during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, and also maintaining the trust of India despite providing refuelling facilities to Pakistan during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan conflict, when India disallowed Pakistan flying over her territories to what was then East Pakistan, soon to become Bangladesh.

Those days saw too the Sirima-Shastri pact which provided a mutually acceptable solution to the problem of the then stateless labour which the British had brought over for their plantations, as well as a determination in favour of Sri Lanka of the status of Kachchativu, an island in the Palk Straits between the two countries. Underlying the generally benevolent Indian approach to Sri Lanka then was I believe total confidence that we would support Indian interests in any international forum.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2017
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