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Sri Lanka: Shafi files FR potion

Dr. Mohamed Shafi Siyabdeen of Kurunegala Hospital files a FR petition before SC requesting to declare his arrest and detention as illegal.

The tornado of allegations levelled against Dr. Seigu Siyabdeen Mohammed Safi, ignited after the newspaper article accused him of sterilizing 4,000 mothers without their consent.

The doctor - attached to the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital (KTH) - was arrested shortly afterwards, on May 24, over charges of amassing a large amount of wealth and assets. Soon, the authorities called the public to come forward with complaints if any, against him on sterilisation accusations.

There were instances where Muslims were attacked following the April 21 Easter Sunday terrorist onslaught, that left 258 dead and nearly 500 others injured. Mosques, houses and businesses belonging to Muslims were attacked leaving at least one dead.

Will the $5 trillion economy be possible for India by 2024 ?

India is a country with around 25 percent of the population still living below poverty line

by N.S.Venkataraman

After receiving massive mandate in recent parliament election and getting second term as Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi with his characteristic courage of conviction and confidence and with his capability to think beyond the present time , has fixed the target of 5 trillion US$ economy for India by 2024.

Year 2024 would be the period when Mr.Modi would complete his second term as India’s Prime Minister . This means that Mr. Modi has set the target for himself and the country to be achieved by the time when he would complete his second term.

Present Indian economy is estimated to be of size 2.74 trillion US$ at market exchange rate in 2018-2019. From the present stage to reach 5 trillion US$ Indian economy in 5 years, Indian economy has to grow at compound rate of 10 to 11% every year. India has never achieved economic growth at this rate in the past several decades including best performance year.

Many wonder whether this target is too steep and whether it would be possible to achieve and why Mr.Modi has set such target for himself and country by 2024. Mr.Modi has said that the target would be hard to achieve but not impossible.

This view is typical of the man who is presently in charge of guiding destiny of the vast populous country of around 130 million people , which is facing multiple, complex and inter related problems and issues.

Population growth

The recent UN report has said that India will emerge as most populous country in the world by 2050, when Indian population would touch around 1.54 billion people, out growing China which is another most populous country in the world.

One of the pre requisites to achieve such huge economic growth in India, which is not possible without social stability, is to control the population growth but there is no indication that Mr.Modi has applied his mind so far to the challenge of massive population growth. Does Mr.Modi think that more manpower would mean more muscle power , which would be a strength and not a weakness,

If so, is it optimism at extreme level or helplessness in tackling the population explosion issue?

Inefficient government machinery

There have been number of innovative and original ideas that have been thought about and introduced in 1st term of office by Mr.Modi . Such meaningful schemes include introduction of GST, construction of thousands of toilets for poor people ,promotion of non conventional energy such as solar and wind power, afforestation, rural electrification, opening of bank account for poor people, digitalisation, road construction projects, revival of sick urea fertiliser units ,clean India scheme and others.

For implementing such schemes, funds have been allotted and firm plans and actions have been chalked out. But problem is in the pace of implementation with the required level of commitment and efficiency by ministers and government machinery .While impressive gains have been made during Mr. Modi’s first term, progress is still inadequate to achieve the target that would meet the national needs.

The problems faced by Mr.Modi is that the government machinery at various levels are not moving with speed and dynamism that is expected by Mr.Modi. He is simply not able to make the government machinery to work in a way that is needed to achieve the target

Corruption continues to be the order of the day. Though corruption has been largely controlled in ministerial level directly working under Mr.Modi , there is still no wide spread fear of being punished for corrupt practices amongst the officials. Corruption have not yet been wiped out to make any significant impact in the national growth.

The corruption in state level also continues at ministerial level as well as in top, medium and lower level at unacceptably high level.

Without checking the corruption and syphoning away of the funds by the various officials and politicians in power, which results in the funds deployed for welfare , economic and industrial projects not providing the commensurate benefits,progress in India will be very limited.

It is not possible to achieve the target set by Mr.Modi for himself and countrymen , unless significant dent would be made in toning up the administration and government machinery and wiping out corruption at national and state level as well as in private sector and voluntary bodies.

India cannot be one man show

Overwhelming majority gained by Mr.Modi in recent parliament election, in spite of vituperative campaign launched by the determined opposition parties , clearly indicate high level of confidence amongst countrymen that Mr.Modi commands.

People all over India, by and large, think that Mr.Modi can achieve great ends and they believe that if Mr.Modi can not set right things , it is extremely doubtful whether anybody else can do this in foreseeable future.

Mr.Modi seems to be fighting all alone and all by himself. Most of his “think tanks and lieutenants ” do not seem to be self starters and they look upto Mr.Modi’s guidance and largely derive inspiration from him. This dependence on Mr. Modi makes the burden on him more intense.

Certainly, there is no over night solution for India’s problems.

India is a country with around 25 percent of the population still living below poverty line, agricultural  sector face distress conditions due to frequent monsoon failures and drought, research and development efforts not still being

taken up in the technology front with the dynamism and dedication that is required, politics becoming a free for all with characterless people and family groups gaining vice like grip over national politics. Challenges facing Mr.Modi are very severe.

Mr. Modi , while setting target for himself and the country men said that target is hard but possible to achieve.

Mr.Modi , perhaps, thinks that such tough target will give the country men a firm sense of purpose, direction and goal, which is necessary.

It appears that Mr. Modi thinks that such tough target will pave way for striving hard . Even if 60 to 70 percent of target would be met , India would forge ahead significantly.

This appears to be the essence of Mr.Modi’s thought process.

Sri Lanka: Kariyawasam's Duplicity - Case for Treason

Is Kariyawasam running a parallel operation as advisor?

Former Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam, who is accused of rushing through the lopsided Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the United States, came in for strong criticism in Parliament on Tuesday.

Speaker Jayasuriya presiding at a controversial meeting with envoys of Islamic countries.

In the course of the discussion, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya admitted that Kariyawasam was being paid by a foreign agency under USAID for serving in Parliament as an advisor to him. The reference was to Development Alternatives Incorporatd (DAI), the implementing agency for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

When the Sunday Times (Political Commentary) reported on June 6 that Kariyawasam was being paid by funds from the US Federal Government, he said in a tweet @TimesOnlineLK resorts to deplorable reporting with no prior fact-checking. Yesterday it did the same by misrepresenting my contractual employment with the Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Hon. Speaker as his Advisor on International Affairs.

Now Speaker Jayasuriya has confirmed in the hallowed chamber of Parliament that Kariyawasam was indeed being paid with US funds. Hence, what he calls “deplorable reporting” and “no prior fact checking” to use parlance Kariyawasam is familiar is nothing but terminological inexactitude or simply a down right lie. So is his claim that he is on contractual employment with the Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Hon. Speaker implying he gets paid by them. Like the Speaker, why did he not come out with the truth?

First to what transpired in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon with Speaker Jayasuriya in the chair.

“Dinesh Gunawardana: Mr Speaker, I request special permission from you to clarify these two matters. It is reported that Mr Prasad Kariyawasam has been appointed to Parliament as an international affairs adviser to the Speaker, but that he is being paid by the US Government. There is no such rank among the list of officials Parliament has given to us. How can Prasad Kariyawasam, who is being paid by a US institution, be acting as an International Affairs adviser to you? This raises serious questions regarding Parliament itself.

“Last week, you summoned foreign envoys to your official residence for a discussion. There is no issue in that. You have the right to meet foreign envoys. You summoned the IGP for this discussion. You are entitled to do that too. However, even the Chief of Intelligence was summoned to this discussion and he was discussing intelligence information. Did no one advise you not to do that? The intelligence chief of the country, who knows all the intelligence and secret information, including investigations that are ongoing, was summoned to your official residence along with the IGP.

“Speaker Jayasuriya: That is wrong. He was not summoned to my official residence, but to Parliament.

“Dinesh Gunawardena: Fine. But summoning the intelligence chief in front of foreign envoys has not been done by any other Speaker. We also need you to clarify whether Mr Prasad Kariyawasam, who is paid for by a foreign Government, is only there to advise you, or whether he also gives out other information.

“Speaker Jayasuriya: Firstly, the envoys of Muslim countries have already issued a statement regarding the situation in the country. They have expressed their dismay and regret over certain matters. As such, I convened a meeting of envoys of these Muslim countries in Parliament to brief them on the latest situation. The IGP came for this meeting, along with other senior officers. It was good that this meeting took place, as otherwise, there would likely have been a campaign against Sri Lanka. Even the EU countries issued a statement a few days ago. The meeting was to brief the envoys of the Muslim countries and ease their fears. The meeting was held with good intentions to explain the current situation and give a guarantee on security. There was no leaking of state secrets.

“As for Mr Prasad Kariyawasam, he is a former Foreign Ministry Secretary. This Parliament currently has connections with 50-60 other Parliaments throughout the world under Parliamentary Diplomacy. It is these programmes that facilitate MPs to travel to foreign countries to understand how Parliaments function there, to obtain scholarships and strengthen Parliamentary Democracy.

It is not USAID that is paying him but another institution under it. He assists me in work related to such programmes. There is no intention of giving secrets to foreign countries.

“Dinesh Gunawardena: There is no issue about paying his salary through Parliament. But it is a question that anyone in Parliament can raise: Why is a former Foreign Ministry Secretary, who is now paid by a foreign institution, working here in this capacity?

“Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa: The important point he (Dinesh Gunawardena) is making here is that Parliament is an independent institution and is supreme. We have no objection if he’s being paid by Parliament. We are saying that it is wrong for him to be working here while being paid by a foreign country. We should establish a mechanism for him to be paid by Parliament. Otherwise, it could lead to a wrong picture developing in society that we are surrendering to foreign influences,

“Speaker Jayasuriya: It is unnecessary (to pay him through Parliament). This programme is aimed at strengthening Parliamentary Democracy. Around 60-70 MPs here have already gone on foreign tours to learn about strengthening democracy using these same funds. These funds have also been used for Parliamentary Committees.

“Wimal Weerawansa: Former Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam brought severe pressure on the then Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi to sign the ACSA agreement with the US. He is being paid by USAID not to work for the Sri Lankan State. He has a friend (names a former Foreign Ministry official now with the Ministry of Finance) and it is she and Prasad Kariyawasam who are working the most to ensure that US ambitions are achieved. They are also working towards getting the SOFA agreement signed. It is serpents who are loyal to the US such as them that you are keeping here in Parliament. They have no loyalty to this country.”

One does not doubt the bona fides of Speaker Jayasuriya, a former military officer, diplomat and a much-respected politician, in his decision to obtain the services of Kariyawasam as an “Advisor on International Affairs.” However, it is a very serious error of judgement. No other Speaker in Parliament since independence has employed an International Affairs Advisor, that too using funds from a foreign country to pay for them. The extension of that principle would mean he could also have, for purposes of argument, an Advisor on Tourism, Finance or even Water Supply and Drainage and so on. Is it not beyond his brief as Speaker, whoever may hold that office?

The Cabinet of Ministers is assigned that responsibility by the Constitution. The task of summoning Colombo-based diplomats, like the standard practice in other countries, is the sole responsibility of the Foreign Minister or his Ministry Secretary. It is also the responsibility of the President or the Prime Minister, particularly during exigencies. The fact that he met diplomats in Colombo from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Countries (OIC) in Parliament has given rise to the belief that there are now three power centres in Sri Lanka. Besides the President and the Prime Minister, it is now the Speaker who has literally played the role of the Foreign Minister cum Defence Minister though he is well meant in his intentions.

The matter did not end there. An investigation by the Sunday Times revealed some disturbing trends. It was Prasad Kariyawasam, in his new role as the Speaker’s “Advisor” who invited the OIC envoys for a “briefing.” He is now duplicating the work of the Foreign Secretary. That is not all. Kariyawasam also ensured that the Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Director of Military Intelligence were present. Who empowered him to play the role of Defence Secretary is not clear? The position of “Advisor” became his passport to play his previous role with the pay of his foreign masters.

The worst came when the conference was over. The Speaker’s Media Office released photographs of the envoys and the country’s top intelligence officials seated around a table. The news release said “The ambassadors and high commissioners of Islamic countries have told Speaker Karu Jayasuriya that they would welcome a common law in Sri Lanka that would apply to all citizens irrespective of their ethnicities.”

There are three customary laws which are still in use in Sri Lanka – Kandyan law, Thesavalamai law and Muslim law.

The Kandyan law is the customary law that originates from the Kingdom of Kandy. This is applicable to Sri Lankans who are Buddhist and from the former provinces of the Kandyan Kingdom.

At present it governs aspects of marriage, adoption, transfer of property and inheritance, as codified in 1938 in the Kandyan Law Declaration and Amendment Ordinance. The Muslim law is applicable to Sri Lankans who are Muslims by virtue of birth and conversion to Islam. It is different from Islamic law and governs aspects of marriage, divorce, custody and maintenance, being included in the Act No. 13 of 1951 Marriage and Divorce (Muslim) Act, the Act No. 10 of 1931 Muslim Intestate Succession Ordinance and the Act No. 51 of 1956 Muslim Mosques and Charitable Trusts or Wakfs Act.

The Thesavalamai law is for Sri Lankan Tamil inhabitants of the Jaffna peninsula. The law was codified by the Dutch during their colonial rule in 1707. It is a collection of the Customs of the Malabar Inhabitants of the Province of Jaffna (collected by Dissawe Isaak) and given full force by the Regulation of 1806. For Thesawalamai to apply to a person it must be established that he is a Tamil inhabitant of the Northern Province. The law in its present form applies to most Tamils in northern Sri Lanka. The law is personal in nature thus it is applicable mostly for property, inheritance, and marriage.

An OIC diplomat who attended the Speaker’s meeting said, “we were summoned to be updated on the measures the government has taken to ensure peaceful co-existence of the communities as well as on security and stability in the country.” He said we never agreed to “the introduction of common law since that is not our business. That is an internal matter for Sri Lanka. We never said anything of the sort the news release claimed.”

The envoys are now seeking meetings with President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe and Speaker Jayasuriya to set the record right. One of the envoys said, “We want to tell them not to look at us through western eyes. We are friends of Sri Lanka and are only seeking peace, harmony and the safety of all people.”

The diplomats included those from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Would it not have been better to ask the Foreign Ministry to have invited envoys of these countries should there be a need. This clearly shows that Kariyawasam was running a parallel operation.

The opposition also called a news conference on Thursday to voice its concerns over Speaker Jayasuriya recruiting Kariyawasam. “He was not able to give us a satisfactory answer,” said Dinesh Gunawardena. He asked why Kariyawasam was appointed and added “there are suspicions since this was privately done.” He said President J.R. Jayewaredene “had to tell a onetime Speaker M.A. Bakeer Markar to go home after he had summoned the then IGP without the President’s permission. E.L. Senanayake was made Speaker later,” he said.

Courtesy: the Sunday Times, Colombo

Sri Lanka: Democratic freedoms cannibalise democracy

The mass hysteria now being whipped up by sections of the media against this doctor does indicate the problems involved in holding a fair inquiry

by Gamini Weerakoon

There were only a few adherents to Voltaire’s avowal , ‘I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it’, standing by it, after Mangala Samaraweera dropped that hybridised ethno- religious bomb about Sri Lanka not being a Sinhala-Buddhist country.
Defenders of democracy are dime a dozen in Sri Lanka but these loquacious defenders developed a chronic tetanic locked jaw when Samaraweera dropped the bombshell. The reason could be that even the most liberal democrats did not go along with the potentially incendiary view or that it is not prudent for survival to support such views when angry mobs are being rallied against such a view.

Galileo and Mangala

But to those believers in democracy, Samaraweera was well within his rights to express it even though it was contrary to the opinion of an overwhelming majority in the country. History has many examples about those who expressed opinions that were contrary to widely held beliefs of the people taking grave risks. Galileo Galilei the legendary Italian astrophysicist was condemned by the Inquisition to life imprisonment for propagating the Heliocentric view—the earth and other planets revolve around the sun—as against the previously held view that the earth was the centre around which the sun and other plants revolved. We leave it to readers to compare Mangala Samaraweera of Matara to those like Galileo Galilei of Pisa, Italy. Many of those, who dared to venture off the traditional tracks and go their own way, have often gone into oblivion but there are others who changed the world.

Samaraweera, it will be recalled, when Media Minister in the Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike Government, claimed that ‘journalists could be bought for a bottle of arrack’, forgetting the fact politicians, too, out of power is of the same retail price. Nonetheless, this writer, at that time, in another journal, gave publicity to his profound thoughts and told him many things in plain black and white. The issue in this instance is not so much the personality involved but the right and the freedom of an individual to express an opinion that runs against popular belief, which is rare in this country and praiseworthy.

Saffron power

While a preponderant majority breathing nationalistic fire were considering the forms of torture of ancient Lanka that Samaraweera deserved, free, unrestrained and perilous thinking was gushing out elsewhere. There was Athuraliye Rathana Thera staging a fast before the Dalada Maligawa, demanding that a Muslim cabinet minister and two provincial governors be sacked alleging that they had supported or had links with the suicide bombers who killed around 250 innocent people by bombing churches and hotels on Easter Sunday. Visiting him was Galagoda-Aththe Gnanasara Thera, who was recently convicted on a charge of Contempt of Court but released on a presidential pardon of President Maithripala Sirisena, the reasons for the release we are still not aware.

The monk, Gnanasara Thera, too, demanded that the sacking of the Muslim minister as demanded by the fasting monk or else he predicted countrywide ‘Senakeli’ would begin.

The usual Sinhala meaning of ‘Senakeli’ is carnival. It could also be used to describe fireworks display (gini keli) and rhymes with ‘guti keli’ or fisticuffs. Whatever the monk meant, a hidden force seemed to be at work as town bazaars around Kandy put up shutters in support of the demands, and the closure of Kandy town was also threatened.

The two monks had their wishes granted when all Muslim Ministers resigned. Was this democracy or theocracy at work? It certainly demonstrated Saffron Power. Only Samaraweera’s comments stood out and were not in consonance with the general trend of prevalent heated political opinion.

In Kurunegala, a new jurisprudential principle is being implemented: A person is presumed guilty before an inquiry or trial is held, contrary to the principle of civilised societies: a person is presumed innocent until found guilty after an inquiry or trial. A government doctor, a Muslim, has been suspended from service on allegations that he had conducted illegal abortions on a vast numbers of women without their consent or knowledge. Over a thousand complaints have been received so far, since a newspaper sensationally splashed it across its pages. An inquiry has been ordered but how long will it take to make a final determination, while a parallel trial by the media is on each day? It is pertinent to note that the doctor was first accused of being unable to account for his assets he holds? How many doctors and other professionals are called upon to account for their assets they hold? Is it a matter for the police or the Inland Revenue Department?

The mass hysteria now being whipped up by sections of the media against this doctor does indicate the problems involved in holding a fair inquiry.

This new variety of despicable terrorism that hit Lanka on Easter Sunday needs to be investigated in all aspects with the assistance of the public. But mass hysteria whipped up by racists and their political patrons will only assist the spread of this deadly social virus.

All political and social leaders have a significant role to play—not only the government. However, with elections round the corner, it is evident that the opponents of the UNP view this bout of terrorism as a knock-out punch. The Pohottuwa opposition has a multi-pronged strategy of attack on the UNP, one of which is for its leaders to preach reconciliation with the minorities, particularly the Muslims, while getting their racist compadres to accuse the UNP of protecting the terrorist extremist Muslims to win the hardcore Sinhala vote. Another is to proclaim from roof tops that ‘Hatred does not cease by hatred’ but direct all the hatred and sentiments of extremist Sinhalese at the door of the UNP and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The UNP is caught in a bind, being held responsible for four years of erratic governance and the failure to act on information that was provided to the government about the impending terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, the squabbling between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have descended to kindergarten levels and the institutions meant to protect democracy such as the police, the legal departments, the Constitutional Council and the Office of Speaker of Parliament were under attack and threatened. Even the Cabinet of Ministers was non-functional at vital moments.

It is ironic that the Yahapalana government, whose one achievement was restoring democracy and freedom of expression, particularly that of the Opposition, is now being destroyed by its own creation. Democratic freedoms are cannibalising the institutions of democracy.

The government and the Opposition comprising the Pohottuwa are all splintered groups of the UNP, SLFP and a minuscule faction of the former leftist parties—now called the Dead Left.

Quest for power

Where is the Dead Left now? Vasudeva Nanayakkara, the veteran Trotskyite, last week was reported speaking on his future alliances. He would support Chamal Rajapaksa, brother of Mahinda and former Speaker, to be the next presidential candidate, instead of another brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was anointed as the presidential candidate at a recent Rajapaksa family dinner.

There is much vacillation in the Pohottuwa camp about who should be its presidential candidate. But one thing certain is that he should be from the Rajapaksa family, though Pohottuwa has enough fire breathing revolutionaries who had sworn by the dictum of world revolutionary leaders like Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro: Power grows from the barrel of a gun. The Pohottuwa revolutionaries appear to have revised their revolutionary thinking to ‘Power Grows from the Canopy of the Medamulana Family Tree’.

Sri Lanka: Warakagoda Jathakaya and Rajapaksa Chinthanaya

We are not a theocracy and we must resist any move to make it one. We must acknowledge the reality of a Sinhala Buddhist majority. But we must not overestimate the influence of the priestly class on our politics.

by Sarath de Alwis

It is generally assumed we have passed the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age, the industrial age and the space age. After a breathtaking dive into the digital age, we are well on our way to the age of automation and artificial intelligence.

Not quite. In Sri Lanka, we are trapped in a new stone age. An age of stoning. Or to be precise, we are now in an age fascinated with the idea of stoning people to death.

The reader is invited to listen to the ‘Anusasana’ of the Most Ven. Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera, Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter that is available on the internet.

Listening to the sermon of the erudite ecclesiastic who is emblematic of the faith that is now referred to as Sinhala Buddhism, it is evident that the Sinhala Buddhist mental makeup is well and truly fossilised in the stone age.

Intellectuals are judged not by the quality of their ideas. The benchmark applicable is the capacity of the audience to discern the truth from falsity. But that is not the case with institutional faith, moribund in feudal antiquity.

The idea of ‘Bana Preaching’ is that the ‘Bana Preacher’ knows best. The common Sinhala idiom that dismisses profound inanities as ‘Bana Talking’ is based on the premise that ‘Bana’ and banalities are not by definition accurate but considered appealing to the devout but not to the discerning. In short, reason and ‘bana’ are not always synonymous.

What did the Ven. prelate say? Did he advise the faithful to stone anybody? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. He did not say that. But he seemed titillated by the idea.

He begins his homily by expressing his overwhelming delight on hearing the news that Chamal Rajapaksa will very soon become the President of the country. He goes on to advise parliamentarian Mayantha Dissanayake in the gathering, to cross over to the side that he considers to be the righteous to save and protect the country.

He makes a pointed reference to the plea made by Mayantha Dissanayake, where the young parliamentarian had urged the attendees not to discriminate against Muslims. That is the one instance where he utters the word Muslim. Henceforth it is the third person pronoun ‘they’ he relies on to identify the adversary of all Buddhists.

The Ven. prelate proceeds to assure us that he too endorsed the suggestion that Buddhists must not patronise Muslim shops and eateries.

He refers to a doctor from Matale who he claims had performed the heroic deed of obliterating several lakhs of our children. He asks: ‘What should we do with such traitors to the nation?’

With reverential religiosity he says, “I am reminded of a call made by some ‘Upsakamammas’ (female devotees) that such villains should be stoned to death. Now I am not saying that that is what we should do. But I say that that is the punishment they deserve.”

It would be wrong to say that the leading monk advocated the barbaric practice of stoning people to death. He merely found it to be a salutary idea.

That is the mistake we make, when we inject tribal religion into politics. If pure religious ideology and values such as empathy, tolerance and devotion to moral scruples are guiding principles, then we will certainly have a benevolent government. But that is not how it works.

The constitutional primacy accorded to Buddhism has been in practice a carte blanche for the institutionalised clergy to hold its grip on public credulity by wielding power without responsibility or accountability. What looked good on paper has lost its lustre. That is evident only if one cares to examine how it has really impacted real people.

We are not a theocracy and we must resist any move to make it one. We must acknowledge the reality of a Sinhala Buddhist majority. But we must not overestimate the influence of the priestly class on our politics.

We cannot decide who is ordained a monk or what should be the minimum standards observed by the wearer of robes. That said, we can at least strive to elect politicians who may be Sinhala Buddhists, but are practitioners of universal values.

The current cosy cohabitation between the Sangha institution and the political class is the result of the adulteration of positive Buddhist values over the years since Independence, The process of adulteration turned in to deliberate distortion by the myth we created, by claiming that we fought and triumphed in a humanitarian war.

Who are we? In this election year, we must define ourselves. How do we define citizenship? Are citizens to be classified according to faith? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Citizens form the entire political community. All citizens are inherently entitled to certain rights and also have certain duties towards the community.

Our society, we hope, is governed by the rule of law. And that is applicable to all including the Ven. Mahanayake theras. Our society is governed by accepted rules that precludes and prohibits randomness in application and arbitrary use for political purposes. Our democracy relies on representatives chosen in free and fair elections. We are not obliged to make Chamal Rajapaksa our next president, but the Mahanayake Thera of Asgiriya is free to vote for him and is also free to persuade others to follow him. But he must not or should not promise purgatory to Mayantha Dissanayake, if he chooses to do otherwise.

All our citizens are entitled to the freedom of conscience. Every citizen is free to publicly express his or her views, as long as they do not lead to harm for others. Every citizen is entitled to practise any religious, spiritual or philosophical tradition of their own choice.

What is pivotal to our well-being is the clear separation between organized religion and the Government. The enforcement of religious doctrines is not the task of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena or Ranil Wickremesinghe. And more importantly the enforcement of laws is not the task of the clergy of any spiritual persuasion.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s genius is that he has defined his persona in terms of a religious cosmology of his own. No other politician comes close to him. Hence the undisguised delight of the Mahanayake Thera of Asgiriya on the idea of a Chamal Rajapaksa’s proxy presidency.

Sri Lanka needs leaders who are not moved by religious cosmology in the age of automation and artificial intelligence. Politics is the business of addressing the ills of this world by practical measure. I live in hope. As Stephen Hawkins who summed up the problem, we need not remain trapped in this archaic tribal world.

“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

We must recognise evil when it appears. Evil is the moment when we lack the strength to be true to the good that compels us. It was heartening to learn that young Mayantha Dissanayake was driven by the good that compelled him to plead for understanding and tolerance.

A Fortress, Disguised As a Country

Every road and bridge was mined; all mountain passes were rigged with explosives. Particularly so the rail lines and tunnels that linked Germany to its erstwhile ally, Italy

by Eric S. Margolis

Morgarten, Switzerland – Here, in 1315, a force of Swiss mountaineers ambushed an invading force of Austrian feudal knights who had come to reassert Hapsburg feudal rule over the rebellious Swiss.

The burly Swiss farmers and woodsmen from the forest cantons Unterwalden, Uri and Schwytz fell upon the close-packed Austrian knights and men-at-arms, using long pikes or deadly pole axes known as halbards, and massacred them without quarter.

Two years later, a second Austrian expeditionary force was caught by the Swiss peasant infantry near Lucerne at Sempach and crushed.

These fierce battles were the first time in modern history that foot soldiers had withstood heavily armored mounted knights. These epochal encounters marked the beginning of the end of European feudalism and the rise of infantry armies. They also freed Switzerland’s forest cantons of Austrian rule, creating Europe’s first independent democratic state, the Swiss Confederation.

The always astute Machiavelli said of the Swiss warriors: ‘Most heavily armed, most free.’ Indeed, most free to this day.

Those who think of Switzerland as a quaint land of cuckoo clocks and chocolate are sorely mistaken. To paraphrase Voltaire’s bon mot about Prussia, Switzerland is a giant fortress, disguised as a country. 

I attended school and university in Switzerland. Over the decades, I kept hearing about mountains opening up to disgorge warplanes, or cliffs studded with hidden artillery. But even my Swiss friends didn’t know much about these seemingly fantastic sightings.

Fifteen years ago, I was the guest of the Swiss Fortress Guard Corps, a top-secret military outfit that operates Switzerland’s mountain fortresses. I was one of the first non-Swiss to be shown the mountain forts that guard the heart of the nation’s ‘Alpine Redoubt.’ What I was shown astounded me - and continues to do so.

In the late 1930’s, as one European nation after another bowed down to Hitler’s demands, the Swiss military and its popular rifle clubs, banded together and decided their nation would not bend the knee as the Czechs, Dutch, Norwegians, Belgians, and then the French had done.

A feverish program of fortress construction was begun across the Alps. Some 900,000 troops were mobilized. Orders went out from Gen. Henri Guisan: ‘leave your families behind in the lowlands. Man our mountain forts. We have no place or food for civilians in them. Fight to your last cartridge; then use your bayonets. No surrender!’

Every road and bridge was mined; all mountain passes were rigged with explosives. Particularly so the rail lines and tunnels that linked Germany to its erstwhile ally, Italy.

Hitler was furious. He denounced the Swiss as ‘insolent herdsmen.’ Mussolini, Hitler’s ally, rightfully feared tangling with the tough Swiss mountaineers who had ravaged Italy during the Renaissance. The Pope’s Swiss Guards are a memento of the era of ‘Furia Helvetica.’

Working 24/7, Swiss engineers created a warren of tunnels and gun positions guarding the main entry points into Switzerland at St. Maurice, Gothard, Thun and Sargans. These forts were equipped with 75, 105 and 150mm cannons, machine guns and mortars emplaced in mountain sides and camouflaged so they are almost invisible.

Inside the forts are barracks, engine rooms, headquarters, clinics, observation posts and magazines filled with shells. The hidden forts interlock their fire and support one another. Unlike the less heavily gunned Maginot Line, each fort was protected by a special infantry unit on the outside, linked by telephone to the underground garrison.

In addition, Switzerland built bomb shelters for most of its people.

The Swiss only began decommissioning their forts in the 1990’s – after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Switzerland was a prime target of the Soviet Red Army. Advancing from Czechoslovakia, the Soviets planned to race across lightly defended Austria into eastern Switzerland.

Then, into the Swiss lowlands on a Basel-Neuchatel-Lausanne axis to Geneva. From there, the Group of Soviet Forces powerful armored divisions would erupt into France’s Rhone Valley and drive north for the Channel ports, taking US and NATO forces in the rear and cutting their supply lines. It would have been a replay of Germany’s brilliant Ardennes offensive in 1940.

But Swiss forts and solid Swiss citizen troops stood in the way. The sons of the heroes of Sempach and Morgarten were on guard.

When Swiss mountaineers vote, they always carry rifles and swords as a symbol of how their freedom was attained and preserved.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019