By Nethra Goonewardena –
One of my friends, resident overseas sent me this story- which I found useful reading especially in the context of the 2013 US Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday.
The story goes that Bill Gates wanted to recruit a new CEO for his Microsoft subsidiary in Europe. He called for applications and invited all aspiring candidates to present themselves at his headquarters in the US. On the appointed day, no less than 5,000 hopefuls assembled in a large room.
One candidate was Gamage Somapala, a Sri Lankan domiciled in the USA. Bill Gates courteously thanked all the candidates for coming and, wanting to narrow down the numbers, asked all those who did not know JAVA programming to leave the room. Somapala thought to himself, “I do not know JAVA programming, but I can always pick it up. I have nothing to lose it I say, so I’ll remain and give it a try”.
Next, Bill Gates asked all those candidates who had never had the experience of managing a team of more than one hundred people to leave the room. With a groan of disappointment, another two thousand people got up and left the room. Somapala quietly said to himself, “I have never managed anybody by myself, but I have nothing to lose if I stay and I can always give it a try, so I’ll stay”.
Then Bill Gates asked all the candidates who did not have tertiary qualifications in Management to leave – and five hundred of those who were left got up and walked out. Somapala reassured himself, “I left school at 15 and never stepped into a university. But what have I got to lose?” So he stayed in the room.
Finally, with only 500 of the original five thousand left, Bill Gates decided to shorten the list of candidates even further. He addressed the five hundred and said “ I would like all those who do not speak Albanian fluently to leave the room”. At this point 498 people sadly got up and left the room. Somapala said to himself, “ I do not speak one word of this Albanian language, but what do I have to lose?” So he stayed put and found himself with just one other candidate. Everyone else had gone.
Bill Gates came down from the podium and joined the two of them. “Good,” he said, smiling “you two appear to be the only two candidates who have all the required qualifications and experience that I am looking for, and you speak Albanian as well. I’d now like to hear you have a conversation with each other in that language”.
Calmly, without batting an eyelid, Somapala turned to the other candidate and confidently said “Kohomada Machang?”
The other candidate’s eyes opened as wide as saucers and he answered, “Ammatasiri . . . umbath Lankavenda?”
It just goes to show the ingenuity and resourcefulness of us Sri Lankans!
This is the kind of ingenuity we seem to be renowned for these days in every sphere of our national activity. Judging by the reactions to the 2013 US Resolution in Geneva which was adopted on the 21st of March by the United Nations Human Rights council (UNHRC), no Sri Lankan yet seems able to rise above the ingenuity of the kind elaborated upon in this anecdote. Minister G.L Peiris and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in the statements attributed to them in today’s (22 March, 2013) English dailies, sound exactly like the above-referenced Gamage Somapala.
Rajapaksa has expressed his “deep disappointment with the Indian government’s position articulated by its envoy to the UNHRC during the Council’s sessions in Geneva yesterday. He goes on to say that “those asking Sri Lanka to satisfy the global community should realize that they were adopting double- standards”. This idea of “double standards” is the mantra that the Rajapaksas and their acolytes appear to use to defend their own indefensible double and treble standards back at home. Rajapaksa should look at the “standards” used by the government of which he is a crucial part, to remove a Chief Justice from her post, to bring suspected rapists, murderers and thugs like Duminda Silva and Mervin Silva (members of the current government) to justice, to place in jail a war hero turned political opponent, General Sarath Fonseka, to appoint a political stooge like Mohan Pieris as Chief Justice, to appoint family members, immediate and extended, to high posts in the land with no qualifications to hold them, and so on and so forth. The list is endless. Is Rajapaksa aware that he must look at the beam in his eye before he seeks to identify the mote in that of others? What standards have he and his brothers employed in their governance of Sri Lanka? Can he afford to cast the first stone? Could we Sri Lankans hold up our heads high and say that we have conducted ourselves with dignity observing the standards we have adhered to in the past, the standards that we ought to reflect to the world given our rich heritage? The answer certainly has to be a resounding no.
In the ultimate reckoning, it truly matters little what India or the United States does or does not do with regard to standards. In a world not governed by moral and spiritual standards preached by our religious leaders and philosophers, all too often, might becomes right. There appears very little or nothing that Sri Lanka could do to reverse this trend no matter how hard it may strive to do so. That we should place this unfairness on record is but fair. But what will definitely be fairer and far more worthwhile and rewarding is for us to adhere, unilaterally if need be, to those standards we accuse others of failing to abide by. Example, it is wisely said, is far better than precept. So go for it Sri Lanka. Let’s do it. Not because some others are coercing us to do it, not because our immediate neighbours are putting pressure on us as they have been doing for eons, not because a majority of the members of the UNHRC want us to, BUT because it is the right and proper thing to do.
Let us seek a Sri Lanka where the Constitution of our country does not shackle and strangulate the citizenry, where the Rule of Law prevails, where we ensure that no citizen of ours suffers because of his or her ethnicity or religion, where we give responsibility and authority to those who are qualified and competent to bear these burdens, where fair play is the norm and not the plaything of those holding political office, where systems are in place and national institutions are protected, and where the majority of Sri Lankans can confidently say they are content with their lot. When we get at least half way to such a destination, we could then justly and proudly cock a snook at our detractors and say, “do as we do, if you can”.
The less said about External Affairs Minister Peiris, the kinder and less time wasted it would be. He is characteristically able to see and speak of the “evil side of the US resolution” but unable to see the evil side of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy based on deceit and falsehood, in the manner of Gamage Somapala, our hero in the anecdote quoted above. Peiris too, like his colleague Rajapaksa, searches for the mote in the eye of others while ignoring the beam in his own!
On Tuesday 19 March, the UPA chair, Sonia Gandhi took a remarkably unusual step at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting when she expressed her party’s concern for the Sri Lankan Tamils:
The plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka is close to our hearts. Our support for equal rights and equal protection of the laws to them has been unwavering since the days of Indiraji and Rajivji.
We are most pained at the manner in which their legitimate political rights continue to be denied them. We are anguished by reports of unspeakable atrocities on innocent civilians and children, especially during the last days of the conflict in 2009.
Of course Sonia Gandhi must know well India’s duplicitous policy towards Sri Lanka in the 1970s and 80s when Indiraji trained and armed Tamil separatist groups of our island home. Perhaps it is Sonia Gandhi’s mindfulness of this grievous error which also led to her late husband Rajivji’s death at the hands of an LTTE assassin that has mellowed and tempered India’s and her attitude to Sri Lanka. Wisdom often comes with suffering and we feel that this is the case with Sonia Gandhi.
The above statement of Sonia Gandhi is the strongest that has emerged from an Indian political leader in a long time. One hopes she means these sentiments sincerely and is not playing to that crazy Tamilnadu gallery to save her party from losing support in that state run by individuals who seem prone to greater lunacy than the quantum of it we usually associate with politicians in general from anywhere in the world.
It is about time that countries like India and others concerned about Sri Lanka shed their flip flop approach and focused on a principled, confident and non-reactive policy towards Sri Lanka. Whether or not China is fishing in troubled waters and poaching its way into Sri Lanka should not come in the way of India engaging Sri Lanka steadfastly. This engagement must be a partnership worthy of two neighbours with a common civilizational bond. Perhaps India should also seek to get the support of China and Japan (two countries with whom Sri Lanka has decent relations) for its good neighbourly role in Sri Lanka so that narrow political impediments may not mar an otherwise worthy enterprise.
All of us know that India wishes to be a global as well as regional power. Well, then, India has to measure up, take a few kicks in its teeth if it has to, and initiate a serious dialogue with Sri Lanka on the lines suggested above. Not as a hegemonic power or big brother, but as a long-standing friend and neighbour.