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Sri Lanka: May Day and Workers’ Rights

Sri Lanka: May Day and Workers’ Rights
By Lionel Bopage

May Day was declared a holiday in Sri Lanka in 1956 for the government sector, bank and mercantile sectors.  May Day celebrations have never clashed with the interests of or activities conducted during Vesak celebrations. Despite this situation and without consultation, the President has unilaterally decided to postpone May Day on the pretext that there will be a “Vesak Week” this calendar year. A gazette notification issued by Home Affairs Minister yesterday cancelled the May Day holiday which is due on May 1.

The President’s postponement of the May Day celebrations in Sri Lanka to May 7 is allegedly because of a request made by Mahanayaka Theros., This is a crass political ploy of exploiting religious sentiment to inhibit protests of the working people by diverting their attention away from the burning issues of the day. Some of the parties and unions who are supposed to represent workers’ interests have already fallen in line with the government. Others have decided to take their protests to the streets on May 1, despite a municipal ban on marches.
The issue of overlapping of May Day with Vesak Day has arisen many times previously. The façade of religiosity becomes apparent at times when this occurs. In 1967, the UNP regime postponed May Day celebrations to the 2nd of May. As quoted in news reports, the Communist Party (Peking Wing) opposed it and Maithripala Sirisena supported the Communist Party’s decision. Now he himself is displaying his opportunism by postponing May Day celebrations.  

Several trade unions in Sri Lanka have strongly objected to this decision to postpone May Day, emphasising that it is a right of workers to celebrate international workers’ day on May 1. The JVP has declared that they will go ahead with the May Day Rally but will hold the Colombo rally on May 7. It is holding its May 1st rally in Jaffna, which is interesting. One could question whether this option is utilised not to confront the issue giving prominence to religion over workers’ rights. According to the JVP, bringing large crowds to Colombo on May Day for celebrations would become an obstacle for Vesak celebrations that will be held in Colombo. This is not the first time the JVP seems to have wavered on this issue. In 2008, the JVP took the initiative to change the May Day from May 1 due to Vesak celebrations, by requesting the government to do so.

This year, Vesak Day does not fall on May 1. The clash is due to the declaration of a Vesak week this year. If the Vesak Week is turned into an annual event, it will be interesting to find out what the JVP position would be. One could easily interpret and equate the JVP position to “killing two birds with one stone”. Thus, they avoid having a May Day rally in Colombo on the May Day itself, despite the relevance of the International Working Day to the working people of the south of Sri Lanka, many of whom reside in Colombo.

When we were released from prison in November 1977, the position of the JVP towards the mobilisation of workers was to organise them in a single workers’ federation, without being concerned of their individual political affiliations. The slogan was One Trade Union for One Industry. However, this did not materialise and the JVP then formed its own trade union under the banner of “Socialist Workers Union”. This fragmentation of workers unity along party lines can be seen in many countries including Sri Lanka and India.

In Sri Lanka, workers have joined ranks with capitalist political parties such as the UNP, the SLPP and the SLFP. Even those on the left are associated with and scattered around, many political parties and groups. These political entities, when they were in power directly or as constituents of capitalist ruling coalitions, have violently suppressed many struggles led by the workers and the youth of the country. Sectarianism among trade unions contributes to not having joint May Day events, thus contributing to the weakness of the workers’ movement. This is also one of the factors that has affected the legitimacy of the trade unions in the public eye and has also contributed to the apathy of some sections of the working people.

Workers instead of mobilising independently to safeguard their own interests, are now paying lip service to their cause. Meanwhile the regime is working on the advice and agenda of the IMF and the World Bank by stripping hard-earned workers’ rights, including the eight-hour working day. This situation will not change, until trade unions organise on the basis of One Trade Union for One Industry policy. At the same time, the only guarantee for such unity will be to practice democracy within trade unions.

Apparently, one of the main trade unions that allow working people with diverse political views to come together for participative decision making is the Ceylon Mercantile Union that had been previously led by comrade, the late Bala Tampoe. However, despite workers with diverse political views being allowed to join the union, I note that during his long tenure, a solid grip was maintained on the union by the General Secretary till his demise.

Thus, this Government has declared May Day a working day. Furthermore, the Colombo Municipal Council controlled by the UNP has refused to grant permission to hold May Day rallies in public parks in Colombo on May 1. This is clearly a ban on all May Day celebrations in Colombo. The sort of repressive action this government takes against those organising May Day events on May 1, could very well be on par with the violent repressive action the previous regime took against e workers struggles at the time. As the United States and several other countries had done, the Government of Sri Lanka seems to have come forward to openly curb democratic rights of the working people.

One could observe historic parallels; when many socialist groups came into being during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Some of them were political parties and others just choirs. Many socialists were even elected to represent their constituencies. However, big businesses and the state controlled the political process. Seeing that there was no way they could advance for a better future, many rejected the available political space, which had been designed to protect the wealthy. Most of them broke away from political organisations to become anarchists. They stressed the need for worker directed industries and cherished direct action over bureaucratic political processes.
Working people all over the world celebrates their traditions, histories and victories on May 1, every year. The socialists and communists of the Second International commemorated the Haymarket Affair in Chicago on the first of May, which became May Day as we know it. It is now a public holiday in many countries with   workers around the world including Sri Lanka celebrating May Day with protest rallies and marches. For many millennia, May Day has been a day celebrating rebirth and fertility. Originally, it was a pagan holiday celebrating the start of summer. May Day is also related to the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and is associated with the spring festivals of the Renaissance, particularly in the northern hemisphere and to this day is celebrated in many cultures. Later, the pagan nature of May Day gave way to a more secular celebration in Europe and North America. In this sense, there is no contradiction or clash between the interests of those celebrating May Day as the International Working Day and those who celebrate it in a cultural manner.

Since the 1880s, it has been recognised as the International Worker's Day. At the time, working class movements had been fighting for fair working conditions including a standardised eight-hour working days and the rights of the trade unions. Under drastic and adverse working conditions, workers had to work 10 to 16-hour days with no holiday provisions.  Due to unsafe work practices, death and injury were a commonplace occurrence. During this time, the working class was in constant struggle to gain an 8-hour work day. However, it was only in the late 1880's that organized labour was able to gain sufficient power to declare the 8-hour working day, without the consent of employers.
In 1884, Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor) proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour from and after May 1, 1886." Many reiterated this proclamation and wished to support it with strikes and demonstrations. Initially, anarchists and radicals thought this was too reformist as it failed to strike "at the root of the evil." Despite these hesitations, “an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day”. With this, the radicals agreed to fight for the 8-hour working day, but with the realisation that greater issues than the 8-hour day existed.

May 1, 1886 was the first May Day celebration in the world. In Chicago, 40,000 went out on strike. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators on the streets illustrated the workers' strength and unity. Strikers responded to the police beatings by throwing rocks and the police responded with gunfire, killing several strikers and wounding many. The Chicago protests spread across Europe. Yet, many being not aware of this believe it is a day celebrated only by the communists and socialists. Despite this belief, May Day has continued to be associated with the objective of achieving social and economic fairness and justice for all working people.

Socialism became an attractive proposition to workers only at a later stage. The idea of working class control over production and distribution of all goods and services was new and very attractive. They came to the understanding that capitalism worked only in favour of owners of means of production by trading the labour and lives of workers for profit. With thousands of needless deaths of men, women and children at work, life expectancy was as low as early twenties in certain industries. When there was no hope but death and destitution, socialism offered them a humane alternative.

Nowadays workers in the west: coming from many faiths and ethnicities work together to protect the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. For the past several years, immigration policy has been a focus for mobilising at May Day events. In the modern movement for worker’s rights, immigrants and their supporters march in the streets.  Immigration has been compounded by the ruling classes into a divisive political issue; we need to transform it into a human issue.

History teaches us that people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today. There is a lot more to fight for. If we remember that people were shot for us to enjoy the eight hour working day; if we recognise that homes were burnt down for us to have Saturday as part of the weekend; if we recollect child victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labour only to be beaten down by the police and company thugs, then only can we understand that our current conditions cannot be taken for granted. The sacrifices so many people made cannot be forgotten. Otherwise, we will have to fight all over again to gain the very same rights our forbearers won. That is the historical lesson we need to learn when celebrating May Day, which is vital.

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How I saw Stephen Hawking's death as a disabled person

How I saw Stephen Hawking's death as a disabled person
Ellis Palmer

16 March 2018

Stephen Hawking was a renowned scientist famed for his work on black holes and relativity.

He published several popular science books such as A Brief History of Time.

Prof Hawking was also a wheelchair user who lived with motor neurone disease from the age of 21.

Yes, he was an award-winning scientist, but a lot of the coverage after Prof Hawking's death has created a narrative of an "inspirational" figure who was "crippled" by his condition and "confined to a wheelchair".

 As a disabled person, I've found this discourse troubling and somewhat regressive.

I'm tired of being labelled an 'inspiration'

Stephen Hawking's death has reminded me why I'm tired, as a disabled person and a wheelchair user, of being labelled an inspiration just for living my everyday life.

Prof Hawking was an extraordinary scientist and an incredibly intelligent human being.

However, many disabled people, myself included, would take issue with calling him an "inspiration" as this term is often used in popular society to belittle disabled people's experiences.

I am fine with my friends and family members calling me "inspirational". However, I get labelled it by random strangers, who hardly know me and just see the wheelchair and my condition (cerebral palsy, which means I use a wheelchair), not the person.

People with disabilities are often framed as either inspirational (say, a Paralympic athlete) or scroungers (people to be cared for or, worse, demonised) by the media and on television screens.

Our everyday experiences are neither heroic nor those of scroungers: it's just life as we know it.

More role models, please

Kids in the playground of my Merseyside primary school would compare me, probably the only young wheelchair user they had encountered, with the "genius" that was Stephen Hawking.

This was not an entirely fair comparison, I must say.

To me what this showed, even from a young age, was that there was a lack of "people like me", disabled people in the public spotlight, people I could aspire to be like.

I can think of four or five disabled people who were in the public spotlight when I was growing up early part of the last decade: David Blunkett, the former home secretary who is blind, Stephen Hawking, and two Paralympic athletes, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Ade Adepitan.

Prof Hawking showed that, despite public perceptions of what a disabled person can do, people with disabilities can achieve amazing things.

Even today, there are still too few disabled people out there in the public eye on a daily basis who are relatable for ordinary disabled people growing up.

If you're a sporty individual, there are Paralympic and disability sport stars. However disability representation on screen in the media and in society as a whole is low, despite the fact that disabled people make up almost one in five of the population, according to the UK government's Family Resources Survey.

All too often, they are categorised using able-bodied people's terminology as "inspiring" or "confined to a wheelchair" by illness or otherwise - rather than language based on their own experiences.

Watch your words (and your memes)

For me, the most troubling moment in the reaction to Prof Hawking's death was when an image of him standing out of his wheelchair went viral on social media.

What this image suggested was a rather damaging trope: the disabled person should always seek to not use a wheelchair, rather than the impairment being something positive to reflect and work with.

Society still seeks to create an image of a disabled person's life as pitiable or a burden on society. This can be incredibly damaging to a disabled person's mental health and their perception of themselves.

Class matters

One cannot ignore the role of class, race and gender privileges when it comes to disability as these are often intertwined.

Prof Hawking was first diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and given a very short time to live.

However, prior to that, his experience had been one of an able-bodied upper middle-class male who studied at Oxford.

As my colleague Alex Taylor wrote for the New Statesman in 2014, Prof Hawking's social class and that he became disabled at 21 meant that he was afforded opportunities that would not have been given to a disabled person in his era who was born with their condition.

Often, the biggest barrier to a disabled person's advancement in society can be low expectations in the education system.

I grew up on Merseyside in northern England and went to a mainstream primary school and a comprehensive secondary school on a former council estate. I was sometimes advised to take "easier" subjects on account of my disability.

Fortunately, I persisted: I studied the subjects I wanted to. I went on to university and to get my dream job here at the BBC.

Only 44,250 of over 400,000 students declared a disability when starting their degree courses in 2015-16, the Higher Education Funding Council reported.

When you consider that there are 13.3 million disabled people in the UK, that's a very low number.

Social class is still a significant contributor to determining the life chances of disabled people, something that Prof Hawking's death has brought home for me.

Source : BBC

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Is Sri Lanka latest to fall into a China debt trap?

Indebtedness to China has obliged Sri Lanka to hand over a major port to its financier. Is this an emerging pattern in Asia? Nikkei staff writer Yuji Kuronuma reports.

PIC 2 chnWhen Sri Lanka handed over its southern port of Hambantota to China in December 2017, many saw the episode as a cautionary tale for other countries that are eagerly accepting Chinese finance to build major infrastructure projects.

Sri Lanka granted a 99-year lease on the port to China Merchant Port Holdings in the hope of cutting its debt to China, which is one of the highest among emerging economies. China, for its part, has gained an important beachhead that could help its attempts to expand military influence in the Indian Ocean.

Construction of the $1.5bn Hambantota Port began in 2008 under former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The first phase of the project, which ended in 2010, cost $361m. While details of the second phase are not known, Exim Bank of China financed 85% of the first phase; in other words, the port construction was greatly reliant on funding from the Chinese government.

But as the port’s losses began to mount, the Sri Lankan government found itself unable to repay its debts. While the country had an external debt of $48.3bn at the end of 2017, its annual external financing needs are $11bn – roughly the same as its annual tax revenue. Sri Lanka's debt to China totals $8bn and is said to carry a 6% interest rate.

“We had to take a decision to get out of this debt trap,” says Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s port and shipping minister, regarding the 99-year lease.

As a result, Sri Lanka, an island country with a population of 20 million, is being held up as a textbook example of a country caught in a so-called debt trap set by China. Government critics say Sri Lanka’s sovereignty has been compromised by the port episode, which came two months before the former president of the neighbouring Maldives warned that its debts could force it to cede territory to China as early as next year.

Gaining a strategic location

Sri Lanka is located at a strategic point for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The port of Hambantota is indispensable to China’s energy security as it imports two-thirds of oil through shipping lanes south of the port.

 PIC 1 chnSources: IMF World Economic Outlook

 In 2009, Mr Rajapaksa put an end to Sri Lanka’s civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and made a policy shift toward infrastructure improvements ahead of the presidential election in 2010. This included the development of Hambantota Port, which is located within his constituency.

China is also funding a Sri Lankan airport project. Mr Rajapaksa kicked off the construction of the country’s second international airport in Mattala, an inland town 20 kilometres from Hambantota, in 2009. Of the $209m construction cost, Exim Bank of China put up $190m with a concessionary loan. Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport is now often referred to as “the world’s emptiest international airport” because only four regular flights arrive and depart each week. The Sri Lankan government plans to sell the airport, too.


India’s concern

Across the border, this has led to worries in India that the airport could become a Chinese air force base, and an Indian delegation visited the airport in 2017 to discuss taking it over. However, according to an airport official: “I heard that it was not going well due to [a] mismatch in conditions from both sides.”

China is also involved in a $15bn project to build Colombo Port City on reclaimed land in the Sri Lankan capital. The $1.4bn first phase is being undertaken by a subsidiary of China Communications & Construction Co, which is shouldering the total cost of reclaiming 269 hectares of land.

Sri Lanka’s debt equals 81.6% of its gross domestic product (GDP), which the International Monetary Fund describes as “high compared with peers, with the ratio of gross financial needs to GDP being the third largest among emerging economies”. But to the Sri Lankan government, “there is no country or institution with ready cash other than China”, says a senior economic official.

Even after the debt problems at Hambantota became clear, in 2017 China proposed two joint $3bn and $125m projects to Sri Lanka for the construction of an oil refinery and a cement factory, respectively, around the port. This raises questions as to whether this will exacerbate Sri Lanka’s debt profile.


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Kandy Mayhem: Law enforcement failures!

As tensions spiralled into violence on the streets in the Kandy district, the Police came in for major flak for failing to stop the mobs and prevent loss of life and property in the affected areas, as Ministers and Opposition politicos charged that law enforcement had failed the people during the unrest.

“Every time this happens, the local level police are failing and it allowed the mob to go berserk,” said Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader and Minister Rauff Hakeem, who was scathing in his criticism and called the Kandy violence part of a “clear hate-crime pattern” in an interview last week.

The claim was backed by residents and eyewitnesses all over the affected parts of Kandy District, and forced the Government to keep flooding the area with security forces personnel to bring the situation under control.

“They just watched on” said Mohamed Nawaz, a local adding that the officers claimed they were outnumbered when people were pleading with them to take action on March 6, when Digana Village was attacked by over a thousand strong mob. “We were told to close our shops and go home” he said adding that a senior Police officer assured they will be protected. According to him they returned the next day to find their businesses burnt down and ransacked.

As emotions ran high “The Police tricked us” one local accused. “The Digana mosque gave them food but in the night they allowed our mosque to be attacked” another said.

Visibly upset Mohammed Moulavi of the Wattegama Mosque pointed out that his mosque was attacked despite being right opposite the Wattegama Police Station.

 Addressing these allegations yesterday at a meeting held with business leaders in Kandy, Commander of the Sri Lanka Army Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake said in discussions, many had directly pointed the finger at the Police and the Special Task Force (STF) for not being able to contain the violence. “By the time the Army arrived the situation had already escalated” he said adding that accusations such as acts of violence were committed while the Police watched on appeared to be commonplace. “It is unfortunate if such things had occurred” he said.

 According to many townsfolk across the Kandy district several days prior to the major unrest they had visited their respective Police stations to seek protection.

As one resident recalled officers of the Karalliyadde Police had told him to request more reinforcements for the towns Police force through politicians. “They said they only had few officers and cannot protect the whole town” he said.

As accusations mounted on March 7, questions were raised as to whether the Police had the required strength to face any possible mobs and attacks. With few officers being stationed in perhaps areas identified as prone to violence, large stretches of small towns had no security presence in the wake of the violence.

On March 8, passing by Hedeniya in Aladeniya one was able to witness an incident where the security officers placed in the town appeared to be overwhelmed as a unruly crowd gathered in the town centre. With just one Police officer and two soldiers placed in the town, the crowd outnumbered them.

However Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara says the main fault of the incident is not with the Police. “The police didn’t make this incident happen,” he said, “but as always the blame eventually falls on the Police”.

SP Gunasekara pointed out that the Police took immediate action on March 4, when the tension started and two shops in Teldeniya were torched. According to him the Police arrested 10 people involved immediately.

He also pointed out that in Kandy, certain Police stations are far away from places of incidents and it was one difficulty faced by them during the past week. “This is why we have been increasing Police stations” he said.

According to him Police deployed many teams and even called additional officers for special duty to counter the situation. “The recent arrests made by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) including that of the main suspect Amith Weerasinghe is what mainly controlled the violence from spiralling further. ” This should be recognised, he insisted.

 However Gunasekara also said there were incidents that the Police did not anticipate in the beginning. “For example we did not expect violence in Digana as its away from Teldeniya” he said adding that the focus was therefore on the Teldeniya area while the Police found it difficult to grapple with incidents that appeared to be randomly cropping up in various pocket areas.

 He added that while the police had not received official complaints of Police inaction during the unrest the IGP would order an enquiry to identify the possible weaknesses and failures on the part of the Kandy Police Division.

Source : Sunday Observer

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India, China at cross purposes in Sri Lanka, both face Lankan anger

Many in Sri Lanka are voicing dissent – questioning the wisdom of handing over “national assets” of the island nation to China and India in the guise of regional economic development.

LKAHambantota port was developed by Sri Lanka with money borrowed from China/Reuters.

 Massive infrastructural development projects in South Asia sponsored by China and India – involving billions of dollars – are attracting sharp criticism.

China – with its far bigger investments and outreach – has been facing greater political resistance to its transport connectivity and energy sector related projects in Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

However, Sri Lanka is where the two most populous Asian countries have crossed each other’s path.

Now it is India’s turn to face indirect criticism from political circles in Sri Lanka over its involvement in developing the controversial Mattala airport.

Many in Sri Lanka are voicing dissent – questioning the wisdom of handing over “national assets” of the island nation to China and India in the guise of regional economic development.

There has been stinging opposition to the China-sponsored construction of the Hambantota port and development projects involving an investment of $1.5 billion.

The project was part of a grandiose dream of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In addition to the port, the Chinese had built a new airport at Mattala near Hambantota and a sports facility. The Chinese-built structures are linked by pristine new roads that Chinese companies have built.

According to the opaque provisions of the agreement between China and Sri Lanka – the terms of which were never publicly disclosed, let alone debated – Sri Lanka provided sovereign guarantees for meeting repayment commitments to the Chinese, incorporating a debt-for-equity swap in case of non-payment.

Sri Lankan’s dilemma

Now as things stand, Sri Lanka’s indebtedness to China has mounted sharply over the years to stand at over $8 billion.

Even partially repaying the high-interest loans have proved difficult for the new Sri Lankan government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena.

The major reason being – the Hambantota port is hardly being used by ships which prefer to call at Colombo port. The same dilemma applies for the Mattala airport which runs only one flight a week to Dubai.

In diplomatic circles, the buzz is that Western companies are none-too-keen to use the Chinese-built infra-facilities set up as part of One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR), unless there is no alternative.

Therefore, Colombo’s recent decision to hand over the Hambantota port facilities to China on a 99-year lease, retaining only a 20% share for itself, came as no surprise. China also took charge of around 6070 hectares of land and announced plans to set up a special economic zone (SEZ) – to turn the area into an economic hub to be run with Chinese finance.

Questioning the Chinese motive

India, Japan and the United States had expressed their fears that in the guise of building a port, China was really setting up a naval base at Hambantota with military implications. China strongly denied this. But once the administration of the port passed under its control, there was nothing to stop the Chinese from reducing public access to its facilities and running it the way they wanted to.

India has stepped in – never having swallowed the Chinese rhetoric about not using Hambantota as a key strategic port in the Indian Ocean conveniently placed in relation to Djibouti and Gwadar.

It has offered to help develop the Mattala airport, where reportedly rice is being stored at the hangars, not planes.

Significantly, the decision has not been debated in India at length either and the reasons for India’s going in remain obscure.

Sri Lanka’s Sino-Indian complex

The argument heard in diplomatic circles is that India is “buying out” Sri Lanka’s debt component to China with an initial investment of around $280 million or so.

To start with – Delhi will help build a flying school, run the airport jointly with the local Sri Lankan company that administers Colombo airport.

China had already spent over $250 million to build the Mattala facilities.

However, most analysts see the dangers of a big power confrontation developing in the region.

China has never strongly denied reports about setting up a naval base in the area.

Given this background, India could be interested in involving itself with a “lame duck” airport only with the interest of monitoring closely the movement of Chinese ships or other vessels in what it regards as its own backyard. Such maneuverings were bound to raise local political tensions and temperatures that would first hurt the Sri Lankans and their immediate interests.

In broad terms, these worries form the core of anxieties in a section of Sri Lankan observers, who feel that things could go wrong especially at times when delicately poised trilateral relations come under sudden strain.

So far, Indian authorities have not publicly reacted to such apprehensions at this stage.

However, this has not eased mounting concerns at Colombo. Prominent opposition MP Dullas Alahapperuma told reporters that handing over “national assets” to China and India – in the name of development – could prove to be a high-risk business. It could lead to “dangerous consequences.” Three opposition MPs were recently arrested for demonstrating outside the Hambantota port.

Meanwhile, influential Indian think tanks have advised Delhi to avoid specifically the high-handed approach adopted by the Chinese in relation to their ambitious OBOR scheme – projected cost $700 billion to over $1 trillion in phases. Eminent analysts feel that India should strengthen and further develop the win-win model of regional co-operation that exists between it and Bangladesh.

India has substantially improved the level of its internal infrastructure through better road and railway transit agreements and coordination of coastal vessel movements through effective planning and talks with Bangladesh. In return, Bangladesh has also increased its outreach to Nepal, Bhutan and major Indian states, not to mention its earnings through transit fees. Apart from a rise in national income and trade, fuel or time savings, there has been new job creation on both sides.

Ashis Biswas

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Tensions in Sri Lanka: Please don’t let our motherland to weep again

Tensions in Sri Lanka: Please don’t let our motherland to weep again

by Nilantha Ilangamuwa writing from Kandy

The volcano of racial extremism has erupted. Yet again, it has started burning the soul of the nation while making it possible for horrendous danger of pulling the country back into its darkness. The ugly beast is ripping us off. It is the moment for the ruling alliance to govern the country wisely rather than making decisions based on emotions and political motivations.

The tragedy which caused the riot is now known to the public. Solving such grave issues is lying nowhere but our in our readiness to listen as if the pain is ours and taking proper action within effective time by understanding the ground realities. Banning social media and shaming the country’s reputation internationally will achieve nothing but it will certainly escalate the crisis.

There is one small but unbreakable and touching statement given by the wife of the victim whose husband was beaten to death by an undisciplined group of men.

“There is no point in fighting and claiming more precious lives of the people and making more widows like me. My husband was so innocent and everyone in the village adored him,” Thilaka Pushpakumari, the wife of late-H.G. Kumarasinghe, told the media. This is how the majority of Sinhalese as well as other communities are thinking and acting. Majority of the people quite well understand the depth of the problems arisen out of tragedies.

“Working as a driver, he looked after me, his mother, our disabled son and the daughter. We have become so helpless now. We have no future now. Honestly, we don’t have much hopes and confidence that the Government will support us,” she said.

It is time to prove to the Government and those who have the power to manipulate the politics in the country that they have the wisdom to understand the bottom of this painful statement and take every possible action to eliminate the racial seeds. She has clearly stated that she does not have much hope and confidence that the Government will address their grievances and sorrows.

This is the issue. This is an issue which can fuel the racial elements among the public. Solve her problem and prove to the public that we are capable of solving the issues, internally. Then apply the same constructive approach to those who were victimised after the main incident.

What was the lesson in the recent history we learned? One single incident can drive a nation on the wrong path and destroy in no time what we as a respectable nation earned over generations. When emotions drive the steps to be taken without allowing authority and other responsible authorities to access and fulfil their duty, then those who are manipulating the incident will win and the country will be further destroyed.

We have the bloody lesson from the past; we as the nation hammered internationally after allowing small groups of “beasts” who destroyed the unity and dignity of people on many occasions.

Please don’t again! Don’t let anyone pull our motherland into a bloodbath. Don’t immerse our younger generation into the pool of fear. Don’t let anyone take away the all good hopes for us to become the nation of prosperity.

Don’t let our nation to weep again. We have cried enough and wetted the earth out of our tears enough.

Pic for featured

We have learned enough bitter lessons out of fear, out of terror, out of misunderstandings, out of misguidance, out of fake propaganda against the country, out of all sorts of what is commonly named as inhuman activities. Hundreds of thousands of skulls buried out of nightmares in last few decades in the country are still weeping their tears for the remaining. We are still paying the price for that.

What Sri Lanka needs today is for leaders to take individual responsibilities followed by collective action to block every possible way which could create disunity and dissension.

So let’s be together. Let’s listen to each other. Sympathy is not the solution, but taking necessary action to make life better for all is the need of the moment. Banning communications is not the solution, but pathetic move to hide the symptoms without proper treatment, which suppression would lead to the problem erupting again and again.

No point of blaming and shaming, which normally all can do. What is important is for each one of us to take our life into account based on our individual responsibility as a human being and a citizen of this country; And take precautions and proactive decisions to strengthen ourselves so none can distort the reputation of our nation. Then none can destroy the quality of our humanity. Then our nation will prevail as a Sovereign entity.


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Three men who would dare not face a presidential election

Mainstream politics in Sri Lanka is so bankrupt, none of the 02 main political leaders can ever face the next 2020 presidential election with grit and confidence. The third, Mahinda Rajapaksa is ruled out on 19A as he had already completed 02 terms. President Sirisena who was elected with a promise to scrap the Executive Presidency has since been saying he would consider a second term, but could never contest and win, unless Rajapaksa backs him. But that thought is as cheating as a shooting star and would never happen. Recent LG elections would have taught him a bitter lesson in going out on his own without Rajapaksa.

His “Unity” government partner the UNP leader Wickremesinghe contested once in 2005 November when he lost to Rajapaksa and thereafter had avoided contesting the presidential election twice, going behind “Common” Candidates. All because his UNP fears to contest a presidential election with him as the UNP candidate. We thus have 03 leaders, one denied the chance to contest and 02 who will not have election platforms they can begin their campaign with convincing popular support.

If offered an opportunity to contest a presidential election without tenure counts, it is Mahinda Rajapaksa who would jump on it, before anyone else. But that needs an amendment to the Constitution. Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe would never allow such an amendment to the Constitution. Nor would concerned people of this country consent to such amendment.

That compelled few urban middle class Sinhala Buddhists and a few ex-military officers to believe Gotabhaya Rajapaksa could be an “alternative” to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Most unfortunately for Gotabhaya, he is not even endorsed by his own Rajapaksa family to declare himself a presidential candidate at the 2020 election. Despite allegations of heavy corruption and court cases against Basil Rajapaksa, he remains the most politically savvy organiser among Rajapaksa siblings. He also carries with him the “anti UNP” stamp, having been arrested and remanded by this UNP led “Unity” government. A situation Gotabhaya is mortally afraid of facing, and has been evading arrests through judicial rulings he obtained. During the past year, two attempts by Gotabhaya to prop himself up in politics, first with “Viyath maga” (Intellectual path) and thereafter with “Eliya” (Light) fizzled off without any public interest. A clear message, Gotabhaya is not accepted by the Sinhala Buddhist majority. He is not recognised as one who could give leadership to the Sinhala Buddhists sentiments that Mahinda Rajapaksa has rallied around himself. Gotabhaya also carries with him a baggage that makes him look a dreadful despot in power.

In short, Gotabhaya is not accepted within the Sinhala Buddhist majority, even to the extent, Basil is still tolerated. That is also why Mahinda Rajapaksa continues to have confidence in Basil as the necessary organisational prop for his popular Sinhala image. Thus it was Basil who was chosen by Mahinda to organise the new party, the SLPP and not Gotabhaya. The SLPP swept the LG elections without Gotabhaya in sight, but with Basil managing the election campaign for Mahinda. It proves that Mahinda Rajapaksa still remains the irreplaceable popular Sinhala Buddhist leader for more years to come.

For Mahinda Rajapaksa to reach the pinnacle of political power once again, he needs a parliamentary election and that should come before the 2020 presidential election too. One option would be to have a resolution passed in parliament with a two thirds majority. For now, to have that resolution passed with a two thirds majority seems a dream that cannot be given feet. The Joint Opposition is in a tiring struggle to find adequate numbers to have their ‘No confidence’ motion passed in parliament on 04 April. A man who always loves to walk on secured paths and would work on them patiently, Mahinda does not seem to be wasting time with that option of a resolution in parliament for elections.

My guess therefore is, Mahinda is stealthily working on a different option, he perhaps thinks is more pragmatic and solid. This leads the country into a political knot that Wickremesinghe tied with 19A. Mahinda Rajapaksa no doubt is eyeing that knot, Wickremesinghe would now want to untie, for his advantage. With mutual agreement or not, they both seem to be on the same page, in having a parliamentary election, before a presidential election. The Constitutional knot Wickremesinghe tied with 19A to keep this “Unity” government going for 04 plus years with him as PM, now seems an uneasy knot for him too to live with.

As it is, four and a half years from August 2015 would count beyond March 2020 for a parliamentary election. On the same 19A, the presidential election would come in January 2020. If Wickremesinghe cannot be assured victory at that presidential election, he will dare not contest the 2020 presidential election, to be defeated once again. Such assurance is hard to come for Wickremesinghe, even from his own party. In a situation where there is no guarantee on a presidential electoral victory for him, he will not have any other contesting the presidency from the UNP. Worst is, there is also none in the UNP for now who could stand up to a presidential election, except Mangala Samaraweera. But Mangala is still not accepted as a finely groomed UNPer to be allowed that privilege by the UNP hierarchy. The dilemma for the UNP that avoided the 02 previous presidential elections is, they cannot once again go behind a “Common Candidate”.

Where would this leave the UNP and Wickremesinghe and how does Rajapaksa come on their page? Their page is not very complicated to read. If the UNP and Wickremesinghe cannot be certain they could win a presidential election with Wickremesinghe as the candidate, then Wickremesinghe would opt to have a parliamentary election, with a Constitutional amendment to abolish the executive presidency and would allow for a parliamentary election. Presidential elections can then be scrapped to elect a non-executive President as in India through parliament. In fact, for the UNP that would be a more pragmatic move to claim power at an election as a single political party. Then comes Rajapaksa who is denied a third term and would therefore want a parliamentary election with the same Constitutional amendment. More because he now has proved he can lead the race, even without the support of the Sirsena faction of the SLFP.

That is how all other things seem to be now falling into place. Rajapaksa is perhaps working on a dual strategy. The ‘No confidence’ motion against the PM is what the Joint Opposition (JO) is working on to forge unity with the Sirisena group of the SLFP that wants to be seen as “anti UNP”. That would compel Sirisena to allow his men to vote for the ‘No confidence’ motion without any disciplinary threats. He is also seen further consolidating his power over economic policy of the government, right or wrong.

On the other side of the ‘No confidence’ motion, Rajapaksa avoided giving it his own popular identity. His strategy was to project a “I’m not there. I’m there” image by presenting it to the Speaker, without his signature. Thus he has already made certain, the ‘No confidence’ motion would allow the JO and other UPFA MPs in the government to go “anti UNP”, but does not seem to want UNP dissidents to join the “No Confidence” motion to oust PM. Wickremesinghe For he needs Wickremesinghe as PM to push through a Constitutional amendment to abolish the executive presidency with a two thirds majority and then the UNP to win the people’s “Referendum” that would follow. PM Wickremesinghe too needs Rajapaksa for the same reasons.

Perhaps Wickremesinghe believes he could win a parliamentary election with minority support while Rajapaksa believes he could win the parliamentary elections on his Sinhala Buddhist platform, even if President Sirisena would opt to keep away from an alliance with his SLPP. He has already morphed his SLPP into a novel SLFP at grassroots. LG bodies have shown, there is an organic anti UNP front taking shape, with Sirisena’s SLFP joining the SLPP to keep the UNP out of office even in places where they led the vote.

For President Sirisena, his new arrogant “anti UNP” stance within this “Unity” government, will not open any better window to see a better future than what Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa agenda would offer. A compromise to abolish the executive presidency to be President and a nominal head of State, elected by a new parliament, dominated either by Wickremesinghe or by Rajapaksa. For these two the boxing ring would be large enough to spend time shadow boxing for at least another whole year.

Kusal Perera

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OMP provides 'audacity of hope' to Sri Lanka

OMP provides 'audacity of hope' to Sri Lanka

By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

Let me begin on a very personal note. The first major emotional upheaval I underwent as a result of losing a very loved one, was when I lost my maternal grandfather in December 1968. I was 14 years old at that time. I was inordinately fond of him and he of me, his eldest grandchild.

My grandfather had been ailing for some time and his impending demise was expected. Both his children, their spouses and all his grandchildren were around his bed when my grandfather breathed his last.

We were living in Kollupitiya at that time and my grandfather passed away peacefully at our residence. The doctor came and certified his death there.

The undertakers took the body away, embalmed it and brought it back in a coffin for people to pay their respects. The funeral service was at our home. The burial was at Kanatte. A memorial service was held two months later in a Methodist Church in Colombo. A memorial monument was duly erected at Kanatte.

Why I relate all these details is to emphasize that I was witness to each and every aspect of my grandfather’s final farewell to this world - from his deathbed to tombstone. I knew fully well that my grandfather had died and that he was not among the living yet I refused to accept that he was dead. Being quite young and having been so fond of him I could not cope with his loss. We were living at the bottom of the lane (Aloe Avenue) by the seaside then.

All such illusions were shattered when war came to Sri Lanka. War is nothing but nasty, brutal destruction. There is nothing laudable in it except perhaps the individual bravery of those courting death for what they thought was a just cause.

I was learning Tennyson’s “break, break, break” in my GCE (OL) English Literature class. The poem written by Tennyson over the loss of his friend Arthur Hallam resonated very much with me then. I would sit on the rocks along the Colpetty beach just as Tennyson did “at the foot of thy crags O’sea” and think of my “Appa” as I called my grandfather. (I called my father Papa & grandfather Appa).The lines “But O’ for the touch of a vanish’d hand, And the sound of a voice that is still!” would strike responsive melancholy chords in my heart.

Still, the loss was too much to bear then. I just could not accept the fact that my grandfather was dead and gone. I started imagining that he was really alive and that he never died. Whenever I saw an elderly male who bore a resemblance to my grandfather, I would go up to him and stare intently at the point of embarrassment. Sometimes while travelling alone by bus, I would see someone who looked like him on the pavement, get down at the next halt and run back only to be disappointed. Far worse was the thought that like Jesus Christ, my grandfather too had risen from the dead. I would go to Borella, look at his grave and then wander around Kanatte hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

Burden Of “Sorrowful Affection”

Finally, I was liberated from this burden of “sorrowful affection”. Due to certain reasons, my family relocated from Colombo to Jaffna in December 1969 just one year after my grandfather’s death. While my parents and siblings lived at Chavakachcheri, I was boarded at Jaffna College, Vaddukkoddai. The change of environment and the different experience of living in the North as opposed to that of living in Colombo brought about a change in me. I stopped imagining that my grandfather was alive and began adjusting to life after his death. With the passage of time the sorrow and grief lessened but never ever went away. And then, of course, there were other losses and deaths. (I lost my parents, sister and close relatives and friends over the years).

Then there was the escalation of the ethnic conflict and its consequences. I began losing track of the people whom I knew who died or disappeared or went missing or were injured or got displaced as a result of the ethnic conflict.

Why I recount my experience of almost half a century ago is to show how the loss of a loved one could have a traumatic effect on people. In my case, I had seen the death, funeral, burial and memorial service of my grandfather and even knew the grave in which he lay. There was full closure.

Yet I could not for many long months accept his death or come to terms with the fact that he was no more. This experience makes me ultra-sensitive to the agony and pain suffered by those who have undergone loss without proper closure particularly those who do not know what has happened to their loved ones.

Still, the loss was too much to bear then. I just could not accept the fact that my grandfather was dead and gone. I started imagining that he was really alive and that he never died.

 OMP 1

 When a loved one disappears or is made to disappear and you have no news at all about the missing person how does one cope with that loss? How can memory be consoled when there is no knowledge of what had happened to a loved one? How can a troubled heart be pacified by the mind if no one knows the fate of what befell a loved one?

For many decades I have been writing on politics of Sri Lanka. The island’s politics has for long been overshadowed and even overwhelmed by an armed conflict. War has its own consequences and its distinct fall-out. Very often the original causes of war are forgotten and even replaced by new problems and grievances. When I was young and read about the war in newspapers and saw battle scenes on screen, I had a romanticised outlook on war. I regarded war as a noble adventure and fighting as heroic.

 All such illusions were shattered when war came to Sri Lanka. War is nothing but nasty, brutal destruction. There is nothing laudable in it except perhaps the individual bravery of those courting death for what they thought was a just cause.

The war in Sri Lanka was a dirty war. It was not fought by soldiers carrying the UN Human Rights Charter in one hand and love in their hearts as former President Mahinda Rajapaksa once stated. The Tigers and other militant fighters were no saints either.

An inevitable consequence of the war was the phenomenon known as Enforced Disappearances. A very large number of people in Sri Lanka disappeared or were made to disappear or went missing as a result of the conflict regarded at one time as South Asia’s longest war.

The well-known Human Rights Organization, “Human Rights Watch”(HRW) observed thus in a statement: “Tens of thousands of people were forcibly disappeared in Sri Lanka since the 1980s, including during the last months of the war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009...... The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances ranks Sri Lanka as the country with the second highest number of disappearances in the history of its tenure.”

“Most of those reported disappeared during the three-decade long conflict between government forces and the LTTE were ethnic Tamils. A short-lived but violent insurgency with a majority Sinhala militant group in the country’s South in the late 1980s also led to many enforced disappearances and other abuses by both sides. Various Commissions of Inquiry established by successive Sri Lankan Governments in response to pressure from victims’ groups and others have produced reports that have largely remained unpublished and have not resulted in criminal prosecutions of those responsible.”

For people whose loved ones pass away tragically in an accident or are killed through violence the struggle to cope is more painful. The worst, however, is for those whose loved ones are made to disappear or have gone missing.

 Enforced Disappearances Phenomenon


 The HRW statement focuses on enforced disappearances during the war and its aftermath and also highlights the fact that most victims were Tamils. But disappearances did not occur only during the ethnic conflict and neither was the enforced disappearances phenomenon a Tamil monopoly. 

People of all ethnicities were victimised but the bulk of war victims were certainly Tamils. A large number of Sinhala youths were made to disappear when the State ruthlessly suppressed the bloody insurgencies led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1971 and 1988/89.

 As a journalist writing about politics and war in Sri Lanka, I had to write about missing persons too. There were some disappearances like those of Fr. Thiruchelvam Nihal Jim Brown the Allaippiddy Parish Priest and Eastern University Vice-Chancellor Prof.S. Raveendranath about which I wrote extensively.

There were other disappearances about which I did not write in very great detail. Time, media space and scanty information being the reasons. Very few Sri Lankan journalists wrote about disappearances and irked the powers that be then. There were many disappearances about which nothing was written. They have become part of official and unofficial statistics.

Yet every single case of a missing person has a heart-rending story behind it. A missing person may be treated by officialdom as a mere statistic but he or she has a family and many loved ones who yearn for some reliable information about what has happened to him or her.

The disappearance of loved ones is not something restricted to one community or one ethnicity alone. It is correct that the Tamil people have suffered more than other ethnicities proportionately. Yet, the Sinhala people to have suffered immensely during the JVP insurgency of 1988-89. The State ruthlessly suppressed the JVP revolt then. Thousands were killed and thousands simply disappeared.

Many years ago before Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power, Dr Manoranee Saravanamuttu, the mother of Richard de Zoysa was in Canada for an event organized by the University of Toronto.
Apart from meeting her at seminars and dinners, I also had a one to one conversation with Aunty Manoranee for about ten hours at the university’s Massey College where she was staying. During that very long conversation, she told me so many harrowing tales about the deaths and disappearances in the south during 1988-90.

She told me that the bulk of the victims were from socio-culturally underprivileged caste groups and that there was no strong voice raised, on their behalf. She told me about the activities of the Mothers Front and how the common experience of loss, deprivation, suffering and sorrow brought the Tamil speaking and Sinhala speaking mothers, daughters, wives and sisters together and how the state resented it. I have never and will never forget that conversation.

As I mentioned earlier I had found it very difficult to cope with the death of my grandfather who died peacefully of natural causes. I could not accept it for long although there was full closure.

For people whose loved ones pass away tragically in an accident or are killed through violence the struggle to cope is more painful. The worst, however, is for those whose loved ones are made to disappear or have gone missing.

For them, the lack of knowledge and uncertainty is sheer agony. There is no closure after death for them because they are not sure whether their loved ones are among the dead or the living. All that they need or want is some official pronouncement of what had really happened. Reason tells them that persons gone missing for so long cannot be among the living but their hearts full of love for the lost loved ones refuse to accept the loss as permanent. The heart has reasons which reason itself may not understand. Humans are not systems of intellect alone. They are bundles of emotion too. They mourn and they yearn. They grieve and they hope.


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India’s expanding security sphere

India’s foreign policy elites are grappling with a wide array of strategic challenges as the country’s power rises, writes David Brewster.

As India rises as a major power its security sphere is expanding beyond South Asia. But it still remains uncertain about the extent and shape of its future security role. India’s decisions about this will be key to the shape of Australia’s future strategic environment.

India’s security sphere – where it identifies key security interests and seeks to play a security role – is a function of its interests, ambitions, capabilities and constraints.

India has long had great ambitions, but its ability to protect its interests has been constrained by its limited capabilities. Despite its huge population and many natural resources, India’s sclerotic economy meant that it had little ability to project power beyond South Asia.

More than two decades of strong economic growth is now expanding India’s interests, and its capabilities to protect those interests. Still, it remains a poor country and its future economic trajectory is far from assured.

Ideology both propels India into the region and constrains it. India’s elite see it as having a destiny to become a great power with global interests. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi commented, India now has the “unique opportunity” to position itself in a “leading role” globally.

But many, from Mahatma Gandhi onwards, have also argued that India must exercise power in a moral way. In the decades after independence, this was expressed through the principles of non-alignment, which included refusing to enter into alignments and the promotion of non-violence, international cooperation and the primacy of the United Nations.

The force of these ideas is slowly fading. Narendra Modi has made significant efforts to promote India playing a more active security role in the manner of a ‘normal’ power. Both Modi and his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, have argued that India must act as a ‘net security provider to the region’.

But what is India’s region?

India is a ‘South Asian’ power and is increasingly taking a leading role in parts of the Indian Ocean. But it remains hesitant about assuming a security role in important areas such as the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea. Although New Delhi endorses the idea of the Indo-Pacific, there are still fears that India might be dragged into disputes far from its shores.

Even simple security agreements with the United States, such as arrangements to give logistical support to each other’s militaries, remain politically controversial in India.

South Asia is the core of India’s security sphere. India’s immediate neighbourhood presents major security challenges. Armed stand-offs with Pakistan and China keep most of India’s army on its borders. Other neighbours, such as Bangladesh and Nepal, have their own problems that directly impact India’s internal security.

While India’s neighbours have a very immediate security impact on it, contemporary security interests aren’t neatly defined by proximity. In fact, India’s external engagements operate unevenly and in ways that can transcend pure geography.

India has sought to transcend its traditional strategic preoccupations in South Asia, including through ‘de-hyphenating’ itself from Pakistan and through showing greater generosity with other neighbours. But the challenges that India faces internally and on its borders mean that security demands in South Asia will be the overwhelming focus of India’s security efforts. India will always look first at its own doorstep.

Over the last decade, India has claimed a much-expanded area of strategic interest in the Indian Ocean region. The Indian Navy’s 2015 Maritime Security Strategy lists the country’s primary areas of maritime interest as covering most of the Indian Ocean. Many Indian leaders see this as India’s sphere of influence.

While India hotly denies any hegemonic designs, it does wish to be acknowledged by others as playing a leading role. As famous RAND Corporation analyst, George Tanham once described it, India’s self-perceived regional role is that of a ‘friendly policeman’ that seeks peace and stability for the entire Indian Ocean region. These sensitivities cause India to often move slowly and cautiously, and in practice underplay its strategic strengths. Usually, India’s actual security role falls short of its aspirations towards leadership of the entire region.

India has a naturally dominant maritime security role in the Bay of Bengal. This is a key defensive space for India against potential threats that may come through Southeast Asia. Control over the sea-lanes that enter the Malacca Strait can also provide strategic leverage over rivals. In recent years, India has reinforced its capabilities in the Bay of Bengal, including ‘rebalancing’ naval resources to India’s east coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, near the Malacca Strait.

Nevertheless, India’s relations in the region are uneven, as countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka try to hedge their bets through relationships with others powers, such as China.

The southwest Indian Ocean is another area where India is building a leading role. Its security interests in this region include protecting its key trade routes around southern Africa and, potentially, denying those routes to others.

India is now building a military base in the Seychelles, near the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, and is considering another base on remote islands owned by Mauritius. These represent a major departure from Indian policy that long derided foreign military bases.

But it is not clear to what extent India’s future security sphere will include the northwest Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.

India has many interests in the Persian Gulf. It is vitally concerned with access to energy and the vulnerability of oil imports through the Strait of Hormuz. The Gulf Arab states are major economic partners and the home of more than seven million Indian nationals. Pakistan also has a big military presence in the Gulf.

These factors simultaneously make the Gulf an area of vital interest and constrain India’s security presence. For one thing, taking an active role in the region would be a big political risk for Delhi, not least because of the views of 180 million Indian Muslims.

India is developing closer security relationships with some smaller Gulf Arab States, but these remain tentative. Some see India and Iran as ‘natural’ strategic partners, although India will try to avoid taking sides in growing Sunni-Shia rivalries in the region. The recent deal to jointly develop Chabahar Port as a gateway to Central Asia may only be the first of many joint India-Iran projects in the region.

Despite its crucial security interests, India is not in a hurry to assume a major security role in the Gulf. US military predominance there provides stability at a low economic and political cost to India. But this will change if the United States draws down its defence resources in the Gulf, or that region becomes contested by China. Ultimately, that will be the true test of India’s willingness to assume the burdens that come with being a major power.

David Brewster is a Senior Research Fellow at the National Security College, Australian National University and a Distinguished Research Fellow with the Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne. This article is based on the author’s chapter in the Oxford Handbook of India’s National Security (Oxford University Press, 2018).


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The Undeterred Journey for the Missing

By Mangala Samaraweera


We are fortunate to witness this moment when the Government led by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has given life to an important promise made to the people of this nation. The Office on Missing Persons Act was passed in August 2016 and on 27 February, a seven-member commission was announced to lead its activities and investigations starting immediately.

My commitment to the struggle of the missing, goes back as long as my journey in politics. I recall a time in the 80s when cases of large scale disappearances were at alarming rates. The decision to devote myself to politics was driven by my concern with these atrocities that occurred around my hometown, and a strong desire to bring justice to those families suffering as a result of this. It may be the greatest irony that during those times I was inspired by the words of many individuals who championed the cause, including our former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse. He spoke fervently about our responsibility to find these missing people and to prevent such outrages from occurring in the future. I was struck by his moving words and his dedication to the cause and so began our journey for justice. In 1990 it was Mr. Rajapakse and I who were co-conveners of the Mother’s Front movement. This was a movement against missing children of the South and had a significant impact in setting the discourse surrounding this sensitive topic. Today, I am dismayed by the sentiments that he vociferously articulates, to tear apart initiatives that seek to alleviate the pain of innocent mothers of this country.

The journey thus far has been long and by no means easy. A history of 30 years of violence is witness to the absolute necessity for the OMP today, perhaps even more crucial than it has been ever before. We have suffered through many conflicts from the time of the JVP insurrections in the 70s and 80s to the post-war violence just a few years ago. In these trying times, when the numbers of the missing have been steadily rising, few walked with us to see this journey to completion. The voices that spoke so passionately against these crimes suddenly started changing their tone. These same voices began switching camps so unexpectedly that lately many of the attacks on the OMP have been directed from Mr. Rajapakse himself. If the question of the missing still remains high on the agenda with the reported numbers of the missing rising each day, the question remains why it is no longer a cause worth fighting for. The answer is sad and simple. Self-serving policies and party politics have taken precedence over the suffering families of those gone missing over the past 30 years. For Mr. Rajapakse in 1989, this cause was worth getting arrested for at the airport while he carried documents with information regarding the missing to the UNHRC in Geneva, and today the same movement has been portrayed by this camp as an attack on our war heroes. The discourse has been distorted and manipulated for political gain, becoming a tool in the hands of power hungry individuals. Misconceptions have been drawn out to confuse the public and the victims of this have been none other than the affected families who have had no means to redress their loss. But make no mistake, this journey will not be ended by the selfish actions of these self-serving individuals.

The OMP does not aim to benefit only one community and does not threaten another. It is merely a truth-seeking mechanism. It aims to investigate and find out the truth about those identified as “missing” or who have disappeared during conflict. According to the international Committee of the Red Cross, over 16,000 individuals have gone missing during the civil war. Of them, 5100 belonged to the armed forces. These are the very same individuals who fought against the terror that the LTTE created. We as a nation, have a responsibility to find the truth about where they are, and to bring an end to the agony faced by their families and loved ones.

The OMP mandate cuts across all ethnic and religious boundaries. It seeks to investigate persons missing in connection with the conflict of the North and East and its aftermath. This includes those of all ethnicities; including the armed forces and police who have been identified as “missing in action”. It will investigate into those gone missing during political unrest or civil disturbances in the south as well as victims of enforced disappearances island wide. The mandate of the OMP ensures that it will carry out searching and tracing of missing persons, clarifying the circumstances in which such persons went missing and their fate, making recommendations to relevant authorities in order to reduce incidents of missing and disappeared persons, and identifying proper avenues of redress available to the families of the missing persons and informing them of the same.

Despite its role as an investigative body, the OMP is not a law-enforcement or judicial body such as a court of law, and the Act clearly states that “the findings of the OMP shall not give rise to any criminal or civil liability.” The myths that have been spread about the OMP claiming that it is a witch hunt to prosecute our war heroes is a lie. The OMP cannot prosecute perpetrators of violence. These rumors are political manipulations to deter the fair and just actions taken by the government towards peace and reconciliation. It is merely an office set up to address grievances of the families and friends of those gone missing during conflicts and to ensure fair treatment for them in the future. The OMP gives the chance for renewed faith and hope for those who have lost their families and friends. It is not limited to an area or ethnicity but promises dignity and prosperity for all. These steps will prevent isolating and radicalizing aggrieved communities and avoid new forms of terrorism that can shake the peace and stability of our nation.

In 2015 the coalition government vowed to develop a culture of consensual politics. The OMP took into strong consideration the recommendations made by the general public and civil society groups. Families of the affected voiced their concerns and ideas on the best ways to improve the OMP bill. Today their voices have been heard. Accordingly, the OMP is ready to engage with all groups, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or geographic location in order to get their valued input and information. The decision to do so was demanded by the people.

At the UNHRC in 2015 I stated that our political change was bringing an end to short-sighted policies and a triumphalist approach to the end of the war. The OMP is the primary example for this promise. This independent body is set to continue its investigations despite changing government interests. It is an autonomous, transparent commission acting independently to any political biases or affiliations.

This multiethnic island is one step away from lasting peace and prosperity. We as citizens of this great country must take this step together. We have made it through the difficult times. We have endured adversity in all its forms and we are here today looking forward to a better future.

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Replanting the Forests one Wild Mushroom at a time

When she was a girl, Nilanthi Kumarasinghe would fill a bowl with salt and chilli powder and head into the forest. Her parents were worried it was unsafe, but to her those were halcyon days. She and the other children ran wild, spending lazy afternoons climbing trees to pluck fruit, both sweet and tart; laughing and talking as they ate them with chilli powder. “We grew up relying on the resources of the forest. We found things there that we could not find anywhere else,” Nilanthi remembers, describing how her father used to return from his forays into the woods with large baskets of wild mushrooms. Their neighbours would bring home fruits, honeycomb and medicinal herbs.

Now 42-years old, Nilanthi is married and lives with her family in Mahakirindegama, a village near Mihintale in Anuradhapura. Her mushrooms come not from the forest but from a little shed behind her house. The seeds are grown in sawed-off PVC bottles, each container filled with a combination of mango wood dust, magnesium sulphate, calcium carbonate, soya and gram flour and gypsum to hold it all together. She uses only organic fertilizers to keep pests at bay and swears by fermented garlic juice.

Each container in her shed yields some 750 grams of mushrooms before it must be replaced. For every 200 grams of oyster mushrooms Nilanthi makes Rs.60; abalones get her a little more, at Rs.80 per pack. Her product is in demand, all her neighbours buy from her, and she also supplies the local shops. In total, in a good month she earns Rs. 40,000.

Training and supplies from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped her kick start what is today a thriving business. The Community Forestry Project is funded by AusAid and implemented by the Department of Forestry in collaboration with UNDP. It was initiated to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in the dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka.

At the heart of the programme is an awareness that the communities that live on the boundaries of the forest are in fact the best people to protect it. When empowered and equipped with knowledge of the ecosystem and best practices, technologies, market linkages, access to credit and ability to partner with the Government, private sector, NGOs and other entities, such communities can prosper. Field operations began in 2012, with the project being rolled out across 17 districts. 23,000 ha of forests were planted in 167 sites and productivity was enhanced in over 3,000 home gardens. As part of the support to the Department of Forestry, motorbikes and computers were provided to field offices, thereby helping to improve their capacity and access. A Programme Management Unit was established at the premises of the Forest Department to facilitate the implementation of the programme. In total, an estimated 10,000 households enjoyed direct benefits from the project, with indirect beneficiaries estimated to be some 90,000 people.

Before this work began, many of these communities were isolated, and lacking in access to basic infrastructure, water and other essentials. Most of the men in this area are daily wage workers, says Namali Ratnatunga, a forest extension officer with 15 years of experience in the department. To make money, they would often go into the forest, slashing and burning to create room for chena cultivation. Close to a small tank, this village would also see large numbers of elephants and monkeys ransacking their fields. Now Ratnatunga sees alternative livelihoods making a huge impact.

Nilanthi is one of a dozen women who work from home. Ratnatunga has helped others set up business where they raise chickens, grow lime, mangoes and betel leaves, and run a variety of small home businesses. In the next village, Ratnatunga helped the community plant teak trees, which have provided them with the wood they need to run their furnaces. Such initiatives have curtailed forest encroachments, while leaving the communities more prosperous, with sustainable sources of income. Ratnatunga feels the project’s focus on women has really paid off. “The work is being done by the women,” she says, explaining that the family benefits when women earn because women are more likely than men to invest in the household and in well-being of individual family members. Nilanthi puts her own earnings toward the education of her three children, the youngest of whom, a girl, is in Grade 5. “We, the women in this area, are the ones sustaining this project,” says Nilanthi with pride.

Source : UN Sri Lanka

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Mega Mess 19A

Mega Mess 19A

By Kusal Perera

-No shame facing the truth

-Personalities and individuals don’t provide answers. We need to have an alternate programme to begin anew

-Urban middle-class is not willing to accept they blundered and messed up not just for them but for the whole country

-The society is left numbed and those in elected offices have failed to prove there is in fact a Government running the country now.

-What is thus on the cards is more crises and chaos and not cleaning up the systems for good governance.

-Law and Order Ministry also becomes important in this battle for dominance over who runs the Government

maithri 1

 I wish to honestly thank the people of this country who elected me with a clear majority on the basis of our election manifesto and the principles laid before the people, at the presidential elections held a few days ago on January 8, to choose the supreme servant to serve the people. From this most sacred and venerated land here, I wish to pledge to my dearest people, citizens of this country, as mentioned and promised in our manifesto, we would work towards transferring the unrestricted powers vested with the ‘Executive Presidency’ to the parliament, to the cabinet of ministers, to the judiciary, to the independent commissions and to public administration.In our country, within development there is corruption, fraud, bribery and misappropriation that will be totally eradicated in establishing a society that is clean and morally noble - President Maithripala Sirisena addressing the nation from the precincts of Temple of the Tooth Relic

Three years after this first official address to the nation by President Sirisena, all that was promised and all that was expected from this Government have come to naught. Corruption of the previous Rajapaksa regime was a major issue that was hyped during the Presidential election to win votes. Corruption given many labels such as “commissions, brokerage and agent’s fee” became part of business ever since the economy was opened up by President Jayewardene in 1978.

What later became corruption was called “mega corruption” and it was mega corruption during the Rajapaksa regime that was promised to be dealt with on a high priority agenda.

This mega corruption that stole the election show was argued as the result of almighty power vested with the Executive Presidency that allowed for family rule by the Rajapaksas. Executive Presidency was therefore promised to be replaced with 19A for Parliamentary rule. That was what President Sirisena meant when he said, “…..we would work towards transferring the unrestricted powers vested with the ‘Executive Presidency’ to Parliament, to the Cabinet of Ministers, to the Judiciary, to the Independent Commissions and to Public Administration” within a week after swearing in as President.

While the election promise was to abolish the Executive Presidency to give Parliament its due importance, the election outcome was a compromise to prune down powers and not abolish the Presidency.

Held together by the Constitutional provisions of 19A, disunity in this alliance is best seen in how the economy is decided and handled. Economic programme of this ‘Unity Government’ that had no ‘unity’ from day one was on the increase, with further liberalising of the economy under UNP control.

The 19A was thus hurried at ‘break-neck’ speed, without any open discussion in society. The chaos this country is now facing was thus built into 19A in a bid to keep a wholly incompatible political alliance together, on Constitutional Provisions and not on any principled political programme.

Most obnoxious clauses in this hurriedly adopted 19A were smuggled into the Amendment with only English copies made available during the 3rd Reading of the Amendment, a practice never adopted in Parliamentary democracy. In Parliament, this was questioned only by Prabha Ganesan, who requested for Tamil translations and was shouted down by PM Wickramasinghe in a very ugly scene that said much about the “democracy” this Unity Government would offer to the people.

Held together by the Constitutional provisions of 19A, disunity in this alliance is best seen in how the economy is decided and handled. Economic programme of this ‘Unity Government’ that had no ‘unity’ from day one was on the increase, with further liberalising of the economy under UNP control.

Moderate with the layman’s aspirations in his understanding of economics and leading a pack of SLFP Ministers in a Government no less corrupt than the Rajapaksa Government, President Sirisena was pushed to intervene in all decisions that were taken under PM Wickremesinghe’s guidance.

From the first budget proposal of this ‘Unity’ Government presented by then Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake, most proposals adopted by Parliament after three ‘readings’ were withdrawn on Presidential Directives and “requests”.

The second budget was changed so much, it was joked in public that what was eventually left in the budget was Minister Karunanayake’s address to the Speaker as “Hon. Speaker, Sir”.

The reshuffling of Ministers in May 2017 was also due to these conflicts on economic issues. Ravi Karunanayake’s exit from the Finance Ministry and Mangala Samaraweera’s entry was only a compromise and was no permanent answer to what the two sides actually battled for; dominance over deciding economic issues.

There is a good reason for economics to be one major conflict in this unholy, unprincipled alliance.

The SLFP depends very much on rural Sinhala vote than the UNP which is more urban based. Further liberalising of this “free to loot” economy, further marginalises the rural sector that plays negatively on the SLFP, which President Sirisena wants to take hold of.

Thus the battle for dominance over economic decisions was not over even after the May 2017 Cabinet reshuffle that changed the Finance Minister. In less than three months, President Sirisena appointed his own National Economic Council (NEC) termed a high powered committee to decide on all development projects, ignoring the Economic Management Committee that PM Wickremesinghe had established under him.

President Sirisena had the Economic Management Committee under PM Wickremesinghe, disbanded on a decision taken at the last Cabinet Meeting, further strengthening his hand on the economy.

This would not end just there. It also leads to mega corruption against the Rajapaksas under investigation.

Therefore, “Law and Order” Ministry also becomes important in this battle for dominance over who runs the Government.

PM Wickremesinghe holding on to the Ministry of Law and Order even temporarily proves the UNP does not want to let go of that Ministry.

Their proposal as reported in media to have Field Marshal Fonseka as the Minister of Law and Order has reportedly run into a conflict with President Sirisena disagreeing.

What PM Wickramasinghe, the UNP and the President while disagreeing on that proposition, do not address is the fundamental issue of how a fulltime military officer be in politics when security forces and the Police are barred from politics.

That being totally illegal and unconstitutional, it would also create a major cold war between the Law and Order Ministry and the Police Department.

More because the number of top Police officers, who are accused, suspected and taken to custody for numerous crimes from former IGPs to DIGs to Senior Superintendents prove all talk and any change in responsibility of Law and Order would not go beyond rhetoric for publicity.

What is thus on the cards is more crises and chaos and not cleaning up the systems for good governance.

Within all those conflicts and contradictions, all through these three years what was very clearly evident is a growing battle between the Presidency and the parliamentary rule.

Presidential rule the President promised his “dearest people, citizens of this country” he would transfer to “Parliament, to the Cabinet of Ministers, to the Judiciary, to the Independent Commissions and to Public Administration”.

In contrast, what is clearly evident is the Presidency overruling most decisions taken at Cabinet meetings and adopted in Parliament.

It has also become the pattern in attempts to resolve issues to short circuit relevant Ministers and approach the President, as the long dragged and muddled SAITM issue proves.

This mess was evident from day one of the campaigns for a “single issue – common candidate” begun by Colombo middle-class pundits.

Reason for UNP compromising for that was its lack of confidence in facing up to Rajapaksa at a Presidential Elections and UNP agreeing for a “Common Candidate” did not justify that “single issue” campaign.

Thus the compromise to hijack a group from Rajapaksa rule and plug them with the UNP under a Common Candidate with or without a clear programme was destined to end up with this mega mess.

This chaos the incompetent opinion makers in Colombo still try to justify by parroting their old hacked slogan “Out with Rajapaksa”.

It is no shame at least now to accept the formula used to oust Rajapaksa was a total lie and he has in fact not been ousted from political power, though removed from presidency. Leaving out the recent LG election results in calculating the Rajapaksa factor, this is very clearly evident in everything this President’s Executive Power to Parliamentary governance has been trapped in.

The society is left numbed and those in elected offices have failed to prove there is, in fact, a Government running the country now.

Where do we go from here?

 It is a long and a serious trek to sanity in politics, the urban middle-class is not willing to accept-even now.

They yet don’t want to accept they blundered and messed up not just for them but for the whole country and this country has now to discourse the programme that can put things to right instead of finding “honest and credible” personalities yet again.

That is tested and failed approach. Personalities and individuals don’t provide answers. We need to have an alternate programme to begin anew.


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