By Rajiva Wijesinha –
The delightful Shyamon Jayasinghe strikes again with another piece full of half truths and obfuscations, in responding to my assessment of the prejudice latent in his last article.
His first point, that saying one party is no good does not imply an assertion that an alternative is good, is belied by the dichotomy his own article sets forth, and by the comments on his ‘brilliant’ piece. I should however note that, while his previous political article in the Telegraph, attacking Maithripala Sirisena, made clear his solid support for the UNP, he is also excessively adulatory about Ranil. Indeed he claimed then of Ranil’s alleged involvement in the bond scam that it arose from ‘JO-led and orchestrated scurrilous rumours’. And even his current grudging agreement over my criticism puts it down to ‘a weakness of supporting old Royal classmates’.
This should make clear the rationale for what also seems to have upset him, my reference to his intellectual pretensions (not ‘an intellectual pretence’ which is quite something else, though I do not understand how one can ‘bear’ this).
But his linguistic lapses are forgivable. What is unacceptable is the way he distorts his three main arguments. He claims with regard to communal feelings that it was all due to the SLFP, ignoring that it was the UNP that called for an election to implement its new policy of Sinhala only – as opposed to parity for Tamil which Kotelawala had announced. That is why Tamils deserted the UNP en masse and the left did so well in that election in previous UNP strongholds. Jayasinghe does acknowledge what JR and the UNP did in 1983 but seems to minimize their responsibility by claiming that this was because it was infected by the SWRD trend (24 years after SWRD died) and still calls it the ‘grand old Pary of National Unity’. Apologist or not???
He claims he had given ample evidence that it was SWRD and his party that dethroned English, but in fact there is nothing in his article except blanket assertions, and he continues to ignore the fact that it was JR who started the ball rolling to make Sinhala (or Tamil) compulsory mediums of instruction and Eddie Nugawela who pushed this in secondary schools in the early 50s. He does not comment on what I said about Ranil trying to scuttle English medium, but simply claims that his hero ‘is a political leader who has always kept national unity foremost in mind’. Has he not read Ranil’s apology for the violence of July 1983, which he belittled claiming the minorities suffered less then than the Sinhalese had done through Bandaranaike’s policies of nationalization?
And it is stupid to claim it is a hard job to change things, since the way in which we reintroduced English medium, against Ranil’s opposition, shows it can be done where there is a will. But since this was under an SLFP led government, Jayasinghe has to ignore it.
His third argument relates to the SLFP’s socialist excesses, but why he thinks I fail to meet the point is not clear. I believe, like my uncle Lakshman Wickremesinghe, though quite unlike his brother Esmond, that there was need for socialism but I also criticized the mismanagement and cronyism to which it gave rise. And my point was that Jayasinghe did not examine why Jayewardene allowed many negative elements of the previous regime to continue – including failing to denationalize schools. And Ranil certainly believed in that monopoly, for when I called him to ask about reintroducing English medium back then, he said it was illegal and that he had sent the papers regarding International Schools to the Attorney General to have them prosecuted.
Jayasinghe seems to have missed the point when he evokes God to ask what Jayewardene’s renaming of the country had to do with crony capitalism. The point was that, instead of looking at Jayewardene’s failure to actually introduce a free economy, Jayasinghe himself only criticized the renaming of the country. And I am sorry he excuses cronyism on the grounds that it happens everywhere and is a problem only when it reaches a dysfunctional level. Clearly people will differ as to what is dysfunctional, even my sister for instance claiming that the bond scam has been blown up out of all proportion – though I trust the figures cited in the Commission report will now make it clear that what happened was the worst robbery this country has to face, and to claim that ‘Ranil has a weakness of supporting old Royal classmates’ is horrendously simplistic, to the point of wickedness.
Finally, Jayasinghe has got everything wrong about my resignation. When I was appointed State Minister, it was in terms of what the Constitution envisaged, which was someone not in the Cabinet entrusted with a task, reporting direct to the President. But when I refused to obey Chandrika Kumaratunga when she rang up to order me to dismiss Shanika Himburuwegama, she said we would see who was put above me.
Kabir Hashim was appointed, and I rang him to ask what this meant, but he assured me that I would have to do everything, and he was in any case busy because of the election. I took him at his word, and worked at my usual pace, which prompted the comment by Malinda Seneviratne that I was the only Minister who seemed to be working (the others being concerned with the forthcoming election). Malinda confirmed this recently on television, and as noted Karunasena Kodituwakku wanted me to continue and Tara de Mel got me back to resuscitate English medium when she took over the Ministry again in 2004. But if Jayasinghe believes I am wrong to assert that I was doing a good job, whereas Ranil thought no one else could handle English medium, he is welcome to his views.
In 2015 I resigned when Kabir Hashim, contrary to his commitment, made the UGC Chair resign, having lied to her that this was on the instructions of the President. Incidentally, he had asked the UGC Chairman when he was State Minister of Higher Education (so much for Jayasinghe’s assessment of what State Ministers should be, simply enjoying ‘thathvaya’) to resign, but Ranjith Mendis ignored him, secure in the knowledge that Chandrika Kumaratunga would not have support Hashim.
I did not complain to the Prime Minister, I resigned, but Maithripala Sirisena told me he would not accept my resignation, and asked Hashim to resolve the problem. Hashim agreed that I should be Minister and said he would speak to Ranil, but it seems did not do so. It was Ranil who called me up, prompted he told me by Nirj Deva, but told me he would have to consult Chandrika, who turned out to be in England. It was because he could not contact her, he claimed, that he told me to read a book the title of which Jayasinghe has got completely wrong.
But it should be noted that I did not then cross the floor of the house, that happened only when Ranil lied about the situation, and the story of the Central Ban Bond scandal broke. I think I must be thankful to Chandrika for her vendetta against Shanika Himburuwegama, because otherwise I might have continued associated with a bunch of thieves who have put anything done by previous governments in the shade, given the barefaced effrontery with which they perpetrated this theft.