Allergy to analysis and historical amnesia in Sri Lanka

The trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society is that everyone’s an amateur psychologist. Instead of listening to or reading what someone says and treating it on its merits, the name of the game is to speculate on what motivated him. What’s s/he after? Who is he with now? Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis. The upshot of  the personalised normative reactions of Sri Lankan society, i.e. reacting to who is saying it rather than what is said, deprives us of learning anything of value that the writer or speaker may have to offer.

So, it goes something like this. If one asserts that Sri Lankan democracy is not dead, and the country is neither totalitarian nor a dictatorship but that Sri Lankan democracy has always been unevenly developing and subject to contractions and expansions, the automatic response is that the writer or exponent of this view is attempting to whitewash Rajapakse rule. But again, what if the Rajapakses do not enter the picture? Why not examine or debate the point rather than speculate about motives?

If you are critical of Ranil Wickremesinghe you are either a supporter of Mahinda Rajapakse who is trying to disrupt the unity of the UNP or you are a clandestine opponent of Mahinda Rajapakse who disregards his wishes and interests with regard to the leadership of the Opposition. What if one is a supporter of Mahinda Rajapakse but also a supporter of a healthy democracy which presupposes a viable opposition? What if what one is saying about the UNP has nothing to with Mahinda Rajapakse at all?   Not bloody likely, you’d say, but what if it can be proved? Keep reading.

To provide one final example, if one advocates architecture for Sri Lankan foreign policy which is designed for sovereignty and security and laden in favour of Eurasia and the ‘East’, one is echoing President Rajapakse’s predilections and prejudices with a view to currying favour. Once again, what if it is demonstrably NOT about Mahinda Rajapakse?

Let’s test out my proposition. Consider this text:

“What are the special features and distinguishing characteristics of democracy in Sri Lanka?  I would list the following: its unevenness, its dual embattlement, its co-existence with the archaic, its zero-sum nature, its nexus with the unitary state, and finally its resilience. Lankan democracy has been an uneven democracy. Its unevenness is manifest in two senses. Firstly if one takes a decades-long view, there has been a spasmodic rhythm in our democracy. There have been periods of high democracy and low democracy. The pattern is one of expansion and contraction of democracy. And even this expansion and contraction itself has not proceeded in any regular cycle. The heartbeat of our democracy has been arrhythmic. The unevenness of Lanka’s democracy has been present in a second sense too. At any given time an overhead satellite photograph so to speak of Lankan democracy would reveal its uneven distribution and exercise.” (‘Sri Lanka’s Uneven Democracy’ Kandy News, March 4, 1998)

Now this surely is a defence of Mahinda Rajapakse’s Mussolini-esque totalitarianism! Hang on a minute – this piece by me was published in 1998, when Mahinda was an obscure Minister whose portfolio I cannot recall. Ok, so then it was probably a justification of whoever was President at the time. The problem with that explanation is that in 1998, CBK was the President and I was strongly opposed to her ‘union of regions package’. So, my political scientific conclusion with regard to Sri Lankan democracy has remained consistent and must be examined today on its own merits.

Next up is the Opposition question. When was the following written, who by and how accurate is it?

“If things remain unchanged, the UNP is going to lose, and lose big, at the forthcoming parliamen­tary elections. Take cricket, for example. If we didn’t make changes at the top, that is to say the captaincy, the coach and the Board, Sri Lanka could not have pulled out of the nose­dive it got into during the last World Cup. But we did make those changes -not early enough to avoid humiliation at the World Cup, but soon after, and here we are, back in the big league and close to the top. And let us always recall that the cricket captain we had no choice but to replace (belatedly, it should have been done in ‘ 97) is one who led us to a historic victory in 1996; once a very popular leader and always a fine cricketer. By contrast Ranil Wickremesinghe has scored a hat-trick in reverse. He had led his party to consecutive defeats at three (of the four) levels of the political structure: local authority, Provincial Councils, Presidential. And it’s three out of four only because elections have not yet been held for the remain­ing level! Nothing short of reshuffling the leadership helped restore our cricket for­tunes. Nothing short of that will work in re­storing the UNP’s political-electoral fortunes either. But the pay-off is big. Once the change is made, once the surgery is over and done, recovery time is pretty short and the take-off is almost vertical, because the potential has been lying within, locked up. Even the re­placed captain performs better, carrying less freight, playing his natural game. It worked for our cricket, it’ll work for our Opposition. Nothing -and I mean nothing – else will, because nothing else can.” (‘Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Game’ Weekend Express, Saturday March 11- Sunday March 12, 2000, p 6)

Now that was published in March 2000, and written by me. I’m still saying the same thing. Mahinda Rajapakse was merely a Cabinet Minister at the time, years away from the Opposition Leadership or the Prime Ministership, let alone the Presidency. Ok, so was it for or against the President of the day? Who knows? I had been critical of CBK for years, but supported her at the December ’99 presidential and year 2000 parliamentary elections. From what she told SB Dissanaike and Mangala Samaraweera at the airport before emplaning for London after surviving the Tiger suicide bomber, she very much wanted Ranil to remain as UNP leader. That had nothing to do with me, so I called it as I saw it, as I tend to do. What is important is whether what I wrote has stood the test of time and is evidence of accuracy in analysis.  What is even more important is that the struggle to dislodge Ranil from the UNP leadership has been on for at least a decade (in my case, from 1997).

A final example from the field of foreign policy: “ In the East, that is from Russia to China through India, there is an equally powerful mood against separatist terrorism…The Chinese leadership chose the 50th anniversary of the setting up of the Peoples Republic last October to officially prioritise this threat and designate it as that of ‘ethnic splittism’…A strong Eurasian ‘heartland ‘ thrust, arcing from Moscow through Ankara, Tehran, Delhi and Beijing can be conceived of and operationally undertaken in the form of shuttle diplomacy and summitry. Both Western and Eurasian thrusts can be complimentary ‘arches’ in a single foreign policy architecture for Sri Lanka…The central pillar of our foreign policy architecture must be the relationship with India, not in contrite genuflection to anyone as a regional hegemon or because we are in anyone’s backyard but because we have certain common strategic interests.” (‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Vacuum’, Weekend Express, March 18, 2000 pp.6-7)

This is obviously a pandering to Mahinda Rajapakse’s visceral anti-Westernism, turn to the East and embrace of China, and written to secure an ambassadorial posting (once again). Well, actually, it is my column ‘Reflections’ in the Weekend Express of a decade ago. Was it perhaps to secure a DPL posting from the then President and Foreign Minister? If so, it could hardly have carried the caption that it did, namely ‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Vacuum’, a stricture hardly designed to flatter either President CBK or Minister Kadirgamar. This was published years before LK’s re-orientation towards China and even before his rapprochement with the JVP (which may have been a domestic driver of that shift).

Opposition to dynastic rule is laudable but not when it comes from a member or faithful serf of a deposed or earlier dynasty, whose only problem is with which dynasty rules rather than the phenomenon of dynastic rule itself. How much of what passes for opposition to dynastic rule today is inter-dynastic rivalry, between ascendant and declining dynasties; those on the inside and those deposed or in decline? How much of current politics represents a bloc of dynasties in decline or stagnation, in embittered opposition to what they perceive as a more dynamic, ascendant or newly emergent dynasty?

What is still less credible is when criticism of the contemporary is used to glorify a dynastic past and mask its crimes and follies. What is the historical truth? Does the Bandaranaike reign of the ’70s represent a fairer, nobler age, in stark and welcome contrast to the present day, or should it be seen as the progenitor and forerunner of our present discontents; in many senses responsible for that which is negative in the present and in certain respects far worse?  Are the negative features and practices of the present day, clearly distinct and distinguishable from that past or on a continuum with it and at times a throwback?

On almost all major issues of vital civic concern, the negatives germinated or grew under that political dispensation and at least one of these areas, Sri Lanka is significantly better off than it was then.

  1. The ethnic issue: Tamil separatists lost their deposits at the 1970 elections, but separatism became the sole platform of the TULF which carried the North and part of the East in ’77. Logically then, the seismic shift occurred during the Bandaranaike administration. The Constitution making process of ’72 ignored the moderate (non-federal) six point platform presented in Mr Chelvanayagam’s letter to the PM, which was not even accorded the courtesy of a reply. The new Constitution abolished the Soulbury safeguards for minorities, entrenched Sinhala as the sole official language, conferred pre-eminence on Buddhism (as DS Senanayake had declined to), and made explicit the unitary character of the state (which the Soulbury Constitution remained silent on). The Tamil New Tigers (TNT) with Velupillai Prabhakaran was formed in ’72. Eight unarmed persons died in the Police action at the IATR conference in Jaffna in ’74. Prabhakaran founded the successor organisation to the TNT, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in ’76. The Bandaranaike administration sowed the dragon’s teeth and it took Mahinda Rajapakse to slay the marauding dragon, with all the corollaries and consequences that entailed. By the time it ended Sri Lanka had lost thirty five years and a hundred thousand lives with many more maimed.
  2. Political prisoners: The UF government used the post-April 1971 situation to incarcerate political critics including those who were active opponents of the JVP or had nothing to do with it. This cannot be excused by the ‘fog of war’ because some unjust incarcerations lasted for years. Those locked up included SWRD Bandaranaike’s cousin and founder of the Bosath Bandaranaike Party, SD Bandaranaike, UF parliamentarian and youth leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Maoist leader N Sanmugathasan (Wijeweera’s a bitter foe, who had never wielded a weapon in his life)! Dozens of Tamil youth were imprisoned under Emergency for years, for the crime of hoisting black flags against the promulgation of the ’72 Constitution. These travesties of justice were Sri Lanka’s pioneering episodes of victimising political foes and critics by jailing them.
  3. The ruination of higher education and plummeting of standards: The policies of district wise and media-wise standardisation in university entrance were not only an instant trigger of Tamil youth militancy and violence, but (together with the straitjacketing into a ‘single university’) wrecked Sri Lanka’s excellent university system and led to a downward spiral of standards in all sectors, from which the country has not yet pulled out because these policies have become structural and have entrenched social constituencies. We shall permanently lag behind the rest of Asia as a consequence.
  4. The hyper-politicisation of the bureaucracy and partisan control of the state: Our country was ahead of most in Asia in the early 1950s not least because we had an independent and well qualified public service. That was dismantled under Sirima Bandaranaike rule. Following the bloody and bloodily suppressed youth uprising of the late 1980s, a Youth Commission was appointed by the then President to investigate the grievances that led to the revolt. The Report of the Commission concluded that the partisan politicisation of the public sector and recruitment to jobs was one of the main causative factors, tracing this to 1972 when the new Constitution abolished the independent Public Services Commission. The subordination of the state officials to government politicians and stooges was buttressed by the appointment of District Political Authorities and the misnamed Janatha (People’s) Committees.
  5. Human Rights & Impunity: Emergency rule was kept in place for six years, though the insurgency was crushed in six weeks. The ‘tyre pyre’ was invented under Bandaranaike rule. Extra-judicial executions on a large scale, as evidenced in bodies with tied hands floating down rivers, were first seen in Sri Lanka in 1971.  (A JVP suspect named Kamalabandu was dismembered with an electric saw). At the time, the quality British press named and quoted a top army officer commanding a district as saying “we have learned the lessons of Malaya and Vietnam. I have told my men, no prisoners”. As those who perpetrated this policy with impunity moved up the ladder, these practices were witnessed during the wars fought in North and South.  The Government promptly deported Lord Avebury of Amnesty International. The ’72 Constitution incorporated the draconian Pubic Security Ordinance into our basic law. My fellow ‘fresher’ Weerasooriya was shot dead by the Police on Peradeniya campus in November ’76. A glance through the documents of the Civil Rights Movement issued in the Sirima-Felix years would prove my point.
  6. Nepotism & family/clan based oligarchy: The term ‘family-bandyism’ was ubiquitous in the discourse of that time, and one of the UNP’s winning cards was the book of cartoons which depicted a ramified family tree of Bandaranaikes and Ratwattes ensconced in positions of power and influence. The state owned most of everything and the Bandaranaikes owned the state.  (A successor Bandaranaike administration, that of Chandrika, had herself as President, her mother as Prime Minister and uncle as Deputy Minister of Defence, with brother Anura as a Minister after the demise of the matriarch).
  7. Media freedom, democratic space, authoritarianism: The Bandaranaike regime dissolved local authorities island-wide, delayed the holding of the KKS by-election, appropriated Lake House, never broad-based its ownership (vesting the shares in the Public Trustee who happened to be a trustworthy clan member),  jailed Fred de Silva the Deputy Editor of the Daily News, sacked Mervyn the only editor who gave state-run Lake House some credibility and independence (having earlier banned him from writing to the foreign press because The Economist had illustrated his contribution with an unflattering photograph of the PM!), sealed the SUN/Dawasa press, censored the Daily Mirror so heavily that its editorials often appeared blank, and shut down for a time the press of the Communist allies of the government, the ATHTHA. The funeral of much loved ex-Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was not relayed real-time by radio but broadcast delayed –once the SLBC boss (Ridgeway Tillekeratne) had cleared the incoming reportage. Contrast that with the proliferation and pluralism of the print, electronic and digital media under the ‘indefensible’ Rajapakse regime; a factor that cannot but provide considerably greater democratic space structurally, than under Bandaranaike rule.

Cabinet Minister TB Subasinghe, a man of unimpeachable integrity, resigned and in his letter which he made public he warned the country of the existence of “extra-constitutional centres of power”. Dr NM Perera denounced an “invisible government”, while Dr Colvin R de Silva’s parliamentary speech, published as a pamphlet captioned ‘Sirima’s Blitzkrieg: Who Won?’ analysed the anatomy, growth and political economy of the hidden power structures, dating from 1971.

But was there any significant or meaningful attempt to extend the tenure of the then incumbent? Minister T.B. Ilangaratne broached the possibility publicly while a senior parliamentarian from the Kandy district suggested that as Mrs Bandaranaike (in point of fact, Sri Lanka) had been elected Chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement representing two thirds of humanity (the absurd phrase was “Lokaye thunen dekaka naikawa”), her term of office should be extended to cover those three years!  Opposition Leader Jayewardene warned that in such an event he would not only conduct a massive nationwide Satyagraha campaign but would also call upon the Armed Forces to disobey illegal orders from an unconstitutional government.

P.S. Au revoir

  • MG

    “The trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society is that everyone’s an amateur psychologist. Instead of listening to or reading what someone says and treating it on its merits, the name of the game is to speculate on what motivated him. What’s s/he after? Who is he with now? Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis. The upshot of the personalised normative reactions of Sri Lankan society, i.e. reacting to who is saying it rather than what is said, deprives us of learning anything of value that the writer or speaker may have to offer.”

    It wasn’t always about psychology. Some of us used Marxist critique to explore the job interests behind your political position. And looks like we were right. Who’s now going to France as SL Ambassador? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, not in what you said decades ago. Can people not say the same things over several decades but with changing motives and interests?

  • Ben

    Did Jayatilleka just do an evaluation of his own work? Shouldn’t one leave that to somebody else? Right, maybe nobody else was interested in reviewing his towering intellect.

    Frankly, I can’t think of any post-colonial nation where democracy has developed evenly and without contradictions. So what use is this analysis? A way to say that even if SL is currently running under a dictatorship, hey, don’t worry, in some ways it is still a democracy–it’s just that we can’t see it? A way to stop those so inclined from raising a ruckus about the loss of democracy?

  • yapa

    Dear B.W?Man/PVR;

    For your reference please.

    http://www.groundviews.org/author/dayan/

    Thanks!

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com President Percy Bean

    The trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society Dr. The Yarn, is that everyone is a Rajapaksha stooge or a wannabe Rajapaksha stooge. Read Fredrica’s editorial and your former wife’s article in the Sunday Leader! It’s people like you who are “Missing The Wood For The Trees!”

    http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/10/17/you-buy-the-lie/
    http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/10/17/building-tyranny-measure-by-measure/

  • wijayapala

    Dayan,

    Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis.

    I entirely agree. There is also a tendency to substitute name-dropping and self-aggrandizement (i.e. “I was educated at this or that University”) for decent analysis. These are all impediments to developing an intellectual class.

  • niranjan

    Dayan J,

    You have raised some interesting facts about the Sirima Bandaraniike years.
    I like the reference to our universities. You are absolutely correct on that one.
    What Sirima B and her Government did during the 1970’s still lingers on. Some members of her clan still cling to those dictatorial values. They still do not see nothing wrong in what she did during her time. The only hope is that the older generation will die out.

    Our education system from kindergarten to university is in a pathetic state. It is no wonder that more and more of our youth are opting to study abroad and live abroad if they get work rather than come back to the country of their birth. the youth know that the country of their birth has been misgoverned for the past 60 odd years. The Sirima Government had a lot to do with that misgovernance.

    We live in the internet era. There is knowledge all around us. But we still cling to that frog in the well mentality in part created by the SLFP of the 1970’s especially in terms of state/structuralism. As you rightly say we will never catch up with East Asia in terms of education or economic growth rates. That is partly a Sirima Bandaranaike legacy of state control and stagnation.

    Yours was a well researched article. You have stated facts.

  • Sarath Fernando

    Dayan,

    “Sri Lankan democracy is not dead, and the country is neither totalitarian nor a dictatorship but that Sri Lankan democracy has always been unevenly developing and subject to contractions and expansions” is a rather poor, unworthy apology.

    Your implied defense that “the country is neither totalitarian nor a dictatorship” itself is very telling – wouldn’t you say that SL has never in the last 60 years been as close to totalitarian or dictatorship as it is now?

    What is important is not whether fragments of democracy still remains or whether such flames have died completely. What is important is in what direction has democracy and the institutions responsible for democracy moved since independence, or at least, say, in the last three decades – given that in the first two decades or so since independence we enjoyed the singular bragging rights for democracy within the “developing nations.” The important question now is which way are we headed at present.

    Given that democracy in the post-colonial era is inevitably “uneven and subject to contractions and expansions” do you frankly think we have tended towards better, greater Democracy? Hasn’t the trend been one of steady deterioration rather than one of ascension towards democratic ideals? How about after MR taking the reins? Would you say MR (or in fact the Rajapakse brothers) have acted to reverse that trend? Many would say that the Rajapakse’s actions have accelerated that deterioration, rather than at the least moderating it, even if not reversing it.

    Could you point out to any institutional or strategic policy changes of recent that can be credited to MR’s regime as strengthening and aimed at improving democracy? I think that is the question that is weighing in on the minds of people with longer-term interests in the country — not just where our next assignment will come from.

  • ordinary lankan

    Wittgenstein said:

    “Conversation is the essence of humanity”

    Why don’t Sri Lankans converse?

    I have a few suggestions

    1. We gloss over ourselves
    2. We prefer glamour over grind
    3. We hide behind words
    4. We are trapped ‘ professionally’ – we suppress the human being within
    5. We overlook the power of personal dialogue
    6. We prefer destructive over constructive shame
    7. We don’t value silence
    8. We are ungrateful
    9. We forget that the individual and his/her community is one and separate ourselves from the subject

  • ordinary lankan

    oh btw – are you really going to France?

    hope you will have better conversations there

    sincerely

    ol

  • Suren Raghavan

    ‘’Man in essence is a political animal”. If this has any validity, then all politics are public as much as private and personal. Dr (ambassador–Again?) Jayathilleka defends himself, as though the UN committee is appointed to investigate his intellectual (dis)honesty. Perhaps he is defending the conceptual himself against the Dayan in reality. Every ideological stand springs from first personal and then intellectual conviction. If Dr J is convinced and willing to defend the present form of governance in SL is a ‘’not so bad” democracy in a compative political sense, then surely he should (or wil) be rewarded.
    The unevenness of the democratization process in SL is proven not only by the illiberal governmentality of Bandaranaike SLFP (or Senanayake-Wickramasinghe UNP), but by the fact that contemporary Sinhala public space, like every time in history, is full of political activists / theorists like Dr Jayathilleka – without a challenge and to a greater extend without alternatives

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    “ I think Sri Lanka is an easy target for human rights groups. It is easy to criticize Sri Lanka as it is a democracy and it is easy to criticize America. We don’t jail journalists who criticize us, but on the other hand, I was present when Sri Lanka External Affairs Minister (during a recent visit to Washington), was asked eight questions, all relating to human rights and accountability issues. Clearly, there had been human rights violations during the war but then possibly after the war! I am not an expert and I cannot comment on that. When a government official is only asked about that question that is a distortion of the reality. Clearly Sri Lanka has to be accountable as a democracy. Sri Lanka has signed many international agreements regarding protection of its citizens, but that is not the only issue. There are other important issues relating to Sri Lanka.”

    – Prof Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow, Brookings, author of ‘The Idea of Pakistan and India: Emerging Power’, co-author ‘Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization’ (in The Island, Oct 18, 2010)

  • eureka

    7. ”The Bandaranaike regime dissolved local authorities island-wide.”

    Which Bandaranaike please?

  • to the sad bygger who comment on this ..

    there is no ideal form of governance .. democracy is just one method for the people to achieve a better life for them selves through the advancing of the goals of the community ….if sometimes the ways to achieve a means is to divert from the ideal path .. then it should be done to server the goal of the people rather then maintain the means “democracy” . I believe that if a leader or anyone or a society or country as a whole goes against the nature of things for selfish gain would be put down by the same forces that we call nature .. it would be a natural process of gain and loss .. the same would also apply to MR .. and if he is to take us to new heights in the future then i do not care weather if he stays on for 6 years or 50 .. !!!

  • Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

    Eureka,

    Sirima-Felix 1970-77.

  • ordinary lankan

    I think Sri lankans are impressionable – and they are impressed by shows of learning per se – example former CJ Sarath Silva in his buddhist talks …

    there is intellectual arrogance and intolerance

    theory is paraded as a substitute for practice, in buddhism, in democracy, in justice

    in everything else

    A shadow of a state
    Shadows rule other shadows
    Fear rules them all
    When shall we ever see us?
    As real people…

  • Mirror, Mirror…

    A very good psychoanalysis (pun intended), Dayan and long overdue. Or should I say a Freudian slip?I guess you should look in the mirror and take a dose of your own medicine. carefully do a content analysis of your own writing and see how much YOU have personalized your own writings.

    Any reasonable (i.e. non-partisan) reader would agree with you about the fundamental thesis of your piece but you have just diagnosed the cancer in our society and in my opinion, unfortunately, it has metastasized. Another part of the problem is, again in my opinion, that you guys sing to the choir and trying to show your own intellectual prowess than addressing the issues that truly affect the masses. How many times, Dayan, did you blow your own horn in your writings? For example, you would write something like, “… when I was at Geneva arranging a forum… etc., etc.” Who gives hoot about that? Get to the point and get to it objectively.

    Please allow me to conclude this with one most reason example to show how you are suffering from the same disease that you try to look from the holier than thou way: I am one of contemporaries in the late 70s and we shared some common concerns and we went our own ways since the end of the 70s. However, during your last days in Geneva I was passing through Geneva and try to meet with you for a friendly chat and contacted someone who is in constant contact with you. When he first brought up my name with you, your first question was: Who is with him now? And you indeed, associated my name with someone you considered “enemy combatant.” We didn’t meet.

    Well, I am not with anyone and wasn’t since 1978.

    However, I never lost my respect to you because it shows, unlike many comrades of the Sri Lankan left, you seems to read and on top of what’s going in the World beyond that dot above the Equator. But, quite sadly, I found you are infected by the same virus you have so well identified in this piece. So my friend, may I call you a friend?, take a dose of your own medicine and you could be a voice to the voiceless masses.

    Best,

  • Sarath Fernando

    Dayan,

    Good point — ” I think Sri Lanka is an easy target for human rights groups.”

    Ever wonder why a country becomes “an easy target” for such?

  • Bundoora

    Dear Dayan , I have to admit, I love to read your comments more than your articles. This is what I found in your comment

    “Clearly, there had been human rights violations during the war but then possibly after the war! I am not an expert and I cannot comment on that.”

    I just wonder why on earth one needs to be an expert to comment on human right violations happening in sri lanka after the war , given the extent of testimonial that you supposed to be claiming , it can’t be that hard Doctor , or you  just try  to be an submissive servant , as in the times of yore !  Just check the popular web sites and you can have it all ……

  • dingiri

    “Media freedom, democratic space, authoritarianism: The Bandaranaike regime dissolved local authorities island-wide, delayed the holding of the KKS by-election, appropriated Lake House, never broad-based its ownership (vesting the shares in the Public Trustee who happened to be a trustworthy clan member), jailed Fred de Silva the Deputy Editor of the Daily News, sacked Mervyn the only editor who gave state-run Lake House some credibility and independence (having earlier banned him from writing to the foreign press because The Economist had illustrated his contribution with an unflattering photograph of the PM!), sealed the SUN/Dawasa press, censored the Daily Mirror so heavily that its editorials often appeared blank, and shut down for a time the press of the Communist allies of the government, the ATHTHA. The funeral of much loved ex-Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was not relayed real-time by radio but broadcast delayed –once the SLBC boss (Ridgeway Tillekeratne) had cleared the incoming reportage. Contrast that with the proliferation and pluralism of the print, electronic and digital media under the ‘indefensible’ Rajapakse regime; a factor that cannot but provide considerably greater democratic space structurally, than under Bandaranaike rule. ”

    Questions I would like to ask is…

    1. If Rajapakse voted against the nationalisation of the Daily News when in Sirima’s Government.

    2. If he took over directly from Sirima would he have liberalised the media?

    I think what Dayan has failed to mention here is that it was JR who relaxed the state monopoly of the Media (not Mahinda), this monopoly was further relaxed with the liberalisation of TV and radio during subsequent regimes. So Rajapakse has not really contributed to promoting free press. He has inherited a free press which he is trying hard to muzzle through thuggery,intimidation and murder in order to achieve what Sirima achieved in the 70s though legistation. That is my reading..

  • justitia

    This government exists and consolidates itself due to the opposition MPs poached by the president by offers which pandered to their greed.
    Therefore, this government was not wholly elected by the people.
    This government has arrogated totalitarian powers to itself due to the crossovers. It has no moral right to govern.
    The parliamentary and presidential elections were severely flawed. One third of registered voters did not vote due to fear and intimidation.Many eligible voters were not registered.
    All this is conveniantly ignored. This pontification based on past history and theoretical assumptions ignoring reality is a cock and bull story for gullible idiots.

  • Arosha Bandara

    I agree with Dr. Jayatilleke’s analysis that there is an overemphasis on the identity of the messenger over the content of the message itself in the political discourse taking place in Sri Lanka today. This is also reflected in much of the commentary here on groundviews.

    During my university training and early professional life I was taught the importance of critiquing ideas rather than individuals in order to progress the discussion of a problem and arrive at a solution. IMHO, the absence of this principle in the Sri Lanka’s political discourse is a severe handicap to progress.

  • veedhur

    A good article and a valid point. Selective sampling?

  • Tmama

    Dayan – in the analysis you have not analysed why the traditional politics is dead – ie in Sri Lanka there is no political debate today exceptabout majority / miority issues ;

    – look at the about the lowering of taxes on the import of cars. These mighty machines have taken over the public space outright from the pedestrian and the cyclist.

    – little expressed protest against low standard of teaching in schools, where practically every student has to attend tuition class to get ahead.

    no control over many rackets to get foriegn employment. Government is happy as it always was as the vast number doing menial jobs with very little rights for welfare, health or pensions overseas keeps the economy ticking.

    Thus Sri Lanka may not have to worry too much about Tea and Rubber or even the garments industry. Loss of GSP and the impending closure of many factories does not seem to cause much worry.

    foreign contractors seem to face little control even on Health and Safety matters as seen in the reasons for Karadiyaary explosion . Surprisingly little in depth discussion on the issues exposed from the union sector.

    On a happier note, there is good reason to believe the dream of cheaper electricity should be realised before long. .

    Perhaps being in international shipping laines, flanked by mighty naighbours liberal economic regime has brought in regular loan injections.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Mirror, Mirror, how on earth can I comment when you don’t /can’t even use your name? Is it out of fear of retaliation by the Rajapakses? In any case I don’t see the error in posing the question as to who someone was with when there was a war on, our embassies were under seige ( and we had to hand over to the Swiss Police, a couple who were videoing the entrance to our Mission)

    Why don’t you emulate my ex-comrade/friend Dayapala Tiranagama and have the guts to use your name?

    Dingiri, for God’s sake, JRJ took over the TIMES group, sacked Mervyn and kept the enterprise shut for years. He also took over the ITN which was founded by his own nephew!

    Sarath Fernando,
    That’s not my line so why don’t you ask Prof Stephen Cohen? Better still, why don’t you re-read his next sentence, because he explains why, in it!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Dear President Percy Bean,

    My ‘ Former wife’????

    So that’s how factual, accurate and truthful your comments are.

    Watch out or this website will be sued for defamation by the said author, or me, or one of my former wives ( of which I have two, none of whom bear this name)!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Yo Bundoora, get a better pair of glasses, man. That comment I posted? Its not something I said — as you think– but, as the quote CLEARLY states, it is a para from someone acknoweldged as one the world’s topmost scholars on South Asia, ( who has also been a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka, and is a founder of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies in Colombo). Read carefully before you write, buddy. Didn’t they teach you that at Uni?

  • dingiri

    “Dingiri, for God’s sake, JRJ took over the TIMES group, sacked Mervyn and kept the enterprise shut for years. He also took over the ITN which was founded by his own nephew! ”

    At least he didnt get Mervyn bumped off or launch arson attacks on the TIMES and ITN.. Would you not agree that there was more free media at the end of JR’s term, the Island, Divaina, Sunday TIMES wheras none existed when he took over from Sirima? The same govt. which Mahinda was a part of?

    So I think my allegation stands…

    ..Rajapakse has not really contributed to promoting free press. He has inherited a free press which he is trying hard to muzzle through thuggery,intimidation and murder in order to achieve what Sirima achieved in the 70s though legistation. That is my reading..”

    “Mirror, Mirror, how on earth can I comment when you don’t /can’t even use your name? Is it out of fear of retaliation by the Rajapakses?” …. Not an entirely unknown phonemena is it? Its an easy charge to make being his little praise singing poodle.

    PresidunceBean,

    How wrong you are..! His two former wives were President Prmadasa and Warathrajah Perumal.

  • Sarath Fernando

    Dear, Dear Dayan,

    The usual, unrelenting sidestepping on some lame excuse!

    You chose to cite Prof. Cohen’s statement – and so I assumed you have not merely read it but also understood, valued and agreed with it. Given that, my question was whether you ever wondered why the country became a target, easy or otherwise – I wasn’t interested in finding out what Cohen thought. Perhaps, as many have pointed out, you merely read to enhance the capacity to drop names, but hardly ever give a thought to what you read!

    Interestingly, Arosha states “there is an overemphasis on the identity of the messenger over the content of the message itself.” Here are few jewels from the dearest Doctor himself in just a couple of emails within this single blog alone that should amply show who is after the messenger rather than the message, and where the corrective actions should begin.

     How on earth can I comment when you don’t /can’t even use your name?
     Why don’t you emulate my ex-comrade/friend Dayapala Tiranagama and have the guts to use your name?
     Yo Bundoora, get a better pair of glasses, man.
     Read carefully before you write, buddy. Didn’t they teach you that at Uni?

    The language and spirit are truly very becoming of a worthy academic indeed!

    On a more objective note, I note you chose not to respond to the question “Could you point out to any institutional or strategic policy changes of recent that can be credited to MR’s regime as strengthening and aimed at improving democracy?” Perhaps you felt it was a useless question – but I doubt that. Could I ask you again and more directly “could you list any of actions of the current regime that you consider are progressive, in terms of Democracy?” That will help a large number of us understand and appreciate your support for the current regime. Please don’t drop names or go into a diatribe – just a basic list, and perhaps a brief statement on “why”.

  • Bundoora

    Dear Dayan ,

    Apologies……………..

  • anonymous

    UI says:

    “The trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society is that everyone’s an amateur psychologist. Instead of listening to or reading what someone says and treating it on its merits, the name of the game is to speculate on what motivated him. What’s s/he after? Who is he with now? Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis. The upshot of the personalised normative reactions of Sri Lankan society, i.e. reacting to who is saying it rather than what is said, deprives us of learning anything of value that the writer or speaker may have to offer.”

    Then says UI in a response to Bundoora:

    “it is a para from someone acknoweldged as one the world’s topmost scholars on South Asia, ( who has also been a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka, and is a founder of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies in Colombo).”

    And he also has the audacity to write:

    “Read carefully before you write, buddy. Didn’t they teach you that at Uni?”

    Didn’t someone call him Van Donkey?

  • Mirror, Mirror…

    Wow! You don’t get it, don’t you? I think you get it very well but pretend not to. You cannot comment on what is said because you don’t know who said it! Well, merely a week ago such was “the trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society” and anyone speculating the source is “an amateur psychologist.” But here you are above the fray, even after not only speculating but also concluding (e.g. friend/comrade Dayapala…, come out, man). Perhaps you have passed the amateur stage and now a full-blown psychologist. Or beyond such – a telepathic to identify the source so conclusively (not a strange place for you now that you have conveniently forgotten the fundamentals of dialectical materialism – remember that, comrade?). Let’s go back to the beginning para of your essay:

    “The trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society is that everyone’s an amateur psychologist. Instead of listening to or reading what someone says and treating it on its merits, the name of the game is to speculate on what motivated him. What’s s/he after? Who is he with now? Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis. The upshot of the personalised normative reactions of Sri Lankan society, i.e. reacting to who is saying it rather than what is said, deprives us of learning anything of value that the writer or speaker may have to offer”.

    What do you think my erudite friend? Need I say more that the “problem” you have identified is YOU? (sure, you have a huge company in the Sri Lankan in this department.)

    By the way, didn’t your late father use a pseudonym as well? So nobody could have commented on what he said, or take him seriously, because it was writer was fictitious? Did he use a pseudonym in the fear of a ruler’s wrath at the time – a contemporary Rajapakse as you suggest? I hope you know that character behind the pseudonym you father used, right? Maybe not. Because you hardly drop names from non-Western sources. Just in case you wonder about why “Mirror, Mirror,” watch either Snow White (I know you like to drop Hollywood flicks), or read investigative journalist (I think you would appreciate the adjective) Mark Penedergrast’s, Mirror Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection. (I took a page from your book and dropping names here by citing the works I even haven’t read. But I think the title tells it all).

    To wrap things up, when I first responded to your essay, I am in agreement with your diagnosis of “the trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society,” although I do not agree with that that is THE problem. It is ONE of the problems, and a big one. What I attempted to do was to hold a mirror (pun intended) and invite you to look inward. I know it is not an easy task but with your level of maturity I thought you could do that. I don’t subscribe to the personal attacks leveled against you in this site or elsewhere. They are nothing but nonsense and who cares whom you were married to, or who you are sleeping with? They are reflections of intellectual bankruptcy and I even wonder why you even bother to address them.

    I remain convinced your ability to contribute to the dialogue because, as I said before, you appears to be reading rather than daydreaming or holding to the ideas and ideals from the handouts we read from the Chinese and Russian cultural centers more than three decades ago. But in order to do that we, including you my dear, need to read the first paragraph of your current essay every morning until we get it.

    Oh, by the way, the siege of the Mission and the Swiss Police thing, it’s a pathetic defense.

    Well, now we have cleared the “source” problem, you can comment on the substance. Keep on writing, my friend.

    Best,

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com PresiDunce Bean

    @ Mirror, Mirror on the wall…who is the biggest apparatchik Docter who writes yarns to Groundviews day in and day out??? U No Hoo! And I No Hoo! Don’t Tell Ah? Ha…ha…ha…

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com PresiDunce Bean

    Dear Dr.The Yarn…now this is what you call a yarn! Try and beat my yarn! Cheers!

    BEANheen Air – We Serve You Right When You Take Our Flight

    “Good day, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to BEANheen Air. This is your captain speaking. I am happy to announce that this is the first supersonic flight undertaken by BEANheen Air from Idiot Island to Libby Yar. We will be flying at an altitude of 90,000 feet and a speed of 1800km per hour. Our flying time from Idiot Island to Libby Yar will be 2 hours and 45 minutes.”

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I know you are wondering why we have been waiting to take off for over 2 hours. Unfortunately, His
    Hex-A-Lunacy the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Presi-Dunce Percy Jilmart Bean’s brother’s wife’s sister’s daughter has been held up in traffic. We will be taking off as soon as she gets on board. In the mean time you are kindly requested to watch the in-flight movie of our beloved Presi-Dunce and his Royal Family of 300+ on their recent visit to LunDumb, Parish and NooYuk.”

    “Ladies and gentlemen, His Hex-A-Lunacy the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Presi-Dunce Percy Jilmart Bean’s brother’s wife’s sister’s daughter has finally got on board. We have now been cleared for take off. I apologize for the 6 hour delay at the runway. The stewardesses will now serve you Kurakang bread and Kola Kenda.”

    “Well ladies and gentlemen, we seem to have broken some sort of record. Our flying time to Libby Yar was 2 hours and 31 minutes. Unfortunately there are many planes circling the airport, and we have been asked to fly over the Sha-Ha-Raa desert and hold there at 65,000 feet.”

    “Ladies and gentlemen, since I last spoke to you, 90 minutes ago, I regret the Libby Yar airport has asked us to maintain altitude and fly in a pattern over Tim-Buck-Too.”

    “Friend’s, I know you are all very tired and hungry and thirsty, but trying to break down my door is not going to help anybody. We should be getting the green light from Libby Yar at anytime now…”

    “We will be permitted to land within the next hour. Please fasten your safety belts, and may the blessings of His Hex-A-Lunacy the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Presi-Dunce Percy Jilmart Bean be upon you all!”

    “We are now on the ground at Libby Yar airport. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any room at the ramp, and we have been asked to wait out here until someone leaves. It should not take more than 40 or 50 minutes. Until then, please relax and watch the in-flight movie number 2 of our beloved Presi-Dunce’s recent visit to Eeeran, Meandmymaa and Shyna.”

    “Well ladies and gentlemen, here we are at the terminal, and I hope you enjoyed the maiden supersonic flight of BEANheen Air. I’m happy to announce we beat the previous record set by ChristoBean ColomBus when he crossed the Hatlantik in 1492 in the NeenaBean, the PintaBean and the SantamariaBean by 4 hours and 12 minutes.”

    “Have a wonderful day, and don’t forget to tell your friends and relatives about BEANheen Air. Our motto as always is: We Serve You Right When You Take Our Flight!

    Jaya Hoo!

  • ordinary lankan

    Dear Dr Dayan

    you said this –

    “The trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society is that everyone’s an amateur psychologist. Instead of listening to or reading what someone says and treating it on its merits, the name of the game is to speculate on what motivated him. What’s s/he after? Who is he with now? Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis. The upshot of the personalised normative reactions of Sri Lankan society, i.e. reacting to who is saying it rather than what is said, deprives us of learning anything of value that the writer or speaker may have to offer”.

    and you also said this?

    “How on earth can I comment when you don’t /can’t even use your name?
    Why don’t you emulate my ex-comrade/friend Dayapala Tiranagama and have the guts to use your name?”

    you have right royally hung yourself as far as credibility is concerned – henceforth your sincerity will be in question – that is if we bother to read you again.

    Just for the record please note that people use their name for many reasons apart from courage – and also people will use a different name as Groundviews allows for many reasons other than a lack of courage. If you have some grace you might apologize now.

    You seem to have equally great strengths and weaknesses. i wish you luck in facing yourself in the mirror and seeing the latter. many so called great men have ended up in the grave without ever seeing their weaknesses clearly. may be – just may be – you would not like to be one of them

  • ram kapoor

    whats gwaning up in this gaffe? mr. j’s artical and point makes perfect sense so why are you beefing him?

  • http://www.groundviews.org/ Observer

    This DJ will play any tune the govt. wants him to, and dance to it too.

  • sri lal

    DJ

    please try to respond for the queries from great many readers , i.e this gentleman sarath Fernando has asked a legitimate question , where are the answers , Dayan it is no use just lettering essays/articles/ lecture notes here , if you cant defend what you have written.

  • kumudu

    For the sake of theory, I produce the somewhat long quote from Dana R. Villa’s book Politics, Philosophy and Terror, essays on the thought of Hannah Arendt, pp. 147-149:

    “It is, rather, the much larger change from an age of Enlightenment era society built on theatrical codes of self-presentation to a contemporaryWestern
    society in which a premium is placed on intimacy, directness of
    emotional expression (in public and private), and community. As
    Sennett notes toward the end of his book, “warmth is our god.”79 An
    ideology of intimacy, one which assumes that “social relationships
    of all kinds are real, believable, and authentic the closer they approach
    the inner psychological concerns of each person,” rules our
    public as well as our private lives.80 Indeed, it has contributed mightily
    to the dissolution of any strong sense of the distinctiveness of the
    public realm or self, to the point where political action is routinely
    read back to the “character” of the actor (his “real” self) and its
    evaluation made a function of the actor’s personal characteristics
    and believability. The rise of a culture of intimacy systematically
    transmutes “political categories into psychological ones.”

    It was not always so. In the first half of his book, Sennett describes
    the emergence of a secular “society of strangers” in the great urban
    centers of eighteenth-century London and Paris. The unprecedented
    concentration of strangers in one place created a “problem
    of audience”: how to know and to judge the appearances—the words
    and deeds—of individuals encountered in this new, anonymous
    public. According to Sennett, the eighteenth century dealt with this
    problem by drawing on the venerable tradition of theatrum mundi,
    the image of society as itself a theater or stage. Expanding on this
    analogy, urban life in the eighteenth century built a “bridge” between
    the stage and the street, transferring a set of theatrical conventions
    and criteria of judgment (of dress, utterance, and believability)
    to the “theater” of the city.

    To move in the public space of the eighteenth-century city was,
    almost by definition, to be an actor, a performer. A shared set of
    conventions governed the presentation of self and emotion to
    strangers, enabling the growth of an “impersonal sociability” distinctive
    to the time. These conventions (of gesture, dress and
    speech) opened a communicative space that worked by creating a
    distance between the actor and his acts or appearances.Within this
    conventionally defined space, judgment and understanding focused
    on the act, the gesture, the word, rather than the agent behind them.
    If the “world is a stage,” then “character of acts and the character of
    actors are separate, so that a man of the world ‘can censure an imperfection,
    or even a vice, without rage against the guilty party.’”

    When the common sense of public life was theatrical in this sense,
    one could disagree with the position held by another (often to the
    point of comical, polemical excess) without feeling the need to
    demonize the person of the opponent. One’s opponent was simply
    an individual who had taken an evil or blameworthy role. In sum, it
    was the role that was condemned, not the person’s nature.
    This eighteenth-century notion of “man as actor” thus placed a
    premium on masks, role-playing, and appearances as the medium of
    an impersonal sociability. Such theatrical devices created a distance
    between the “natural” and social self, a distance that promoted an
    impersonal, but paradoxically easier and more expressive, sociability.
    As Sennett remarks, “Wearing a mask is the essence of civility.
    Masks permit pure sociability, detached from the circumstances of
    power, malaise, and private feeling of those who wear them. Civility
    has as its aim the shielding of others from being burdened with oneself.”
    86 With the aid of such conventions, the urban space of the
    eighteenth century created a distinctive public geography, one defined
    in large part by its highly artificial nature, its distance from the
    “natural” world of the home and family.”

  • anonymous

    Ordinary lankan,

    Please don’t stop reading UI’s “articles”. Its the best we have by way of entertainment on Groundviews.

  • Sarath Fernando

    Sri Lal – thank you for your comment in support.

    DJ ‘s silence is more telling than all his lenthy narratives, which are basically hog-wash. He pounds on every opportunity to snipe and rightfully gets sniped back with double vengance. Apart from that I only see him avoiding any substantive or legitimate responses.

    I guess every one finds his unique way to make a living, never mind the consequences to others!

  • Sarath Fernando

    A tiny correction please — I meant to say “pounces on”, not “pounds on”. Sorry about that.

  • Anonymous

    Sarath,

    Good thing you corrected that. If not UI would have pounced on that instead of answering the question!

  • longus

    Kumudu

    For the sake of theory, I produce the somewhat long quote from David Hinton’s book Classical Chinese Poetry :

    Although radically different from the Judeo-Christian worldview that has dominated Western culture, this Taoist cosmology represents a world-view that is remarkably familiar to us in the modern Western world(no doubt part of the reason the poetry feels so contemporary):it is secular, and yet profoundly spiritual;it is thoroughly empirical and basically accords with modern scientific understanding; it is deeply ecological, weaving the human into the “natural world” in the most profound way(indeed, the distinction between human and nature is entirely foreign to it);and it is radically feminist-a primal cosmology oriented around earth’s mysterious generative force and probably deriving from Paleolithic spiritual practicees centred on a Great Mother who continuously gives birth to all things in an unending cycle of life, death and rebirth.

    By the time the mature written tradition began around 400 C.E., Buddhism had migrated from India to China and was well established. Ch’an, the distinctively Chinese form of Buddhism, was emerging in part as a result of mistranslation of Buddhist texts using Taoist terminology and concepts. Ch’an was essentially a reformulation of spiritual ecology of early Taoist thought, focusing within that philosophical framework on meditation, which was practiced by virtually all of China’s intellectuals. Such meditation allows us to watch the process of tzu-jan in the form of thought arising from the emptyness and disappearing back into it. In such meditative practice, we see that we are fundamentally separate from the mental processes with which we normally identify, that we are most essentially the very emptyness that watches thought appear and disappear.

    Going deeper into meditative practice, once the restless train of thought falls silent, one simply dwells in that undifferentiated emptyness, that generative realm of absence. Self and its constructions of the world dossolve away, and what remains of us is empty conscious itself, known in Ch’an terminology as “empty mind or “no-mind”. As absence, empty mind attends to the ten thousand things with mirrorlike clarity, and so the act of perception itself becomes a spiritual act:empty mind mirrorinr the world, leaving its tan thousand things utterly simple,utterly themselves, and utterly sufficient.This spiritual practice is a constant presence in classical Chinese, in its fundamentally pictographic nature.