23 October, 2017

Election Season, External Affairs & Modi-Obama

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Forget the state of Denmark—something is rotten in the state of Sri Lanka, and our enemies, the secessionists in the Tamil Diaspora must be laughing, as they well might.

Three recent events indicate the future of Sri Lanka. Two are domestic and one, global. Of the two domestic events, one occurred in an international space. The three events are the Chris Nonis–Sajin Vass episode, the BBS–Wirathu nexus and the Modi-Obama meeting.

Sri Lanka’s external defenses are crumbling, largely due to undermining emanating from the heart of the state itself, in the shape of bad policy and worse practices.

One does not wish to speculate on or sensationalize the sad and shameful incident in New York. Instead the more serious dimensions and implications must be underscored. High Commissioner Nonis, who is certainly one of our ablest, most valuable envoys, will find himself placed in a most uncomfortable position when he next faces Stephen Sackur on the BBC’s Hard Talk. We hope that no British interviewer will pop the question of the UN episode to the High Commissioner, who would be placed on the back-foot through little fault of his own. The reasonable doubt cannot but arise to the treatment of Tamil detainees after the war, if the country’s own High Commissioner, a British educated medical doctor, has physical aggression visited upon him by a top official of the Sri Lankan state, and member of the presidential staff and entourage.

Thus has the official whose counsel the President ostensibly counts on in the field of our external relations, damaged Sri Lanka’s external image, standing and the credibility of our own representative who upholds our banner in the very headquarters of the anti-Lankan Tamil Eelam Diaspora, London.

Offhand I can think of no state in my lifetime in which such disgraceful social and personal conduct has taken place among top officials accompanying the Head of State overseas.

The conduct of top officials, including those present at bilateral meetings between Sri Lanka’s President and heads of State, reflects on the state and its leadership. The choice of personalities especially in the sensitive realm of external relations is a crucial one. Almost all states, however questionable their internal conduct, attempt to present their most educated, sophisticated, cultivated and civilized personalities at the interface of the national and the world.

Hence a previous Sri Lankan president, no less patriotic-populist (and far more besieged domestically) than the present incumbent, had as his international relations advisor, Bradman Weerakoon and as a key ambassadorial interlocutor with the West, Neville Jayaweera.

Far more dangerous for the country’s future, but not entirely unrelated to the first issue discussed here, is the overt manifestation of the face of fascism, in the form of the BBS-Wirathu bloc. This factor will function, in the first instance as an important electoral pressure group which the Governing elite will strive to court or benignly neutralize. This is a replay of the role of the Eksath Bhikku Peramuna (the EBP) in the General Election of 1956. It was the EPB that shifted the policy agenda of Bandaranaike’s Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) coalition to Sinhala Only and later, forced the abrogation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact for devolution. Its successor was the Bauddha Jathika Balavegaya (BJB) which, together with the policies of the then Secretary to the Ministry of Defense and External Affairs NQ Dias (the father of lawyer Gomin Dayasri), pushed through the anti-minority policies of the first Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration of 1960-1964, including the Sinhala-Buddhistization of the State apparatus. The activism of the EPB and the BJB set the country firmly on the path to secessionist civil war.

The latest and most dangerous avatar of this phenomenon, the BBS-Wirathu bloc, its more anarchic competitors such as Sinhala Ravaya and its more legitimate political expression the JHU, will almost certainly cause a spike in Islamophobia and anti-Christian sentiment, which, together with the massive disaffection in and alienation of the Tamils and Muslims of North and East, will cause the island’s periphery to peel off and will thereby shrink the Sri Lankan state to its Sinhala-Buddhist heartland.

The electoral temptation for the ruling elite to patronize or court the BBS is larger because of the inviting target the UNP’s present leadership makes. While Sinhala-Buddhism was a tempting club for SWRD to beat the deracinated UNP of Sir John Kotelawala with, it is unthinkable that anyone could have used it against DS Senanayake. Similarly, the UNP of President Premadasa was pretty much invulnerable to attack from the Sinhala Buddhist flank, not because he pandered to majoritarianism as his successor DB Wijetunga did, but because his administration’s multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious profile was clad in the Kevlar body armor of patriotic populism.

The de-Premadasized, DB Wijetunga-ized UNP was singularly unsuccessful in playing the Sinhala Buddhist card against the pluralist Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994, but Chandrika played it successfully against Ranil Wickremesinghe in December 1999, while Mahinda Rajapaksa played it brilliantly against the Ranil-CBK alliance with its CFA-PTOMS profile, in late 2005. The ruling elite is perhaps toying with playing it again in a coded form, or allowing a proxy to play it on their behalf, or merely ignoring a nasty BBS injection of anti-minority racial and religious chauvinism, at the upcoming Presidential election. That tactic didn’t work against Chandrika in 1994 but Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2014 isn’t the New Labour lookalike pin-up that CBK was twenty years ago.

As UNP candidate, neither Karu Jayasuriya nor Sajith Premadasa, especially if backed by Sarath Fonseka and CBK, would be vulnerable to a pan-Sinhala Buddhist appeal on the part of the JHU-NFF and/or the BBS, but that’s not what the choice of candidate the UNP is making. One can only hope that on the morning after a Ranil defeat, the racist head of steam that has built up in the campaign can be dissipated by a Sajith succession in time for a successful parliamentary election campaign. But here too, I am not holding my breath because the UNP will be in shock after a defeat in January 2015 and its capacity for social self-delusion and internal paralysis are not to be under-estimated.

A shift to a more Sinhala Buddhist discourse and policy agenda at the upcoming Presidential election would be totally at variance with the actual shift in the balance of forces taking place under our very eyes in the  surrounding strategic environment, and what Sri Lanka needs to do to adjust to that shift. The triumphant visit of India’s Prime Minister Modi to the USA, the prolonged bilateral meeting with President Obama and the unusual gesture of the joint Modi-Obama Editorial in the Washington Post, tells us that there is a tectonic shift underway or that an earlier tectonic shift has picked up irresistible speed.

Sri Lanka does not need to align itself with the Indo-US equation but it can, if only it solves the Tamil question by devolution, piggyback on India’s ‘strategic re-convergence’ with the USA. At the least, Sri Lanka must not and cannot ignore its importance in the delusion that it has the countervailing backing of China, Israel and Pakistan because it will find itself run over by the irresistible cumulative weight of the world’s sole superpower and the region’s big power. Located on Cloud Nine is the local defense establishment’s notion that a US Republican administration will be persuaded by the Pentagon and the Israelis to befriend Sri Lanka (as a frontline state against ‘Jihadism’, which it is trying so hard to provoke and import-export for that purpose). If anything, the Republicans would be far more hawkish than the Obama administration towards a Sri Lanka which has been flaunting a China card. Sri Lanka has no China deterrent to a projection of the joint political will of India and the US, on India’s doorstep. Sri Lanka must balance as adroitly as Sirimavo Bandaranaike did and Lakshman Kadirgamar would surely have, between US-India and China-Russia; not tilt to one against the other or seek shelter with one from the other.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    Dear Mahesan Nirmalan,

    Appreciate your candid, no-doubt trust-worthy, response. As for the feeling of guilt, all I can say is, if your past reaction to what you experienced first-hand makes you feel guilty, then well above 99% of the entire Sri Lankan population should feel equally, if not more guilty, for the same or similar circumstances in this sordid nation. After all, the term “silent majority” did not arise for no reason. We are all very, very guilty of letting happen what happened in this country over a stretch of almost half a century, unrelentingly!

    As for the anonymity issue, is it the fact that some chose to maintain anonymity that bothers you or is it the “bad” civic sense of the writers that bothers you? Possibly it is the combination that you find objectionable, based on a reasonable assumption that when one writes anonymously one could also be more tempted to be less concerned about the civility in what one writes.

    Even then, it is best to address the two issues separately.

    Does writing in anonymity somehow diminish the value of what is written? Take for instance, you don’t know if my name is really Sarath Fernando or not. Did it matter in, as you state “indeed it made me think?” (frankly, I was flattered – thank you!).

    Similarly, you also concurred that what the ‘Former Sri Lankan Diplomat’ said was profound. However, even without more intimate identity, it did make its mark on you as profound – it was neither purposeless nor earn the respect of a mere “kale paththare” standing. It is true, it may have been more effective in persuasive power if we knew which particular diplomat said that, and even more so, if that diplomat happens to be one of the well respected ambassadors of the past that we know.

    Conversely, however, let’s say the Diplomat is a Tamil, or even Muslim, retired and is back home with family. Let’s also say he is not sufficiently high enough in the totem-pole so as to be immune to domestic threats because of State’s worry about raising international ire. Should he then unduly risk his person and family, declaring his identity and express views that the State may find objectionable, or keep silent assuming that expressions in anonymity is purposeless?

    Here is another extension – how confident are you that Dayan, Rajiva and others who are ostensibly anti-anonymity proponents, do not at times resort to that same option when convenient? Ever think of that?

    Let me take it one step further – would you be truly surprised if this profound ‘Former Sri Lankan Diplomat’ turns out to be none other than Dayan himself? What a hoot that would be!

    There is one other dimension as to why some opt for and others opt out of declaring identity.

    Some contributors have a greater need for their identity and authorship-recognition and so may chose to constrain what they say publicly to lower security concerns (avoid white vans?). Others see a greater need to call a spade a spade and place less importance on the credit for authorship, and so could opt to remain anonymous thus lowering the white van risk. Both are equally legitimate — what rights do you or I have to judge them?

    Now, as for the second issue that some writers, particularly more so when writing anonymously, tend towards uncivil comments. It is best to take that up with CT editorial board – who are obviously journalists and professionals quite aware of the need for ethical standards and capable of carrying their responsibility, very responsibly. We should leave it to them, but certainly we could express our views in that regard for consideration.

    It is also perfectly fine to address the bloggers directly, but civilly and perhaps even appeal to them for greater moderation.

    However, it defeats the whole purpose if educated, intelligent, respected professionals take it upon themselves to bully the bloggers, going as far as to name-call them and baselessly accuse them way out of line. As you no doubt realize, it was the ‘planted mercenary” comment that pushed my button.

    Best wishes.

  • 2
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    Dear Mr Sarath Fernando, thanks. One way of undermining a site is to fill that site with meaningless abuse…..and I think it is part of a deliberate strategy. I refer you to the discussions between one ‘Kali’ and one ‘Siva Sankaran Sharma’ in this very blog in close proximity to our current exchanges around ‘anonymity’ etc. Do such comments not put you off from wanting to contribute from the middle ground?……because we are all judged by the company we keep-albeit in the virtual world. I certainly look at this as part of a deliberate strategy from the two extremes of the ethnic divide and hence my usage of a phraseology that obviously has “pushed your buttons”. Apologies as that was not the intention.

    I have indeed brought this to the attention of the editorial board of CT- obviously unsuccessfully, ?……..and “Freedom of speech” is something that’s used to justify such comments.
    Nirmalan

    • 2
      1

      Why not be like that mythical bird “annam” (let’s call it a swan for convenience) in Tamil literature that separates milk and water. Read what is relevant and ignore what is not.

      I am indeed supportive of “freedom of expression” unlike you it seems (thanks CT for defending it )

      What “bothers” you may not bother others !

      Remember the idiom, One man’s trash is another man’s treasure !

      I don’t read certain comments, that’s my right, but to write those comments is their right which I will never take away.

      Remember Lasantha W? He “bothered” some people ! Remember Iqbal Athas, he too bothered some people.
      Remember Richard de Zoysa, he bothered some people too !
      Are you planning to join those illustrious people who silenced these and many others in this nation you claim to love because they bother you ?

      • 3
        1

        Dev

        “Are you planning to join those illustrious people who silenced these and many others in this nation you claim to love because they bother you ?”

        Please bear with me for I am bit thick.

        Are you saying Mahesan Nirmalan is planning to join LTTE, JVP, White Van fleet, EPDP, EPRLF, Armed forces, Gota, Gnanasara, …. in order to our mouth shut or our keyboards inactive.

        • 3
          1

          Don’t you think the word will be boring without some of these comments?

          Very boring IMO

    • 4
      1

      Dear Mahesan Nirmalan,

      When you comment “One way of undermining a site is to fill that site with meaningless abuse…” are you implying the CT editorial board is either uninterested or incapable of understanding that concern. I am sure CT gives a lot of thought to balance their standardization taking into account the readership they will lose by lowering the standard too much, and the readership they would lose by raising it too high, among other considerations.

      Of course you can present your case to CT or appeal to bloggers, but what one should avoid is bullying unduly or assuming one knows better about someone else’s business. I guess you would not want a journalist to tell you how to run your medical practice – quackery comes to mind. I did mention the “ballge wade and booruwage wade” simile in a previous comment to you.

      Of course suggestions and recommendations, I am certain, would be always welcome by CT, but accept the fact that CT will be the final decision makers on this. I am afraid your disappointment in CT not accommodating your particular wish or wishes reflects an ego issue rather than an understanding of a democratic fairness issue.

      One other point, if I may. Possibly 80 or even 90 percent of the readership here don’t care a hoot for this particular exchange between you and me – and am sure they carry on careless, selecting just what they want to read. Do you think we are guilty of unduly undermining this site, filling it with meaningless verbiage of scant interest, even if not abuse per se?

      PS: Just out of curiosity – would you completely discount the possibility that the “Former Sri Lankan Diplomat” writing here could very well be Dayan himself? The thought brings quite a chuckle in me!

    • 0
      0

      While I agree with and oppose meaningless abuse like Mahesan Nirmalan, I must hold with the serious commentators who come on pseudonyms in a
      country where dissent meets attack, deprivation and even death. Writing under pen names has been the norm even in England, from where we have borrowed many of our democratic traditions. Some of the finest writers in the English language wrote under assumed names although they were fortunate they were not in a Police State using fascistic
      methods to help the survival of a failed and truant regime.

      Look at the suffering and ordeals heaped on Jaffna’s “Uthayan” and her brave young men and women journalists. Uthayan, from a virtual insignificant provincial newspaper, is now respected in the Peninsula, in the country and in the world for its stand against repression, armed attacks by uniformed men and State injustice.

      To the regime and its willing collaborator – the Army, dissenting writers and criticism is seen as anathema. As the great and celebrated Russian dissenter Alexander Solzhenitsyn was to say “a dissenting Writer to the State is like a different Government”

      I am for dissenting voices even under assumed names in appropriate circumstances. But I am against trivia, disinformation, abuse and irrelevance. I am aware some writers in these pages function as informants to the intelligence services of the Sri Lankan State. Some of our names have been provided to the CID/Police and the Army. But then that is the nature of a Failed State, which we indeed are and have been for years.

      Kettikaran

  • 3
    1

    Mahesan. Nirmalan

    “I refer you to the discussions between one ‘Kali’ and one ‘Siva Sankaran Sharma’ in this very blog in close proximity to our current exchanges around ‘anonymity’ etc.”

    These comments that you refer to do not bother us as much as it did to you. In fact we the fellow forum sharers love these comments. We want more and not less. Its fun reading all those comments of course it doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg.

    This forum is not suitable for faint hearts or inhibited persons.

    This forum provides a form of relief to those who rage 24/7/52 basis on issues such as 450 years of bottled up anger against colonial masters, LTTE, JVP, the State, Sinhala/Buddhist Mahawamsa mindset, all parties, armed forces, corruption, human rights violation, war crimes, crime against humanity, Tamilnadu, Dravida Nadu, Jail Lallitha, Hindians, Land grab, regimes past present and future, Vellala, Govia, Radala, Karava, VP, CV, ………. Tamil Eelam, Sinhala/Buddhists Eelam, …………….

    I am enjoying it.

    • 1
      0

      GRANDAD:

      I am not surprised that you are enjoying this as what esle can a Stateless person in his late seventies expect in his life. And to add spice to your remaining days you have got the Pretenders and Jokers to entertain you.

      Dr Nirmalan who started to sings the song of Praise ( Thevaram ) for the Hambanthotta THUG soon after he returned from Sinhala Lanka.

      Siva Siva Sankara Siva Siva Sankara ” Sarma ” the Sinkalam who is a Coward and writes under a Tamil Name.
      At least you write to join ” Kumballa Kovintha “

  • 0
    0

    Jayatilake please do not talk about Neville Jayaweera and Bradman Weerakone. They were of a higher class and intellectually better than you.You worked for Premadasa.

    How long will it take you to realise, or do we have to hammer it into you, that Premadasas are hated at Moneragala. Why do you think that they shifted three PC seats to Moneragala. This govt realised that the Butcher of Moneragala and his clan is hated by inference the UNP lost

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