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Editorial

July 22, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 5


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Fiftieth anniversary of the aborted Banda-Chelva˙pact


S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and S.J.V. Chelvanayagam

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The coming week will mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark event in the modern political history of the country. It was on July 26, 1957 that the then Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike and Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayagam, the leader of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi - known as Federal Party (FP) in English - signed an agreement that came to be known as the Banda- Chelva or B-C pact.

The B-C pact˙which intended resolving some of the major grievances facing Sri Lankan Tamils, was the first of its kind in the post-independence history of the country. The B-C pact recognised several key elements of the Federal Idea through a scheme of power sharing. The story of how this aborted pact evolved, deserves to be narrated on its golden jubilee week.

The 1956 elections had seen a deep polarisation between the Sinhala and Tamil communities. While the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna joint front headed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike swept the polls in the south, the Federal Party led by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam won six out of nine seats in the north and four out of seven in the east.

One of the first acts by the new government was the enshrining of Sinhala as the sole official language of the country. On June 5 Tamil Satyagrahis peacefully protesting at Galle Face were beaten up by thugs as the police did nothing. Anti-Tamil violence erupted in several parts of the country. On June 15, Sinhala was made the only official language by a vote of 56 to 29.

Federal Party convention

There was much tension in the country when the FP held its party convention in Trincomalee during August 17- 19, 1956. FP members and supporters marched for 10 days from Jaffna in the north and Thirukkovil in the south of the Eastern Province to Trincomalee. The FP convention passed a unanimous resolution incorporating four basic demands. They were  -

1. The establishment of an autonomous Tamil state or states on a linguistic basis within a Federal Union of Ceylon.

2. The restoration of the Tamil language to its rightful place, enjoying absolute parity of status with Sinhala as an official language of this country.

3. The restoration of the citizenship and franchise rights to the Tamil workers in the plantation districts by repeal of the present citizenship laws.

4. The immediate cessation of all policies of colonising the traditionally Tamil-speaking areas with Sinhalese people.

The convention resolved that one years time be given the government to respond positively to these demands. If there was no response the FP was to commence a 'direct action' campaign of non-violent protest. The deadline given was August 20, 1957.

The year 1957 dawned with much friction over the issue of  the 'Sri' letter in vehicle number plates. The earlier system was to use English alphabet letters from the country's name CEYLON (CE, CL, CN, EY, EN etc). Now the new government wanted it to begin with the Sinhala 'Sri.' The Tamil politicians resented this as a form of Sinhala imposition. They protested and demanded that the Tamil 'Shree' also be substituted. Ironically there was no letter 'Shree' in theTamil alphabet. The 'Shree' used was derived from Sanskrit.

On January 19 the FP began an anti-Sri campaign in the northeast. Vehicles began running with Tamil letters. The 'Sinhala' Sri was changed into the Sanskrit derived 'Tamil' Shree.  

'Black Day'

On February 4 the FP observed Independence Day as a 'black day' of mourning. A hartal paralysed normal life in the northeast. Nadarajah, a volunteer in Trincomalee was shot dead when climbing the clock tower to tie a black flag.

A counter-campaign began in the Sinhala majority provinces. Tamil letters were tar-brushed or blacked out on street signs and name boards. There were widespread incidents of communal friction on a minor scale.

The FP also called for a boycott of government ministers and deputy - ministers visiting the northeast for 'official' purposes. Satyagrahis would surround places where ministers were scheduled to go and curtail movement.

Cabinet Ministers W. Dahanayake and M. Marikkar were mobbed in Batticaloa. Stanley de Zoysa was treated to a massive show of black flags in Mannar.

Deputy Minister of Labour M.P de Z. Siriwardena who went by the mail train to Jaffna found his path blocked outside the railway station by youths led by the then enfant terrible Appapillai Amirthalingam. He returned to Colombo by the next "Yarl Devi."

With increasing communal tension the country seemed to be heading for a blood bath. S.W.R.D. who was arguably the most intellectual of all Sri Lanka's prime ministers realised that the situation had to be checked and reversed. He understood that the Tamils had genuine grievances that had to be redressed.

Bandaranaike, the man who espoused federalism for Sri Lanka in 1926 knew that the federal idea in the form of effective power sharing was the only solution. He now proposed extensive de-centralisation through the setting up of Regional Councils.

It is widely believed that the Regional Councils scheme was introduced by Bandaranaike as a result of the B-C pact. Actually, a draft bill for Regional Councils was published on May 17, 1957. The B-C pact came later in July.

Understanding with Tamil leaders

After presenting the Regional Councils Bill S.W.R.D. wanted to arrive at an understanding with the Tamil leaders and modify it further.

Meanwhile the FP was getting ready for its 'direct action' campaign scheduled to begin on August 20.  Volunteers numbering 25, 000 were registered.

Some Sinhala leaders began a move to mobilise 100, 000 volunteers to combat the Tamil campaign. A major showdown seemed inevitable.

It was then that saner counsel prevailed. A meeting between S.W.R.D. and S.J.V. was mooted. It was done on the personal initiative of the Prime Minister himself.

Two Tamil lawyers, P. Navaratnarajah QC and A.C. Nadarajah arranged for the rendezvous. Navaratnarajah was a personal˙friend of both S.W.R.D. and S.J.V.

Nadarajah was a vice-president of the SLFP. From the government side Finance Minister Stanley de Zoysa played a commendable role in promoting this dialogue.

The first meeting was held on June 22 at the Premier's residence in Horagolla. S.W.R.D. himself came up to Chelvanayagam's car and helped him get out.  Both men seemed to realise the gravity of the situation.

Those present on this historic occasion were S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Stanley de Zoysa from the government; Navaratnarajah as an intermediary; S.J.V.˙ Chelvanayagam, C. Vanniyasingham, N.R. Rajavarothayam, V.A. Kandiah, E.M.V. Naganathan and V. Navaratnam from the FP.

S.W.R.D could not read or write Sinhala

The first meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere. S.W.R.D. tried to downplay Tamil fears by saying that it would take many years for Sinhala to become the official language in practice.

Bandaranaike himself had given evidence at the Theja Gunawardena case that he could not read or write Sinhala. "I dont intend making Sinhala the language of administration till I learn it and I must confess that I am a slow learner," he chuckled. He also took a swipe at Sir John Kotelawela by referring to a politician 'who learnt French between bedclothes in Paris.'

The FP appreciated Bandaranaike's position but insisted that provisionary arrangements on the status of Tamil will have to be made. S.W.R.D. concurred.

When the question of power sharing arose the FP presented its case for a federal state. The FP pointed out that S.W.R.D's own viewpoint in the '20s that federalism was the ideal solution had been a source of inspiration for the party in demanding federalism.  S.W.R.D. replied by saying that though he espoused federalism then he had subsequently changed his mind.

Besides he had no mandate for introducing federalism. "Could not the FP think of an alternative solution short of federalism that would redress Tamil grievances and address aspirations?" he queried.

The FP understood the Prime Minister's situation and agreed not to press for a federal solution. Both parties agreed to seek ways and means of power sharing within the parameters set out by the Choksy Commission report on de-centralisation and the draft bill on Regional Councils

The PM then suggested that the FP should come up with alternative proposals envisaging 'massive de-centralisation' but not 'federal autonomy.' The FP agreed and departed.

The FP consulted former Law College Principal Brito Muthunayagam and˙Alfred Jeyaratnam Wilson, the son-in-law of Chelvanayagam. Wilson then a university lecturer˙went on to become political science dean at Peradeniya and New Brunswick in Canada.

 Northern Ireland example

Interestingly Muthunayagam felt 50 years ago that the status of Northern Ireland in Britain was the ideal model to follow. The Northern Ireland parliament was subordinate to the British parliament but retained a lot of powers not amounting to federalism.

The FP was given a copy of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Act by the Law College principal. Wilson provided copies of the constitution of several federal countries.

Former Kopay MP. C. Vanniyasin-gham and ex-Kayts MP. V. Navaratnam set about drafting an alternative scheme. The FP leaders accomplished the task in three days and forwarded the draft through Navaratnarajah for S.W.R.D's perusal. The Ulster model influenced the draft greatly.

The northeast was to be a subordinate state with a unicameral legislature and cabinet. External affairs, defence, currency, stamps, customs, inter-regional transport, would remain with the central government.

Block grants would be made by Colombo while domestic taxation could also supplement revenue. Policing was a state responsibility.

The subordinate state would be represented in Colombo through elected MPs. There would be a central cabinet minister for Tamil affairs.

The second round of talks was at S.W.R.D's Rosemead Place residence. Chelvanayagam, Vanniyasingham, Naganathan and Navaratnam represented the FP. Bandaranaike pointed out that the proposals in essence amounted to federalism.

He suggested that the scheme be whittled down in point form to emphasise administrative de-centralisation.  He also objected to words like 'parliament' and 'cabinet' saying they smacked of a separate state.

Regional Council concept

The FP then returned and revised the document by summarising proposals in point form. Since the Regional Council concept was a brainchild of Bandaranaike the FP replaced 'parliament' with 'regional council.'  'cabinet' was substituted by 'board of directors.'  The substance of the original proposals was retained to a great extent.

Thereafter a series of discussions took place among Stanley de Zoysa, Navaratnarajah and FP leaders. The PM did not participate but proposed many changes through his representative de Zoysa.

The FP was persuaded to accept most of them though they diluted to some extent the original proposals. But on one point the FP remained firm.

The FP wanted the northeast to form one single regional council. S.W.R.D. was willing to allow the north to be one unit but he wanted the east to be separate with two or more units.

The man who was adamant on this issue was FP strategist V. Navaratnam dubbed as the 'golden brain' of the FP. Finally A.C. Nadarajah persuaded Navaratnam to accept a compromise. The north and east were to be separate councils with the provision to amalmagate if so desired.

Finally D-day dawned.

The conclusive meeting took place on July 25, 1957 at the Prime Minister's office in the old Senate building.  Several cabinet ministers were in attendance. Many FP leaders also participated.  Navaratnarajah the 'facilitator' was also there. It began at 7 p.m.

The cabinet ministers were firm that the status of Sinhala as official language should not be eroded. After protracted discussion a compromise was suggested by William Silva that Tamil be recognised as the language of the national minorities. Tamil was to be the language of administration in the N-E.

On the unit issue the FP consented to the premier's stance that the north be one council and the east be divided into two or more councils. The councils could merge if desired even cutting across provincial boundaries. Existing boundaries could be re-demarcated if necessary.

When it came to powers of the council several ministers led by Philip Gunewardena refused to delegate their powers. The FP members retired to another room while cabinet ministers sorted out the issue. Subsequently 'line' ministers agreed to devolve their powers.

The PM was willing to stop colonisation and also agreed to land settlement procedures satisfactory to the FP.

On the question of citizenship Bandaranaike stated that he would resolve the issue through discussions with plantation Tamil representatives. He suggested the FP should "leave it at that."  The FP complied.

It was well past midnight now and July 26 had dawned. At 2 a.m on July 26, V. Navaratnam read out in point form the agreement reached. Both sides formally agreed.

Break through

At 2.30 a.m the members of the fourth estate, waiting eagerly for a sensational breakthrough, were called in to the cabinet room.

Amid flashing cameras Bandaranaike apologised in his courteous manner: "My friends, I am sorry to have kept all of you awake. But it is a historic night for you, for us and for the country."

Ranji Handy was then a Lake House journalist. The irrepressible Ranji who became Mrs. Maithripala Senanayake˙in later life blurted out "tell us the result please."

Then Stanley de Zoysa announced "We have reached an agreement."

S.W.R.D. then turned to S.J.V. and said "Chelva they want to hear from you." Chelvanayagam said an agreement had been worked out and that the details will be given by the PM.

Bandaranaike then asked the press whether there was time to catch the printing deadline. Joe Segera shouted spiritedly that special arrangements had been made to print late and wanted the full details. S.W.R.D. then read out from V. Navaratnam's notes.

The press persons asked FP leaders whether they were satisfied. Naganathan, Vanniyasingham, Rajavarothayam and Amirthalingam replied in the affirmative.

Chelvanayakam then stated that the FP would postpone its 'direct action' campaign scheduled for August 20.

The press rushed out and the morning papers came out later than usual with the full text of the agreement. The evening papers came out earlier than usual with more details.

It may be hard to believe but the funny thing was that no pact had been signed by Bandaranaike or Chelvanayakam at that point. There was no B-C pact. It was like a gentleman's agreement

Chelvanayagam and Navaratnam returned to the FP Leader's residence at Alfred House Gardens. It was there that Navaratnam pointed out that there was nothing concrete in writing that an agreement had been entered into. There would only be media reports.

S.J.V. then suggested that Navaratnam take some rest and handle the matter in the morning.  Getting up early morning, Navaratnam drafted in triplicate, the terms and clauses of what is known as the Banda-Chelva pact now.

It was in two parts. Part A - was a summary of discussions and agreements reached. Part B - was about the structure, powers and composition of the proposed Regional Councils.

'Historic agreement'

Chelvanayagam then took the copies and went at noon on July 26˙ to the Prime Minister's office. It was there that the old Thomians  - Solomon and Samuel - endorsed the historic agreement known as the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact. It was done quietly away from the media glare.

Bandaranaike had one copy and Chelvanayagam the other. Navaratnam the 'draftsman' kept the third copy.

Years later Navaratnam told this writer in a conversation at his son Mohan's house in Toronto, the sad tale of how that copy of the "historic document" was destroyed by EPRLF militants during the Indian Army period.

It was at his residence in Jaffna which the EPRLF had taken over then.

Navaratnam, the driving force behind the˙B-C pact also told me that the FP was not happy with all aspects of the agreement but compromised in a spirit of pragmatism.

The veteran Tamil leader who split from the FP in 1968 and founded the Tamil Self-Rule party passed away some months ago in Montreal.

In retrospect the B-C pact seems to have been one signed by leaders who realised that the ethnic problem had to be resolved if the nation was to realise its full potential.

There was also a sense of urgency then to arrive at an understanding in order to contain the rising mood of ethnic confrontation in the country.

Sadly the pact was never implemented. There was much opposition to it. J.R. Jayewardene and the UNP on the one hand and the Sinhala-Buddhist hardliners on the other whipped up a sustained campaign.

Opposition campaign

The Tamil Congress on its part also opposed the pact for its own reasons.

The provocative act of sending new buses to the north with 'Sinhala' Sri number plates saw the FP resorting to a tar brush campaign again. This evoked counter measures in the south.

200 Buddhist priests and 300 others squatted outside Bandaranaike's˙ house on April 9, 1958 demanding the pact be revoked.

Finally S.W.R.D. caved in and repudiated the pact unilaterally, tearing up a copy to symbolise it. He blamed the FP tar brush campaign for his action.

Both Bandaranaike and Chelvanayagam entered into the agreement to avoid an ethnic conflagration. Yet a month after the BC pact was aborted ethnic violence erupted on a large scale.

The ethnic crisis deteriorated into open war and the country is still bleeding 50 years later.

The B-C pact was a golden opportunity to resolve the problem at its early stages through a solution comprising elements of the federal idea. Yet it never worked or was allowed to work.

How and why the B-C pact ended in failure is a sad story that needs to be related on another occasion.

DBS jeyaraj can be reached at djeyaraj@federalidea.com

Text of Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam Pact, 1957

Part A

Representatives of the Federal Party have had a series of discussions with the Prime Minister in an effort to resolve the differences of opinion that had been growing and creating tension.

At an early stage of these conversations it became evident that it was not possible for the Prime Minister to accede to some of the demands of the Federal Party.

The Prime Minister stated that, from the point of view of the government, he was not in a position to discuss the setting up of a Federal Constitution, or regional autonomy, or take any step that would abrogate the Official Language Act.

The question then arose whether it was possible to explore the possibility of an adjustment without the Federal Party abandoning or surrendering any of its fundamental principles or objectives.

At this stage, the Prime Minister suggested an examination of the Government's draft Regional Councils Bill to see whether provision could be made under it to meet, reasonably, some of the matters in this regard which the Federal Party had in view.

The Agreements so reached are embodied in a separate document.

Regarding the language issue, the Federal Party reiterated its stand for parity, but in view of the position of the Prime Minister in this matter they came to an agreement by way of adjustment. They pointed out that it was important for them that there should be  recognition of Tamil as a national language, and that the administrative work of the Northern and Eastern Provinces should be done in Tamil.

The Prime Minister stated that as mentioned by him earlier it was not possible for him to take any steps that would abrogate the Official Language Act.

After discussion, it was agreed that the proposed legislation should contain recognition of Tamil as the language of a national minority of Ceylon, and that the four points mentioned by the Prime Minister should include provision that, without infringing on the position of the official language as such, the language of the administration of the Northern and Eastern Provinces be Tamil, and that any necessary provision be made for the non-Tamil speaking minorities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Regarding the question of Ceylon citizenship for people of Indian descent and the revision of the Citizenship Act, the representatives of the Federal Party put forward their views to the Prime Minister and pressed for an early settlement. The Prime Minister indicated that the problem would receive early consideration. In view of these conclusions the Federal Party stated that they were withdrawing their proposed satyagraha.


Part B

1. Regional areas to be defined in the Bill itself by embodying them in a schedule thereto.

2. That the Northern Province is to form one regional area whilst the Eastern Province is to be divided into two or more regional areas.

3. Provision is to be made in the Bill to enable two or more regions to amalgamate even beyond provincial limit; and for one region to divide itself subject to ratification by parliament. Further provision is to be made in the Bill for two or more regions to collaborate for specific purposes of common interests.

4. Provision is to be made for direct election of regional councillors. Provision is to be made for a delimitation commission or commissions for carving out electorates. The question of MPs representing districts falling within regional areas to be eligible to function as chairmen is to be considered. The question of Government Agents being regional commissioners is to be considered. The question of supervisory functions over larger towns, strategic towns and municipalities is to be looked into.

5. Parliament is to delegate powers and to specify them in the Act. It was agreed that regional councils should have powers over specified subjects including agriculture, co-operatives, lands and land development, colonisation, education, health, industries and fisheries, housing and social services, electricity, water schemes and roads. Requisite definition of powers will be made in the Bill.

6. It was agreed that in the matter of colonisation schemes the powers of the regional councils shall include the power to select allottees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also power to select personnel to be employed for work on such schemes. The position regarding the area at present administered by the Gal Oya Board in this matter requires consideration.

7. The powers in regard to the regional council vested in the Minister of Local Government in the Draft Bill to be revised with a view to vesting control in parliament wherever necessary.

8. The central government will provide block grants to the regional councils. The principles on which the grants will be computed will be gone into. The regional councils shall have powers of taxation and borrowing.

 


Winning by conning the people

The JHU, the self-proclaimed standard bearer of Buddhist principles and morality, we presumed, would not concede any deviation from such commitments particularly where public trust in people and institutions are concerned. But that is not to be according to Udaya Gammanpila, one of the key spokesmen for the JHU.

As reported in The Morning Leader of June 18, Gammanpila in a TV talk show had maintained the position that if any person gave money to the LTTE to win the presidential election with the aim of trapping the LTTE thereafter, such a person should be hailed and not condemned for such a clever tactic.

Gammanpila is a politician and a lawyer and we presume that he is not absolutely innocent of what went behind the SLFP-LTTE deal. But what he fails to realise or does not admit is that the SLFP by this move uttered a barefaced lie to all the voters of Sri Lanka. They were accusing the UNP of treason for doing a deal with the LTTE, while it is now alleged that such a treasonable act was committed by his political allies whom he is defending.

Ethics and politics

Quite apart from the Dasarajadharmaya, the 10 Buddhist principles which the JHU claims to abide by, Gammanpila  by his statement is condoning the violation of the fourth basic precept of the five precepts - the panchaseela - which every Buddhist vows to abide by - I shall not tell an untruth.

Gammanpila who started his politics in the JHU seems to have been widely influenced by what could be called the 'Hulftsdorp Dharmaya' where telling the truth is not always the wisest thing to do. He may be in tune with Machiavelli or the Indian Machiavelli Kautilya but the kind of political skulduggery which he condones with, where the  people are deceived by barefaced political lies and leaders are elected on such a basis, is totally repugnant in modern democracies.

If in the United States, Britain or any other leading Western democracy it is revealed that a leading contender had done a secret deal with a totally reprehensible individual or organisation and won an election, that person would not exist for long in politics. The allegation is similar to a situation where a US presidential candidate does a deal with Osama bin Laden.

The desire to outwit Velupillai Pirapaharan can be appreciated but not by deceiving the Sri Lankan voters at large. The narrow margin by which President Rajapakse won could easily have been influenced by a deal which is alleged to have been done between the SLFP and Pirapaharan.

It would be recalled that striking out thousands of names from voters lists in Colombo would also have definitely affected the final result.

Cleansing force

Those Buddhists who voted for the JHU did so on the basis that they would be a cleansing force in Sri Lankan politics and public life and not be a cover for politically dishonest acts.

On the other hand, those of the JHU, if they are of perceptive minds, should query - if the allegation is correct - why Pirapaharan should prefer having Mahinda Rajapakse as president when it was considered that Ranil Wickremesinghe would be far more accommodating towards Tamil grievances and even considering LTTE demands.

Whether a deal was done or not, Pirapaharan was issuing a fatwa, which Tamils dared not disobey and did not cast their ballots. It was very well known that Tamil sympathies were with Wickremesinghe. The million dollar or rupee question is: Why did Pirapaharan prefer Mahinda Rajapakse to Ranil Wickremesinghe? That is a question which SLFP political pundits or its supporters have yet to answer.

Was it because Pirapaharan  realised the international support Wickremesinghe was gathering and that the LTTE would soon be trapped in an international safety net if it did not commence negotiating a solution  on the basis of devolution of power? Pirapaharan had rejected devolution - even of a federal form. On the other hand Rajapakse was beating his war drums in the south and the Western powers were not supporting him.

Human rights

Within one year of Rajapakse at the helm, the international situation has been reversed. Rajapakse is in the dock, being accused of human rights violations and moves are being made to appoint a UN human rights delegation to inquire into the Sri Lankan situation. If Rajapakse now turns his guns towards the north the appointment of a UN human rights investigation seems inevitable.

Thus Pirapaharan may have lost the east but he has gained in his fight abroad. True, Western powers are also cracking down on LTTE operatives in their countries, but whether it is for their own security or that of Sri Lanka is to be seen.

The government does not seem to take the issue of violation of human rights seriously enough. But today the mood among Western powers is to enforce their will on issues of human rights against sovereign states.

Serbia

Kosovo is a part of Serbia now governed under UN supervision after an attempt to breakaway. Western powers are making determined efforts to make Kosovo an independent state and the only hurdle appears to be Russia's power of veto in the UN Security Council, Russia being an ally. But Western powers seem to be determined to grant Kosovo independence.

Last week in an interview in BBC's Hardtalk US Under Secretary of State Richard Burns stated that the US was determined to help Kosovo to independence with or without the consent of the UN Security Council! Recognise a Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Kosovo?

Thus when those like Gammanpila talk about Pirapaharan being tricked by Rajapakse, let us all remember that it is still a long way to victory. It may be possible to con your way to an election victory which Gammanpila endorses but an actual military victory will be very much more difficult.

 


The vanishing Tigers

SOMETHING was really troubling me last week. I cannot quite remember how long I sat at our favourite table at Paradise Club studying dozens of newspapers and pouring over press releases looking for clues, any clues that would settle the unease in my mind and provide an answer to a troubling question.

I am no Sherlock Holmes or the head of the CID. I am not learned in the art of friendly persuasion like the white van brigades who demand instant gratification.

I am but a humble journalist. More humble and least noticeable the better since we are not a welcome sight in the eyes of some of those heavenly bodies that have entered our political environment from across the oceans and are orbiting round our Paradise -  not the club but our isle.

Battle for Thoppigala

It had to do with this battle for Thoppigala, the military victory that the government had planned to celebrate days before the lion flag was finally planted on the highest point in the terrain now in the hands of our heroic soldiers.

I had visions of Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norkey planting the flag - a New Zealand flag I was told several decades later on the top of Mount Everest. But they, however heroic they were, had only to battle the elements.

We on the other hand had to fight the Tigers, tooth and nail (if you must know) and that is no mean task given the resourcefulness and the tenacity of the four-legged predators.

As a student of military history I remember reading of the great battles fought throughout the ages, from the days of King Arthur to modern times.

Whether they were won, lost or merely stalemated, they made fascinating reading for here were sharp military minds plotting strategy and working out in minute detail the logistical requirements of armies preparing to do battle.

Even the greatest English dramatist Shakespeare could not forsake the clash of arms in some of his historical and tragic plays.

Meet you at Philippi, the assassins of Julius Caesar told Mark Anthony before they rode away to prepare for the coming battle.

The difference

I could hear the clash of swords ringing in my ears as I drowned my Old Arrack thinking that they do not fight like they used to. Today they stay miles away and fire rockets from multi-barreled launchers hoping that one or two would land on the enemies' head, or anybody else who unluckily happened to be around. At today's prices it would be terribly costly if they didn't hit anybody.

Soldiers those days wore breast plates and helmets like the cricketers of today. But at least you could see the eyes of your enemy before you swung the broad sword and sent his head flying.

I suppose I'll have to wait for the arrival of Puli Pachchathanni, the poet laureate of Pungodativu to tell us about the war poets like Rupert Brook and Wilfred Owen who either praised patriotism or subtly ridiculed its folly.

But that would still not settle the question in my mind.

So I ordered another drink from Siribiris our bar tender and concentrated again on this battle of Thoppigala.

In deep thought

I was deep in meditation like Bruce Lee when some of habitues of  Paradise Club trooped in like they were heading for the regimental parade ground (see how military terminology slips into everyday thought). They stood there studying my worried face. I thought I even heard a clicking of the heels like some Nazi oberstgruppenfuhrer moments before surrendering.

"Well, well, well, Pachoris, what on earth are you so engrossed in. For one moment I thought you were going to jump up and salute," said Kandiah (call me Ken) Vinasapathi of the former Civil Service.

"Oh it is just a little mystery I am trying to unravel," I said somewhat nonchalantly, perhaps too nonchalantly. Nobody seemed to be fooled by my tone.

"Looks more like a conundrum to me," said the poet.

"Tell us anyway and maybe we could do something," added Dr Ananda (call me Andy) Ansabage helpfully.

"Actually it is about this military victory in Thoppigala," I said cautiously and tentatively hoping nobody would overhear and accuse me of demoralising the security forces, being a traitor and a paid agent of the LTTE, even before I could complete what I had to say.

In fact what I had to say, if I'm allowed to complete my thoughts instead of being dragged away to some Guantanamo-like detention centre, is rather a compliment to our fighting forces.

Confusing LTTE causalities

"I've read all the newspaper reports and comments. I've read the remarks of the usually loquacious Defence Spokesman and Minister Rambukwella. I don't seem to be able to find the casualty figures of the Tigers.  Why I ask is this. Normally day in and day out there are announcements, some of which sound like pronouncements, about how many Tigers have been killed or wounded and how LTTE pistol gang members have been shot or arrested. But there are little or no statistics, however dubious they might be, on the battle for Thoppigala."

"Typical of you journalist fellows. Always searching for something to throw mud at us," exploded Tissa Isakudichchi, secretary to the Ministry of Ali Boru.

"I say Tissa that is not mud. He is asking for figures. Next time you government propagandists will say the newspapers are writing lies and reducing LTTE casualties and multiplying government casualties. Then you will use that to try and justify reintroducing criminal defamation," cut in Pandu Pusvedilla of the Notorious Peace Committee.

"But why are they interested in the casualties and how many terrorists died. The fact is that Thoppigala was captured by our gallant soldiers," shouted Tissa Isakudichchi on the verge of apoplexy.

"Still is it not strange that little or no mention is being made about how much the Tigers suffered in battle before they were defeated? Abandoned weapons are discovered, detention cells are found and even vehicles left behind. But where are the bodies, the wounded," inquired Para Pathiam, the Mannar mathematician.

Informed in advance          

"Of course there are no bodies," continued Isakudichchi, getting increasingly agitated. "We warned the Tigers one month before that our troops were coming to capture Thoppigala. We gave the terrorists enough notice that we will clear the east. You must have read that."

"That is exactly what worries me," I said. "Why tell them ahead of your battle plans and strategies? Imagine if Field Marshal Montgomery publicly announced one month ahead that he will wait for Rommel at El Alamein and clobber his Africa Korps. Imagine if the Vietnamese General Giap informed the American military command that he was going to rout the South Vietnamese and Americans alike or earlier the French at Dien Bien Phu. Imagine if General Ariel Sharon told the Egyptian high command that he would break through between the Egyptian second and third armies and be on the way to Cairo. Or perhaps the Russian generals should have warned Hitler's troops months ahead that a Russian winter is severe and to bring enough warm clothes along."

"Pachoris my friend, you forget we belong to the great tradition of King Dutugemunu. Even in victory he paid his respects to the slain King Elara and ordered that drums be silenced when passing by Elara's tomb," explained Batty Bebadda, former MP for Arakkupattu.

"Oh yeah," said Mabel Manasgathe suddenly. "Have they not heard of the saying that those who fight and run away live to fight another day."

There was silence as the thought sank in like the Double Distilled from their glasses.  


Kosovo and Sri Lanka - the parallels

INTERNATIONAL moves made by the United States and European powers to make Kosovo, a province of Serbia an independent state should be of great interest to Sri Lankans because of the existing parallels between the Sri Lankan and Serbian situations. In our previous commentaries too we have referred to the Serbian and Sri Lankan parallels.

Kosovo, a province of Serbia which comprises 19 per cent of Serbian territory went under UN administration when Kosovo's ethnic Albanians attempted to separate from Serbia resulting in a crackdown by Serbian forces. This was the time of the break up of Yugoslavia and NATO forces intervened on the grounds of human rights violations of the Albanians by Serbia and brought it under UN administration.

Last year, the UN commissioned a former Prime Minister of Finland, Martii Ahitasaari to make recommendations about the future of Kosovo and his proposals amounted to making Kosovo an independent state. The United States and the European Union are strongly behind this move but are being opposed by Russia, a long standing ally of Serbia. Russia with its veto powers in the UN Security Council can veto any moves to grant Kosovo's independence.

Bulldozing

One of the sore points between Russia and the Western powers is the issue of Kosovo and Russia is standing firm despite attempts to bulldoze the move through the Security Council. Serbia is fortunate in having Russia with its veto powers to defend its interests. But what would be the fate of other Third World countries with no such powerful allies if the Western powers decide to violate their sovereignty?

But the Western powers have not given up.  Last week the United States and the European Union made an attempt to draft a new Security Council resolution calling for negotiations between Serbia and the separatist Albanians. Russia rejected the proposal saying that it was attempting to grant independence to Kosovo in the teeth of opposition from Belgrade. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica pointed   out that there was no need for such a resolution because  there was already a resolution passed by the Security Council in 1999 declaring that Kosovo is formally a part of Serbia. 

Last week the European Union made a proposal that international envoys could mediate to reach a compromise between Belgrade and the Kosovo separatists, if moves made in the UN are stalled. This proposal was summarily rejected by both Russia and Serbia. Kostunica warned last week that the formation of another Albanian state in the Balkans would have serious consequences for the regional and world order.

The bulwark

Russia led by Vladimir Putin seems to be the only bulwark against the rampaging Western nations in their shinning armour riding over nations not giving a damn about their sovereign rights and doing what they think is the right thing to do.

Leaders of the Non Aligned Movement have succumbed to the mighty dollar and nuclear power status while China in recent times has been maintaining a discreet silence, probably to further its business interests. The only strident voices that can be heard are from Latin America with the ailing Fidel Castro still defying the  'Yanquis'  with emergent Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Relations between Russia and the US as well as Russia and  Britain have hit rock bottom.  With the US it was on Kosovo and the opposition to the strategic missile defence shield which the US is planning to build in Europe. President Vladimir Putin put forward an eminently reasonable alternative to a defence shield in Europe by proposing a regional defence shield located in Azerbaijan and Southern Russia itself which the US President  could not reject out of hand.

Political observers have noted that Putin is playing a very astute game of diplomacy but not descending to the levels of a Cold War.

Expulsions

The bitter diplomatic row between Britain and Russia continued with Britain expelling four Russian diplomats last week for  not conceding to its request to extradite a KGB agent, Andrei Lugovoski whom Britain accuses of murdering a former KGB Agent,  Alexander Litvinenko in London. Litvinenko had been granted British citizenship.

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman had a stunning reply which made the British look foolish. He pointed out that the Russian constitution forbids extradition of its citizens for trial to foreign countries. "Did Britain want Russia to violate its constitution to accommodate the request of the British?"  he asked.

The spokesman went on to say that Russia wanted 22 Russians now in Britain extradited which Britain was refusing to do. On the basis of four diplomats being expelled for not granting one request, Russia would have to expel 88 British diplomats he pointed out. On Thursday Russia expelled only four British diplomats.

Political analysts point out that the former KGB Officer Vladimir Putin is playing it cool. He took about a week to react to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats but would not yield to   British pressure. Russia is keen that Britain would not sabotage its entry into the World Trade Organisation and British investments in Russia amount to 12 billion dollars. Besides Britain is also a prime customer for Russian gas, oil and precious metals.

A tough and unyielding Russia with the colossus China could provide the required counterbalance to the sole superpower, British cousins and European allies.


This is Paradise




 


 


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