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15th May, 2005  Volume 11, Issue 44

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Focus

Story of Sivaram

From gun to pen - II

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj 

Kadirgamar Umamaheswaran alias Muhunthan, the Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) leader had recognised the political animal that was Sivaram in the mid - '80s itself. So he was entrusted a task that involved.....

More....


 More Focus Articals

> Texan Cowboy vs Soviet Spy Master (...World Affairs)

> Road deaths: It's the political leadership, stupid! (...Serendipity)

> Hurrah for the JVP (...Thelma)

> The Sunday Leader top dog again


Story of Sivaram

From gun to pen - II

Vijaya Kumaratunga, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Lalith Athulathmudali and Rohana wijeweera

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj 

Kadirgamar Umamaheswaran alias Muhunthan, the Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) leader had recognised the political animal that was Sivaram in the mid - '80s itself. So he was entrusted a task that involved a lot of clandestine activityin Southern Sri Lanka. SR's southern assignment was not gathering intelligence or planning destruction but to identify, seek and build rapport with nesasakthigal (friendly forces) in the south.

Umamaheswaran was a man of grandiose ambition hoping to attain several often contradictory goals simultaneously. The writer - poet V.I.S. Jayapalan who was associated with PLOTE in the '80s once described Uma as a "Man who wanted to catch 10 butterflies with his 10 fingers at the same time." There was a joke going around New Delhi circles at one time about the shopping list Uma had submitted to the Indian government. These included among other things inter - continental ballistic missiles.

The PLOTE also adopted a flawed politico - military approach that led to its decline. Instead of conducting any military operations PLOTE conserved itself for a widespread military campaign to rout the enemy. Much political work was to be done in the meantime to indoctrinate and mobilise the masses.

This policy also entailed establishing links with like-minded southern elements. The Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front under Padmanabha also tried like the PLOTE to establish links with the progressive forces in the south.

It was this strategy which madeUmamaheswaran authorise Sivaram to establish southern links. This resulted in Sivaram moving about in Colombo, its suburbs and some urban areas in the Southern, Sabaragamuwa, Central, North - Western and Uva Provinces incognito. He interacted with trade unionists, academics, intellectuals, politicians, media persons, student activists etc., of a progressive hue inthis venture.

A break away faction of the SLFP led by Vijaya Kumaratunga and Chandrika Kumaratunga had formed the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP). Both Vijaya and Chandrika along with Ossie went to Madras and met Tamil militant leaders including Umamaheswaran. This led to greater rapport between the PLOTE and the SLMP. The fall out from this connection was the PLOTE being accommodated in a house belonging to Vijaya. There was also a time when Sivaram had easy access to Vijaya and Chandrika. Some PLOTE youths even served as Vijaya's unofficial bodyguards. So great was Sivaram's clout with Vijaya that he was even able to procure a safe house through him for Dayan Jayatilleke, when he was evading arrest.

Ironically, PLOTE was able to maintain links with the JVP - which ultimately killed Vijaya - also at this point of time. As stated earlier the personal relationship between Upatissa Gamanayake and Manickam Thasan was the crucial link initially. Thereafter PLOTE and JVP began moving closer. Sivaram was a key figure in all this and met Rohana Wijeweera clandestinely quite a few times.

One consequence of all this was that PLOTE (and EPRLF) trained some Sinhala youths in basic military techniques in Sri Lanka and India. Though PLOTE never undertook any major military enterprise there was no dearth of skilled personnel in the movement. It is said that some of the earlier JVP cadres in the '80s also got trained by PLOTE.

 PLOTE also maintained links with the Marxist - Leninist armed groups - loosely called Naxalites - of India. Sivaram was part of this effort too. He travelled about widely. One experience Sivaram cherished was attending a 'People's War Conclave' in the jungles of Andhra Pradesh where he met the legendary revolutionary Kondapalli Seetharamaiya.

SR also met with some of the ardent Tamil ultra-nationalists of Tamil Nadu. Many of them were in the Dravida Kazhagham or its offshoots. A few were outside the original Dravidian movement. Many of them had not abandoned the Tamil Nadu separatist goal but were lying low for want of impetus. The rise of the Eelam militant movement and its armed struggle provided these sections a revivalist fillip.

Ultimately, most of these groups aligned with the LTTE, perceiving Pirapaharan as the logical successor to "Periyar" (E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker). There was however a time when these groups had a soft corner for the PLOTE too. "Paavalar" Perunchithiranaar for instance had a personal rapport with Umamaheswaran. The Tamil Nadu Liberation Army led by Thamilarasan who was stoned to death by an enraged mob after a botched bank robbery at Ponparappi also has PLOTE connections.

It is interesting to note that of all the Eelam liberation movements it was PLOTE which maintained links with both the ultra-Tamil nationalists as well as the Tamil Marxist - Leninist Naxalites frequenting the lands north of Cauveri river. Both sections wanted Tamil Nadu to separate but for different reasons. While the LTTE had links with the Tamil ultras the EPRLF had connections with the Naxalites. PLOTE however cultivated both. This enabled Sivaram to interact with several fringe sections of this type. His accounts of this experience were fascinating.

The PLOTE however was always suspect in the eyes of New Delhi. Though it had the largest number of members, India was reluctant to back it. One reason for this was PLOTE coming out with the publication Vangam Thantha Paadam? (The lesson taught by Bengal) in the early '80s. This related the Indian role in the birth of Bangladesh . The book depicted India in a negative light and forewarned Sri Lankan Tamils of India's ulterior motives and likely betrayal in the future.

The Indians were furious. This action by the PLOTE was a political faux pas as it alienated New Delhi. This blunder along with PLOTE cultivating links with separatist and Naxalite elements rendered it eternally suspect in New Delhi's eyes. So much was this bitterness that a PLOTE ship carrying arms was seized and the arms confiscated. The largest Tamil organisation was practically impotent and this led to its gradual self-destruction. India also succeeded in infiltrating the PLOTE through people like Aathavan, just as Colombo did through Shirley.

Sivaram was not responsible for the Bengal lesson book blunder. He was one of those in the PLOTE who criticised it later. After the PLOTE name 'surfaced' legitimately after the Indo - Lanka Accord it was Sivaram's lot to cultivate a better relationship with India. This he did slowly and steadily. He got very close to Indian diplomats and 'others' pretending to be diplomats. This helped the PLOTE too. But the entire set up suffered a nasty jolt when PLOTE tried to 'invade' Maldive Islands. Despite his closeness to Umamaheswaran, Sivaram claimed that he was not in the know of this ill- fated venture. Ultimately the consequences of this abortive attempt resulted in Umamaheswaran being assassinated by four PLOTE cadres.

Ummaheswaran who believed in dispersing his eggs in as many baskets as possible also maintained some links with "Colombo," the arch - enemy after 1985. The PLOTE was left out of the four party (LTTE, TELO, EPRLF, EROS) Eelam National Liberation Front. India was cold - shouldering it. So PLOTE was ripe for some deft plucking. It was left to Sri Lanka's Deputy High Commissioner in Madras, Tissa Jayakody to woo the PLOTE. It is well known that Jayakody was serving in a 'junior' capacity as Deputy High Commissioner to engage in 'extra-diplomatic work.'

One of his successes was PLOTE. This move had the approval of former National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. Given the misapprehensions entertained by Colombo about India's role in Sri Lanka at that time, Lalith thought that PLOTE could be used as a fifth column if and when New Delhi set up "Tamil Eelam" as feared. This move was accelerated after the Indian Air drop of June 4th, 1987.

Though Sivaram was not involved in any way with the initial 'connection' engineered through Jayakody, subsequently SR too became a key player in this arrangement. He did meet Athulathmudali personally and also Jayakody. The idea was for PLOTE to establish jungle camps in Wilpattu, Yala, Kumana and the jungles of Wanni with covert logistical support from Colombo. PLOTE was then expected to launch a guerilla campaign against the 'occupying' Indian army and its perceived lackey, the LTTE. Supreme irony!

Sivaram was on a PLOTE team that toured Yala, Wilpattu and Kumana to scout around for possible campsites. SR himself had hopes of being commandant of such a camp. Two things happened. Some PLOTE cadres killed policemen and forest rangers at Wilpattu and pretended that they were not responsible. When Lalith discovered this he was furious and put the project on hold.

The second was that the LTTE itselfturned against New Delhi and war erupted. With this dramatic turn the Tigers and Indians were battling it out. There was no need for the PLOTE project. It was abandoned. History may have been different if this plan had gone through.

In a new and changed political climate the JVP and its front organization, Desapremi Vyaparaya commenced an anti - Indian campaign. It was during this phase that PLOTE got very close to the JVP. One important link in this relationship was Sivaram himself. It was a political task set him by his leader to establish southern links. Apart from the JVP, Sivaram cultivated contacts with different shades of Sinhala political opinion.

These included leftists in the NSSP, CP, SLMP and LSSP. It also included people in the SLFP too. Sivaram also maintained links with "Jathika Chinthanaya" though I am not sure whether they were termed as such then. The JVP and its opponents, the Vikalpa Kandayama were all friends. Sivaram himself in a recent article wrote openly about the relationship he enjoyed at one time with Vijay, Chandrika, Dayan, Nalin de Silva, Mangala Moonesinghe, Tilak Karunaratne etc.

There were also contacts with the CWC breakaway Periyasamy Chandrasekharan. Today Chandrasekharan and his Up - Country People's Front are firmly in the Tiger camp. But this was not so 15 years ago. In 1989 Chandrasekharan and his men contested as PLOTE nominees in the parliamentary elections. Just as water finds its own level theultimate refuge of Tamil nationalists too became the LTTE. This was true of both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Sivaram himself at a later stage moved into the Tiger camp.

The Indo - Tiger war and its fall out saw Umamaheswaran and the PLOTE adopt a controversial stance. Sivaram was greatly influential in the PLOTE taking up this position. Unlike the TULF or groups like the EPRLF, ENDLF, TELO, EPRLF etc. PLOTE did not support the Indian army. It did not maintain an overtly neutral position like the EROS while keeping covert links. PLOTE took up a public position that was sympathetic to a great extent towards the LTTE. PLOTE did not explicitly support the Tigers because of one factor.

PLOTE was not sure of how the LTTE regarded its stance. During this period PLOTE tried in many different ways to bury the hatchet with the Tigers. Several channels were used to contact the Tigers. Sivaram was an ardent proponent of this line and tried very hard to woo the Tigers. In his case admiration and a desire to align with the LTTE was deep rooted. The LTTE simply rebuffed and rejected all PLOTE overtures. It refused even the logistical help offered by PLOTE when the Tigers were beleaguered in the Wanni. Despite this several PLOTE cadres helped the Tigers individually in a critical juncture.

The LTTE however repaid the PLOTE in typical fashion when tables were turned in its favour. President Premadasa's disastrous honeymoon with the LTTE saw the Sri Lankan state providing overt and covert logistical support to the Tigers in fighting the Indian army.  When the phased out Indian army withdrawal commenced, the LTTE started attacking the pro - Indian groups. Tragically for PLOTE, they too were attacked by the Tigers despite their favourable stance. The Tigers were air dropped by Sri Lankan helicopters to attack the PLOTE camps. PLOTE stalwart "Sangili" Kandasamy responsible for most PLOTE internal killings in Tanjore District, was killed in Periyadammanai. Manickam Thasan barely escaped in Chettikulam.

PLOTE attempts to contest elections in Nuwara Eliya and Jaffna using the pro Tiger card also failed miserably. The EROS centered independent list dominated the political space which the PLOTE hoped to utilise. The Up Country voters also rejected PLOTE. The negative image caused by its internal killings and perceived inertia in promoting the armed struggle affected it badly. PLOTE was derisively referred to as "Sothu (rice) parcel" by the people. Despite its numerical superiority PLOTE was practically washed out.

After Umamaheswaran's death there was mass scale desertion from the rank and file. Most cadres started going abroad. Sivaram too was dejected. His name much against his will was on the PLOTE list contesting Jaffna. In spite of being the grandson of a former State Councillor, Sivaram hated electoral politics. He spent the '89 campaign in Nuwara Eliya instead of canvassing in Jaffna for himself. Needless to say PLOTE suffered an ignominous defeat in an election that was not conducted fairly.

Sivaram was still the secretary of the PLOTE political party, the Democratic People's Liberation Front. The DPLF President, Siddharthan now succeeded Uma as PLOTE leader. PLOTE military commander, Manickam Thasan wanted to fill Umamaheswaran's shoes. Sivaram was in the forefront of those who opposed Thasan and was greatly instrumental in Siddharthan's success.

Thasan hated Sivaram after that and began to poison the minds of remaining PLOTE cadres against Sivaram. Apart from unearthing the old Ailan - Selvan murder charge, insinuations were made that Sivaram was a RAW stooge and had betrayed the Maldives affair to India and was also involved in the Umamaheswaran assassination conspiracy.

In this changing scenario Sivaram was feeling increasingly isolated within the PLOTE though his friendship with Siddharthan remained intact. Siva felt that there was nobig future for the PLOTE in politics. His attempt to hitch the PLOTE wagon to the LTTE star had failed due to Tiger refusal. Siva had also begun dabbling in a little bit of journalism by assisting Richard de Zoysa of Inter - Press Service. The time was now ripe for a shift from politics to journalism. When the opportunity presented itself in the form of The Island, Sivaram was quick to grasp it. And so was born the journalistic avatar 'Taraki.'

(More next week)


Texan Cowboy vs Soviet Spy Master 

By Gamini Weerakoon 

Despite the historic victory of Tony Blair's Labour Party for the third consecutive time, the heavily slashed majority has resulted in calls from within the party itself for Blair to give up his leadership before his term ends. There is an ongoing debate within the party itself and it is likely that if Blair does not quit the premiership, the demand will continue while he is in the premier's seat.

Britain's participation in the war against Iraq was the main issue before the voters and Blair himself has conceded that it has adversely affected his party. America's war with Iraq to which Blair gave unconditional support, it is apparent, is not popular with the Europeans as against the Americans who returned President George Bush to office last November with a substantial majority. Earlier, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Anzari who supported President Bush's war against Iraq too was defeated. Italian Prime Minister, the mercurial Silvio Berlesconi is reported to be in difficulties with his electorate but this man, a media magnate, is said to be insulated from the whimsies of the hoi polloi. Both France and Germany have kept away from the US on this issue.

Future relations

Bush and Putin at the ceremony to commemorate the end of World War II last week

Despite the comfortable majority that Blair's party will still enjoy in the House of Commons, the speculation is that he will be under pressure to change some of his policies, particularly his unconditional and unrestrained support for the Americans for their war effort in Iraq.

Following the British Labour Party losing a substantial majority in the House, media commentaries on the future Anglo-American relations on the Iraq issue were muted and not even forthcoming in the international media. Probably becausethe Labour government was settling down last week and a new cabinet was being formed.

The world, particularly after 9/11 was considered by President Bush as a prairie over which he could ride rough shod with his guns blazing away. The accepted norms in international affairs such as national sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, and even international law such as rights of individuals were considered as disposable by him. After he was elected for the second term he declared that he would "cash in on the political capital gained." But if he is without his powerful and faithful ally, could he ride through unchallenged as he had been doing?

Last week his foray into Europe to attend commemoration ceremonies of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, showed he was not convincing enough to be the leading defender of democracy as he claims to be. Firstly, he was trying to belittle Russia for being a part of the former Soviet Union. Bush was harping on the Soviet Union's past of holding the Eastern European countries in bondage for over 50 years after World War II. With the Soviet Union having collapsed and being no more, President Bush had to rub it in to the Russians. This was probably because of the statement made a few weeks ago by Soviet President Vladimir Putin that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe in contemporary history. Refined diplomacy called for ignoring that remark in the context of the ceremony held to mark the World War II victory for which the Soviet Union had contributed very much and is proud of its role. But that was not to be. Cowboy diplomacy of shooting from the lip prevailed. And the undeniable fact ofthe occupation of 11 East European states after World War II by the Soviet Union was brought in.

The war dead

Whether the past should have been buried or resurrected is a moot point. But the past, before the 50 years of Soviet imperialism - centuries of imperialism  by the colonial powers - could have been recalled by Putin, but he refrained from doing so.

Prior to President Bush's European sojourn in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, Putin hit back at the critics of Russia and its past. He said that the United States had little business criticising Russia's internal affairs because the US system of electing presidents, including the electoral college was flawed. "We are not going to poke our noses into your electoral system because that is up to the American people."

Putin also had countered charges of the three Baltic countries - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - on Soviet occupation of them for 50 years, saying, "We liberated them while accusing some leaders of these countries of complicity with the Nazis." The legacy of the former Soviet empire is indeed aheavy burden to carry. Yet, the former Soviet spy master performed creditably well.

The BBC did air some of the commemorating ceremonies at Masstrich (Holland), London, France, Paris and last of all the main event at Moscow's Red Square. The Moscow march past was tremendously impressive, with 50 heads of state in attendance including most European leaders, save Premier Blair who was busy forming his cabinet. There were other world leaders such as the Chinese President, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the French President. Vladimir Putin stood out as the host. He had impressive but tragic figures to cite inRussia's patriotic War of Liberation.

Out of the 45 million people who perished in the war, 27 million were from the Soviet Union. China had  nine million war dead while the others were fortunate enough to have far less casualties (our statistics are from various sources and we stand to be corrected).

No doubtstatistics do tell the story, but also undermine the courage, determination and leadership given. For example, Britain was the only country that stood against Hitler in the first few years of the war. Years later the others joined the alliance against fascism. Amidst this war, the Soviet-Nazi pact mired the Soviet Union's record and it was ended only when Hitler turned against Russia. No doubt the tremendous American military power and technology did finally result in the quick end of the war, but the sacrifice of27 million war dead of the Soviet Union  cannot be forgotten.

Soviet super power

I am not a believer of the Communist ideology that gave birth to the Soviet Union. But the hard fact is that it rose to become one of the two superpowers at end of World War II. The Soviet Union perished and Russia is its successor - and the Soviet Union still remains a world power in many respects, particularly in military power.

Russia has been willing to play ball with President Bush in recent years

But President Putin has indicated that he is not willing to kowtow to President Bush. If President Bush loses the support of Britain, the American President will be in great difficulties.

In Iraq, he appears to be fighting a losing war. His strategyof holding elections to the Iraqi parliament has obviously failed. Killings continue unabated.

But this game is played conceding the edge to the US but not to the point of  abject surrender.

If President Bush loses the support of Britain, all the  rules of this ballgame may change.

It all points out to the possibility of the end of the uninhibited charge of the sole superpower. Multipolar powers appear to be surfacing.

The Soviet super spy could spearhead the end of the free ride of the Texan cowboy at large.


Hurrah for the JVP 

Darling Satty,

And a hip hip too I might add. You see my dear, patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels. Common knowledge, amongst us intellectuals whether Paris, New York, London or even Australian educated. We sound like expensive perfumes.

How fabulous. Anyway as I was saying try getting a scoundrel of the type you know so well sitting in their red tunics and saffron robes to admit it. No, no not that we are expensive perfumes, that they are smelly scoundrels. Will they? No. Now that we have hurriedly scribbled missives of a threatening nature sent by a weed calling himself, wait for it...Senpathi Maya Eethalai or was it Maya Dunne of some jaw breaking organisation called Thera Puthabhaya Thingamabob claiming that it was he, he with his little bow and arrow who killed jack sparrow or was it cock robbin? Or was it Tharaki?   My dear, trust a name starting with Thera to start all the bally trouble in this Paradise isle of ours. Threats of beheadings and tortures of intellectuals, artistes and media personnel, back again. Sort of a local Khmer Rouge if you will.

I may as well tell you darling, I can hardly hear myself speak above the rattling sound of intellectual knees shaking. You haven't lived, till you have seen the frightened knee of an artiste shake like an unset jelly. And the up shot? Not a moment's silence. Even as I write, that irritating knee rattling of the terrified journalist, like that of a thousand rattle snakes in heat, is ringing in my ear. Both ears even. Sooooo NOT. Hah. Hah! And I hope you detect the Bart Simpson mock in my tone. 

This group, have all the familiar characteristics of the red Wee Wees of the late '80s. The modern red Wee Wee types apart from going wah wah at places like Maharagama and Town Hall have now taken a cue from the likes of Al Qaida, Jemaah Islamiya, and other terror groups with a bent for the melodramatic. So that they can declare a sort of Sinhala jihad, a Dushtagamini fatwa on the heads of this one, that one and god forbid even the other one.I mean to say dear the chaps are seeing green, white and even blue Tigers everywhere. These infidel Tigers sans stripes deserve to die, is what they say. No bally tolerance darling.

I mean to say it is true we have been accustomed to the striped black and yellow type, but what I often say to my too-posh-for-nosh friends at my candle light suppers dear, as we sit around sipping champagne and pulling dreamily on our cocktail cigarettes is this. Surely, if we could have accepted in recent months a man so different from us into the cocktail circuit, the diplomatic circle and the social whirl as Wimal the Wee Wee gamarala, why can't they in the same spirit of religious and ideological tolerance accommodate some Tigers of a different hue.

I can bet my last Pernod (I'm no aniseed fan) that when Wimal Wee Wee a.k.a the red faced Weevil, leaving his own better half to cook and sweep at his mud nest down town, stumbled blindly into his best friend's wattle and daub; a best friend who had just that week hurriedly scuttled off to England as a fugitive from justice; it was with this same concept of tolerance, camaraderie and magnanimity, that he helped himself to his best friend's better half. Two halves are better than one eh?

But these Weevil types are honourable men. The red faced Weevil wants to bring Paradise back to the pre '77 era. He has an ardent fan and supporter in moi. You remember the time? The parippu queues, the boomithel redi with the foul prints, the three pound ceiling for Paradisians going out to see the world. The clips that didn't clip, the zips that didn't zip and Hallelujah, the number of bally potential domestic aides walking the streets.

Now Wee Wee wants to reverse the open economy and its fruits of what he calls a new middle class. And hurray for Wee Wee is all I can say. If we have less of the masses going out to Dubai to be whipped into shape by some Arab, we have more of them here to clean our drains. If we have less of them going to Jordan to polish the furniture at some purdah-wearing house, we have more of them here to polish our brass. You get my drift eh what?

My dear this Wimal Wee is the saviour of our class. I wish he would travel to triumph on a donkey - for me to wave a palm at him. Praise the Lord. Often have I got on my knees and prayed that I can get off my knees; and also for more servants and God in his wisdom gives me Wimal Weewee. If you are smart you'll let this man run the economy single-handed.

You think its easy hosting parties, and popping champagne with only two servants to run around and flick a mop. Well, I can tell you it isn't. So let the Weevils pull down the flag, grab the sickle and hammer and get down to some real work. Overgrown gardens all over the bally place.

The red Wee Wee also happens to be a narcissist. Apart from the fact that he gets facials, which is a thoroughly Capitalist imperialist thing to do; I mean to say have you ever seen a member of the Matyred Proletariat ever lope in to a salon and say nonchalantly "give me a facial?"

They may lope in with a gun and say "give me your money," but that is all. And we see now that the bloke is in a clucky and broody mood. The leprechaun would like to spawn a little baby JVP just like his bally daddy. And what better romantic atmosphere for the necessary preliminaries before the birth of a devil than the pre '77 mood. Oh my God the motherland has gone into labour. And at her age too. Aaaaugh!

Darling, I am surprised you didn't receive a threat from the Senpathi telling you to be ready to become manure to the motherland too. Well, with all this return to the pre 77 era, we may as well adopt the slogan, "down with entrepreneurship and long live entrepreneurship. My darling, this man wants to do away with this new middle class which he abhors." Well easy for him to say. He has never been a class act.


Road deaths: It's the political leadership, stupid! 

Sri Lankans quite understandably go into a frenzy when large numbers of passengers are killed in traffic accidents. Often vehicles involved in accidents are set on fire, drivers assaulted by mobs and mobs take over the proceedings.

The media goes into overdrive. For days, scenes of the tragedy are on television screens with reporters giving heart rending stories andshedding tears over the dead, newspaper headlines scream demanding the heads of callous drivers and conductors, ministers and those politicians responsible for public transport issue statements and pledge immediate 'action' while the police promise prosecution of those guilty. But after the heat, sound and fury extinguishes, all is forgotten as is the Sri Lankan way, till the next accident occurs and the same tragi-comedy is re-enacted.

The Alawwa rail crossing accident where a bus was virtually driven into a speeding train at a rail crossing resulting in the deaths of 39 passengers is taking the usual course and is now slipping into the limbo of past tragic accidents.

Those persons concerned about such massacres should ask themselves whether such tragedies have made anyone think how they could, in reality, be avoided rather than making inane pledges after the event. Did the Alawwa accident result in any bus driver taking heed and changing their ways of driving? Was the police inspired to crack down on the miscreants? The answer is: quite unlikely.

A well-known writer on 'Prevention of Accidents,' C. S. A. Fernando, in an article in a daily newspaper on Wednesday, referring to the Alawwa accident wrote: "The fact that on the very next day after that accident, another bus had committed the same offence at the very same rail-crossing is an indication that bus drivers have been habitually ignoring the signal at the same spot." This clearly indicates that accidents will happen, people will die, but the same type of crazy fiends will continue driving the same way.

Road race

The consensus regarding accidents of this nature is to hold errant drivers responsible. Certainly, drivers are those who can be immediately responsible but they are also captives of a system they cannot escape. The inescapable fact is that bus drivers, whether, they like it or not have to participate in a road race, racing other bus drivers to beat them to the next bus halt to pick up passengers, throughout their working day. They are involved in this dare-devil race to pickup passengers to earn commissions - commissions depending on the amount of collections they make for the owners. Thus, for these desperados, life and limb does not matter very much.

From this it is apparent that not only are the bus drivers at fault but the bus transport system, itself. And who is responsible for the continuation of this system?

Buses, now of massive sizes, with their horns blaring speed through scattering all vehicles before them and compelling pedestrians to spring even into drains to save themselves - most roads not having pavements. For those who think we are exaggerating, we invite them to watch the road extending from opposite the Welikada police station to Nugegoda. All those plying this road are risking their life at all times of the day.

It is a losing battle for all other motorists and pedestrians as more and more giant monsters are put on the roads with none to control them.

Allegations

The police are only partly to blame. Some allege that police officers - retired and some in service - are bus owners themselves and get all the required 'co-operation' from their colleagues. We say 'partly' to blame because the ultimate responsibility lies with those who run the government. We recall many years ago - if we remember right, when M. H. Mohamed was transport minister - a crackdownon maniacal bus drivers was ordered. He asked the police to prosecute bus drivers for overloading, ordered the doors of the vehicles to be always closed when on the move, and the strict observance of the traffic laws. The bus drivers and operators then threatened to strike and the government caved in.

It is the same today. Will the government order a crackdown on maniacal bus driving of state owned as well as privately owned buses? Quite obviously, no. President Chandrika Kumaratunga has her plate full of problems which she has dished out for herself. Universities, schools, Electricity Board, Petroleum Corporation, JVP, tsunami mechanism and now even in the hallowed Temple of the Sacred Tooth, are just a few on her plate. Who cares about bus commuters?

It is apparent that if these mass murders are to be prevented, the transportation system needs to undergo radical transformation with immediate effect.

Private bus owners claim that they need to collect as much in bus fares as possible because of the costs involved - high prices of vehicles, spare parts, fuel etc. Consequent to this, bus drivers step on the gas not caring for life or limb to earn for themselves and their masters. The innocentscontinue to be massacred.

Worse than the disease

The root cause of this evil has been the political leadership of all governments since the '70s because they could not change the system and correct its faults. J. R. Jayewardene in 1977 re-introduced private bus transport. The state transport system that was given the monopoly was introduced by the Bandaranaike government of 1956, and grew into a massive monster gobbling up billions of rupees of Treasury funds but re-introduction of private, uncontrolled buccaneering operators resulted in the cure being worse than the disease. Since then, the system has grown, uncontrolled and we have the reincarnation of the same monster.

The entire transport system needs overhauling. For example how do the fiends behind the driving wheel qualify for a driving licence? It is no secret that to get a driving licence what is required is not competence in driving but heavy bribing.We are not aware of the going rates of bribes for different categories of driving licences right now, but bribes in this field have become a fact of life and was the practice even during British times. The Motor Traffic Commissioner's Office has been considered a den of bribe takers since living memory. Is it that the corruption in the Motor Traffic Commissioner's Office is omnipotent that no government can stamp it out?

Highway Code

It is quite evident that most of today's drivers are unaware of the elementary rules of the Highway Code. Recently we had the experience of a young lout overtaking us on the wrong side and abusing us for being on the wrong side!

The Traffic Police are visible on the roads but they are by no means making roads safe for the public. They go for 'easy copping'.One lucrative practice is to hide near traffic lights waiting for motorists to 'jump the red light.' No doubt it is an offence and action should be taken but what of major offences such as the homicidal driving practices of bus drivers? Curbing these maniacs is far more important and what is called for.

The Traffic Police are doing a good job on drunken driving with breathalyser tests. Some of these tests may not stand to scrutiny in the courts but nonetheless, they are having a positive impact with Colombo's social clubs and bars now threatened with closure due to lack of customers. These breathalyser tests should be extended to cover lorry drivers and bus drivers as well. And not only at night but during the day as well.

Compulsions

Bus owners, and three wheel drivers attribute most of the malpractices being forced on them by the high cost of vehicles. A three wheel 'phut-phut,' which is often purchased at high interest rates has to be run throughout the day by the driver who hires it, for him to earn a living and provide the owner the fixed amount demanded for a day. Thus, family members - a younger brother or relative - who has not even reached the age of 18 years to qualify for a driving licence, takes over the vehicle at night and the public is left to his mercies.

The owners of private buses have similar complaints.

It is clear that an overhaul of the whole gamut of the road transport system - from the issue of driving licences, purchase and maintenance of private buses, cutting down costs of maintaining state run bus companies, working of the Traffic Police and maintenance of a modern road network - is called for, if the massacre on the highways is to stop.

It will continue as long as the system prevails and as long as the political leaders adopt this uncaring attitude towards public transport.

It is the political leadership to blame, stupid!


The Sunday Leader top dog again

The judges appointed by the Editor's Guild of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Press Institute last week announced the list of winners of the Journalism Excellence Awards, 2004. The Sunday Leader topped the awards table with a total of seven awards. A different panel of judges was nominated for each category. The Sunday Leader's sister paper Irudina, just in its first year of publication, won two awards including the category, Best Designed Newspaper. Following are the list of winners as decided by the judges. 

1. D. B Dhanapala Scoop of the Year Winner - Manjula Sanjeevani Fernando, Daily News

Runner up - No

2. Denzil Peiris Young Reporter of the Year Winner -

Apeksha Dilmini Vidanagamage, Lakbima

1st Runner up -

Pradeepa Vijayaratnamm, Thinakkural

**Highly recommended -

Dharisha Bastians, The Sunday Leader

D. Cahrles Peters, Virakesari

Tissa Ravindra Perera, Lakbima

3. Prof. K Kailasapathy Award for reporting under special circumstances - No award

**Highly recommended -

Paalippode Venugopal, Eelanatham

4. Cartoonist of the Year -

Sinhala Winner -

Dasa Hapuwalana, Lankadeepa

Runner up -

J. Viroshan Wickramarathne, Gnanartha Pradeepaya/The World Ceylon

5. Cartoonist of the Year -

English Winner -

Wasantha Kanthilal Siriwardena, Daily Mirror

Runner up -

Don Lalithy Chandana Senanayake, The Island

6. Cartoonist of the Year -

Tamil Winner -

S Jeyapalan, Virakesari

Runner up -

S Yogamoorthy, Thinakkural

7. Photographer of the Year

Winner -

K. Pathirana Pradeep, Daily Mirror

Runner up - No

8. Best designed newspaper of the Year Winner -

M. L Ajith Ravindra, Irudina

Runner up -

Ajith Parakum Jayasinghe, Hiru

9. Upali Wijewardena Feature Writer of the Year

- Sinhala Joint Winners  -

W. A. Inoka Perera Bandara, Silumina

Prasanna Sanjeewa Tennakoon, Irida Lankadeepa

Runner up - No

10. Upali Wijewardena Feature Writer of the Year

- English Winner -

Priyanwada Ranawaka, The Sunday Times

Renu Warnasuriya, The Sunday Times

Runner up -

Malinda Seneviratne, The Sunday Island

11. Upali Wijewardena Feature Writer of the Year

- Tamil Winner -

Kanaganayagam Valethanchan, Free Lance Journalist from Jaffna

Runner up -

R. Raviavrma, Thinakkural

12. B.A. Siriwardena Columnist of the Year  - Sinhala Winner -

Rajapaksa, Irudina

Runner up -

Harith Gunawardena - Irida Divaina

13. B. A. Siriwardena Columnist of the Year -

English Joint Winners -

Keith Noyahr , Daily Mirror

Namini Wijedasa, The Island

Runner up - No

14. B. A. Siriwardena Columnist of the Year -

Tamil Winner -

P. Shanmuganathan, Free Lance Journalist from Jaffna

Runner up - No

15. Best Environmental Reporter of the Year

Winner -

Nihal .P. Abeysinghe, Silumina

Runner up -

Nadeera Tharushi Seneviratne, The Island

16. Virakesari Social Development Reporter of the Year

Winner -

Sita Ranjani, Free Lance Journalist

Runner up - No

17. Sports Journalist of the Year

Winner -

Marlon Fernandopulle, The Sunday Times

1st Runner up -

T. M. K Samat, The Sunday Leader

2nd Runner up -

Sivalingam Sivakumaran, Virakesari

18. Business Journalist of the Year - Sinhala Winner -

Asuntha S Edirisuriya, Lakbima

Runner up -

H. A.W.M. Janiytha Seneviratne, Divaina

19. Business Journalist of the Year -

Tamil Winner - No award

Runner up - No award

20. Business Journalist of the Year - English

Winner -

Nisthar Cassim, Daily Mirror (Financial Times)

Runner Up -

Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, The Sunday Leader

21. Mervyn De Silva Journalist of the Year - Frederica Jansz, The Sunday Leader

22. Best Journalist of the Year -

Sinhala Winner - Lasantha Ruhunage, Ravaya

23. Best Journalist of the Year - English Winner - Frederica Jansz, The Sunday Leader

Runner up -

Dilrukshi Handunneti, The Sunday Leader

24. Best Journalist of the Year -

Tamil Winner -

Visu Karnanithi, Thinakaran

Runner up -

Krishni Kandasamy, Virakesari

25. Special Mentioned Awards -

K. W. Janaranjana, Ravaya

Sena Vidanagama, Photo Journalist

Ranee Mohamed, The Sunday Leader

A special award for The Sunday Times (The only newspaper with the International Layout in Sri Lanka) - The Sunday Times


©Leader Publications (Pvt) Ltd.
98, Ward Place Colombo 7
Tel : +94-75-365891,2 Fax : +94-75-365891
email :
editor@thesundayleader.lk

 

 

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