16 May, 2022


Not Foreign Conspiracies But Our Own Failures

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena –

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

In his address to the nation on ‘Victory Day’ this month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assertion that ‘grease demons’, the Independence of the Judiciary, media freedom and human rights were all part of sinister foreign conspiracies to bring the nation to its knees, calls for measured scrutiny.

Somewhat bewilderingly meanwhile, a reference to ‘the Arab Spring’ was also thrown into this mix. One is not quite sure of the Presidential reasoning. Is a Lankan spring by pro-democracy activists, (as improbable as that may sound), to be regarded as part of this same alleged conspiracy? Certainly, it does not take remarkable prescience to guess the answer to that particular question.

Basic functions of the State

But the point is simple. While a ministerial minion hysterically screaming the same may be attributed to the Government’s perennial suspicion of foreign conspirators behind every proverbial bush, the Head of State is presumed to be subjected to higher standards of accountability. The core points of the Presidential assertion relate to the basic protections that the State is obliged to provide to its citizens, namely law and order through a proper working of state agencies, expression and information through free media and an independent judiciary.

These are not luxuries afforded to citizens but rights. If a Government is unable, through omission or commission, to ensure these rights, then the contract between the Government and the people is dissolved. Thereafter, what prevails is not a democratic process even though farcical elections may take place. The breaking down of the social contract is but a convenient euphemism (and the most fundamental justification) for a people’s revolution.

Selective application of legal machinery

Applied practically to the crisis of the Rule of Law that we face today, let us look more closely at the Presidential reference. When men daubed in grease engaged in attacking houses as well as women in selected parts of the country (generally excepting the South) involved a breakdown of law and order in its most essential form. When chased by enraged villagers during a time of widespread panic in villages as far flung as Komari and Akkaraipattu in the East as well as in the Northern peninsula and the Central Province, the attackers commonly fled into police stations and army camps in the vicinity. So inferentially and by a process of logical reasoning from the claim in the Presidential Statement, were these police stations and army camps also part of this same foreign conspiracy? Or (taking it to the other extreme) were these attackers part of a general collective delusion on the part of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim people all over the affected areas of the country? In what precise way were foreign conspirators involved?

These are questions in the public interest. Most importantly, these attackers disappeared as mysteriously as they appeared, without the state agencies properly investigating or prosecuting offenders. Thereby, was not a key duty and responsibility of the State bypassed? And when a protestor distributing leaflets asking that persons not affected by the war should not get new houses in the East during a function presided over by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa is arrested as was the case this week in Batticoloa but when parliamentarians accused of murder and political favourites are protected by government patronage, is not the law violated?

Where do victims go to?

Some days ago, a reader of this column sent in a relevant query as to whether the Attorney General is subject to judicial review when he/she acts or fails to act in violation of the constitutional role. Assuredly, the state prosecutor exercises a discretionary power which, as the Supreme Court rightly said more than decade ago ‘is neither absolute nor unfettered’ (Victor Ivan v Attorney General, (1998) 1 Sri LR 340). Rather, these powers are held in trust for the public, to be exercised for the purpose for which they are conferred and not otherwise. Supervision therein lies in the hands of the Court. However, when the functioning of the Court itself is interfered with, where can the citizen turn to?

So when the Chief Justice of the country is dragged before parliamentarians and grossly humiliated prior to being thrown out of office and replaced by a Government favourite, is it not the duty of all right thinking people to protest? If foreign governments express concern at this turn of events, how is that translated into a foreign conspiracy? When Sri Lankan journalists are assaulted, killed and when the entire media is unmercifully fettered to an extent that is unprecedented since independence, do we not have a right to talk about this?

Breakdown of the social contract

Some may think that these questions, may be better suffered in silence as befitting ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ now being thrown at us. And in line with that famously painful soliloquy crafted so timelessly by the Bard, there are few who will, even rhetorically, be willing to confront this ‘sea of troubles’, with no firm guarantee that by opposing, such troubles will be ended. Yet, what the Sri Lankan people face is a basic breakdown of public trust. The consequences therein are enormous for our democratic functioning even though we may pretend to ignore this, ostrich-wise.

It is the duty of the State to investigate. It is the duty of the State to prosecute. It is the duty of the State to protect. These manifold obligations cannot be just brushed away under the glib excuse of foreign conspiracies. And as much as it may be parroted, such talk does not fool Sri Lanka’s rural audiences, whose silence should not be seen as unreserved support for this Government.

What we lack is a credible political opposition which can harness dissent from the cities to the villages, not necessarily to effect regime change but to bring about a fairer balance in political power. In sum, this is our most profound problem, not foreign conspiracies, even though that may be perceived to be a stirring theme on occasion by our politicians.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    What Victory are we celebrating? We have seen our War Hero in jail and the shameless Jokers dancing and dinning with the Terrorists. The only Victory we can celebrate is when the corrupt, lawless Banana Republic with Jungle Law is turned back to our former democratic Sri Lanka.

    • 0

      Namal Perera, Says,

      “What Victory are we celebrating? We have seen our War Hero in jail and the shameless Jokers dancing and dinning with the Terrorists”

      It is the substitution of Tamil Prabakaran with a Sinhala Prabakaran, with with a few variations thrown in.

      Fonseka, was a Hero, but a threat and Karawe, not Govigama. The Karacwas were not allowed to be Mahanayakas.


      The plight of the Sinhala `DALITS`- Karava, Durava, Salagama, Berava and Rodi. Caste discrimination in Sinhala society.
      Friday, 9 September 2011 – 10:42 AM SL Time

      Free education has brought out wider egalitarian impact in Sinhala society, but this has not eliminated the caste inequality altogether. Rather caste has been made an underground phenomenon rarely discussed in public, but remained bottled up within the individuals and local communities only to be rekindled from time to time in the caste inspired political loyalties during the time of elections, social conflicts and social uprisings (Jiggins 1979, Chandraprema 1991).

      This caste alignment did not emerge out of the blue. There had been a long history of Kara-Govi rivalry in diverse quarters and at various social levels from the 1860s if not earlier. Let me detail some facets without claiming that this brief review is comprehensive.

      The grand war time alliance of Sinhala Buddhist interests appears to have unravelled. I attribute the bad blood between the Rajapakse and Fonseka camps to vendetta and revenge. This is largely a personal feud born of a sense of betrayal. However, I wonder whether the legacy of caste has had a tangential role in the matter after all. Rajapakse is the scion** of an old southern Govigama family while Fonseka was a Karave general also from the south.

      Let us explore the issue in some detail. Professor K.M. de Silva in his `History of Sri Lanka`, refers to the MIGRATION OF THE KARAWE, SALAGAMA AND DURAWE CASTES FROM SOUTHERN INDIA TO SRI LANKA BETWEEN THE 14TH AND 17TH CENTURIES AD. The Karawe, a maritime caste, appear to have had a disproportionate influence in the Sinhala military in medieval times. M.D. Raghavan`s publication, `The Karave of Ceylon: Society and Culture` illustrates the cultural history in some depth. Michael Roberts also documents Karawe elite formation in his seminal publication `Caste Conflict and Elite Formation, the Rise of the Karave elite in Sri Lanka: 1500-1931`.

      Caste divisions are not unknown in Sinhala Buddhist history. The Govigama-Karave competition intermittently resurfaces in our history. The Govigama are the farmer caste akin to the Tamil Vellalar. The Govigama are perhaps 50% of the Sinhala population while the Karave are likely 10%. The Govigama unfairly dismiss the Karave as a fishing caste.

      King Vijayabahu in the 11th century DENIED ACCESS TO THE SO-CALLED LOWER CASTES to venerate the Buddha`s footprint at the summit of Sri Pada or Adam`s Peak. These castes were confined to a lower terrace further down. This led to an immediate counter when a 12th century rock inscription of King Nissanka Malla warned that the Govigama caste could never aspire to high office.

      The 13th century Sinhala literary work, the Pujavaliya went on to assert that a Buddha would never be born in the Govigama caste The Govigama reaction was swift. Kandyan Buddhist civil law as later documented in the Niti Nighanduwa, placed the Govigama at the top of an elaborately ordered caste hierarchy.

      The Kandyan Buddhist clergy – the Siam Nikaya – DENIED ENTRY into the Buddhist monkhood to the non-Govigama. They EXCLUDED THE KARAVE. This led wealthy Karave merchants in the maritime districts to finance the journey of Ambagahapitiya Gnanawimala Thera to Amarapura in Burma for the ordination into the Buddhist monkhood in 1800 AD. While the newly founded Amarapura nikaya had 21 sub-sects defined on caste lines (i.e. Karave, Salagama and Durave), it nonetheless offered a rare opportunity for the Karave to join the Buddhist religious order.

      Other Karave ABANDONED BUDDHISM ALTOGETHER AND CONVERTED TO ROMAN CATHOLICISM to seek caste emancipation. 50% of the Karave caste might well be Christian today. At present, Karave Christian youth have the best education outcomes in Sinhala society.

      Many of us were thankful that these caste divisions in Sinhala Buddhist society had ebbed. However, recent events indicate that this may not entirely be so. In the late 1800s, Charles Henry de Soysa, the foremost Karave philantrophist, had hosted a banquet to the Duke of Edinburgh in Colombo, an event boycotted by the Govigama political elite led by Solomon Bandaranaike. Dr. Marcus Fernando, a Karave leader of no mean accomplishment, ran for the Educated Ceylonese seat at the 1911 elections. The Govigama elite, led by the Senanayakes, successfully defeated him and ensured the victory of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, a Tamil candidate, instead. The Govigama preferred Tamil leadership to that of the Karave Sinhalese. That was treachery on the part of the Govigama.

      We now witness a situation where Rajapakse has LITERALLY CRUSHED FONSEKA. Let us not forget that all Sri Lankan heads of state, with just one exception, have been Govigama. Non-Govigama representation in Sri Lanka`s legislature has declined since independence. And all three revolts against the post-independence Sri Lankan state were led by the Sinhala Karave or Tamil Karaiyar.


      The feud between the President and the erstwhile General, while personal in nature, has now developed caste over tones. The President`s camp was uncertain of victory in the run-up to the polls. Reports suggest that it deftly and subtly played the caste card within the military to deny Fonseka the military vote. The President succeeded. In the ensuing post-poll purge of the military, the Karave have disproportionately been targeted. Other KARAVA GENERALS have been SACKED from the armed forces. KARAVE BUDDHIST MONKS had been arrested. Much to my chagrin, caste may still be alive in Sinhala Buddhist society, albeit as an undercurrent.


      General Sarath Fonseka, despite what some consider to be his betrayal, is Sri Lanka`s first four star general. He had won one of Sri Lanka`s highest awards of military heroism – the `Rana Wickrama Padakkama`. India`s national security advisor had described Fonseka as the best army commander in the world. Its time he is set free.

      the Govigama-Karawe caste equation in Sinhala society- by Lakruwan de Silva and Prof. Michael Roberts

      • 0

        Thank you for explaining the caste-system differences among the Sinhala in Sri Lanka. Prof Michael Roberts knows more about these than I do, though I was born and bred (for the greater part) in Sri Lanka. I had come to believe that these had little or no relevance in the day to day life within the Sinhala as distinct from what obtains amongst the Tamils. Are you suggesting otherwise ?
        As a friend pointed out recently, the whole debate is about the top dog within the LOWEST of the four VARNAS of the Hindu system.

  • 0

    i’ve always maintained that this ‘victory day’ nonsense is an insult to the troops who fought and died in the war, the civilians, and even the LTTE men (who, at the end of the day, are still Sri Lankans). Why not use the money spent on this garish display of Mahinda’s political and military prowess on something else: maybe spend it on improving the conditions of war widows and families, paying the medical bills of soldiers and civilians suffering from war wounds, building some proper homes for the soldiers, etc? How exactly is this BS that the Rajapakses doing in accordance with Buddha and his teachings? If people can follow the BBS and scream filth against minorities and everybody else under the sun, why can’t one of them open their eyes to this?

  • 0

    Presidential Immunity and Impunity Transcends and Overrules the Laws of the Country. The Law and Statute are in name only; they may be morphed, suspended or overwritten according to the wishes of the Executive. The Legislators have abdicated their responsibility. The Guardians of the Constitution, the Judiciary has been compromised.

    All this follows from the loopholes and defects in the constitution and the corruption and irresponsibility of the elected representatives of the people. The people too are silent on these issues. Nothing can be done without a change in the political and social culture in the country.

    • 0

      But this is also true of the ‘Land of the Free’, where the President seems not to be subject to any law, national or international. In fact the UNSG from the time of Kofi Annan seems subservient to him. The ICC has no jurisdiction over him. His minions, like the AG Holder, though not as erudite as our own Dr Mervyn de Silva, behaves like him reading e-mails and listening in to telephone conversations without the judicial say so. The President himselef advises the come to an accommodation with the military as to what could be published, and what not to.

      When the leaders of the more ‘advanced’ and ‘civilised’ countries behave this way, should we hold our own leaders to higher standards? Or are we expected to do as we say, not as we do. ?

      • 0

        The The President himselef advises the press to

  • 0

    Very interesting.

    Why would “Foreign Governments” interfere and intervene in a Sovereign Nation, when the elected Govt of that Nation exercise its Constitutional procedure to dismiss a Judge?.

    Is there a fine print in our Constitution to allow these rights to the ” Foreign Governments”?.

  • 0

    Is the Bodu Bala Sena funded by a Foreign Conspiracy? Why is no action being taken against it?

  • 0

    This government is unable to react sensibly to emerging opposition to it’s style of governance. The style of governance is archaic because it is dictatorial and lacks a belief in the democratic ideals enshrined in the constitution. The constitution is regularly amended to make it less democratic. Why? We the people do not like it so we oppose it. Not because we seek a change in the current ruling administration though that too is desirable considering that the people’s voices are not heard. Not because we are conspiring with foreign powers to overthrow the government. It is because we do not like authoritarianism. We resent the attempt to bully us. We do not like corruption, nepotism, favouritism, injustice, and the lack of rule of law. We do not like when Tamils and Muslims are not treated with equality. We do not like it when Buddhist priests go about with sticks and stones. We do not like lying and cheating.

    The government is not our master. The government is our servant elected by our votes and must ask itself whether it is going to listen to us or treat us as dispensable rabble. If the government cannot understand this or disagree, then it must stand down and seek a fresh mandate on their new terms. If the President cannot yield to the will of the people he must quit. Do not waste our time.We did not force him to become President. He volunteered.

  • 0

    Failure of past political-economy-social system in SL,was result of JRJ-UNP’s political regime had been an introduce during 1977 to 1994 by so-called UNP politics.Even after the end war 2009 May, recover the new system, and t system put-into order and back to path of democratic-development we need to go long way. Is not easy task and not as simple w as you talk and write! It’s cannot done by overnight.
    UNP’s right-win regime more or less pratice of corruption nepotism,
    favourirtism and injustice are pillars of their (UNP)are democracy.It’s not created by overnight,that history of UNP politics, since 1948 Under UNP regime was in-out of political-and state power.Is in fact to an understood we have combat these evil forces against anti-people’s power of democracy rule by UNP and other regimes were in power of state of SL last 65 years.
    Take problems as whole is not confined ongoing regime,why not blame to past regime as well, has been an accountability for democracy failure of Sri Lanka path of Capitalist Path of independent development.

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