12 June 2021

History and Historiography 101 for US lawmakers


Tulsa. Remember the name. May 31 and June 1. Remember the dates. There’s a year to remember: 1921. And there’s a thing that the USA would want US citizens and indeed the world to forget. Remember it. Racism.

Tulsa, the second largest city in the State of Oklahoma, is said to have been settled between 1828 and 1836 by the Lochapoka Bank of the Creek, one of the 574 officially recognized ‘First Nations’ of the USA. Anyway, Tulsa is still part of the territory belonging to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.  

May 31 and June 1, 1921. That’s one hundred years ago, almost to the day. What’s significant about those two days? Well, Tulsa is a name associated with what is often described as the worst ever race riots in the USA. There are those who dispute the claim. Albert Broussard, professor of history at Texas A&M University, for example, believes no more than two dozen died. He adds that it is unlikely that after all these years any mass graves will be located.

There could be an error in the enumeration method of course. Just because you can account for only 38 dead people (Dr. Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist who served as a consultant to the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, claimsed ‘conservative estimate starts with 38 victims who could be identified individually.’) it does not necessarily mean that’s the total number of victims.  The Tulsa Race Riot Commission puts it thus: ‘Although the exact total can never be determined, credible evidence makes it probable that many people, likely numbering between 100-300, were killed during the massacre.’ Historian John Hope Franklin, in a report that accompanies the official state inquiry, wrote, ‘One-hundred-sixty-eight Oklahomans died that day. They were Black and white, Native American and Hispanic, young and old.’

Anyway, neither Broussard nor any one else disputes that mobs of white residents, many deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and destroyed homes and businesses. They will not dispute that attacks were carried out on the ground and from private aircraft or that 35 square blocks of the Geenwood District, home to the wealthiest black community in the USA and indeed dubbed ‘Black Wall Street’ were destroyed. They won’t deny that more than 800 people were admitted to hospitals, and as many as 6,000 Black residents were interned in large facilities, many of them for several days.

Fix the number at 38 or less (Broussard’s ‘two dozen’) and ‘Tulsa’ is not the worst race riot story in the USA. As Broussard points out, the 1917 race riot in East St Louis took the lives of 39 people while the Los Angeles riots in 1991 saw over 60 people being killed.

May 31 and June 1, 1921. That’s one hundred years ago, almost to the day. That’s a long time ago. Done and dusted, some might say. Well, some would want people to say and believe. The truth is that history and historiography in the USA is a riot in and of itself and not just about systemic racism and the relentless violence against non-whites, especially black people.

Doc Rivers was a successful basketball coach in Boston. The success of the Boston Celtics was put down to a highly talented team. Gregg Popocich was a ‘successful’ coach in San Antonio. His ‘Spurs’ haven’t sniffed the playoffs since Tim Duncan retired. The media hasn’t drawn him over the coals. Frank Vogel ‘coached’ the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship. This year, with serious injuries to the two stars in the team, Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the Lakers were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. You would think that how they underperformed with that lackluster effort, the coach would least get a mention. Nope. Brad Stevens, the current Celtics coach was showered with accolades when Boston prospered. When Boston faltered, no fingers were pointed at him. Vogel’s white. Brad’s white. Pop is white. Doc is black. Coincidence?

Here’s something to look out for: The Los Angeles Clippers, coached by Tyronn Lue, have lost Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal against the Utah Jazz. There’s a lot of series left. Supposing Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz make it to the final, check out what the media will have to say about Lue. And if they don’t, check out what the media will say (or won’t) with respect to the coach, Quin Snyder. Unfortunately you can’t compare the two because one wins and the other loses, but then you have the way Doc, Pop, Brad and Frank were treated by way of context. Yes, Tyronn is black, Quin white.  

The National Football League (NFL), just the other day (yes, not way back in 1917, 1921 or even 1991, but in 2021) stated that it will halt the use of ‘race-norming.’ Race-norming refers to the assumption that black athletes started out with lower cognitive functioning. It translated as less payment than for whites in case of brain injury claims.  

Racism in US sports is systemic. It’s a riot in fact. That’s not all, though. Consider the following facts. Every year, on average, 41 black women die of pregnancy-related issues for each 100,000 live births. The number for white women is jus 13. Black people make up 17.7% of the population but account for 23% of Covid-19 deaths. Longevity: the numbers for black people are 71.9% (men) and 76.4% for women; the corresponding figures for whites are 78.5% and 81.2%. The numbers for education, unemployment, prison populations, incomes, home ownership, poverty, political representation and other indicators follow this pattern. Racism didn’t end in 1917, 1921 or 1991. It’s alive in the USA.

Wait, let’s not forget that the USA has the worst track record in killing non-white people or facilitating genocide against such people in the world. Hitler was white, but as the comedian George Carlin pointed out, his only crime was that he was cutting in on US action or a US historical-cultural bent on killing brown people.

Remember George Floyd? Remember ‘I can’t breathe’? Remember ‘Black lives matter’? Happened in 1917 or in the 19th century, did someone really believe? In 1921? In 1921? No. Always and now. That’s racism. That’s ‘notes to an introduction’ for a course that is yet to be developed in any US high school or college: History and Historiography of Racism in the USA 101. A must, one might say, for US lawmakers.

Why is all this relevant though? Well, a US congresswoman named Deborah Ross has proposed a resolution (H Res 413). She represents North Carolina, a state notorious for extra-judicial murder of black people. A lynching state, then, and not the only one. Anyway, Ross has said a mouthful in the resolution.

She wants perpetrators of human rights violations to be held accountable (sure, of course, why not and all that kind of thing but also, ‘shouldn’t charity begin at home?’). She could trace the ‘narrative’ to the source(S). Who quoted whom, who quoted whom, and so on until she gets to the Darusman Report and the (interesting) sealing of sources (to enable conviction by pernicious absenting?) or at best to discover (horror of horrors!) unreliable and politically motivated ‘witnesses’. She could, but she hasn’t and it is unlikely that she would.

She doesn’t know or pretends not to know the truth about that frequently used term, ‘North and East.’ She doesn’t know that almost 50% of Tamils live outside this so-called traditional homeland. She doesn’t know that there’s no ‘history’ to speak of to back such claims. She cannot differentiate fact from myth, between history based on evidence and myth models.

Here are some facts she cannot dispute. Over 300,000 previously held hostage by the LTTE were resettled. A huge chunk of the post-2009 budgets have gone into infrastructure development in the areas turned into a war zone by racists who took up arms. Over 15,000 terrorists who surrendered or were captured have been rehabilitated, given life-skills and reintegrated into society (Ross could ponder such a process for political prisoners in the USA, especially those held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay, but she won’t). Elections were held in these areas. The elected represent the electors. They are fine with things as they are and as for devolution, they no longer utter that word — even though several years have passed without elections for the same.

History. Historiography. Interesting words. The USA has an ongoing ‘Tulsa’. Sri Lanka is not racism-free, but we are done with terrorism. And, compared with Tulsic-USA if you will, Sri Lanka is quite a happy place. Ross should visit sometime.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].

Letting and making things happen

What’s happening? That’s the question many ask. Then there are those who respond to the question or, as in certain cases, a question is not even necessary for comment. ‘Nothing’ is a common response/comment. To elaborate, ‘nothing is happening.’  

Nothing. It is an interesting word. A nation, a people, a history and heritage even — all rolled into a void? Well, that might please some. The problem is that there is seldom a void. There’s seldom ‘nothing’. There’s never ‘everything’ either. There’s always ‘something.’

So when people say ‘nothing’ or ‘nothing is happening’ it is usually a case of a condition that falls short of the expected. It’s relative, in other words. Maybe for some it’s about declining profits, diminishing assets, constraints in the commerce of take and take with little give.

For others it’s certainly dire. It’s not about ‘my net worth diminished from 4.73 billion rupees to 3.98 billion rupees, alas, woe is me etc., etc.’ It is about food on the table. Never mind schools, never mind online classes because a data card is unaffordable; there needs to be food. Basics.

Sure, we’ve heard about how important it is for the wheels of the economy to turn. We’ve heard corporate bosses and neoliberal economic gurus lament about workers losing incomes and facing starvation. Workers make a lovely and benign shield, but only in situations like this. At other times, they are generators of surplus labor which of course translates as profit for those on the sunny side of production relations.

The humbuggery aside, there’s some worth in the argument about economic activity. Not a happy equation certainly when it’s about some people having to submit to slanted terms of exchange or, to put it bluntly, having to agree to the terms of exploitation; and yet, at least from the unhappy point of view, tight restrictions become increasingly untenable or rather intolerable.  

‘Nothing’ has multiple applications, not just in the economic sphere. Constitutional reform for example. Talk of holding provincial council elections has ceased. Elections are necessitated on account of affirming constitutionality (illegally and perniciously though the 13th was in enactment) but anti-thematic politically given the government’s reform pledge. That’s then a ‘nothing’ we can celebrate for a while. The federalist talk shop has shut down. Another good ‘nothing.’ It’s hard to effect an absolute lockdown and indeed such a situation might have dire consequences all around. People do have more time to spend at home with family, and more time to, say, plant something (an objective precondition to earn the right to complain about ‘nothing’ or ‘pittance’ one could argue). That would be a close-to-nothing which will not be booed.

Lockdowns don’t make for witnesses and witnessing, but one doesn’t have to see in order to understand that everything possible is being done by healthcare personnel (from specialists to PHIs), those in the security services and Police, as well as innumerable public sector employees (from executives to unskilled workers) to the best of their knowledge and straining limited resources to the maximum, just to ensure that no one goes without food or the best healthcare possible under the circumstances. That’s not an ‘everything’ but it is certainly a fair distance from ‘nothing.’

There are countries in our neighborhood where back up systems (be it elements of the state apparatus or simply community mechanisms enriched by cultural practices and philosophical bent) are simply non-existent. Someone is infected and he/she either dies of it or dies of starvation simply because daily incomes drop to nothing. Yes, that word again. Some worry that we will get there very soon. We may, yet, who can tell? On the other hand, if nothing had been done, as it is argued, we should have got there a long time ago.

There are realities. There are aspirations. Mix the two and you’ll get a fix on your personal location in the nothing to everything continuum. For some this is the big picture. For some, indeed, it is the only picture. It’s easy to extrapolate from there. It is easy to generalize. It is easy to tell yourself and anyone who might listen, ‘this is the state of things.’ Such people are the ones who quickly get to blabbing about ‘nothing.’ The problem is that when you get there, you can’t see the ‘something’ that is the reality. You can’t even move to a ‘something’ in the realm of the possible, obviously not an ideal, cause-for-celebration ‘something’ but certainly a far cry from down-in-the-mouth ‘nothing.’

A pandemic analogy would be appropriate. If ‘nothing’ is where we are, then why wear a mask? Why maintain social distance? Why wash our hands? We might as well give up and await death which, according to our theory of all things, would come earlier than anticipated.

What is the ‘something’ we can do or expect? In a word, ‘learn.’ We can commit ourselves to using the time and space yielded by restrictions to reflect on the world and its health, on human activity and its impact on the planet, on personal choices and what they imply. The possibilities are endless. And there’s nothing to say that we cannot think of transformation of one thing or another or ‘all things’ if that’s the preference.

Minds cannot be locked down. Yes, we know about idle minds and devil’s workshops, but then we’ve moved on from ‘nothing-mode’ to ‘something-mode’ here. Hearts, even broken ones, resist closure. We can do something. If we really believe there’s a void, we can fill it. If we don’t, rest assured, a lot of garbage will get to it first. We’ll get nothing. Well, almost nothing, for it will be nothing but a stink.

We have let things happen to us. Colonization. Green Revolution. The 13th Amendment. Dependency of all kinds. The political culture we live in. We could even label each of these as 'everything.' Or 'nothing.' Somewhere, somehow there's agency. There's choice. There's space to make things happen. Things we can be proud of.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

The themagula, thilakshana and other thoughts on the Dhamma


There are things to talk about today. We could discuss the bipartisan House Resolution introduced by US Congresswoman Deborah Ross on Sri Lanka. It called for an ‘effective international mechanism for accountability,’ and a ‘permanent political solution’ in Sri Lanka. The resolution regurgitates the oft-uttered lies about territorial claims. Attempted land-theft, really. Anyway, it is a product of ignorance, arrogance and worse, it is easily refuted, never mind the fact that refutation is a medicine too weak to cure pernicious affliction. Yes, we could talk about this resolution and the politics of creative, racist and chauvinist Tamil historiography. We could ask Washington about Israel, Palestine, butchery, silence and humbuggery.


We could also talk about India. India, Prime Minister Modi and in fact each and every Indian pundit convinced that Sri Lankans must inhabit their version of Sri Lanka’s reality. We could talk about the Indian fixation with devolution in Sri Lanka in a context where India’s history of federalism was a) a mechanism made imperative for territorial enhancement and indeed the creation of a nation where none existed, or at least nothing even close to the ‘gathering’ that the British left behind, and b) a relentless process of centralization.

We could dwell on a characterization of the Modi administration by Avay Shukla in ‘The Citizen’ titled ‘Mr Modi may continue to rule, but can he govern?’ Shukla puts it this way: ‘[H]e demolished federalism by pulling down as many as nine elected state governments and rewriting [India’s] relationship with Kashmir, putting the goal of Hindu rashtra on the front burner with CAA and NRC, extracting the Ram Mandir judgment from the Supreme Court.’ And then we can talk of hypocrisy.


We could talk of the proposed move from chemical inputs to organics in agriculture. We could move from input-replacement to system-replacement. We could question things taken for granted in this sphere, the theories which are of the ‘goes without saying’ kind and the fact that such ‘eventualities’ are also describable as ‘came without saying.’ In other words, the fact that theory in the social sciences (in this case the hegemonic ‘science’ called Economics)  is seldom ideology-free.

We can point to the nay-sayers that ‘no can do’ was the chorus response to those who said the LTTE can be and should be militarily defeated. We could tell those who cry ‘name a country that has succeeded,’ that if show-success is ‘must’ then progress of any kind is impossible. We can tell the optimists that the LTTE was not defeated overnight, that the necessary preconditions included adequate human resources, training, hardware, streamlining of intelligence operations, political will and above a citizenry by and large convinced that it was possible. The last, as always in any national endeavor, is non-negotiable. We could discuss this.


We could talk of Covid19 and how it has changed the world, our nation, our communities, our workplaces, our families and ourselves. We can talk of the realities — their embellishment and/or their discoloration. The 'could be done but wasn’t' makes for comment. The grandstanding of the bystanders who do nothing but salivate at the misery of others could also be discussed.


Today is Vesak (as I write this). A celebration of and a call to reflect on the themagula, i.e the birth, the ascension to enlightenment and the parinirvana or the moment of release from samsara, associated with Prince Siddhartha, the Ascetic Siddhartha and the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama respectively. That’s more or less the official definition of Vesak. It could also be a moment that calls for reflection on the thilakshana, i.e. anicca (impermanence), dukkha (sorrow) and anatta (non-self or ‘substanceless’ if you will) associated with all things.

Some, for example Pope John Paul II, would characterize the doctrine or the Word of the Buddha, as a negative soteriology, believing it is a call for detachment or some kind of conviction that the world is bad. That, however, is a particular and particularly erroneous reading of the dhamma. The call, on the contrary, is for comprehension. It is about understanding the thilakshana by observation and the exercise of the intellect; a knowing which consequently makes for more wholesome engagement with the world and with self. It is an exercise that can be used to obtain the path to enlightenment and progress along it. It is also a framework that can inform all action outside of what might be called the strictly spiritual terrain.

In these days of socially distancing, self-isolation, sequestering and being subjected to all manner of restraints, perhaps it is worth considering the possibility of freeing the mind. It is free to lose itself in wild indulgence in sound, fury and all that glitters. It’s Vesak and so we could, alternatively, consider what could arguably be a more profitable deployment, that of deep reflection and the true discovery of the ways of things and processes. Yes, once again, the anicca, dukkha and anatta clearly evident and yet unseen in everything around us including customs acquired and practices confused with doctrine.

Reflection is also possible on the incomparable qualities of the Buddha and through such reflection build resolve to shape a different sense of being. In other words, reflection on the following: Araham (having eradicated all defilement), Samma Sambuddho (having discovered alone and understood fully the Four Noble Truths), Vijja Carana Sampanno (endowed with knowledge and conduct, theory and practice), Sugato (adept at choosing the right word at the right time and always to the benefit of the listener), Lokavidu (having understood absolutely the nature of the world), Anuttaro Purisa Dhamma Sarathi (a teacher incomparable), Satta Deva Manussanam (a leader unto one and all, people and the gods), Buddho (awakened from delusion and ignorance) and Bhagava (endowed with special powers on account of merit acquired).

This space is usually for political commentary. And so, since this is Vesak, and since the other discussable issues flagged above are also important, it might not be out of place to point to one of the most useful tools for the consideration of all things, political intrigue, designs for control and exploitation, turning myth into fact, myth-models into history included — the Buddha’s Charter on Free Inquiry as articulated in the Kalama Sutta.

‘Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' [Instead], when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.’

And let’s conclude with this wish: ‘May all beings be joyful and secure; may they be happy within themselves. Whatever living beings there be, without exception, movable or immovable, long or huge, medium or small, subtle or gross, visible or invisible, dwelling far or near; born or coming to birth, may all beings be happy within themselves.’

Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.  

Business unfinished even after 12 years

Twelve years ago, almost to the day, the Sri Lankan security forces brought an end to a three decades long struggle against terrorism. Against the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization, in fact. Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri opined recently that such characterization is actually a flip side of certain inabilities on the part of the state. He is correct, in part.

It should not have taken three decades. Incompetence, lack of determination, wayward and even treacherous policy choices by the political leadership at decisive moments as well as rank indiscipline on the part of certain military personnel did in fact contribute to the length of the struggle. It can also be argued that victory over terrorism could have been achieved 22 years before had J.R..Jayewardene been endowed with a fraction of the resoluteness and pride that Mahinda Rajapaksa demonstrated two decades later vis-a-vis the management of foreign relations, especially with India.

That said, one must have lived in a cocoon to imply that the LTTE constituted a pushover. It is even laughable when such characterizations are offered by those who were part of the choir that sang at every turn their ideological anthem ‘The LTTE can never be militarily defeated.’

Why celebrate the fact, 12 years later, some people ask. They do not ask, on the other hand, why independence is celebrated, why certain people want to mourn on a particular day because it’s on that day that the man mostly responsible for the worst days experienced by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka was killed, why we should celebrate Christmas etc.

Well, it marked the end of the biggest lie that liberals (so-called) in Sri Lanka had been tossing around for decades. Yes, the one about the LTTE’s invincibility. It marked the possibility of a different way of organizing social and economic life. It put an end to decades-long abduction and forced conscription of children. Tamil politicians, reduced to mere readers of LTTE missives, found their voice that day.

There are other significant factors that make that day historic. Dr Gamini Samaranayake, in a book on the JVP insurrection of April 1971 suggested that this particular adventure taught two lessons: a) there could be politics outside the democratic process, i.e. armed insurrection, and b) the state was ill-equipped to handle such an insurrection. True, the JVP insurrection was crushed within weeks, but then again it was one of the worst planner exercises ever. A better prepared, better equipped outfit with a superior strategy could have been a different kettle of fish. That’s the implication. Samaranayake suggests that it was the LTTE (and not the JVP of the late eighties) that learned these lessons best.

If that’s the case, then another lesson was learned or rather dawned on one and all on May 18, 2009 — a determined, well-equipped security apparatus backed by the correct political leadership and supported by the people would prevail against adventurers (if one went with Dewasir’s characterization) or thugs (closer to the mark) like Prabhakaran and the outfit he led.

There were liberals and Marxists who wagered that Prabhakaran and the LTTE would prevail. Dr Kumar David almost willed the LTTE to turn things around. Dr Jayadeva Uyangoda insisted that the LTTE would not be militarily defeated. There were others in that bandwagon. The USA did its utmost to throw a lifeline to the LTTE’s military leadership. Robert O Blake was the man behind such moves. Human rights advocated, so-called, international and local, shouted themselves hoarse trying to somehow leverage their global bosses to arm-twist the then Government to put a halt to the relentless forward march of the security forces.

Most fell silent. Some found cathartic release in conjuring up a war crimes narrative. They are still at it, poor them. Some changed their tune. ‘Terrorism was defeated, separatism was not,’ was the consolation-prize line they took in the face of considerably reduced political and ideological circumstances. They were correct of course.

Separatism, like Marxism or any other ‘ism’ is not easily buried. There can always be a Marxist or a separatist or some other relevant ‘ist’ around. Is Trotskyism dead, folks? Is flat-earthism dead, ladies and gentlemen? There are still people who believe that dinosaur remains don’t take anything away from the biblical time-line: ‘they say, they were put there by God himself to test your faith!’ There are economists who still swear by neoliberal ‘truths.’  There are ‘modernists’ who refuse to acknowledge the violence unleashed on all creatures and all things in fact by ‘modernism’ or at least its dominant versions.

There is nothing wrong about ‘-isms’ and ‘-ists’. Until such time (and it’s an unlikely eventuality by the way) that every single individual agrees with all other individuals on something, we can say “that ‘-ism’ is still alive” or “ that ‘-ist’ is still around.” The clash or clashes among ‘-isms’ or those among ‘-ists’ of this or that persuasion is not necessarily a bad thing. The difference is that the conversation is made of words and not a testing of this weapon against that. That conversation, if you will, ended on May 18, 2009 as far as separatisms and separatists are concerned.

Terrorism didn’t end, Easter Sunday 2019 reminded us. In other words, there’s always room for other kinds of terrorism. It does not mean that the defeat of one kind of terrorism, especially one that devastated a nation, should be pooh-poohed. The pooh-poohing hordes are more likely than not to be made of those whose outcome preferences did not materialize. Their sorrow is understood. Their logic is, well, amusing, let’s say.

There’s another important outcome: devolution and devolutionists (at least those swearing by lined arbitrarily drawn by a bunch of guns-in-booty-out brigands, yes the British) suffered a massive setback. No, they weren’t buried and will not be, simply because, as mentioned above, ‘-isms’ and ‘-ists’ are excellent survivors. However, as evidenced by the story that unfolded over the next 12 years, few today are interested in devolution. Here’s a fact: no provincial council elections in YEARS but nary a word of protest from devolutionists about this mechanism that was hailed as ‘THE solution to the “ethnic (sic) conflict.’

Twelve years later, however, the 13th Amendment stands. It is a monument to political ineptitude and cowardice. Its survival is an affront to democracy and all allusions to the unitary character of the state.

There was death, dismemberment, displacement and destruction for almost 30 years. The people paid a price. A very high price. Their sacrifices should not go unacknowledged. Indeed the best way to acknowledge all that would be to repeal the 13th Amendment. Closure on that count is also important.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]

The 'Third Wave' of political chicanery

We had the first wave. The second. Now a third. And, as is typical of a capitalist world order, crises (or waves) are a bit like the bread of Egypt, Octavio Paz, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature once observed — ‘night passes over it and you can read it no more.’ One crisis erases memory of crises that came before. It’s good for governments. It’s good for capitalism.

Hitler, is reported to have asked rhetorically, at the conclusion of the Obersalzberg Speech ‘Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians (Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?)’ The reference was to the genocide of European Jews. It’s called ‘THE holocaust’ as though there have been none before or after. We have an ongoing one in fact, the butchering of Palestinians by Isread which, not surprisingly, the human rights angels in Geneva have not the eyes to see.’

Covid19 is not of those proportions. Millions have died, but it’s still less than 1% of the infected to succumb to the virus. Nevertheless, people talk of ‘The Wave’ as though it is like a holocaust and point fingers as though the pointed are guilty of genocide.

Remember the Tour Guide Cluster, the Navy Cluster, the Kandakdu Cluster, the Minuwangoda Cluster, the Peliyagoda Fish Market Cluster? Does anyone remember when the first wave started and when it ended? The second? Well, we can’t blame people for not remembering, because the here and now is not exactly something one can be complacent about.

It is not something to laugh about. We all know someone who was infected. Many know of someone, at least one person, who died. It’s not pretty. It’s not simple. It is serious. And this is probably why we ask about measures taken to combat the pandemic. This is why people wonder if enough is being done.

Of course, in this age of information, we easily forget that misinformation has as much play as anything that’s verified as being accurate. We don’t always filter and even when we do, we send things through sieves that are in part made of the political or ideological.  

It’s part ignorance and it is part political. Some call for lockdowns or island-wide curfews (‘lockdown’ is understood in multiple ways) but do not spare a thought to the economic ramifications of the preferred mantra. Some, on the other hand, offer mechanisms which could lead to chaos. There’s capital to be made politically in chaotic situations. We don’t need to detail such things.

Some pundits, for example, argued that the government could never get down vaccines. Later the question was ‘when?’ Thereafter, ‘where?’ and ‘how?’ Are there enough beds? Why can’t they do 100,000 tests every day, ask people who don’t know that lab facilities allow for only a certain number of tests to be processed per day. Just yesterday some 50,000 people were vaccinated. Why only 50,000, someone can ask. We heard people demanding that the government bring down all expatriates. Then, when some of those who returned were found to be infected, the government was blamed for opening the doors. Same with tourists. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s the kind of logic employed by some critics.

There are logistics that need to be sorted out, but the whiners don’t have to worry about such things. They even ask why there was a second and third wave in the first place, almost as though the authorities went out of their way to generate such surges. It’s endless. It’s as if ‘we told you so’ is a pill they keep constantly under their tongues, ready to be spat in the face of the government

What’s done is never enough, obviously. Obviously too, there are and will be errors. When it all began there was one virus. We didn’t hear of variants immediately. Obviously there are imponderables in all this. There are can-do things and then there are things that are beyond the control of governments. It applies to citizens too. To collectives and individuals.


Well, we know that the first two waves died down. Does this mean that the third wave will die down too? No, it doesn’t necessarily follow. However, it does mean that the relevant authorities were not exactly twiddling their thumbs.

A story doing the rounds claims that someone has predicted that at least 20,000 will die in Sri Lanka by September. The rider: this extrapolation was made by the same people who accurately predicted what would unfold in the USA. The USA, under Trump in particular but also under Biden, does not have even a rudimentary public health system. Arrogance, Sinophobia and rank ignorance are all part of the US story. Sri Lanka is different. We don’t have the bucks nor the capacity to manufacture vaccines (by the way, the local Sinophobes must be red in face now, considering that China has agreed to help Sri Lanka produce the vaccine here itself!). Well, the plan was to vaccinate 20-25,000 but in the end 50,000 got the Sinopharm jab in the first day itself.  There’s something right in our health system. The government obviously can’t take all the credit, but then those who blame the government for all things that go wrong, are morally compelled to applaud when things are done properly, one would think.

Let’s get back to the Second Wave. That was in October 2020. There were experts painting doomsday scenarios. Among them were doctors. They thundered that the Government had got it all wrong and it was imminent that all hell will break loose. They went silent when the numbers came down.

As the Second Wave subsided, all authorities warned people of a possible third wave on account of the New Year in April. Can anyone say that he/she was unaware of the safety protocols? Can any owner of any shop that was swarming with people claim that he/she was unaware? Maybe the government could have clamped things down on Avurudu. Rest assured that many who usually ridicule such festivals (especially those that are celebrated by the Sinhalese and Buddhists) would have cried out in horror about the government being insensitive to cultural sensibilities.

The fact that the daily numbers (of infected) dropped from around 800 to around 150, perhaps made people forget that the risk still existed. Well, the whiners didn't applaud anyone for having got something right, did you notice? Anyway, people partied. People ‘tripped.’ And now these very people talk of ICU beds and oxygen availability. When people wonder if Sri Lanka’s situation will become like that of India, one wonders if it’s born of worry or salivating anticipation.

All that said, there’s a need to control things. The vaccine will have an impact. Restrictions will help. There will be mistakes made by all parties either out of ignorance or arrogance. The unpredictable will have some play as well. On the other hand, if the can-do as far as an individual is concerned is neglected, there’s no point blaming someone else.

It takes all to turn things around. It takes one idiot to raise vulnerability levels for all. The experts including innumerable keyboard warriors don’t have to do what doctors, nurses, attendants, public health inspectors, people in the security services and Police, and many state institutions and employees do on a daily basis. They don’t talk, they work. They don’t complain, they work. They don’t have the time to hammer out horror stories on social media, they work. They work, but no one thrusts a microphone before them and solicits their views.

Covid19 has spawned innumerable heroes. And as many vile, self-promoting, politically motivated vermin. Emotion is waving a flag, reason has been retired. There are some incontrovertible truths, though. First, no one knows everything and therefore it is best to verify things before tossing them out as though they are the yield of a comprehensive survey. Secondly, it is best to focus on that which one has control over: adhering strictly to recommended safety protocols. The rest, for the most part, is fluff.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

07 May 2021

Detox: political economy and practicalities

Vegetables grown at Mihimandala in Welikandagama are free of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals [see Dr Prasanna Cooray's article 'Overcoming the challenges of organic farming'

The final challenge, so it is said, faced by the Ascetic Siddhartha prior to Enlightenment was an encounter with Mara. Mara confronted Siddhartha in his, Siddartha’s own image. Bernado Bertolucci offers an excellent visual rendition in his 1993 movie ‘Little Buddha.’ If it is taken as a metaphor, then the true ‘enemy’ however you want to define ‘enemy’ is within. True enemy, or ultimate enemy, if you will. It’s a parable with innumerable application, spiritual and otherwise.

We are talking about contamination. About poisons and poisoning. About extirpation. About agriculture. There’s a problem within, an enemy if you will. As in the case of the Ascetic Siddhartha, there is a ‘without’ in addition to ‘within.’ After all the senses are bombarded from outside; it’s the shards that cut into flesh, take up residence and send the poisons along blood streams.

Let me mention two statements which say something about the ‘without.’ An FAO representative, way back when, once infamously said ‘we will not rest until the last buffalo in Sri Lanka is sent to the Dehiwala Zoo.’ He was applauded by an audience that had more or less bought the modernization mantra. Then, almost thirty years ago, the then US Ambassador Teresita Schaffer said ‘your food security lies in the wheat fields of North America.’ Applauded again, this time by those who had memorized the market mantra.

Of course there is a political economic context in which policies are made/pushed. Officially, it is accepted and the blame can then be pinned on those accepting, never mind the arm-twisting, not forgetting of course that much of it is embraced enthusiastically simply because certain mantras are adequately internalized.

All this is relevant when it comes to a re-greening, if you will, of Sri Lanka. We are a poisoned land and it’s not only in the soil that the toxins have taken up residence. This is why we hear many people scream ‘cannot be done!’ They will ask lots of questions such as the following.

‘When yields drop, how will we feed the people? How will we compensate the farmer for drop in income? Do we have enough organic fertilizers, pesticides (or pest-control methods)? How about weeds? Has enough research been done? Do we have adequate seeds? What about export crops? How much of it is organic? Is there a mechanism to certify organic crops if we go for chemical-free production, even if we assume that we can get a premium price to off-set yield-loss? Do we have the extension mechanism to offer training to the cultivators? How about the existing food culture?

Legitimate questions. The good thing is that today we have a discussion on the subject. And so, we can talk of the doable. We can talk of what we had, what we embraced (uncritically or perniciously), what we have etc. Then we can talk of destinations, how to reach them and when.  

It requires of course a serious and deep exercise in self-reflection, as individuals (producers, consumers, policy-makers, academics, traders etc) and as a national collective. What we eat says a lot about who we are or rather who we have become. What we say reflects the ideological predilections we’ve cultivated as individuals and as a nation, knowingly or unknowingly.

Some ‘experts’ may say ‘no can do.’  Perhaps this is because they know no better. We have many universities and many courses related to agriculture, for example, but how many are framed by received ‘wisdom’ about what’s best? Didn’t we, after all, swallow hook, line and sinker the Green Revolution lies? Didn’t we buy the lie about coconut oil being harmful to health? We are taught classical (sic) economics in our Economics Departments. We are told there’s a think called Marxist economics, but that’s about it. There are dominant paradigms of development. There are dominant theories. They are not ideology free.

For example, isn’t it true that our experts are fixated with the yield-mantra? They know there’s something called nutritional-density but their focus is on yield-density. Has anyone asked why?  Those who talk of food culture don’t ask how it came about.

On the flip side there are those who talk as though things can be done overnight. They believe we can shift to traditional food plants, produce adequate quantities which the consumers will immediately delight in.

What’s missing is the fact that the doable is somewhere between the extremes. What’s important to understand is that it is not just the soils that are contaminated. It’s the minds, the mind-sets, the institutional arrangements too.

That said, it’s a place we can and should get to. The road may be long, but it’s got to be taken. However, if we are to walk through a mine-field we better be prepared for accidents. We better have mine-detectors. And talking of mines, we could recall how the war against terrorism was won. It took planning. It took preparation. Hardware and software were lacking. Political will was lacking. Human Resources were lacking. We got those pieces in place. This was a non-negotiable. Those who fought the war know this. Those who studied how things unfolded over thirty years, know what went wrong, what could go wrong and what needed to be done to get things right.

Policy-making is quite a distance from sloganeering. There’s nothing wrong in the vision here. The mission is clear. We can build a splendid agricultural palace but we need a solid foundation. That foundation involves solid research that covers a wide range of disciplines related to all aspects cultivation, preservation, transportation and consumerism.

The good thing is that all relevant agencies have had to wake up. Everyone has been challenged, the people included. The choice is simple: do we remain toxic or do we detox our bodies, minds and our nation? If we have to live with chemicals (as the case very well could be) just like we have to, according to some, live with Covid19, we have to figure out what the safe levels are. Living with Covid19 is not about letting the virus do its worst and us doing nothing. It’s the same with chemicals related to Agriculture. Bottom line: emotion should not trump reason. Another bottom line: research must trump rhetoric. And here’s a non-negotiable: we have to fight this war. War has been declared now. It is best to go about it with eyes wide open.  In the battle against terrorism, much work was done to get the people on the side of that particular policy option. It made a difference. It could make a difference here too. It will obviously take time. Haste will not just make waste but could wreck things so much that the toxic enemy will move in with renewed vigor. That could set us back by many years. Vision is good. Drive is imperative. Knowledge is the best cartographer and without a good map-maker, it goes without saying, we could get lost.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]

03 May 2021

Covid-19 surge as an opportunity to re-calibrate


Lockdown. Isolation. Quarantine. Wave. Social. Spread. Cluster. These are not new words. They are however words that have acquired fresh currency courtesy Covid-19. And, as often happens, when used frequently, they lost meaning or rather they are treated with (cultivated) nonchalance.

That’s as far as the general public is concerned. Meaning, all those who are not directly involved in designing policies and developing strategies to prevent or curb the spread of the virus, enforcing safety protocols and of course treating the infected. Yes, from Day One we were told that every single citizen has a responsibility. Indeed such communications were relayed not just through state media but private media institutions, social media and through innumerable notices. We saw them all. We heard them all. We continued to see and hear. We still do. Therefore, if there’s virtue in soul-searching then that’s a national exercise which neither government, opposition, institution (private, public or cooperative) nor individual can brush aside saying ‘not my/our business.’ We can ask, ‘where did we go wrong?’ We can ask ‘where did they (say, the government) go wrong?’ 

We can also ask, ‘where did I go wrong?’ The yet-to-be-infected or say the non-infected can say/think ‘well, I must have done something right,’ but then again if such an individual violated the basic safety measure of avoiding crowded places he/she would have unknowingly contributed to increasing people-density in certain places (say a shopping complex, a supermarket, a party or religious gathering). You add yourself and you make it that much harder to maintain social distance protocols. 

That’s one way of playing the blame game. There’s another. You turn your binoculars on the government. It’s fair enough. It’s the state authorities that have to design policy and enforce rules. So we can ask a lot of questions.Did they become paranoid too soon (March to June, 2020)? Did they become complacent thereafter? Didn’t they anticipate a second and third wave? Were they foolhardy in opening the country to tourists? Did they go overboard or were too indulgent with the so-called magic remedies? Have they done enough in terms of preparing for the unforeseen? Was testing done in a systematic way? Did they select and procure the correct complement of vaccines and in adequate quantities? Were they administered prudently? Were preparations for a surge in infections adequate? Then there are questions that are not asked or are not shouted out. Is there some kind of fail safe formula to balance containment with the need to keep the economy moving? Can Sri Lanka afford an extended or comprehensive lockdown? What would you/I say if for instance such measures were put in place? Would we then whine about the economy grinding to a halt? Would you/I keep our mouths shut if businesses large and small were forced to shut down or lay off employees? Would you/I not lament the plight of the poor(er) employees?

Have we studied adequately the political economy of pharmaceuticals, including vaccines (procurement of raw materials, production and distribution)? If someone told me/you that the USA used its Defense Production Act to ban exports of the materials needed to make vaccines to India, resulting in a 50% drop in production, would I/you believe it and conclude that vaccination is not free of politics, free of the profit-motive?It’s all about how easy we want to make it for ourselves, isn’t it? It has something to do with political preference hasn’t it? In the early days of the pandemic there was fear and foreboding. Even paranoia. Things got better and people were less paranoid. The recent surge in infections has produced a hike in worry. People are frustrated. They need someone to target. Anyone. Anyone but themselves. They want everyone (else) to do their bit and the government to do much more than it can hope to, but many are reluctant to do their bit. It’s easy to vent and ‘someone else’ is always a better target. We are not rich in self-reflection. We are poor when it comes to responsibility. In the early days there was a sense of siege. 

Fear made people think of coping mechanisms at all levels. Maybe we will return to all that. Maybe the government will figure out a way to allocate resources prudently and design better balancing systems (of pandemic response and an acceptable/reasonable level of basic economic and social activity).Speculation, however, can only help so much. It is clear that a concerted effort by one and all would help. Criticism has a role to play in all this. If it is constructive. If it is motivated by decent intention. For example, a year ago, an opposition in disarray ranted and raved about ‘risks’ when elections were to be held. When the second wave hit us a couple of months later, some people got into we-told-you-so gloating mode. Obviously they knew very little about the behavior of the virus and cared even less. What does tomorrow hold? Can anyone answer? What should be done? What should not be done? Talk to 10 people. Make that eight persons who have an axe to grind about this government. They won’t speak ‘in one voice’. Talk to ten ‘experts’. Same effect, I would wager. Everyone is a self-appointed epidemiologist these days. Everyone is an expert on balancing pandemic-mitigation and managing the economy. Everyone is more or less in the dark and if you doubt this, check out the various measures put in place by various governments and how these strategies have been amended over the past 18 months or so. 

There’s a lot that a lot of people can do. There are some basic things that an individual can do. Perhaps it might be useful to go back to one of the rules-of-thumb that did the rounds in the early days of the pandemic: assume that you are infected (rather than assuming someone else is infected). Assume also, if you like, that the virus is in your face, so to speak. That might bring those who prefer to loaf in ethereal regions back to earth.

It’s about doing what we can. It’s about doing no harm. Dialing down anger. Being kind. Restrictions of any kind provide one thing: the space for sober reflection. Not a bad thing. It could even be seen as a blessing, an opportunity to re-calibrate a lot of things, not just the response to the virus.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]

India's 'love'


Subramanyam Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, being a politician has made a political statement. He would know, as any Indian politician would, the temper of the Indian voter. Moreover, since he’s a senior minister of the current Government, he is probably conscious of the different aspirations of different constituencies. In addition, since this is his subject, he is required to answer all queries related to foreign relations.

India has relations with Sri Lanka. There’s an Indian Mission in Colombo and Sri Lanka has one in Delhi. And therefore, it is not unacceptable for any Indian to ask any question related to Indo-Lanka relations. Maybe this is why M. Thambi Durai, an AIADMK Member of Parliament, had raised a question about Sri Lankan Tamils and why Jaishankar has written to him.

If it’s all about Indian politics and intricacies thereof, we could leave it at that. However, Jaishankar has talked of what Sri Lanka should do. Therefore it’s spilled out of the local political matrix. It’s not Thambi Durai’s business and it’s not Jaishankar’s business. 

Jaishankar is smart though. He’s dragged the International Community into the picture. He says that India ‘Supports the call of the International Community for the Sri Lankan Government to fulfil its commitments on devolution of political authority including the early holding of elections to Provincial Councils.’

Yes, the International Community, one could argue, has made such a call. The wording is certainly there in the resolution recently passed at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council. It is however a resolution prompted by a need to vexatiously prosecute Sri Lanka.

It was an exercise orchestrated by rogue States, in the sense that the big guns (Deliberate choice of words here) the UK, Germany and France refused to support Resolution 72/157 at the UN’s General Assembly in 2017, a move that called for ‘concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

It’s useful though. It’s useful for the likes of meddling countries (Regional bullies, should we call them?) such as India. Useful for the likes of Jaishankar.

On the other hand, Jaishankar (Like this so-called ‘International Community’) has a point. Sri Lanka has made commitments on devolution.

That’s partly because certain Governments made certain pledges which are antithetical to national interest or went along with certain directives from bullies for reasons of convenience (To get out of the heat), timidity and outright political idiocy.

Jaishankar has a point because Provincial Councils are part of the Constitution, never mind that they were brought about by Indian skullduggery and the UNP’s signature penchant for genuflection before powerful nations. He has a point because all major (and even minor) political parties have affirmed such skulduggery by contesting Provincial Council elections.

Interestingly, though, this very same International Community maintained a deafening silence when the previous Government was in power and repeatedly postponed Provincial Council elections. 

We don’t know if the likes of Durai were concerned about such things back then. Delhi certainly makes the occasional noise about devolution, although calling for elections hasn’t been as insistent. Delhi, as the key pusher (A generous term, by the way) for the 13th Amendment, has a stake one could argue.

On the other hand, having reneged on the Indo-Lanka Accord which gave birth to the 13th Amendment, India has effectively abdicated the right to be ‘concerned.’

Sri Lanka ended up delivering India’s side of the bargain (Disarming the LTTE or eliminating terrorism if you want to put it in stark/true terms) and India got what it had always wanted, a big-brother constitutional guarantee to interfere.

Jaishankar has bragged (to Durai) that India urges Sri Lanka to ‘forward the process of reconciliation, address the aspirations of the Tamil community and continue to engage constructively with the international community.’

He’s talked of India’s statement at the HRC’s interactive debate outlining this position. He has also assured Durai that ‘all efforts are being made to ensure that the safety and interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka are fully safeguarded.’

All this is rich, coming from a minister in a country that armed, trained and funded terrorists and precipitated a bloody insurrection which was bound to compromise severely the safety and interests of everyone in Sri Lanka, Tamils included.

It’s rich considering that India has its own tumours to deal with. It’s rich considering that India, located itself geopolitically with countries guilty of the worst butchery in recent history by refusing to stand with Sri Lanka. In other words, India stands in opposition to Sri Lanka. Such a country’s ‘interest’ has to be read as belligerent and unfriendly.

India, Jaishankar claims, has ‘an abiding commitment to aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity.’ India doesn’t have such commitment to certain communities living in India, as implied above. 

India can have commitments to the aspirations of anyone anywhere in the world. India can have commitments to biodiversity, gender equality, sustainable development and chemical-free lifestyles in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Kentucky or even Jupiter. However, India does not have any right to tell Sri Lanka what to do.

On the other hand, every individual in Sri Lanka has a legitimate right to equality, justice, peace and dignity. Whether such things are obtained or obtainable via Provincial Council elections, however, is another matter. 

The truth is that Provincial Council elections haven’t been held in years. The truth is that this has not prompted anyone, not even the most ardent devolutionists (Tamil nationalists included), to utter one word of protest. The truth is that Provincial Councils are not just white elephants, they are ‘solutions’ to mis-articulated and even highly exaggerated ‘problems.’

We needn’t go into all that. Considering that it’s part of the Constitution, there’s nothing wrong with holding elections. Stupid, but legit, let’s say.

It seems, also, that major political parties are readying for Provincial Council elections. Obviously for narrow political reasons that have little or nothing to do with affirming equality, justice, peace and dignity, one might add.The problem is that we are also in the middle of an exercise to formulate a new Constitution. Now suppose the drafters, having (as one would expect) made a careful study of the existing constitution noting its strengths, weaknesses and the elements in it that were pushed through illegally (like the 13th Amendment), came up with a draft that significantly amends the 13th Amendment or even repeals it? What then?

Those who for whatever reasons want Provincial Councils can petition the Supreme Court to keep the 13th as is because ‘after all, it’s been endorsed by the very fact that elections were held and people have voted’ (note: people do not always vote thinking of equality, justice, peace and dignity a la the nonsensical logic for the 13th). What then? They would have a point.

The SC could very well uphold the point. There would be an elephant in the room that no one can ignore. A wild, stupid and white elephant. We can do without that kind of human-elephant co-existence.


25 April 2021

Move over Teplitz, Seubert's here

Geneva. That’s a city. Heard of it? It was in the news folks. Well, ‘was’ means ‘past tense.’ Make no mistake though, it will make the headlines again, for Geneva is seasonal. For now, in the present, it’s old news. We are in a post-Geneva world right now. The human rights noise-makers are on a break.

It’s as though human rights matter only when the Human Rights Council meets or is set to meet. The circus begins in December and continues until bullies are done with bullying. That’s how it is. And then? All quiet on all fronts.

Well, almost. When resolutions are passed, mechanisms are put in place. If the ultimate objective is not achieved, we get a period of consolidation. There are after all people who are aware that there will be another December followed by a January and February. Those in it for the long haul are not unaware of the importance of incremental gain.

And this is why the noise-makers keep their twitter accounts active. Relevance must be maintained after all. We have US Ambassador Alaina B Teplitz (is ‘B’ for ‘Busybody’ one wonders) offering advice on how Sri Lanka should or should not maintain relations with other countries. She gets her favorite scribes in certain media houses to write reams about her opinions on whatever excites her at the moment. It’s now Port City and now about how to deliver ease of business. Then it’s about debt management. And this from the representative of a country whose debt is owned by China!  

Meanwhile, there’s a hilarious story from Geneva. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has thought fit to advise the UK about legislation in that country. Now the UK was the key player (operating as proxy for the USA which called the Human Rights Council a cesspool of bias, implying that Bachelet herself is the Drainage Manager) in moves against Sri Lanka just a few weeks ago.

What’s interesting is the stark difference in tone and content. Sri Lanka was essentially warned about various matters which disturbed the Council. Measures were taken, or so we are told, to make sure things don’t get worse. No, nothing about war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other tall tales that seemed to have been bedtime reading for the likes of Bachelet not too long ago (she even had nightmares about the discovery of a mass grave in Mannar containing the remains of people killed some 400 years ago but which she was convinced was a Rajapaksa affair). It was about a disturbing present that cast shadows on a possibly worse future. In a word conjecture. If you want an adjective, consider ‘wild.’

The UK case is different. It’s legislation that would give a free hand to combatants to rape, plunder, torture and kill. That’s black and white stuff, as opposed to a motley set of stories laced with exaggeration if not totally fabricated which ‘compelled’ the Council to rap Sri Lankan on the proverbial knuckles and more. In stark contrast, Bachelet’s missive to the UK is mild.

Bachelet, the Chief of Vexatious Persecution in Geneva, operating on behalf of the worst war criminals that walk the earth representing the worst rogue nations the world has known over the past several centuries, has some lovely words for the British:

‘As currently drafted, the bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes.’

This is about the Overseas Operations Bill (better known as the Bill Against Vexatious Prosecution). If ‘present’ is what compelled the Council to draw Sri Lanka over the coals a few weeks ago, then this ‘present’ in the UK should have prompted Bachelet to leave no stone unturned to facilitate sanctions against that country. Didn’t happen. Won’t happen. The world is not ordered that way. Geneva doesn’t operate that way. Bachelet is not made for that kind of operation.

Now, one would have expected Andreas Michaelis to have had something to say about all this. Not a word did he utter.

Haven’t heard of him, ladies and gentlemen? Don’t feel bad. I didn’t know the name either. I wanted to know (and I’ll tell you why, presently) what the German mission in London had to say about the Bill to Enable War Crimes with Impunity (as it should be called). Andreas Michaelis is the current German Ambassador to the Court of St James. He might be busy doing other stuff. Maybe he’s not a busybody like Teplitz. Or Holger Seubert, his Sri Lankan counterpart who, all of a sudden, wanted to teach Sri Lankans world history.

Seubert, representing a country that, predictably, sided with the UK in the vexatious persecution of Sri Lanka in Geneva, tweeted recently:

‘I‘m hearing claims that “a Hitler” could be beneficial to Sri Lanka today. Let me remind those voices that Adolf Hitler was responsible for human suffering and despair beyond imagination, with millions of deaths. Definitely no role model for any politician!’

We know all that. We know also that there were countries back in the day that fought Hitler and his Germany. That’s only because for the first time in history white people were doing to white people what white people had done to non-white people for centuries — mindless slaughter.

Seubert is correct of course. Hitler was no angel. On the other hand, ‘Hitler’ is a name that passes for ‘strong man.’ Someone who was single-minded. Someone who got things done. It’s a name invoked by a bikkhus and more recently by parliamentarian Dilum Amunugama who said that those who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa expected him to ‘be a Hitler.’ Indeed the Rajapaksa, before and after assuming office, has been branded as a dictator-in-waiting. The derogatory terms used on his brother by his political opponents a decade ago were essentially refreshed and used against the president. He hasn’t been a dictator and that might have upset those who counted on such an eventuality so they could say ‘I/we told you so!’

On the other hand, those other Hitlerian qualities, aren’t on display either, according to Dilum at least. Perhaps Dilum should have interjected the necessary caveats. It is after all ridiculous to assume that anyone voted for someone expecting an outpouring of human suffering and despair beyond imagination with millions of deaths to boot.  

Seubert would do well to ask people outside his circle of friends in Sri Lanka what ‘hitler kenek’ (a Hitler) connotes in this country.

It is unlikely he would. However, until the Geneva Circus comes around, he can continue to tweet and enhance his busybody credentials. He must have some German pride, one assumes. Why play second fiddle to Teplitz and her UK counterpart, Sarah Hulton, eh?

Make no mistake. Geneva will make the headlines again. Until then media houses will have to make do with the likes of Teplitz, Hulton and Seubert (but not Bachelet or Michaelis)!

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].

Krishantha Cooray asks: 'Are you Annesley, Lesley, Kingsley or Bruce Lee?'


This is a story related to me by my friend and founder CEO of Rivira Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd, Krishantha Cooray. Apparently he had, a long time ago, figured out that employees or subordinates are of four types, each associated with or rather amenable to description by the above names.

First. Annesley. This, according to Krishantha, is the type of subordinate who will accept with enthusiasm tasks and responsibilities, and end up messing everything. Perhaps out of over-enthusiasm. Perhaps on account of over-estimating capacities. Perhaps out of sheer ignorance and incompetence. So why ‘Annesley’? Well, it’s derived from the Sinhala colloquial term for messing things up: aana gannava.

Then we have Lesley. ‘Lesley’ from lessala-yanava….slinking away or (deftly) sidestepping responsibility or nudging it in someone else’s direction. [A] Lesley won’t say ‘no’ or ‘cannot.’ Lesley might even show the same enthusiasm as [an] Annesley. Lesley won’t do the job. Indeed he won’t even try to do the job. Someone else will take on the responsibility. If that person succeeds, Lesley would probably not be averse to accepting the credit (Krishantha didn’t elaborate on this) but rest assured, if there’s failure, Lesley will not be blamed.

The third character, according to Krishantha is Kingsley. [A] Kingsley will take orders and carry them out as though they’ve been given by a king.  Fear of punishment or absolute loyalty and commitment to affirming the notion of raajakaariya would do the trick. Such individuals attend to the task at hand diligently. They get the job done.

The final character is Bruce Lee. Yes, the martial artist Bruce Lee. [A] Bruce Lee would fight his/her way through to get the job done. There could be some bruises, black-eyes and maybe even a broken nose at the end of the story but he/she would deliver.

Krishantha has an elaboration of this thesis as well. You would have no doubt asked the obvious question: doesn’t it depend (also) on who the king/queen is? Yes, the character or personality of the person giving the order needs to be factored in as well.

There are all kinds of leaders. Sometimes, if the system has been tested and refined over time, it doesn’t really matter who is at the top. There are rules, there are expectations and there’s a culture of work. In such situations, a Lesley or an Annesley won’t survive. He/she would be hoofed out. There won’t be a Bruce Lee either; a half-way decent system will not require noses to be broken. That’s when we find that everyone is a Kingley. In fact the real king would be the system. All that’s left is rajakariya.

That’s rare, though. So we have to talk about leaders.

Obviously any system that has all four types cannot be efficient. Bruce Lee will get things done, but could create other issues. Kingsley can be counted on. Ii might still work if together they outweigh Annesley and Lesley. No guarantees though. Ideally, Annesley and Lesley have to be shown the door and Bruce Lee reined in a bit.

Sometimes, say in a state institution, it’s not easy to get rid of Annesley and Lesley. Annesley has to be closely supervised and even nurtured into being a Kingsley. You can’t take chances with Lesley.

Unlike Annesley, whose intentions might be praiseworthy, Lesley by definition so to speak is constructed to ensure failure. Lesley thrives when there’s no one watching. Lesley in fact can go out of the way to ensure that eyes are looking elsewhere, for that is an objective precondition for Lesley’s success and of course not the success of the organization. However, when one considers the fact that Lesley simply does not want to get caught, some surveillance could change matters. Continuous supervision could even turn Lesley into Kingsley.

Bruce Lee is a hero. In movies. In an office, he is a sword that could and often does cut both ways. Good man to have around in an emergency, but certainly not a man for all seasons. In a sense it is harder to turn Bruce Lee into Kingsley than to effect a transformation of Lesley. The former is an end-justifies-the-means kind of individual; the latter operates as though believing that doing nothing is the only end that’s of any worth. Bruce Lee has to be re-moulded and that’s really tough. Too little supervision or giving full rein could end with delivery but delivery leaving behind a wreckage-trail. Too much supervision could immobilize. That would translate into idle human resources. Not good.

The task of the leader is unenviable, then. The objective, ultimately, is to transform self into system. Ego can get in the way. Human frailty can stump. However, there’s little to lose by trying. An institution made of Kingsleys and Kingsleys in the making would probably be better than one made of a Kingsley, a Bruce Lee, an Annesley and a Lesley.

Perhaps Krishantha Cooray, if and when he writes his memoirs, could shed more light on this fascinating aspect of human resource management!


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]

PC elections could stump constitutional reform(ers)


There’s talk of provincial council elections. Various parties or rather their leaderships have instructed the respective ranks and files to get ready. A good time, then, to talk of this particular political exercise.

Now provincial council elections are, first and foremost, part of constitutional requirements. It’s necessitated by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, illegally though its passage in Parliament was. It was a product of the infamous Indo-Lanka Accord which, as is well known, was essentially a for India, by India and with India kind of operation.

Of course the provincial councils have since then acquired the legitimacy that elections yield, even though the fact of contesting had little or nothing to do with the objectives of that piece of ‘legislation.’  Simply, elections constitute the bread and butter of politicians. Parties in power use such (relatively) minor elections to test approval or otherwise while for those in the opposition they are useful for regrouping after defeats at major elections. For individual politicians it’s about political careers. For the people, well, at least a moment of entertainment and a brief (and minor) validation of citizenship.

They were originally conceptualized as a solution to what is carelessly called ‘ethnic conflict.’ ‘Careless’ because the lines and the regions are not drawn from the ‘problems’ that the 13th sought to alleviate. They do not, for example, describe ‘traditional homelands (exclusive or otherwise) by any stretch of the imagination. The aggrieved polities are not contained by the lines. The relevant densities rebel against the ‘logic’ of devolution alone the lines.

Be that as it may, provincial elections are now a constitutional requirement, even though few are interested in them. The devolution brigades forgot about the 13th, the problems it was supposed to resolve etc., when the previous regime refused to hold provincial council elections. Those who whine about democracy at every turn somehow forgot that elections are important elements of a democracy. Now, typically their democracy angst only surfaces when the UNP (or its various avatars, for example the SJB) is out of power. And yet, this time around, when Sri Lanka and in particular the current government was put under a trial in a kangaroo court in Geneva, the prosecutors (who are also wont to switch roles with the judges and the jury) were conspicuously (and hilariously) silent on provincial council elections not being held.

So, we’ve gone several years now without PC elections, but that hasn’t really bothered anyone. The provincial administration has carried on regardless. No complaints from the politicians and more importantly, none from the people in these provinces.

So we have to consider the question, ‘do we need these?’ What's happened over the past three decades clearly says ‘no.’

And yet, they are, as mentioned above, a constitutional requirement and as such need to be held. On the other hand, the constitution is currently under review. At least in the sense any committee appointed to draft a new constitution is expected to review the existing one.

Now, for argument’s sake, let’s say that PC elections are held and a few weeks later the committee of experts tasked to draft a new constitution comes up with a document that essentially repeals the 13th amendment. What then?

Now even if no one is really interested in provincial councils (as per the evidence of the past 3-4 years), the very fact of holding such elections and returning members to the various provincial councils would be cited as ‘people’s will’ AGAINST such recommendations by the committee of experts, never mind if people voted in order to express endorsement or objection of the current government, needed some political entertainment or wanted to feel recognized and valued for a change. The fact of holding elections would be considered as an overall aye in a ‘referendum’ on the 13th Amendment itself.

And yet, as mentioned above, elections need to be held. Postponement for reasons such as the above, valid though they may be, is not a good thing. The argument, ‘they postponed and hardly an eyebrow was raised, and therefore we shall postpone too,’ is weak. The errors of a previous government does provide a precedent, but refusal to correct course does not yield democratic brownie points.

This is why the government would do well to consider alternative courses of action. For example, why not a referendum on the 13th? That would settle the question once and for all. It’s a direct question and therefore ‘mandate’ cannot be twisted and turned as per the whims and fancies of the interpreter of outcome.

Better still, the committee of experts can release at least an interim report of progress on work done regarding the formulation of a new constitution. They’ve been at it for many months now. It’s not as though they are starting from scratch. The Second Republican Constitution (of 1978) has been reviewed enough over the past 43 years. The debates have not been behind closed doors. It’s all out there in the public domain. It’s unlikely that the experts have been ignorant of the relevant debates. They are, after all, citizens. They are, more likely than otherwise, people who have exercised their franchise. They are experts and as such can be expected to have reflected on the pros and cons of the 1978 constitution and have had more than a cursory glance at the 13th Amendment so to speak. It cannot be that their expertise is limited to, say, the understanding that no less than 20 amendments in less than 40 years indicates more than a half-baked argument for reform.

In any event, it is not entirely unfair for the public to expect these experts to say something, anything, about their work so far. It is good that they are not in a hurry, for hasty reform can have and has had serious consequences. The 19th amendment, from draft to SC opinion to the disregard of such opinion to passage and eventual submission to the SC for determination is a classic case of how not to do constitution reform, for example. On the other hand, ruminating endlessly does not help either.

The talk about holding provincial council elections, if not anything, ought to alert the experts to get the reform process off the blocks. They cannot be ignorant of the fact that the very holding of PC elections can stump their work, as argued above.

So, here’s a question for Mr Romesh De Silva and the team of experts: how about a status report?


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

The National Endowment for Vexatious Interference (USA) and its local pawns


Did you just google ‘National Endowment for Vexatious Interference’? If so, you would be disappointed. There’s no such thing.  This is not because no one in this world interferes. People interfere. Countries too. Interfering is not something the interfered enjoy. It implies ‘without invitation.’ There is something vexatious about it and as such the term vexatious interference is a bit ‘extra.’ The reason for the absence of an endowment of that name is simple: creatures who are bad, vicious, bloodthirsty etc., with a penchant for belligerence, theft, plunder, murder etc., don’t wear such labels. They would rather call themselves benign, generous, selfless etc., and wear pretty clothes with angel-wings attached to shoulders.

The National Endowment for Democracy. Now that would come up on google. It is a US Government think tank set up to support freedom around the world. Think of a word without racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance — well, that’s the kind of place that the NED wants or rather says it stands to help create.

The USA and freedom. Isn’t that something! One doesn’t have to ask how the USA voted on Resolution 72/157 to understand US humbuggery in its domestic and international engagements. The death, dismemberment, destruction and displacement engineered by the US is too evident to warrant such digs. It’s a rogue state if ever there was one. Nevertheless, since the USA has often used the United Nations to trot around in angel-garb, it’s worth a revisit.

It was at its 72nd session in December 2017 the General Assembly adopted Resolution 72/157. It was ‘a global call for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.’ Furthermore, it requested the Human Rights Council ‘to continue to pay attention to the situation regarding racial equality in the world.’

Now just the other day, the HRC passed a resolution against Sri Lanka. The prime mover of that exercise was the UK, operating as the proxy of the USA of course. France and Germany stood with the UK. Interestingly (and tellingly!) France, Germany and the UK were among the 14 countries that voted against Resolution 72/157, along with the USA (aha!), Australia (aha!), the Netherlands (aha!), Israel (aha!) and Canada (aha!). ‘Aha’ too regarding the fact that all other European countries abstained!

In other words, these countries thumbed their proverbial noses at the global all for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. In other words, their noises about such things is nothing less than political cacophony masking the pursuit of interests that have nothing to do with supporting freedom. In other words, in the case of the USA for example, the NED is at odds (thematically and in practice) with Washington’s policy prerogatives.

Well, ‘at odds’ on paper. Dig a little deeper and one finds absolute harmony.  The NED is notorious for pumping dollars into groups, parties and ‘movements’ operating against governments that do not toe the Washington line. Sure, they say it’s for democracy but that’s hogwash. The USA never supports groups objecting to US-friendly despots, military juntas and monarchies who mow down anything associated with freedom and democracy.

Alright. Don’t believe me. You can, however, take it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.Carl Gershman, the NED’s co-founder once told the New York Times that a lot of what the NED does was previously done covertly by the CIA. The CIA does a lot overtly and covertly, this we know. So why have the NED in the first place? Gershman gave the following explanation: ‘It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA.’ Apparently this is why the endowment was created.

Now would you be interested in being named as a beneficiary of such an outfit? And what would you have to say about outfits that depend on NED to run their operations? What would you make of their claimed passion to counter things such as racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance? What would you have to say about their morality, their integrity, their intellectual and political pursuits? Would a pinch of salt be enough? A cartload then?

Check this list and shake it twice: https:///www.ned.org/region/asia/sri-lanka/2020. Millions of dollars have been pumped into various ‘civil society organizations,’ you will find.

Now if you want to add two to two and obtain four (in a political sense), just check out those who have crawled out of the woodworks to stomp around and beat their chests indignantly over Port City. Check the names and what kinds of organizations they’ve taken up residence in over the years. Now check who has funded these organizations. Well, you can also ask what they’ve done when the yahapalana regime was engaged in vexatious operations regarding entities such as the Port City and the Hambantota Port, if you want a good measure of malice, political intent and humbuggery.

Law and Society Trust (LST). Have you heard of them? Centre for Policy Alternatives (heard of them)? They’re up in arms (now, as opposed to when the Yahapalanists were at China’s door with the begging bowl following Brexit — when Ranil Wickremesinghe suddenly realized there’s an ‘East’ in the world) against the Port City Economic Commission. LST obtained bucks from the NED. So did the CPA.

Did you add two to two? Did you get four? Tells a story, doesn’t it? Tells a story but it’s not about justice, democracy, rights and other such lovely things. Chinese interference, did someone squeak? Obviously, there’s a Chinese footprint here. There’s a US footprint too and it’s getting erased and maybe this is why Alaina B Teplitz is livid and why outfits such as the NED are in the picture. We would rather not have any footprints but ours, obviously, but those who have walked in and kicked us in the gut have no moral authority to complain, right? And neither do those whose rights-angsts are fed by rights-offenders.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

On nation(s), nationalist(s) and nationalism(s)

Around 20 years ago, a young politician with nationalist pretensions made an interesting observation (in Sinhala), the gist of which is as follows: ‘There is no such thing as a “Sinhala Race” but people think there is — we should exploit the perception.” Interestingly, he was at the time in a political party that was contesting an election on a Sinhala card, so to speak. Now if there’s nothing called ‘Sinhala Race’ then there cannot be subjective identification with that term. Why then should anyone who speaks Sinhala vote for such a party, is a question he may not have considered.

The party didn’t do well in that election, returning just one candidate to Parliament and this too on the national list courtesy of predetermined ratios. Perhaps some ‘Sinhalese’ did consider ‘race’ as a subjective identifier; some as in a tiny minority. Barely three years later, a shift from Sinhala to Buddhist in political rhetoric yielded far better results and yet the overall vote was just a fraction of the population that spoke Sinhala.

Perhaps Sinhala or Sinhala Race aren’t that important when it comes to elections. Perhaps other factors have more compelling weight in the calculations of a voter. Perhaps, as he said, there’s no such thing as a ‘Sinhala Race,’ one might argue, never mind that nothing in this country has been as vilified as Sinhala Nationalism, real or imagined, and never mind that the vilifiers play deaf and dumb over act and word from other communities (real or imagined) that would, in terms of equivalencing, qualify for the ‘nationalist’ tag and, let us not forget, again by virtue of similarity warrant similar vilification.  

Twenty years ago, turning to a random page in a copy of the Majjima Nikaya, I came across the Payasi Rajaagna Sutra which gave an insight into this issue of identity.

Here’s the gist.

The sutra is essentially a conversation between Kumara Kashyapa Thero and an argumentative merchant who took issue with the doctrine of the Buddha and expressed doubt by posing unanswerable questions such as the following: ‘what is nirvana like?’ By way of response, the Thero related an anecdote about a fire-worshipping Jatila.

This Jatila had an apprentice of sorts. One day the master had to go on a journey and he had instructed the boy to make sure that the fire would not go out. The boy was careless. The fire went out. The boy didn’t know how to make a fire. He split the firewood to tiny slivers, he searched among the ashes for the fire that had gone missing. The Jatila, returning after a couple of days, duly reprimanded the disciple and lit the fire.

And so, the Thero expounded: just as he who does not know how to make fire will not make fire, those who without wisdom look for nirvana will not find it.

The application: he/she who looks for race without knowing what it is or rather what it is constituted of or is not empowered with techniques of identification, will not find it. My comment from twenty years ago went on the following lines: it is a good thing that identification is hard for if that was not the case that which was looked for would be destroyed or purchased.

And so, for reasons of political convenience Sinhalaness (or for that matter Tamilness or any other ‘ness’) misidentified is observed in the persona of the enemy of the moment. That enemy, admittedly, might even wear the identity-garb, sometimes with conviction that the cloth covers the real thing but more typically because it is also convenient. And so we have battles among the convenient for reasons of convenience.

Identity is an interesting thing. Prof Arjuna Parakrama, speaking on the subject at a Commonwealth Literature confab in Peradeniya University around 16-17 years ago, told the story of a ‘Sinhala’ individual somewhere in the North Central Province (if memory serves right) who, when asked who he was, had lots to say with ‘Sinhalese’ or ‘Sinhala-speaking’ either not being mentioned or mentioned as one among many self-identifiers. Parakrama was asked how he, Parakrama, would identify himself. His response was ‘good question.’ He did not answer.

And yet, nationalism is an often used word. Nationalists there are. Of all kinds. Rata, jathiya and aagama (nation, race and religion) are easy words that are used frequently in power politics. They are ferociously affirmed and equally ferociously vilified. It’s like a set of clowns or thugs averse to acknowledging silliness and belligerence respectively and therefore talk about the clothes they and their political others wear.

Of course the self-labeled nationalists (of all hues) are in-your-face visible. The more extreme the position or the more intractable in terms of political project(s) the more visible they are. And that’s where one finds the nationalist discourse. The label-wearers are the stars/villains. The parties they identify with have star/villain value. Whether their amalgam constitutes THE NATION is of course a moot point. They are part of it, obviously. They do shape/disfigure the political edifice. What they do and do not do, what they say and do not say, have a bearing on nation, nationalists, nationalism that have little truck with them.

It’s easy. Too easy, even. Profitable though in many ways for many people. Somewhere where those lacking wisdom cannot see nation, somewhere outside of the universe they traverse in nation-garb, there is probably a nation and a people who identify with it in ways that don’t make it to even the footnotes of the nationalist discourse.

That’s a good thing, for after all the shouting is done, the buildings brought down and upon those ruins other mansions or hovels (as the case may be), the blood letting is done and the wounds dressed, foundation and heart will remain. That’s how civilizations survive and reincarnate themselves.

Meanwhile, however, politics we will have. The young politician mentioned at the beginning still spouts nationalism. Less frequently of course and without any chest-beating whatsoever. He has reinvented himself several times and is quite conversant in the doctrine of strange bedfellows. He’s not done too badly, all things considered. He’s not done with nation, though. It is a convenience, after all, and a useful political tool.