20 May, 2019

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Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Surprise Show At ‘The Hindu Huddle’ In Bengaluru

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Sri Lankan political circles were surprised at the news that Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited to and did deliver the inaugural address, last Saturday, at the third annual ‘Huddle’, in Bengaluru, Karnataka, a ‘thought or ideas conclave’ organized by The Hindu Group, publishers of the prestigious Chennai daily, The Hindu, and other journals of note. To the government circles in Colombo, the surprise may have been rather unpleasant given the intended and unintended symbolism of their nemesis’s participation in a media event in India, in what is going to be a national election year for both India and Sri Lanka. It is the symbolism of the invitation and not the substance of the speech that would have given anxiety to UNP folks in Colombo, even as it has given quite a mouthful of starch for political chewing. As for Mr. Rajapaksa, the Bengaluru outing would have come as a pleasant reprieve after the political and constitutional setbacks he has had tbeen suffering at home since October last year thanks to the amateurish antics of Maithripala Sirisena and SB Dissanayake.

The former President spoke on “The Future of India-Sri Lanka ties,” and the inaugural session including the discussion following the speech was chaired by no less a person than N. Ram, the Chairman of the Hindu Group. Ram is a fascinating and a formidable persona on the Indian social, political and, most of all, media landscapes. A rare individual who has effortlessly floated between the powerful and hugely respected orthodoxy of the Kasthuri family fortunes in Chennai and the Marxist intellectual undercurrents of the Indian political Left, not to mention his wicket keeping for the Tamil Nadu State Cricket Team, Ram was editor and managing editor of The Hindu for many years until he was elevated upstairs in recent years as Chairman of the Group in a somewhat amicable resolution of family feuds over the control of editorship of the Group’s many publications. In Sri Lankan political circles, it is not unfair to say that Mr. Ram is now best known for his mutually-admiring friendship with Mahinda Rajapaksa. Their friendship might be a plausible reason for the invitation extended to Mahinda Rajapaksa and his attendance at the Huddle in Bengaluru.

The connection may seem curious in the light of Ram’s signature reputation in journalism as a methodically informed critic of government policy and a crusader against corruption at the highest levels. He made a mark as The Hindu’s Washington correspondent in the early 1980s exposing otherwise unknowable details of the agreements between the IMF and the Government of India. Years later, he gave editorial publicity to the background deals between a Swedish arms supplier and the Rajiv Gandhi government, in what came to be known as the Bofors scandal. Even now, although in virtual retirement, he has stepped in to give his imprimatur to the corruption allegations against the Modi government over the supply of Rafale aircraft from France. On the other hand, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family are the most embattled political figures over allegations of corruption in Sri Lanka’s modern history. So, the Ram-Rajapaksa connection might seem a little strange to Sri Lankans familiar with Indian political journalism and Sri Lankan political corruption.

The Huddle

In fairness, there is a lot more to the Huddle in Bengaluru than the Ram-Rajapaksa connection. The Huddle is the brainchild of Mukund Padmanabhan, the current Editor of The Hindu, and is intended as a by-invitation-only annual forum “for thinkers and leaders to interact with lively minds and engage with new ideas.” The event is organized around over a dozen sessions of “debate and discussion between heads of state, policy makers, academicians, artists, writers, business and thought leaders on topics of national, social, economic and cultural interest.” Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan, delivered the keynote address in 2017. The 2018 Huddle featured an inaugural forum: “Exile: The challenges of leading from afar”, a “Conversation with N. Ram” of three exile invitees: Mohamed Nasheed, the deposed President of Maldives; Pakistani-American Writer Farahnaz Ispahani; and SC Chandrahasan, Sri Lankan Human Rights Activist living in India. In 2019, the featured foreign guest was Mahinda Rajapaksa.

With the Indian general elections scheduled for April-May 2019, the electoral prospects of the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress were naturally the lively topics of debate and discussion at The Huddle this year. The electoral prognostications were mostly around the extent to which the ruling BJP is going to lose voter support and seats in the Lok Sabha, and the extent to which the resurgent Congress will increase its tally of MPs in the Lok Sabha. Whether the differentials will be enough to effect a change in government is still an open question. But there is agreement that Modi and BJP are not going to repeat their sweeping success in the Hindi Belt and Cow Belt states as they did in 2014. They have already lost a number of state elections and whether Modi can re-enact his electoral magic is the subject of speculation. The rise of Rahul Gandhi, as a formidable contender in 2019, after his crushing defeat in 2014, is the real political story in the runup to the elections regardless of what the results might turnout to be.

It is the coincidence of the election year that has raised eyebrows and led to speculations about Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presence at the Huddle in Bengaluru. He is not a retired Sri Lankan politician, but very much a contender for not only returning to power in Sri Lanka, but also creating a Rajapaksa dynasty in the island. The irony is that last year, the former President took his son to New Delhi to introduce him to Prime Minister Modi. He again took Namal Rajapaksa to Bengaluru where the buzz was all about Rahul Gandhi. The Hindu has always been a bulwark for secularism in India and has never been shy about denouncing the BJP and the Modi government for their Hindutva politics. As for the future of India-Sri Lanka ties, will it be any different if the Congress and the Rajapaksas return to power in their respective countries?

What Rajapaksa did not say

As for Mr. Rajapaksa’s inaugural speech itself, it was more interesting for what he actually did not say, or avoided saying, rather than what was said. Talking about the future of India-Sri Lanka ties, the former President did not utter a word about the famous or infamous Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Nor was there any word about the unlucky 13thAmendment, the tattered state of devolution in the country, or the dissolved status of a majority of the country’s Provincial Councils – all of them artificially inseminated children of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. I am not cavilling here because of the known lack of support for, or the indifference to, the project of devolution on the part of the Rajapaksas. But given this position and his presidential experience of Sri Lanka’s experiment with devolution, the former President could have laid bare an intellectually honest case on the pros and cons of the Indian intervention and Sri Lanka’s experience of its aftermaths. One cannot talk about the future of India-Sri Lanka ties without talking about what many among the Sinhalese honestly think is a pile of provincial mess that India has created in Sri Lanka.

On the contrary, Mr. Rajapaksa chose to be critical of two periods of trouble in the relationship between the two countries after independence. One was the 1980s which extended over a period of several eventful years, and the other was 2014 which did not last more than a few months and was relatively unremarkable. We do not have to rely on Mahinda Rajapaksa to learn about what happened in the 1980s, but 2014 was his last year in power and the first year of Modi’s government in India and Mr. Rajapaksa chose to project what happened between them as a lesson in history. His central complaint was that until the change of government in India in 2014, the India-Sri Lanka ties were in good shape and there was a good understanding between the Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka and the then Congress government in India.

The key to this good relationship was the mechanism of the ‘Troika’, which the former President touted as a model for future relationships between the two countries. There were in fact two Troikas. The one in Sri Lanka included brothers Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga. The three on the Indian side were all career officials: the National Security Advisor, Foreign Secretary, and the Defence Secretary, who at that time were, respectively, MK Narayanan, Shankar Menon and Vijay Singh. President Rajapaksa’s contention now is that after Modi became Prime Minister, the relationship turned sour because Delhi somehow gave up on the Troika mechanism.

The truth of the matter is that in 2014, the Rajapaksas were becoming intransigent over the implementation of the 13thAmendment and the Manmohan Singh government in last days was getting to be ineffectual on all fronts. When Narendra won his resounding victory, the Rajapaksas were initially delighted thinking that they may fare better with an energetic Hindutva Prime Minister than in dealing with an ineffectual Congress leader. Their hopes were raised higher when Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited to the inauguration of the Modi government in Delhi. After the ceremonies, however, Modi obviously briefed by his officials, reset the clock to 13A. That was the end of the honeymoon.

More importantly, the Rajapaksa government did not last much longer in Sri Lanka after Modi became India’s Prime Minister. So, there is no real historical lesson to learn from the Modi-Rajapaksa relationship that lasted only about six months. As to what Sri Lanka might do with its messed up Provincial Council system is now a matter for Sri Lankan political leaders and political parties to figure out. India can or has very little to do with it, and that is the way it should be no matter who is in power in Colombo or in New Delhi,

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Interesting and interestingly worded article. What it hints is that Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the winner at the upcoming elections! Even Mr. Ram and his newspaper publication group have realize the fact without much doubt!
    My understanding is that RW’s government doesn’t know what it is doing now! It is really strange to see why the UNP is so lethargic toward people’s issues.
    With ministers like Ranjan Ramanayake who reveals probably the truth, RW doesn’t need any more critics, opponents, or challengers within or outside the UNP. His utterances about cabinet ministers as cocaine consumers and Minister Kabir Hasims’ gullible and myopic answer to Ranjan’s interesting revelation is pathetic and hilarious.
    When media report that drug kingpin Madush currently detained in Dubai has had close connections with over 20 parliamentarians including powerful ministers Ranjan’s statement about cocaine taking ministers will be an interesting news item for the next few days! The JO/Pohottuwa MPs have already requested the Speaker and the President to investigate the matter. Some UNP back-benchers may also push the matter since they make fun of those elderly ministers who were allegedly known for having taken ‘Viagra’ and got hospitalized. This may be a chance for them to kill two birds with one stone.
    All in all it sounds like both the UNP and the president (MS) are trying day and night to make MahindaR and Pohottuwa the real winner at the upcoming elections!

  • 2
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    I heard Certainly that Tamils were unhappy as India and particularly HINDU gave a specific talk shaw host and an audience to Mahinda Rajapakse that Tribalist Tamils consider as Arch enemy of the shaping up Tamil Homeland aka Orumiththa Tamilnadu. I think among many recent Indian govts, PM MODI had the best relations with Sri lanka. Keep aside politicians.
    IT is Strange that Tamilnadu Tamils gave up on their low Caste southurn Tamils because Tamilnadu Tamils did not protest, did not destroy anything or harm Bhikkus walking there on the road. PArticularly, none of the Tamilnadu Tamils self-immolate when Mahinda Rajapakse visited India.

  • 2
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    You say, HINDUS are preventing INDIA to become a SECULAR country. India just liek Jerusalem is a Secular country. Even todate there are many Brahminic religions in India. but, Muslims wants one way and the Christians wants one way. Your argument is Hindus should allow christians to make it a CHristiansthan and Muslims say let us make it a Islamisthan.

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    This is part of the coup plot by the Indian Jews Brahmin that have already ruined the social fabric on India. These selfish, self centred rouges have brought in Hindu rituals that are nothing but primitive and even barbaric for the benefit of the Brahmins, utter manthra in Sanskrit that no one understands, and even brought in cast system by dividing people that was originally meant as a division of labour and as a whole have done immense damage to Indian values. This crooks have also claimed them as the super race in India while others are inferior. Even today they are an opportunistic parasites and undermines the well being of other Indians. They are responsible for the birth of other religions such as Samanam, Buddhsim, Jainishm, and Seikism. Basically these crooks are really not Ariyans or Dravidians but Persians who came across into India exploited the people, hoodwinked the kings and got all the opportunities for them. They forcibly deprived other people from education, art, music and what not. They determined the goal for India and in turn in their favour. These Indian Jews are always against Dravidians and this fellow Ram is one such fellow. He is always supporting the racist MR simply because he is an anti-tamil and he is responsible for the recent killing of Tamils and also spreading absolute racism though he himself has a non-hindu wife. This Ram Bramin wants MR to come back so that he could exploit SL people once again. These Bramins will never do anything without any solid benefit. The Mallu Bramins ruined the Tamil struggle. Indian central government is infested by these pests and they will continue to exploit. Look around how Indians are divided by cast system and who are the architects of castism?

    These pests want to have everything for themselves and at the same time will sacrifice the others. What a curse and what a pest these fellows are.

    • 1
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      Nathan!
      You have said well.If not for Periyar and Annathurai ( once a chief minister of Tamil Nadu) Tamil Nadu would have been plagued by Bhramanism. Tamil language would have been dethroned and Sanskrit/Hindi would have taken pride of place, well supported by the Bhramin Hindu Press. Fortunately the then DMK which came to power after a mass struggle saw to it that Madras was named as Tamil Nadu and Tamil language the official language of the state. How-ever the present state of Tamil language in Tamil Nadu leaves much to be desired, where English got merged with Tamil Language and even the Auto driver to Vegetable Vendor to Scavengers cannot complete a Tamil sentence without a couple English words in it.
      This goes for the TV anchors as well.

      • 3
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        Both of you seem to be going on a Brahmin bashing and blaming all Tamil Brahmins for the antics of certain Tamil Brahmin idiots , who believe in Brahminism and Aryan superiority over Dravidians. Most Tamil Brahmins are not like this and are very proud Tamils. What about all the non Brahmin Tamils like Karunanidhi and many others who betrayed the Tamils. Many Tamil Brahmins have given a lot to the Tamil language and culture and it is they who enriched and contributed to the Tamil culture a lot. Eg. Subramania Barathiar the national poet of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Brahmins like Ramanugan and many others like Pitchchai have brought a lot of pride to Tamil Nadu. What about Jayalalitha. Kamalahassan, Mani Ratnam and ,,many others.

        • 0
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          My reference is with regard to Ram and others like him and the Hindu papers prior to 1960 in particular.I am aware that there are Bhramins who have contributed to the Tamil language in many ways. But on the whole Bhramins were a law unto themselves and considered themselves to be superior. OF COURSE IT IS THE FAULT OF THE OTHERS TO HAVE SUBJUGATED THEMSELVES TO BHRAMINISIM UNTILL EV Ramasamy and ANNATHRAI came into lime light.
          I have not forgotten the fact Karunanthi’s inaction during the war against the Tamils in Srilanka was the cause of ‘merry’ killings. This could have been avoided if he rose up like his dialogue in Manohara “PORUTHATHU POTHUM PONGI ELU” but he was a hypocrite of the very lowest order.
          My contention is if not for the DK/DMK’s (exception are there) continuous agitations Bhraminism would have held sway in Tamil Nadu. Opinions may Differ.

      • 3
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        Contd: Tamil Brahmins largely belong to four main sects and three of them have been in the Tamil country for thousands of years and are considered native. It is from the fourth sect called Vadama/Vadagalai , that arrived from the north of India from around a thousand years ago or slightly less that most of these so called Anti Tamil (sic) , Tamil Brahmins belong to and not to the other three sects who consoer themselves fully Tamil. You can see people belonging to these sect when they do the Sandyavadhanam referring to rivers from North/Central India like the Narmadha in their prayers , places from they originated from . The other three Tamil Brahmins sects do not. However even these people have been in the Tamil country for now around a thousand years and only speak Tamil but still seem to be harking back to their northern Aryan origin , that other the other Tamil Brahmin sects do not. The other lot of anti Tamil so called Tamil Brahmins are the ethnic Telugu Brahmins who arrived in the Tamil country during the Telugu Naicker rule. These people also now largely speak Tamil only and call themselves Tamil Brahmins but are quite anti Tamil towards the native Tamils and native Tamil Brahmins just like many of the Vadama. Most the Malayali were not Brahmins but they belonged to the Nair/Menon/Nambiar and Syrian Christian communities.

    • 3
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      The Tamil Pallavas (Pahlavi) were also of Iranian origin and sculptures and descriptions of them prove this. They were tall light skinned , many had very light eyes , compared to the native largely Dravidian origin Tamils. This is why Bodhidharman the so called Tamil Pallava prince from Kanchipuram who spread Zen or Shaolin Buddhism to China and Japan is depicted and described as a man with light eyes and brown or reddish brown hair. The Pallavas originally did not care much about the Tamil language but they later became ardent Tamils and Hindus. Even now many of their modern descendants the so called Tamil Vellalar from the very north of Tamil Nadu and the Telugu Reddy from the very south of Andhara Pradesh still show these attributes. They are tall light skinned and have light eyes. What do you say to this?

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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

  • 1
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    The truth of the matter is that whoever comes to power in India cannot change the Chinese influence in Srilanka. Srilanka is now fully under control of China politicallly, economically and militaraly. Ram like Swami uses Rajapakse to build up their bank balances.

  • 1
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    The group of words ‘The Hindu Huddle’ in Rajan Philips’ article may mislead following “Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Surprise Show At ………….”. ‘The Hindu’ Huddle, with the apostrophe shift, is closer to the material presented.

    “The Hindu” group of daily and monthly publications have always been critical of Dravidian movements in South India.
    Former Editor N Ram saw a dangerous threat in Liberation Movements in Eelam. This made him a welcome household guest of MR.
    The civil war ended in May 2009. About 300,000 Tamil civilians, in MR’s words ‘rescued by Armed Forces’, were interned in fenced camps in Vanni. N Ram came to Colombo in June 2009, and in a helicopter/armed escort visited a Vanni camp. “The Hindu” of 04 July 2009 carried his infamous report “Visiting the Vavuniya IDP Camps: an uplifting experience”. N Ram was the then Editor-in-Chief of ‘the Hindu”.
    .

  • 3
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    I don’t see any mention by Mr. Philips of the fact that Ram was awarded ‘Lanka Rathna.’ I think it happened while CBK was President but MR was in the same party. Ever since he has been ‘bought over’ by MR and cohorts. During the war, Ram’ failure as Editor in Chief to report issues in the war theater impartially, to the point of becoming a propagandist for the GoSL, was criticized publicly by N.Ravi, another editor of The Hindu, probably his brother.

    The Hindu has a habit of promoting itself as the ‘interpreter’ of Sri Lankan issues to the mandarins in Delhi, including the South Block; the same paper that wrote sympathetically about the SL Tamil plight in the early years of the conflict, in its singular focus on the LTTE’s violence, saw nothing about the mass atrocities being committed by the GoSL against the people.

    Then there was the visit to the Menik farms camp after which he said that the people held in the camps were doing good. The Hindu can do all kinds of exposes about arms deals, but who will expose shady dealings by Ram himself? Any reported commitment to secularism by The Hindu pales against its failure to report objectively on SL Tamil issues, and Ram’s underhanded deals with SL politicians.

  • 0
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    Prostitution of journalism by the Bramin Ram. There is another Bramin curse called Subramaniyan Swamy, another dirty Bramin and a sucker of MR. Birds of a feather flock together.

  • 0
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    We must thank the writer for providing details of the annual huddle organised by the Hindu Group. Media was giving bits and pieces of information and thanks to the writer of this article we now have a clearer picture.
    This years huddle was attended by the Vice President and Home minister of India as well as the chief minister of Karnataka. This is a high powered meeting and so the attendance of Mr Rajapakse has attracted great interest in regard to India – Sri Lanka relationship as well as India’s attitude towards Mr Rajapakse and vice versa.
    A similar event occurred in September last year when other powerful hater of Sri Lankan Tamils, Subramaniam Swamy invited Mr Rajapakse to Delhi to deliver a speech. Mr Rajapakse also met Mr Modi during this visit. These two events clearly shows that both India and Rajapakse will mend their ways towards each other in the future.
    Both Mr Ram and Mr Subramaniam Swamy are Tamil Brahmins from Tamil Nadu. They worked hard, hand in glove with SriLankan and Indian governments. Their actions probably turned the other Tamil Brahmins against SriLankan Tamils. Not only Hindu’s Ram, other Brahmin opinion makers like Thuglak’s So etc were also virulent in their attack of Sri Lankan Tamils. I could still remember my shock when I read their writings. Shakespeare ‘s “You too Brutus” will best describe this shock. For SriLankan Tamils it will be very difficult to consider the Tamil Brahmins as part of their Ethno-National group. Perhaps they will be happy about it.
    Lastly I must say that there have been some exceptions. Due to lack of space I will mention them on another occasion.

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