21 October, 2020

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Economic Justice & Democratic Survival

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Social order starts breaking down if people are under profound stress. Then the default position is tribe – us/them, a hostility towards the unfamiliar or the unknown.” ~ Barack Obama

In ‘The Obama Doctrine’, his long piece on the Obama Presidency, Jeffery Goldberg writes that Mr. Obama, reflecting on his failures in the Middle East, privately laments, “if only everyone could be like the Scandinavians, this could all be easy.” Ranil and Champika

Indeed, but a main part of being Scandinavian is getting economic growth-social justice equation right.

‘A New Beginning’ was the title of the speech President Obama gave at the University of Cairo in June 2009. The speech clearly indicated his determination to ‘reset’ the button on America’s relations with the Muslim world soured to an unprecedented degree by the criminal disasters of the Bush years. To drive in the point home, Mr. Obama avoided visiting Israel during this first visit to the Middle Eastern region.

When the Arab Spring arrived and the US not just allowed but also supported the peaceful ouster of two loyal tyrants, it looked as if Mr. Obama’s hope for a new beginning would be realised. But it didn’t take long for spring to regress, via a numbing winter and a discontented autumn, into a burning summer. The inability of the new governments to provide economic relief to the masses and the unwillingness of the Western world (America included) to sufficiently grasp the historic link between economic injustice and extremism played and continue to play an important role in the snuffing of democratic hope in the Middle East.

Tribal identities and atavistic emotions are what many people revert to when they fail economically. This retrogression happens even in places unfamiliar with tribalism, such as the United States. Donald Trump’s worrying success depends to a great degree on his acknowledgement of the inadequacies of the American economic recovery (presided over by President Obama). Mr. Trump talks to the whites who had fallen by the wayside and the whites who fear a similar fate for themselves or their children, attributing this plight to an influx of immigrants, ‘The Other’ who take away from ‘real Americans’ their jobs and their place in the sun. The fact that Mr. Trump employs low-waged immigrant labour in his own businesses does not matter to those white Americans whose minds are deranged by economic pain, political fear and primeval hate. Atavism is blind and inane, be it in Islamic Middle East, white-Christian America or Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lanka.

Humane Development and Political Stability

From Scandinavian successes to Middle Eastern failures, economics is a common factor. And that factor will play a pivotal role in deciding Sri Lanka’s own trajectory – ahead to an inclusive, saner future or back to the Rajapaksa past.

The Rajapaksas went down to an unexpected defeat due to many factors. Rice and curry economics was one of them, perhaps even the decisive one, the most important reason which compelled a segment of the Rajapaksa support-base to change its political allegiance and vote for Maithripala Sirisena.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration can ignore the primacy of rice-and-curry economics only at its own peril.

The Prime Minister promised that the substantial hike in the Value Added Tax will not cause changes in the prices of some consumer essentials or hit the poorest. That promise was broken, just days later. On Saturday, the price of wheat flour was increased by a whopping Rs. 7.50, making inevitable across-the-board increases in food items which form a part of the staple diet of the people who occupy the bottom rungs of the income ladder.

So the new tax measures will cause an increase in the overall cost-of-living (including education and health costs) and a concomitant decline in living standards. And as is ever the case everywhere, this blow will fall with disproportionate hardness on those occupying the lower rungs of the income ladder. Indirect taxes are regressive in nature; they inevitably erode the purchasing power and the consumption levels of lower and middle classes. The resultant drop in demand can have ripple effects, contracting the economy, reducing growth levels, decreasing employment and income-generation and worsening absolute and relative poverty.

For those who voted in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration hoping for a real and continuous improvement in their own economic conditions, this would be a bitter pill indeed. They will be disappointment and discontented; if these sentiments turn into political disillusionment, it can undermine the democratic gains of the post-Rajapaksa period. This threat can come both from a government resorting to repression to maintain stability and a racist-populist opposition advocating a return to the Rajapaksa past.

The planned reintroduction of capital gains tax is aimed at revenue generation and ensuring a less unfair distribution of the costs of economic austerity. That and the proposed increase in income tax are an indication that the government is trying to ensure that those who occupy the upper and upper-middle rungs of the income ladder too will have to bear some of the costs of the coming austerity. Another positive development is the introduction of a bill increasing the minimum wage in the private sector to Rs. 10,000. These measures are necessary but not sufficient to contain popular discontent. If the economic situation is dire – and it is dire – and if people are being asked to tighten their belts, then the politicians must lead by example. That is absolutely essential to contain the political fallout of economic austerity.

In Sri Lanka, the political class has become a privileged-scree. Its members are exempt from taxes and enjoy a variety of rights and privileges which are denied to ordinary citizens. The politicians and not the poor are the real welfare kings and queens of the country. The oppressive increase in the VAT can never be justified in the public eye, if there is no reduction in the costly privileges enjoyed by the parasitic political class.

To survive the economic crisis, the government needs popular consent. Popular consent would be hard to come by if it looks as if the political class is enjoying the good life while ordinary citizenry, be they poor, middling or rich, suffer deprivation either absolute or relative. If the government fails to compel the political class to share the burden of austerity, the economic crisis will turn into a political crisis sooner rather than later.

Joe Stiglitz said, “The greatest challenge is not in the institutions themselves but in mindsets” (Globalisation and its Discontents). The freeing of man from the divine paved the way for his political liberation, the second without the first would have been impossible. There must be a similar paradigmatic shift in economic thinking, freeing man both from the tyranny of the invisible market forces and the all too visible state. The market and the state must exist for citizens and not the other way round. The wellbeing of democracies depends on democratic leaders’ capacity to face this challenge.

The Road to Good Governance

From time immemorial, humans have imaged their heavens, the ones in the sky and the ones on earth. Thomas More, dreamer and politician, saint and persecutor of religious dissenters, called his own version of the ideal state Utopia, a name he coined from the Greek, meaning no place. Perhaps he meant it as a signal or even warning. After all, utopias are not finished products but works in progress. They can be lodestars, but never reachable destinations.

Good governance was an effective electoral slogan. Contrary to the utterances of some ministers, the replacement of the Rajapaksa regime with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration did not bring about good governance. That change merely enabled the long and never ending walk towards the utopia called good governance. Good governance is not and cannot be an achieved reality; at the very best it can be a set of guidelines to act within and a series of goals to work towards.

The uncouth conduct of the Minister of Higher Education is only the latest indication that getting rid of the Rajapaksas was far easier than getting rid of the execrable practices which became the norm under their rule. The best guarantee that the necessary journey towards good governance doesn’t end on the opposite shore is not action by this or that political leader but an optimum combination of fair laws, strong institutions and a citizenry willing to stand up for their rights.

The institutional baby steps towards good governance are evident in the response to the controversial hit-and-run accident in Rajagiriya. Whether Minister Champika Ranawaka was responsible for the accident or not remains to be uncovered. But had this accident happened when Mr. Ranawaka was a powerful minister in the Rajapaksa administration, he wouldn’t have suffered any inconvenience, even if he had been manifestly, undeniably guilty. Most of the media would have been mute and all eye witnesses silenced. There would have been no outcry and no investigation. Today there is an investigation and the courts have ordered the police to record a statement from Minister Ranawaka and to arrest him if necessary. Perhaps the investigation will not uncover the truth, but the fact of its existence is a step forward. The commendable stance taken by the court is a sign that the rule of law is re-emerging, after the long Rajapaksa winter.

Given the problems confronting Sri Lanka, two security guards ordering a couple out of the Independence Square might not seem like a big deal. It wasn’t and it was. That incident indicated that the tendency towards selective moral policing is alive and well in the post-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka and if left unchecked can turn into a scourge for ordinary citizens. The rapid response to this incident via social media and the satisfactory resolution of the matter are symbolic of the very real difference between the old and the new. The Rajapaksas could impose any arbitrary rule they liked, with near impunity; the absence of democratic space prevented ordinary citizens from raising their voices. Today that space exists to a considerable extent. Even when protests are met with state violence, the public can take their grievances to the Police Commission, re-rendered independent by the 19th Amendment. Such institutional safeguards are far more material in protecting the post-Rajapaksa democratic space than grandiose promises or lofty declarations by politicians who seem to think their governance is, by definition, good governance.

Some institutional progress and the emergence of a less indifferent and more involved citizenry – these are the real achievements of the post-Rajapaksa era. Economics will play a major role in deciding whether these achievements can be protected and enhanced or whether they will be obliterated in the interests of hanging onto or regaining power.

As Tony Judt pointed out, in France a segment of the working class and the poor, disproportionately affected by economic austerity, became the vehicle of growth for the right wing National Front of Le Pens (father and daughter). These people were “looking for someone to blame and someone to follow” and found a home in the neo Fascist right, “whose programme consists of one long scream of resentment”(Reappraisal). It is easy to imagine the lay and ordained extremists in Sri Lanka presenting themselves as the saviours of economically threatened Sinhala-Buddhists. Since Lankan left traditionally contained within itself some germs of national-socialism, it would be easy for the racist right to don the multiple cloaks of progressivism, anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism and blame ugly Americans, encroaching Indians, rich Tamils, richer Muslims or conspiring Christians for the economic plight of poor Sinhala-Buddhists.

Economic injustice and the resultant increase in poverty (both absolute and relative) breed extremism of every variety. This is an old universal lesson which we can ignore only at our own peril.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    3

    I think its a misnomer to suggest right-wing extremists are racists. In fact its quite the opposite.

    For example,

    Hitler – Left-wing (National Socialist, responsible for genocide of Jews)
    Mussolini – Left-wing (helped Hitler)
    Stalin – Left-wing (Killed over 20 million former USSR republicans)
    Pol Pot – Left-wing (Killings fields of Cambodia)
    Rohana Wij – Left-Wing (The donkey thought Srimawo wasn’t commie enough!)
    Prabarkan – Left-wing (Responsible for genocide of the Sinhala people)

    The only right-winger in recent history one may say did cause trouble was Pinochet. Although Pinochet was only being defensive against Left-wing terror.

    If there is ever racism and/or violence – it always emerges from the left.

    • 5
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      Vibhushana

      Seriously, are you hearing voices of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, Rohama, Prabaharan in your head ….. all at the same time?

      By the way, Siri Mao killed 18,000 she was left wing.

      MR killed many thousands, he was and is left wing.

      Sorry I never understood the difference between right and left. However I know the difference between right and wrong.

      Mind you left is very useful when wiping your bum.

      • 3
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        “Mind you left is very useful when wiping your bum”
        True, only if you are a right handed!!!

        Sirimao and MR only defended as it was their duty,unlike others who were aggressive invaders.

        looking at some of your comments one get the feeling that you don’t seem to know your right from the left!!!

        • 4
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          Brilliant again, Thisaranee, dear!

          Ranil and Ayahapalanays is loosing the race and the economy is spinning out of control. There is too much delaying on arrest of Rajapaksa’s and the criminal scum politicians that surround them.

          Very true that “The politicians and not the poor are the real welfare kings and queens of the country. The oppressive increase in the VAT can never be justified in the public eye, if there is no reduction in the costly privileges enjoyed by the parasitic political class.”

          Rajapaksa should have been arrested long ago and the funds and gold stolen by him and his family that were stashed in foreign bank accounts brought back to pay off the national debt. Rather the people have to pay for the Corruption of the politicians with rising taxes and VAT!
          IMF is a curse because its policies are pro-rich and TRICKLE UP because it never mentions cleaning up the CORRUPTION and bringing back stolen wealth from the Global South that is stashed in global north and fattening those economies!

          IMF and WB figures are as much SPIN as Jarapassa’s growth figures, and no one should believe them anymore. Sad thing is that Ranil is running behind dirty old IMF, that has legalized financial criminality, corruption and INEQUALITY in the world and Sri Lanka will soon be like GREECE – in debt to the hilt, with IMF, CHINA and INDIA causing mega disaster development projects..

        • 5
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          NAK

          “Sirimao and MR only defended as it was their duty,unlike others who were aggressive invaders.”

          Who were the aggressive invaders? You mean the Hindian IPKF?

          Do you really think both of them kicked the Hindian out of this country?

          While talking about invaders, how far back would you like to trace all invaders?

          Would you consider Cheng He an invader?

    • 2
      5

      Why have left Jayawardene,Chandrika,Most importantly Rajapakse who responsible of slaughtering hundred of thousands of Innocent Tamils. While including Pirapaharan who would have been responsible for few hundred innocent Sinhalese but killed mostly state terrorists to protect innocent Tamilians

    • 1
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      It is socialists or some communists who are openly attached to Racism.

      Only the Ku Klux Klan is racists.

      All other right wings are for money.

    • 1
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      Vibhushana / Tisaranee Gunasekara

      RE: Economic Justice & Democratic Survival

      Justice for whom?

      Syrians? Quataeris, Saudi Arabians, Turkey at the Expense of Syria?

      Why the Arabs Don’t Want Us in Syria

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRB2pqiKhGg

      Published on Feb 24, 2016
      Robert Kennedy Jr., Hudson Riverkeeper/Waterkeeper Alliance joins Thom. On Saturday – a new ceasefire is set to go into effect in Syria. This could mark the beginning of the end of that country’s brutal civil war – but could it also mark the beginning of the end of America’s disastrous adventures in the Middle East?

      For more information on the stories we’ve covered visit our websites at thomhartmann.com – freespeech.org – and RT.com. You can also watch tonight’s show on Hulu – at Hulu.com/THE BIG PICTURE and over at The Big Picture YouTube page. And – be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

      “Robert Kennedy,Jr. has it right. Maybe cause everywhere we go we fucked everything up for the civilians by installing puppet dictators & arouse the religious extremists in their countries. example: Isis creation by Warcriminals W.Bush & Cheney. also Hassad is a U.S back dictator.”

    • 1
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      Tisaranee Gunasekara

      The Truth ….Economic Justice & Democratic Survival

      ROBERT KENNEDY JR. JUST DROPPED A TRUTH B0MB THAT WILL SHOCK EVERY AMERICAN

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiK3Tqlw1ls

      Published on Mar 6, 2016
      Sub for more: http://nnn.is/the_new_media | Robert Kennedy Jr, the nephew of US President JFK recently appeared on Radio Sputnik to break down the truth behind the Syrian Crisis.

      Kennedy writes that the US decided to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power after he refused to back a Qatari gas pipeline project.

      Great clip Gary. Woohoo! I am shocked but in a good way! This needs to go viral. Figures he had to go on Russian media to make these statements.

    • 2
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      “Whether Minister Champika Ranawaka was responsible for the accident or not remains to be uncovered. But had this accident happened when Mr. Ranawaka was a powerful minister in the Rajapaksa administration, he wouldn’t have suffered any inconvenience, even if he had been manifestly, undeniably guilty.”

      This is an outright lie. There is a long list of Minister’s under the Rajapaksha government that were brought before the law. The reason they switched allegiance was precisely that the law was being applied on them. Rajitha’s son’s abduction of an underage girl

  • 5
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    It was never the plan of Obama to cause peace in the Middle East. Obama is an Establishment candidate, as was his predecessor Bush. The evidence was in their campaign sponsors. Establishment candidates only serve their masters and not the people – these being the big banks, wall street, pharmaceutical firms, military industrial complex, insurance firms and so on… Obama furthered crony capitalism (aka socialism) even further.

    No wonder the American economy (as evidenced from the grievances at the grassroots) continues to stay in the doldrums and individuals like Trump gain leverage. No doubt the eventual resolving of the economic hardships caused by socialism in the upcoming financial crisis of America and the West will be of epic proportions.

    We Sri Lankans must learn that government lead development (aka socialism) can never work. It is logically impossible. We should have learned our lesson from 50 years of such policies.

    We want government to help us solve our problems, and yet at the same time we want freedom and liberty. Unfortunately those in the leadership do not seem to see that you can only have one or the other. To have both is impossible!

  • 7
    1

    The most important thing. YAHAPALNAYA is saying that Mara and gang have stolen all these monies and 1.4 trillion of hixden expenses have come to light. Any civil servent who did this unauthorised deals for the subject ministry should be dealt witb in courts as it also a criminal offence.

    Why havent a single crook been caught yet.. only yosbiyha is in remand.why has tbe caze against basil for maganeguma not started. A thero arrested and bailed for an illegal elephant. What about the judge who had one.

    People are getting angry as there is no justice in the country. Further they are getting further burdened by taxes.

    If this trend continues MARA will get in through the back door by buying his way.

    Then we will all be doomed… may be its the karma that we are destined for

  • 5
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    It is enough to maintain the flame of hatred against Rajapakshas. Madam Tisaranee I hope will not abonden her duty of leading us.

    Soma

  • 1
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    Dear Ms. Tisaranee Gunasekara,

    RE: Economic Justice & Democratic Survival

    Thanks. Good write up. However, you missed the geopolitical strategy of the neocons, to make project American Imperialism, to serve the needs of the American Interests.

    1. “Social order starts breaking down if people are under profound stress. Then the default position is tribe – us/them, a hostility towards the unfamiliar or the unknown.” ~ Barack Obama.

    “In ‘The Obama Doctrine’, his long piece on the Obama Presidency, Jeffery Goldberg writes that Mr. Obama, reflecting on his failures in the Middle East, privately laments, “if only everyone could be like the Scandinavians, this could all be easy.””

    1. Yes, this is very true. However, the Scandinavians are quite homogeneous, and have a long tradition of Egalitarianism.

    2. “The inability of the new governments to provide economic relief to the masses and the unwillingness of the Western world (America included) to sufficiently grasp the historic link between economic injustice and extremism played and continue to play an important role in the snuffing of democratic hope in the Middle East.”

    2. It was partly broken, but despite good intentions and ignorance, they broke it more and more.

    3. “Tribal identities and atavistic emotions are what many people revert to when they fail economically. This retrogression happens even in places unfamiliar with tribalism, such as the United States”

    ” Atavism is blind and inane, be it in Islamic Middle East, white-Christian America or Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lanka”

    “The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration can ignore the primacy of rice-and-curry economics only at its own peril.’

    Yes. Remember, Srima Bandaranaika, and the Manioc episodes that lead to her defeat in 1977.

    4. “The planned reintroduction of capital gains tax is aimed at revenue generation and ensuring a less unfair distribution of the costs of economic austerity. That and the proposed increase in income tax are an indication that the government is trying to ensure that those who occupy the upper and upper-middle rungs of the income ladder too will have to bear some of the costs of the coming austerity.”

    These are good measures. If they protest, ask them if they want MaRa MaRa Chatu MaRa back. The Nation Debt to GDP is currently at 78%.

    5. “In Sri Lanka, the political class has become a privileged-scree. Its members are exempt from taxes and enjoy a variety of rights and privileges which are denied to ordinary citizens.’

    “To survive the economic crisis, the government needs popular consent. Popular consent would be hard to come by if it looks as if the political class is enjoying the good life while ordinary citizenry, be they poor, middling or rich, suffer deprivation either absolute or relative. If the government fails to compel the political class to share the burden of austerity, the economic crisis will turn into a political crisis sooner rather than later.”

    “Economic injustice and the resultant increase in poverty (both absolute and relative) breed extremism of every variety. This is an old universal lesson which we can ignore only at our own peril.”

    The priestly class. Make them pay their share. Is a new French Revolution, a Sri Lankan spring with the resulting chaos needed? Is Nero singing?

    Bad singers are a dime a dozen, however, terrible singers are something special.

  • 3
    1

    Just a Stupid article.

    Obama Wants to reset the button as the whole Muslim world is subjugated and as they won’t be able to subjugate wither Syria or Iran. TG pretends or or Talk dumb.

    In the USA, even if Trump comes, he won’t be able to do his agenda. by the time, he becomes a potential candidate he will be briefed with respect to what the bureaucrats and policy setting people believe. After that, he will be just following the book.

    It is Sri lanka, when one govt, they change what the previous govt did.

    Over and over again TG shows how dumb she is. I think the increase of Flour prices is simply the govt needs more money to pay what they recently borrowed from IMF, Zorro, India and Saudi Arabia.

    You are talking about purchasing power. How did they get it ? It is not through manufacturing or increase inmanufacturing. It is all from what those women send fromther middle east.

    Sri lanka buy, rice, wheat flour, chillie, onion, dhal every from overseas. Only industry they have is tourism. I don’t think tourism pays for the damge it is doing when you consider the prostitution, drugs, alcohol, crimes etc., are counted.

    • 0
      0

      Jim softy

      “Obama Wants to reset the button as the whole Muslim world is subjugated and as they won’t be able to subjugate wither Syria or Iran. TG pretends or or Talk dumb.”

      Yes. See below. The answers are there.

      ROBERT KENNEDY JR. JUST DROPPED A TRUTH B0MB THAT WILL SHOCK EVERY AMERICAN

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiK3Tqlw1ls

      Syrians? Quataeris, Saudi Arabians, Turkey at the Expense of Syria? Why the Arabs Don’t Want Us in Syria

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRB2pqiKhGg

  • 2
    1

    Economic Equality negates Human Rights Inequalities.

    Great China has brought 33 % of their inhabitant population to Mid Income level, which is providing employment, badly needed FX and help keep the living standards of Western Nations like New Zealand , Australia and Canada.

    The next five year plan of the Chinese Government is focused on bringing at least 7 % of the low income inhabitants up to Mid Income level each year. for the next 5 years.

    Rajapaksa vision brought us in to a mid come Nation.with the help of the Chinese.

    Stopping Chinese projects and kicking them out is the Yahapalana Economic Plan to develop our Nation.

    VAT hits the inhabitants hardest .

    And coupled with stopping all Development projects, will whittle away our Mid Income status.

    CGT is a joke in a Country where the GDP per capita income is not even USD 3000 at its best.

    Batalanda Ranil and Bodhi Sira were forced on us not to do Economic development.

    But to do Evolution and Separation..

    • 4
      3

      @K.A.Sumanasekera

      The Rajapakse vision was to rob our country and then hand the reigns over to Namal Baby. His vision was to transfer power to his relatives and henchman. His vision was to let thugs like Mervyn and Duminda run wild. His vision was to build white elephant projects and then name them after himself. His vision was to start a new racist front against muslims. What a vision was to destroy freedom of press and an independent judiciary. Did you get some of the stoled wealth ? Is that why you are a Jarapassa shill?

    • 3
      0

      KASmaalam KA Sumanasekera

      “CGT is a joke in a Country where the GDP per capita income is not even USD 3000 at its best.”

      Some months ago you bragged about the achievements of the notorious clan, one being that how per capita income had increased to $4,500 under Mahinda Chinthana.

      Now you are saying the per capita income is not even $3,000.

      Did you tell a lie then or have you completely lost the plot?

      Why do you want to talk about things that you haven’t got a clue?

      Make up your mind.

  • 4
    3

    This women [Edited out]
    However, it is when Tisaranee states that “Sinhala-Buddhism was born out of the Mahavamsa’s project, she lost the plot since she forgot that Sinhalese race goes back to 6 BC.
    Tisaranee’s father, SenaGunasekera, was sacked from Lake House by Ranil’s father, EsmondWickremasinghe, for forming a journalists’ branch of the Ceylon Mercantile Union.
    Even if we accepted Tisaranee’s premise that the Rajapaksas are some kind of “Axis of Evil”, would attacking the Mahavamsa be the way to go about opposing them? Did the anti-Nazis in Germany go about attacking the Siegfried Legend or condemning the ancient Indians for using the Swastika? Do people opposing the Christian Conservatives in America attack the Bible? Do anti-Zionists lay into the Torah? Is the way to combat Modi’s extremist Hindutva to slur the Ramayana or Mahabharata?The very fact that Tisaranee and company feel the need to attack the Mahavamsa and to offend the sensibilities of the Sinhalese speaks volumes about their true ideology and intentions. What is really sad is that Tisaraneenow stands shoulder to shoulder with the son and successor to her father’s ideological enemy, disavowing her own political past in favour of collaborating with neo-colonialism.

  • 1
    1

    When this writer says bad things about Yahapalanaya it says it all. No one expected the hoonp to kick the ass of the posh nosh crowd of colombo. Yikes it hurts.

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