19 October, 2017

Celebrating Vesak & Tracking Geopolitics 

By Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

What would be more appropriate at Vesak this year than welcoming the charismatic Prime Minister of India to jointly celebrate the legacy bestowed on the world by its most famous son, Siddhartha Gautama, and to offer thanks to the Indian emperor Asoka for disseminating it not only to all corners of his own territory but also across the water to this little island where it has played such a crucial role in its destiny? The gift of the Dhamma is a tie that will forever remain fresh in the relationship between the two countries.

There is no relationship between states, devoid of considerations of geopolitics. The emerging geopolitics of this region poses new anxieties for India, and Sri Lanka has been cognizant of this fact. China is seen by the citizens of this country as a good friend and a centuries-old trading partner, who poses no threat to its sovereignty and proved its unstinting support during the critical phase of its battle with the separatist Tigers. However, the emotional and cultural ties with India have always been thicker.

The most important geopolitical task of the moment for the government is undoubtedly to ensure Sri Lanka benefits from the interest generated by its serendipitous location, at this time, for these big powers vying for trading and strategic influence.

Managing the balance of power requirements of these giants by offering territory for territory within Sri Lanka however, is hardly the way this island’s citizens expect its government to handle these relationships!

I am no longer certain that we islanders will not lose our most beautiful natural harbor and the strategic space bestowed on this island through its location, at the hands of a thoughtless government scratching around for cash.

The birth of this government owes much to ‘fake news’, although that certainly wasn’t the main reason.  Their electoral success with blatant lies has incentivized them to continue with the practice.

While Ministers in this government assure the public that they will not sell off national assets without consulting relevant stakeholders, the Indian press has repeatedly reported that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe means to go ahead with the projects included in the MoU signed with India when he visited Delhi this month.

I have witnessed members of the Indian Foreign Service in action in several capitals and they are some of the best in the world. Their counterparts in Pakistan are trained to be extremely impressive and knowledgeable. Since they are rivals as well as neighbors, they both maintain high standards as an existential necessity.  This excellence in diplomacy of our nearest neighbors and friends has been beneficial to Sri Lanka for many years. Sri Lankans have witnessed this to their delight when diplomats from both countries have stepped up to defend Sri Lanka.

Despite this, when the recent MoU signed between India and Sri Lanka includes ‘treaty language’ giving it more weight than the less binding language of an MoU, I begin to wonder what exactly is being assured by whom.  When the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who promoted the MoU is also a lawyer, one can only assume all concerned know exactly what they are doing. But do we?

It is no secret that the country is facing a cash crunch. We need funds. Is wanton wheeling and dealing with treasured assets gifted by nature to its people, especially when their location is geopolitically valuable and vulnerable, the only way to get funds? Is it that this government is short of ideas? How is it that so much more was done for decades before, by other leaders of both parties, while retaining and protecting sufficient control over the territory of this island?

How is it even considered reasonable to lease any part of this island for 99 years? When Hong Kong was leased under duress to the British, the hand back was beset with problems which continue.

When the Tigers ran over Maavilaru gaining control of the only source of water for farmers downstream and decided to turn it off, the collective psyche of the nation felt the existential danger and the state rose in battle to finish off the Tigers successfully. The people can and will never feel safe with essential supplies such as petroleum and gas in alien hands.

India has been a friend for thousands of years. It has also found itself unable to befriend the Sri Lankan state, a fellow democracy, openly during one of its most critical historical periods, due to pressure from its southernmost federal state unit. Delhi may have wanted an end to the Tigers, but they couldn’t help with weapons and sophisticated enough radars needed for the job, due to Tamil Nadu protests. This is a permanent fact of geopolitics, and it is our responsibility not to leave ourselves vulnerable to a situation where Delhi’s hands will be tied. I really wouldn’t want our only supply of cooking gas or petroleum subject to such exigency.

This island, by definition, naturally has limited land mass for its growing population. It was with some surprise that one digested the data in the schedule reproduced by C.A. Chandraprema, extracted from the website of the Indian External Affairs Ministry showing an anomalous fact of the number of overseas Indians now citizens of Sri Lanka, compared to all its neighbors. While among its South Asian neighbors such as Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives etc, the highest number so described amounts to 108, with China recording 520, in Sri Lanka it is 1,600,000!

There is a reason for this, of course. They were brought in large numbers by British colonialism to work in the tea estates and left without care for their status. A wrong committed by an imperial power was many decades later, humanely compensated for by granting them Sri Lankan citizenship. It remains anomalous though, in the entire South Asian region, when viewed from the perspective of the schedule. Although they are now Sri Lankan, Prime Minister Modi will visit their area of habitation to officially hand over a hospital when he visits Sri Lanka to celebrate Vesak, which is a commendably compassionate gesture appropriate for the occasion.

The trouble with the contents of the MoU with India is that given the probable influx of a workforce/human resources for projects across the spectrum, this island’s citizens cannot be certain if consideration had been given to ensure that the numbers in that schedule of the demographic composition of Sri Lanka will remain unchanged. Is it even possible to satisfy this requirement?

Starting with ETCA, the island’s professionals, trade unions, politicians and citizens have shown anxiety through protests and other interventions about this government’s most recent efforts at managing the gaping hole in the economy. And yet, there doesn’t seem to be any signs of the legitimate guardians of the people debating it adequately in parliament. The disquiet amongst the people is the result.

Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s offer of all manner of projects in Trincomalee to India, including the port which has been jealously guarded by all this island’s governments to date, especially since the Eastern Province formed part of the aspirant Tamil Eelam which saw Trincomalee as its capital, while Tamil Nadu shows no sign of its passion for Eelam in Sri Lanka diminishing, leaves us citizens incredulous.

To me it is incomprehensible that India would want to be seen as a predatory power, causing civil strife sparking anti-Indian sentiments due to the shortsightedness of this administration. A couple of years ago, I accompanied my husband to a seminar in Delhi at one its premier think-tanks where it had invited scholars from all its neighbors to articulate their issues, good and bad, with the region’s big power and neighbor India. The scholars were honest in their submissions and many issues were aired.

When the idea of connectivity via trading agreements with peripheral states of India with their own neighboring countries was mooted, my husband explained that the ethnic politics of Tamil Nadu and of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka would preclude such an arrangement, as threats, perceived and real, would easily eliminate any benefits. Today, it is this very idea of connectivity with Southern Indian states including, quite specifically Tamil Nadu, that is being promoted by Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister.

India which has a more thoughtful state, concerned about its relationships with its neighbors, has the intellectual and imaginative capacity for more creative, consensual solutions to the problem of balance of power in the Indian Ocean region. It should look to our cultural and educational ties that have sustained over centuries despite the imperative for us to fend off regular incursions from the subcontinent’s southern kingdoms/states.

This historical truth of existential threat is embedded in the collective memory of the inhabitants of this little pearl of an island that they call home. They cannot be expected to ignore history, recent as well as past. Governments disregard this at their peril. 

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  • 0
    2

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 8
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      Vesak has been totally politicized and turned into a circus in Sri Lanka and in the world it seems and lacks ethics, seela and Bhavana.

      There is just too much empty ritual which benefit corrupt politicians and lights shows and no Seela or Bhavana.

      Today Vesak is is WITHOUT the Buddha, without calm, quiet and MEDITATION. The Buddha did not approve of ritualistic tribal behaviour and sound and light shows!

      • 4
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        Ms Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka,

        I thought both you guys were in tandem.

        Gotta confess, I didn’t read the entire shindig, but if this is all your writing, good luck to you.

        Never be the cat’s paw of a man. Ever heard of Women’s Lib?

        “women are either goddesses or doormats” – good old Pablo knew thing or two

        If he wants let the poor sod beg; gotta make men fall at your feet. Not the other way around.

        Anyway in the spirit of Vesak let me wish that your guy gets the diplomatic post he craves for ……… one way or the other …

        It’s a drag to sit far away out here and watch how hard he tries. Time to put us out of our misery, Lady.

        • 4
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          dear Sanja,
          Your statement that Srilanka has 1.6 million overseas Indians is not quite correct. According to two genetic studies conducted there are over 20 million overseas Indians in Srilanka.

      • 4
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        Quite right Dodo!
        Today we have FAKE BUDDHISM in Sri Lanka. Sinhala Buddhism is politicized. fake Buddhism.
        In India Saffron Modi is running the Fake Hindu Rashthra show and will be in Lanka to support the Fake Buddhism show and force more Free Trade Agreements on Lankan!

        Everywhere religion has been politicized because of poverty, massive economic inequality and lack of jobs – just like in Middle East today there is ISIS Islam which is Fake Islam.

      • 4
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        Dodo

        “The Buddha did not approve of ritualistic tribal behaviour and sound and light shows!”

        Please read excerpts from chief political monks of this island;

        Vesak Message by the Most Ven. Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangalabidhana Mahanayake Thero of Malwatta Chapter:

        Excerpt:

        It is a great pleasure to hear that the United Nations International Day of Wesak 2017 & World Buddhist Conference to be held in Sri Lanka which is a Theravada Buddhist Country.

        Vesak Message by the Most Ven. Warakagoda Sri Ganarathana thero of Asgiriya Chapter of Siyam Maha Nikaya:

        Except:

        May the blessings of the sacred Tooth Relic be with you

        Vesak message by Granrha vlsarada Rajakiya Pandita Davuldena Gnanissara Maha Thero Supreme Prelate of Sri Lanka Amarapura Sangha Sabha:

        Excerpt:

        Today, there are many attempts, some of which are insidious, to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka and especially the Buddhists and the Maha Sangha. lt is my earnest hope that the proposed web site will help porlray the correct picture relating to Buddhism and the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka and, furthermore, how Buddhist values such as loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), patience (khanti) and non-harming (avihinsa)have impregnated the
        minds of our people even of the remotest rural village

        Dodo

        Now tell us whether Buddha the awakened one would have approved the above statements from political monks above.

    • 7
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      Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka types:

      “China is seen by the citizens of this country as a good friend and a centuries-old trading partner, who poses no threat to its sovereignty”

      However the history tells us a different story. During Cheng Ho’s second voyage (1409-1411) the King of Kotte Alakeshvara was aggressive/mischievous/foolish, Cheng Ho defeated the king’s forces, captured the stupid king Alakeshvara, drag him all the way to Nanjing.

      Don’t forget the Galle Trilingual Inscription was written in Chinese, Tamil and Persian.

      I suggest Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka studies history.

      Dayan should note she is very candid about what had happened behind the scene diplomacy:

      “This excellence in diplomacy of our nearest neighbors and friends has been beneficial to Sri Lanka for many years. Sri Lankans have witnessed this to their delight when diplomats from both countries have stepped up to defend Sri Lanka.”

      • 2
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        Native Veda “Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka types”

        ha ha brilliant she is typing what her husband dictates”

    • 3
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      Tamilan

      Brilliant

      Thanks.

  • 7
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    The link between Vesak, Dhamma with which the piece starts and geopolitics is mind-boggling. What link is there between Dhamma and the hateful shit that follows? It is just a load of repackaged drivel that spills out spontaneously from this self-seeking duo, with plenty of allusions to the great life they once led knowing diplomats, etc. etc.

    As regards recent Indian citizens brought by the British, why not include the cinnamon peelers and others brought by the Dutch? Is it the fear that the writer may be included in them? We, except the burghers and Malays and Moors all came from India at various stages. Even the Mahavamsa, the unholy book of the Sinhala racist, does not refute that, despite its myths about an Indian lion doing the trick with a woman and giving rise to the Sinhala race. This condemns us to having the lion with its erection in its hand and its tail permanently up, asking for more of the same.

    The last king of Tri Sinhale came from South India. Sinhalese kings married into Chola and Pandiyan families. Indeed, one king invaded Tamilnadu. Proximity links us. It does not link us with China.

  • 6
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    Hey Babe, get a grip, get a life, and read some history!
    The modern nation state is a recent British COLONIAL invention in South Asia. Before it people moved freely from India to Lanka and back again and guess what, the Great majority of Sinhalayas and Tamils are from SOUTH India – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andra, Orissa, Begal.

    Also how many Chinese workers are there in Sri Lanka today on various Chinese projects. Colombo is full of Chinese.
    Chinese say that they will bring 80,000 jobs to Sri Lankans with the port city which will be a massive environmental disaster for Colombo. What sort of jobs are these , construction worker jobs?!
    Do some research and be balanced.

    • 6
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      Dinuk

      “Colombo is full of Chinese.”

      You mean including all those poor Chinese girls eking out a living from prostitution.

    • 0
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      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 4
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    “Celebrating Vesak”

    sanja,how can we celebrate vesak when your previous article in CT implying a indian invasion through economic means went viral.Millions are now very mentally uneasy.

    vesak can be celebrated only if you have mental peace.See the damage you have done.

  • 1
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    Vesak in currently being created apartheid era African ghettos of Tamil Land Tamils you learn to get used to live in apartheid society ghettos.

  • 7
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    Dear Sanja,
    “overseas Indians now citizens of Sri Lanka, compared to all its neighbors. While among its South Asian neighbors such as Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives etc, the highest number so described amounts to 108, with China recording 520, in Sri Lanka it is 1,600,000!”

    Aren’t you hiding something here? All Pakistanis and Bangladeshis born before 1948 were born in India. And please don’t forget the 100,000 or so Sri Lankans in TN. Nepalis and Indians have visa-free access to either country.

  • 6
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    Dear Sanja,
    “How is it even considered reasonable to lease any part of this island for 99 years? “
    Well then, sell it. That’s what your Great Redeemer Mahinda did with part of Port City, wasn’t it?
    Your cupidity is astounding, even for DJ’s wife.

  • 6
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    On some accounts China is a country waiting to implode. It has a high deal of corruption. Its newly made wealth is being taken out in the form of business ventures and investments by the princelings. The disparity in wealth in a country which still claims to be communist will ensure that there is another people’s revolution. Why make a link with such an unstable country? We already see the effects with so many Chinese prostitutes down Colpetty and other areas. We have no linguistic or cultural connections with these people, who are different from us in physical features, culture and the extent of crudeness and rudeness.

    The Port City was an instance when the man who throws bones to the dogs below so that they could bark for him, sold the country to a foreign power. There was nothing geopolitical about it. If the present government had not made a deal with Rajapakse, how much was given to the powers that be at the time as a price for handing over large lands and ports in the country to China will come to be known. Keep writing so that the bones will continue to be thrown.

  • 3
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    what the hell is she talking about

    “What would be more appropriate at Vesak this year than welcoming the charismatic Prime Minister of India to jointly celebrate the legacy bestowed on the world by its most famous son, Siddhartha Gautama, and to offer thanks to the Indian emperor Asoka for disseminating it not only to all corners of his own territory….

    “..but also across the water to this little island where it has played such a crucial role in its destiny?”

    “absolutely and definitely played a crucial role in its destiny…”

    Madam you need distinguish between thuggish corrupt and politicised Sri Lanka Sinhala Buddhism …to the peaceful Buddhism followed by majority of the rest of the world

    in the name of Buddhism the little Island suffered
    60 years of race riots killing destruction
    more than 30 years of civil war
    60 years of corruption and economic destruction
    successive Sinhala govt exploiting the Buddhist religion for racial
    hatred
    leading to thugs and rioters taking refuge in the yellow saffron to become untouchable thugs …

    Thanks to Sri Lanka Sinhala Buddhism

    But I am sure that’s not what Buddha preached

  • 4
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    Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka –:

    “Celebrating Vesak & Tracking Geopolitics “

    madam, please limit your self to celebrating vesak…you have no clue about Geopolitics never mind trying to track it.

    • 1
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      Rajash

      “you have no clue about Geopolitics never mind trying to track it.”

      Come on, do you know any others who were born bred and type in this island know geopolitics?

      Their Geopolitics is limited to Anti minorities, Anti-Indian, …. Diaspora, aiding and abetting war criminals (Pakistan) in Bangladeshi independent war, anti progressive development, ….. regressive economic policies, ….. the ultimate foreign policy goal is to ruin the island.

      Please speak to the leading media persons in this island including the editors, ….. every single one of them have enjoyed projecting negative approach international and bilateral relation. All their positions are based on Anti Indian and anti minority.

      But then readers are so gullible paranoia has now been transformed into an infection.

  • 2
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    Sanja De Silva types
    “…part of the aspirant Tamil Eelam ..”

    so you and whoever scribbled this on a piece of paper for you to type, acknowledge Tamil Eelam is still on the agenda of the Geopolitics.

  • 0
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    I wonder that why both you and your husband are extremely worrying about India – Sri Lanka ties. I have never seen that you did show the same interest on Chinese’s influence in Sri Lanka.

    The China had invest to building the Happanthoda port and building massive Colombo port city but you didn’t comment on this negatively even many thinkers have been pointed out Hapanthoda may become a Chinese military base in future. But if it is about India, both you are out-crying.
    This would prove yours Chinese loyal. You are encouraging the country should closely work with China not with India.

    But we can easily understand this without lengthy articles. If you could have argue that China can come and invest in South then why don’t India can came and invest in East and North. If China has increased its influence in South then why doesn’t India will increase its influence in the North and East? The China is trying to engulf whole Sri Lanka and India is trying to encounter that and balancing the power struggle based on Sri Lanka. It is must for India. Actually India is trying to help Sri Lanka.

    If you want to support for China you can do that honestly.

    • 0
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      arun

      sinhalese are uneasy for two reasons

      1.sri lanka has about 3 million tamils.east is one third tamil and one third muslim.so trinco harbour is not in a sinhala majority area unlike hambantota.India has 80 million tamils.China hasn’t gt any tamils.Indian armed forces have already entered srilanka and killed and raped its citizens.So india has a recent history of war against srilanka,while china hasn’t.

      2.proximity to india.Srilanka is only 17 nautical miles form india,while china is in east asia thousands of miles away from srilanka.Taiwan is just like srilanka only a few miles form china.You can see that it is not allowing china a foothold in it like harbour facilities,but india i’am sure will be able to get that if it has the guts to approach taiwan.Taiwan is protected by america?Who is there to protect srilanka from india?Gota tried to make china a defence protector with a defence pact.However ranil is going the opposite way and wants to have good relations with both countries by sharing the harbours.Only time will tell who was right.I’am at the moment with ranil because india has not made any claims on srilanka,unlike china has on taiwan,but if india becomes belligerent like under that immature fool ranil,then i would opt for gota’s answer and sign a defence pact with china.Then of course we get tied up with china which will start to milk us dry,but there won’t be any other alternative.Behaviour of india towards srilanka is crucial for me,no bullying and respect as an equal sovereign nation.

      What india has to do is let srilanka try to solve its ethnic problems internally.It can certainly give advise,but it should remain as advise only.

  • 0
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    Only the godless will mix religion with politics.

    This is the abiding curse in Mother Lanka. Politicians with nothing to offer us invoke religion especially since it is a no-brainer given that 73% of the electorate is partial towards a hybrid ‘religion’.

    The biggest laugh must be reserved for those devious big-headed politicians who ridiculously set themselves (and their governments) up as protectors of a ‘religion’.

    When Buddha chose Lanka as a repository for his noble message, it was a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

    Religion is only a prop in the Jayatillake’s political circus.

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