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The renewal of my involvement with Trinity happened at a very busy time. I was purportedly removed from the Board in September 2013, which was perhaps the last straw as far as those Trinitians concerned with honesty were concerned. We decided then to go to Court, and that month saw a spate of consultations. We worked through Sriyantha Senaratne, an old Trinitian who had a wonderfully laid back law firm housed in Galle Face Courts, a beautifully old fashioned office, like himself. When you went to see him, opera resounded in the background.

We saw several lawyers, but the one who handled my case, and the other more important ones, was Harsha Amerasekera, who in addition to clear analysis reveled in a mischievous sense of humour. The others with us were old Trinitians and had to put up gracefully with references to the primitive nature of their upbringing.

In addition to the legal tangles, I was at this time launching all over the country my collection of English and Sinhala and Tamil poetry, albeit all in English translation, which the National Book Trust of India had published. They had earlier produced a collection of short stories, entitled Bridging Connections, which did a lot for Sri Lankan writing since it was also translated into all India’s national languages. This was necessarily a slow process, but by 2013 the Oriya and Marathi versions had come out, and it was heartening to see the different scripts on the elegantly designed cover.

For the poetry book, which was of course more complicated given the difficulties of identifying quality in translation, I had been helped by Lakshmi de Silva and Prof Chelva Kanaganayakam. Though he was in Toronto, he had kept up with Sri Lankan writing and was a mine of information. Both he and Lakshmi introduced me to other scholars too. I met the wonderfully lively and broadminded Prof Amarakeerthi Liyanage for the first time, and renewed acquaintance with Prof Sandagomi Coperahewa, who had been a little boy when I had been Sub-Warden at S. Thomas’. His father had been my art teacher, a delightful man along with his two fast friends, Arisen Ahubudhu and Mr Jinadasa, the one always in immaculate national dress, Coperahewa though as ardent a nationalist in a pressed suit, and Jinadasa in a bush shirt. The last died young, though Ahubudhu survived until recently and Mr Coperahewa was still going strong when his son helped me with the poetry volume.

For Tamil poetry Chelva introduced me to a delightfully erudite man called Padmanabha Iyer, who lived in London and kept close track of all Tamil writing. With seminal assistance from all these willing experts, I produced what I thought was a pretty comprehensive volume. There were long delays then on the part of the NBT but, to my astonishment, when I was in Delhi in April, my contact there, the imaginative Benny Kurian, gave me a copy of the book. I then presented this to the Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in Delhi, when he gave me an audience after I had met him in Chandigarh, at a Conference arranged by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development.

I met Khurshid to talk about the rapidly deteriorating relationship between India and Sri Lanka but, given the tendency of our Foreign Minister to panic if he thought his turf was being stepped on, I thought the book a good pretext on which to hang the visit. This had unexpected consequences, for the extremists in the Tamil diaspora decided the book was part of an Indian plot to destroy Tamil autonomy. Our High Commissioner in Canada arranged a launch there, but the extremists urged that this be boycotted, and used the picture of my presenting Kureishi with the book as evidence that it was an instrument of evil. Fortunately Chelva had no qualms about speaking, and delivered a thoughtful address on translations. I was delighted that the widow of my father’s old friend, the Chavakachcheri MP V Navaratnam, also attended. Read the rest of this entry »

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In one respect I believe things are better now than they were in the darkening days of 2013. I refer to Trinity College, which I had got involved with at the end of 2004, when the then Bishop of Kurunagala, Kumara Illangasinghe, asked me to serve on the Board of Governors as one of his nominees. He had to select a Christian from the university sector and, though I was the only non-Trinitian on the Board for many years, I found the little work we had to do interesting. I believe I was also found useful, for I was asked to serve for three terms altogether, and invited to serve on several sub-committees and to chair the committee on school development.

The blight that hit Trinity between 2012 and 2014 seemed to parallel that in the country, for it involved massive fraud and connivance in this at the top. But unlike what has happened in the country, with continuing waste and corruption as exemplified in the Central Bank Bond Scam, Trinity now seems to be doing well again, under a new Principal, an Englishman called Andrew Fowler-Watt. A measure of his quality was the fact that he promptly offered to admit the boy who had been rejected by his local school on the grounds that his father had died of Aids, a cruel decision that seemed to have the backing of the Minister of Education, who then sprang into the fray with astonishing ignorance of both facts and principles in this regard.

Fowler-Watt had been my choice for Principal when we advertised the position back in 2008, but I was by then at the Peace Secretariat and had not been involved in the initial selection process. I gave in readily then when a section of the Board, led by Jayantha Dhanapala, advised against getting another foreigner.  This was understandable, for the previous Principal, also an Englishman, Rod Gilbert, had summarily had his visa cancelled. Sadly I believe this was yet another example of Mahinda Rajapaksa giving in to pressure. Or possibly he was part of the plot, since the strongest opposition to Gilbert came from a group in Kandy who were keen to cut Trinity off from its Anglican roots. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.31030374I had intended, in what was to be the last article in this series, to look at the question of external security, and how to work towards bipartisan consensus in the conduct of international relations, so that the nation as a whole is strengthened. At present, on the contrary, we seem, while pursuing partisan political agendas, to allow ourselves to become the playthings of other countries.

Instead of that however, in what will be the last article in this series, I will look at what seems an even more vital issue in the context of the events of last week, namely the question of internal party democracy. That question has been raised by others too previously, but the dismissal by the President of two party secretaries off his own bat has highlighted the problem of intra-party decision making.

Those who defend the actions of the President claim that he was under great pressure, both political and emotional, but even they feel that the actions took away from the great reputation for decency that he had established. And in the long run, given the way the results worked out, it has taken away from what would have been his stature in presiding over a national government. It is still not too late to develop a national consensus, but everyone will have to work all the harder for this purpose if we are to avoid confrontational oppositioning.

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Presidency 19When I began this series, over four months ago, the title may have seemed excessive. And even my good friend Dayan Jayatilleka thought I was being unduly pessimistic about the President’s pulling power when I said that the UNP would poll at least 40% in Badulla. But the results there have shown that the threat is even more serious than I had thought.

Over the next few weeks I will explore how the threat might be averted. But I suspect that that will serve no purpose, for Basil Rajapaksa, who may be the only one of the decision makers who reads what I write, would by then have dragooned the President into having an early election. He did this in 2009 when, as the President then put it to me – with a hint of contempt I think for what he deemed the amateur nature of our advice – only Gota and I told him not to have the Presidential election so soon.

That haste, to entrench not the President, whose popularity was unrivalled at the time, but his rent seeking friends and relations in power, has been the root of the evils we have suffered. Contrariwise, Mahinda Rajapaksa, if left to himself, would I think have gone ahead with the reforms he had promised. And he can still save himself, and his legacy, if he works on reforms such as those so helpfully suggested by Vasantha Senanayake, which aim at strengthening the effectiveness of the Executive, not its power. But even now, understanding that having the Presidential election soon would be unwise, the rent seekers are trying to precipitate an early Parliamentary election. They ignore the fact that Parliament has a year and a half to go, and the President more than two years, ample time for the pluralist Mahinda Rajapaksa to recreate himself, free of the baggage he has been compelled to carry.

But can he do this? Does he have the will and the ability to assert himself again? Sadly, the way in which he has allowed little things to get out of control, through a combination of indulgence and lethargy, suggests that the will is weakening, even if his abilities are still in good order. I will illustrate this in my column this week by exploring the sort of embarrassment to which he allows himself to be subjected, when he forgets that the leader of a country should not let himself get involved in trivialities or in criminal activities. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2017
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