By Rajiva Wijesinha –
A very jolly looking man who lives in Australia, Shyamon Jayasinghe, has emerged as the leading apologist for the UNP with intellectual pretensions. Sadly his passion is not twinned with any regard for truth or facts. I suppose that is understandable in a man with what seems a commitment to a capitalist perspective, but it is regrettable that he does not also assess the contribution of his chosen standard bearers to populist politics.
For instance, in a recent article, he claims that it was the SLFP that sowed communal tensions in 1956. He forgets or ignores it was the UNP which repudiated John Kotelawala’s announcement in Jaffna that the UNP stood for parity of status for Sinhala and Tamil. At the party sessions held early in 1956 in Kelaniya, J R Jayewardene’s stronghold, the UNP declared that it stood for Sinhala only and also passed a resolution that Parliament should be dissolved straight away and the UNP seek a mandate to implement Sinhala only.
Jayasinghe claims that Bandaranaike left the UNP because he felt he was being deprived of the succession, which Jayasinghe grants was through maneuvering by D S Senanayake to have his son succeed him. But Jayasinghe’s claim that the ideology Bandaranaike developed was an afterthought is ridiculous, in that the latter had in fact earlier led the Sinhala Maha Sabha, and had only joined the UNP when he thought it would accept at least some of his policies. And in those days his championing of Sinhala was as opposed to English, which he thought deprived the majority of people in this country of a say in governance. It should not be forgotten that his Language Act of 1956 dethroned English, though it was silly of him to introduce simply a one sentence Act without thinking of how it would be implemented, and to leave out Tamil altogether.
Similar gung ho opposition to English also motivated Jayewardene, which Shyamon Jayasinghe conveniently forgets. In blaming the SLFP for getting rid of English as a medium of instruction, he ignores too, or deliberately forgets, that Kannangara’s English medium Central Colleges were destroyed by Jayewardene long before there was an SLFP government. As soon as he got into the State Council, Jayewardene proposed a motion to make Sinhala compulsorily the medium of education. After expostulations by the Congress leadership, he then added Tamil as an afterthought, and declared in his speech on the proposal that in Sri Lanka there were ‘two different nations; one nation learning Sinhalese and Tamil and speaking in Sinhalese and Tamil, and the other speaking and learning English.’
The State Council amended Jayewardene’s original proposal so as to make Sinhala or Tamil the compulsory medium only at primary level. But then in the early fifties Eddie Nugawela as Minister of Education extended this to secondary school too through a gazette notification, not a law. The only contribution of the SLFP to stopping English as a medium of education was when science stream studies were also converted into mother tongue from 1964 onward. Thus, whereas from the early fifties most children did their Ordinary Level examination in Sinhala or Tamil, from 1965 this was also the case with science stream students. Given that very few schools offered science at ordinary level in those days, this was an egalitarian move, though it would obviously have been better had the government equalized upward by making English medium available in more schools, rather than equalizing downward, an endemic disease of this country.
It took an SLFP led government to extend opportunities for English medium, though I can claim credit for this by persuading Tara de Mel to start this islandwide, and then fulfilling her request to take charge of the programme. I did so only part time since I was at the same time coordinating the new degree programme of the Sri Lanka Military Academy while acting as Dean of my Faculty at Sabaragamuwa University. But Tara obviously agreed with the view of the students of the Faculty when they came en masse asking me to take up the position of Dean, which I had resigned from some years earlier, that even a part of my time was worth more than full time work by anyone else.
Shyamon Jayasinghe, so enthusiastic about English medium, does not ask why Jayewardene did not reintroduce it along with the open economy in 1977. And he totally ignores Ranil’s efforts when he was Prime Minister to sabotage English medium, telling Karunasena Kodituwakku (who proved a tower of strength in this regard) that he should stop it. His mother – whose property another Ranil acolyte accuses me of weaseling out of her, obviously not understanding the limits of Wijewardene wealth – used, my father told me, to complain that I was obsessed with English medium whereas both Ranil and I, who had studied in Sinhala medium, had excellent English.
Her assumption that all others straitjacketed in Sinhala or Tamil medium could achieve the same, whatever their family background, was symptomatic of a utterly insensitive aristocracy. Worse, she had forgotten how her youngest son could barely function in English, and only achieved fluency when his father sent him to England to study printing so that he could take over his father’s firm. That son Channa was over the moon that his son, a delightful youngster now, was selected for English medium at Royal College in 2003, but then six months later began belabouring me to tell his brother that English medium was collapsing.
That had happened because Ranil had stopped Kodituwakku from extending my contract. Kodituwakku had hastened to assure me, when explaining why the extension he had requested had been denied, that it was nothing personal, but that Ranil had said he should get someone fulltime. But even the Cabinet Secretary Mr Weragoda smiled wryly when giving me this excuse, and admitted that, after my contract expired, they had not bothered to find anyone to replace me fulltime.
So, hearing from elsewhere too how the programme was suffering, I succumbed on October 2nd 2003 when Channa pleaded with me yet again, obviously unwilling to speak to Ranil himself. But when I spoke to Ranil, he told me that he had told Karunasena not to start, and he would now have to stop. When I asked him whether he was opposed to English medium, he said no, but he had no time to attend to this himself, since he was concentrating on the economy. He claimed that no one else was capable of doing it, except possibly for his first Permanent Secretary at Education, Eric de Silva, but he had refused to take on any position.
Why then he got rid of me, when obviously I had been doing a good job, was not something I thought to ask him. But I did ask Tara to arrange for me to speak to Chandrika, and after a long rambling but delightful conversation, she promised to act and indeed convened a meeting on education at President’s house. The consensus in favour of English medium, including Cabinet Ministers, I think overwhelmed Ranil, and English medium was saved, to be made better functional after Ranil lost the 2004 election.
Sometimes I think Ranil’s opposition to English medium springs from his adulation of J R Jayewardene, though I should note that in some respects he has thrown Jayewardene’s less full-blooded approach to capitalism to the winds. In that regard I find Jayasinghe’s account simplistic. His headlong attack on socialism is understandable, and one cannot expect him to make allowance for the need to promote equity, though certainly there was much mismanagement and cronyism in state institutions meant to serve the people, instead serving politicians. But he fails to explain why his hero Jayewardene in 1977, when introducing an open economy, kept so much in state hands and further entrenched cronyism.
Jayasinghe criticizes Jayewardene for entrenching socialism by renaming us the Democratic Socialism republic, but fails to assess why he instead extended cronyism also to the private sector, with his daughter in law for instance and his Secretary’s son getting lucrative contracts. In that regard Ranil has gone even further. Arjuna Mahendran as Governor of the Central Bank, kept on despite obvious misdemeanours, Aruni Wijewardene as High Commissioner in London, Suren Ratwatte as CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines, are all examples of friends and relations in high places that require professional input and cutting edge capacity.
Jayasinghe is incapable of, or unwilling, to look into these matters. But in presenting half truths, he helps us to understand the extent of sanctimonious hypocrisy in an elite that still thinks the UNP the only acceptable party of governance. His article concludes with an attack on President Sirisena, for accepting crossovers, which Jayasinghe declares celebrates ‘opportunism, incompetence and an implied element of promised corruption’.
He has evidently forgotten Ranil’s own claim that he had to discuss what Rauff Hakeem wanted to cross over, way back in December 2015. He has forgotten the bribery that Nahil Wijesuriya has laid bare in late 2001, the Rs 60 million Ravi arranged for to bring down Chandrika’s government. He has forgotted the appointment to Parliament of Sarath Fonseka though he was not a UNP candidate at the 2015 election. He has forgotten the appointment to a vital Ministry, following in Basil Rajapaksa’s footsteps, of Rishard Bathiudeen.
But all this is part of UNP history. Shyamon Jayasinghe, who claims to have worked for the election of one of Mr Bandaranaike’s MPs, cannot be ignorant of the way in which Mrs Bandaranaike’s government was brought down in 1964. And he should also remember the way in which Dudley Senanayake’s efforts to solve the national problem were stymied by that section of the UNP which Ranil adulates, Cyril Mathew and D B Wijetunge and, lurking behind them, J R Jayewardene.