Paradise gained and lost: The Indo - Lanka accord and Tamils
Rajapakse, J. R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, Rajiv Gandhi,
Varatharaja Perumal and Velupillai Pirapaharan
veenai seithe-athai nalangkedap puluthiyil erivathundo?" Translated,
it reads, "Is a good veena (a musical instrument) made and thrown
into the dust to decay?" - Subramaniya Bharathiyar
By D. B. S. Jeyara
Twenty years have passed since the signing of the Indo-Lanka
Accord by Rajiv Gandhi and Junius Richard Jayewardene on July 29, 1987. It was
hailed as a great breakthrough when it was signed. Much was expected of it then.
Today it remains "valid" only on paper and seems destined for the dustbin of
history unless New Delhi makes a determined effort to re-activate it and enforce
When the accord was signed and the Indian soldiers arrived in the
island as peacekeepers the predominantly Sinhala south protested vehemently. But
the Tamils of the north- east welcomed the jawans whole- heartedly. Within
months the situation reversed when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
took on the Indian army.
In the words of Jayewardene: "The referee was now fighting in the
ring." The image of the IPKF underwent a change from that of an Indian Peace
Keeping Force to "Innocent People Killing Force." When the Indian army left Sri
Lankan shores in 1990 there were few to mourn its departure.
Much water has flown between both shores of the Palk Straits
during the past two decades. New Delhi's policy towards Colombo has changed.
While its commitment to Sri Lanka's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity
remains steadfast there is a discernible changetowards the Tamils. No longer
should the envisaged solution be "acceptable to the Tamils." Now it has to be
"acceptable to all sections of the people."
20 years ago and now
A striking contrast between an event 20 years ago and
developments nearly two decades later provide penetrating insight into this
changed state of affairs.
On June 4, 1987 the Indian Air Force conducted Operation Poomalai
which dropped food parcels over Jaffna in what was described as a humanitarian
exercise. This was in the aftermath of Operation Liberation in Vadamarachchi,
concerned about the starvation of the people in
Actually no one was starving in
Jaffna then. The whole exercise beneath the humanitarian facade,
was power projection intended to drive home a lesson to
To his credit Jayewardenerealised what was in store if he failed
to toe the line. So he bowed to the big neighbour. The immediate consequence was
the accord. Yet, later events proved that JRhad only "stooped to conquer."
Last year in Augustthe Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) shut down
the entry/exit pointalong the A 9 highway in Muhamalai. This resulted in a de
facto economic embargo on Jaffna which led to a massive shortage of food,
medicine and essential items in Jaffna. Non-governmental organisations described
the situation as akin to famine-like conditions.
Against this backdrop the head of the Thamizh Thesiya Iyakkam
(Tamil National Movement) inTamil Nadu, Palaniyappan Nedumaran got his act
together. At short notice he collected dry rations and medicine valued at one
crore Indian rupees.
When attempts were made to send the stuff through the Red Cross
to northern Sri Lanka the Indian authorities clamped down. No permission was
given. Nedumaran engaged in many protests and representations have been made by
several politicians but New Delhi remains unrelenting.
These two phenomena, to my mind, illustrate vividly the altered
perceptions of New Delhi towards Jaffna in particular and Sri Lanka in general.
In 1987, reality in
Jaffna was distorted to convey an impression that
there was starvation warrantingthe drastic action of violating Lankan air space
and dropping food.
In 2006, when an acute food shortage actually prevailed in Jaffna,
attempts to send food by concerned Indian Tamils was prevented and restricted.
Call it what you will - hypocrisy, double standards, political
expediency, enlightened self-interest, political maturity, transformed
inter-state relations orchanged perceptions about the Sri Lankan Tamil issue -
this thenis the prevailingharsh reality.
What is sad about this state of affairsis the fact that the
primary motivating factor in New Delhi'sbenign intervention during the80s in Sri
Lanka was to ensure a just and fair deal for Tamils within a united Sri Lanka.
Subsequent events may have transformed the situation drastically
but nevertheless the original intention is not to be faulted. It cannot be
forgotten that till war erupted between the LTTE and the IPKF, the Tamils on the
whole appreciated Indian efforts in peacemaking and peacekeeping.
I recall writing an article in the Sunday Island 20 years ago
headlined Why Tamil eyes are smiling when the accord was signed.
That article went down well with the Tamil public because it
basicallyreflectedthe prevailing Tamil mood. The Tamil sentiment was
overwhelmingly for Indian intervention to ensure their rights in a united Lanka.
Exploits of IPKF
Weekslater in October war broke out. I was in Jaffna at that time
and saw first hand what was happening. It wasmy articles and news stories in the
Sunday Island of October 25, 1987 that exposed the truth about Indian military
exploits in Jaffna.
I was arrested on October 26, and held at the fourth floor of the
Criminal Investigation Division, Police Headquarters for days. Later I was
produced in court and released on bail with a travel ban imposed. I had to
report frequently to court till I was cleared of all charges.
Months later I wrote an article in the Sunday Island with the
headline Can the Pawan break the palmyrah? The inference was to the IPKF
operation codenamed Pawan or strong wind. I compared the Tamils to the palmyrah
tree which sways dangerously and may breakin a storm but will not bend.
Once again that article struck a responsive chord in the hurt
Tamil psyche and I received innumerable letters. There were however some who
disagreed. I remember Rajini Thiranagama nee Rajasingham, my old schoolmate at
Jaffna College arguing with me saying the "Palmyrah tree is broken."
These random thoughts are recollected here only to portray how
Sri Lankan Tamil perceptions changed about Indian intervention due to the
IPKF-LTTE conflict. It cannot be denied that the Tigers provoked the Indian army
into responding the way it did.
While Tiger supporters boast about defeating the world's fourth
largest army, Indian commentators set the record straight by emphasising that
"We fought with one hand tied behind our back."
The end result however is that the Sri Lankan Tamils lost out,
and lost out badly in the end. Their plight has worsened after the LTTE's
colossal blunder of assassinating Rajiv Gandhi on Tamil Nadu soil.
People affected directly or indirectly by the Indian army find it
difficult to forgive and forget. This is understandable to some extent.
The Accord - the positives
But this rancour and ill-will should not cloud the fact that
Indian intervention in Sri Lanka did succeed in providing what was perhaps the
best ever tangible political settlement.
Emotional responses to the IPKF episode must not affect judgement
about the political paradise gained, and now lost, by the Tamilsthrough India.
The greatest quantum achieved politically by the Sri Lankan
Tamils in redressing valid grievances, accommodatinglegitimate aspirations and
restoring negated rights was through the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Aborted agreementslike the Banda -Chelva or the Dudley-Chelva
pacts did not succeed. The Constitutions of 1972 and 1978 also failed to
The District Development Councils of 1981 failed to get off the
ground. Besides, they wereexercises in de- centralisation confined to the
The Indo-Lanka Accord provided feasible devolution within
constraints of the prevailing situation. It was a pragmatic effort to extend the
federal idea as was practically possible.
The Indo-Lanka Accord acknowledged for the first time that Sri
Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual pluralistic societyconsisting inter-
alia of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers.
It recognised that each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and
linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured.
The accord also recognised that the Northern and Eastern
Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of the Sri Lankan Tamil
speaking peoples who have at all times hitherto lived in this territory with
other ethnic groups.
It emphasised the need of strengthening the forces contributing
to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, and preserving
its character as a multi-ethnic, multi -lingual and multi-religious pluralistic
society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety and harmony, and
prosper and fulfill their aspirations.
The birth of PCs
Among other things the accord provided was for the establishment
of Provincial Councils (PC). The province was to be a unit of devolution. The
northand east were temporarily merged as a single Tamil majority province with a
single provincial council, a chief minister, a governorand board of ministers.
A referendum was to be held in the
to determine whether the provinces should remain merged or be de-merged.
Sinhala, Tamil and English were to be the official languages of
Sri Lanka. The 16th Amendment to the Constitution enshrined Tamil as an official
language on par with Sinhala. The injustice of 1956 was remedied. Likewise the
13th Amendment paved the way for provincial councils to be established.
Thus the accord accomplished and laid the groundwork for many
praise- worthy feats. It achieved a compromise between the concepts of Sinhala
dominated mono state and the Tamil separate state.
was not the exclusive preserve of any ethnic, linguistic or religious group. .
It was a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious country with a
The north-east was not recognised as the traditional Tamil
homeland but as an areaof historic habitation of the Tamil speaking people -
Tamils and Muslims. This however was not an exclusive right.
It was acknowledged that the Tamil speaking people had lived in
this territory at all times with other ethnic groups.
The temporary merger was a great boon as far as the Tamils were
concerned. The referendum provided an opportunity to make or break the merger.
It was entirely possible that the merger could become permanent if an
overwhelming number of Eastern Tamils and a sizable number of Muslims voted in
Tamil as an official language was excellent in principle.
Practically, it involved a set of procedures to be evolved and the necessary
facilities being set up.
was keen on helping out inlanguage implementation. It was enthusiastic about
constructing a coastal highway linking the north and the east.
Opposition by SLFP/JVP
Given the irrational opposition mounted by the SLFP and the JVP
it was feared that any constitutional amendment requiring an
islandwidereferendum would not be ratified.
Thus the powers and composition of the envisaged provincial
councilsthrough the 13th Amendment were somewhat restricted. The Supreme Court
allowed it without a referendum.
The nine judge bench was divided - five to four. Interestingly,
three of the judges voting in favour were from the Tamil, Muslim and Burgher
ethnicities. All four opposing were Sinhalese.
New Delhi however extracted a promise in writing from
JR that he would devolve more powers to the PCs within a specific time frame.
The Indo-Lanka Accord though not perfect provided a good
Given the power equation at that time the Sri Lankan Tamils
enjoyed "favourite" status in
New Delhi. This was of great advantage. With Indian support the Tamils
could have resolved much of the problems within a de jure but not necessarily de
A pragmatic approach by the Tamils required greater cooperation
from both New Delhi and Colombo. Extraordinary statemanship consisting
ofintricate balancing acts was necessary. Tragically, for the Tamils, their
so-called leaders 'blew' it to use an expression by Hardeep Singh Puri, former
Indian political secretary in Colombo.
Once the LTTE went back on its pledge to Rajiv Gandhi, the first
cracks began to appear. The LTTE began mobilising Tamil opinion against the
accord and against India.
This exercise was duplicated to some extent among the Sinhala
people by the SLFP and the JVP. Then came the Kumarappa-Pulenthiran episode.
Lalith Athulathmudali knew the LTTE mindset and manipulated it
accordingly. The Tigers took on the Indians.
LTTE surrender weapons
The accord made it conditional that the Tamil militants would be
disarmed. Earlier, the Indian High Commissioner had announced that the LTTE had
surrendered 85% of its heavy weapons and 65% of small arms.
But now the LTTE was fighting the Indian army itself. Against
this backdrop Colombo began backtracking on its commitments. India found itself
caught in the middle.
If meaningful devolution was to be made a reality to the
north-east and the temporary merger validated the provincial council had to be
set up. New Delhi was further let down by the unwillingness of the TULF to
contest PC elections.
Blunders by India
Thus India was compelled to make a painful decision that led to
two blunders. One was to under-estimate the LTTE. The other was to over-estimate
The NE Provincial Council was a farce. There was no contest in
the north and a combined EPRLF-ENDLF list was returned. In the east there was an
appearance of elections. Ethnic rivalry was stimulated and exploited.
The EPRLF-ENDLF list catered to Tamils while the Muslim Congress
and the UNP catered to Muslim and Sinhala voters, respectively. Apart from
electoral malpractices, voter mobilisation was on ethnic lines.
EPRLF complicated matters further when its immensely popular
Secretary General Padmanabha refused to assume office. He wanted his deputy
Suresh Premachandran to take over.
But Annamalai Varatharajapperumal curried favour with Dixit and
got himself appointed as Chief Minister (CM). Varathan was a
Jaffna resident but hisfather was an Indian Tamil. He exploited
this "card" with
Initially, Dayan Jayatilleke was also a NE provincial minister
representing the Sinhalese. But he resigned soon afterwards.
His replacement was Joe Seneviratne who was in reality George of
The Muslim Minister Abu Yusoof was also of Indian Muslim
Thus three of the four provincial ministers including the CM were
of Indian lineage.
This was a colossal blunder as both Sinhalese and Sri Lankan
Tamils became suspicious and hostile.
Then came the march to folly by the EPRLF and the LTTE. The EPRLF
administration of Varatharajapperumal began to confront and estrange itself from
the central government in
Like the mythical serpent around Lord Shiva's necktaunting the
Karundan (kite) Perumal irritated Ranasinghe Premadasa. Instead of establishing
a rapport with Premadasa he alienated
Meanwhile the LTTE began targeting the provincial administration
and council. Through a violent campaign the Tigers made sure that the PC would
LTTE betray Tamils
Thus the north-eastern council found itself unable to deliver
with Colombo stifling it on the one hand and the LTTE undermining it on the
The violence unleashed by EPRLF elements against civilians
suspected of supporting the LTTE and its conscription estranged Perumal's
administration from the Tamil people. Perumal's puppet regime was fast becoming
a dud. And the unexpected happened.
In what was perhaps the first major instance of the LTTE
betraying the Tamil cause for its parochial interests, the Tigers struck a deal
with Premadasa. The Colombo government called for the IPKF's withdrawal.
The LTTE then encouraged Premadasa to dissolve the NE council
while massacring the civilian volunteer force raised as the Tamil National Army
by the NE administration.
Varatharajapperumal played into Premadasa's hands by his foolish
proclamation of declaringhis intent to establish Tamil Eelam. As the council was
dissolved Perumal fled the country. He now lives in India as a highly protected
Within three months of the Indian army leaving Sri Lanka war
broke out between the GOSL forces and the LTTE.
LTTEs latest betrayal
The LTTE demonstrated that it was capable of destroying the
North-East Provincial Council for its own selfish interests and power. Its
latest betrayal was the enforced boycott of the presidential elections after
striking a sordid bargain with Mahinda Rajapakse.
Though the NE Provincial Council is defunct, ironically, the PCs
functioned in the other seven provinces.
The SLFP and the JVP that opposed and boycotted these
councilschanged their minds and contested them. There are SLFP chief ministers,
ministers and councillors, and there are JVP councillors too.
But there is no PC in the NE where provincial councils were
deemed necessary to share power with the Tamils.
Despite the council being defunct, theunified north-east
administration remained functionalfor years.
The eastern referendum was postponed from time to time by
Supreme Court rules
But such hopes are turning into dupes now. The Supreme Court
ruled that the merger itself was not done legally. It did not rule out such a
merger being validated through appropriate procedures.
But the Rajapakse regime seized on that ruling and is hell bent
on altering the prevailing status quo.
Both provinces are nowde-linked administratively. The north and
east function separately. The GOSL is also aiming to transform the demographic
pattern of the Eastern Province.
It is likely that elections to an Eastern Provincial Council
would be held soon. The de-mergercould be made legally permanent through an
engineered referendum. If that happens the single biggest gain to the Tamils
through the Indo-Lanka Accord could be lost forever. But realistically the
merger was at best, tenuous.
The LTTE lost the east politically when it alienated the Muslims.
It lost the east militarily when it failed to contain the eastern revolt led by
What the Rajapakse regime is doing now is merely delivering the
coup de grace to existential reality.
Apart from the unified
other benefits derived from the Indo-Lanka accord are also under threat.
The Rajapakse regime is for a unitary state and for districts as
units of devolution. This is a reversal of the basic elements of the accord.
Also in practice, the notion of
being multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual is under severe challenge.
Inspired by the supremacist ideology of the Hela Urumaya the Rajapakse regime
wishes to ensure Sinhala, Buddhism and the Sinhalese as the dominant entities of
Historical habitation threatened
The concept of the north-east being areas of historical
habitation by the Tamil speaking people is also under threat. Recent official
activity concerning the east was in Sinhala only despite 75% of the province
being Tamil speaking. Schemes are underway to alter the demographic structure
Tamil as an official language remains simply as a paper
guarantee. Successive regimes have not shown any interest in implementing Tamil
as an official language. The Rajapakse regime has pruned drastically the funds
allocated in this respect.
Thus we see that all gains of the Indo-Lanka Accord are being
reduced, removed and reversed, even irredeemably.
was the guarantor of the accord. Once India was edged out physically and
politically the accord was doomed.
The desire of Sinhala dominated governments to sabotage an accord
thrust upon Colombo is understandable. What cannot be forgiven is the LTTE's
conduct in helping Sinhala regimes to do so.
The Indo-Lanka Accord is becoming increasingly irrelevant both in
letter and spirit. The constructive gains are becoming irredeemably lost.
There seems no chance of salvaging any of these unless New Delhi
re - activates its interest again. Given current realities such a change seems
The accord despite its positive attributes seems destined to
oblivion. Paradise gained is now becoming paradise lost.
As the Thamizh bard sang,a well - fashioned musical instrument
has been thrown in the dust to decay.
fruitier and nuttier
The barman behind one of
Colombo's antique waterholes has a new gag for his
arrack consuming patrons. Before dispensing he asks: Ballanta gahana eka the,
Deiyanta gahana ekada? (The kind you hit dogs with or smash at Gods?) What he
means is: Gal or Pol?
To the uninitiated: Gal literally translated means stones
but it is also for the stuff made from the sugarcane of Gal Oya, and Pol
ofcourse means the stuff from the coconut tree.
Most barmen are well versed with political jokes and today pol
gaheema or smashing coconuts before the deities to invoke the curses on
political rivals is watched with much political interest. Ergo the jokes.
The other day bare bodied faithful UNPers indulged in a vigorous
bout of coconut smashing before a deity to bring down the government. This
smashing of nuts causes political jitters among those targeted, however much
they may scoff off at the efficacy of coconut smashing. The thing to do I am
told, is for those who have been targeted to smash coconuts before another deity
to counter the first attack. Thus, we may expect another bout of counter
smashing in public, or secretively by government forces soon.
To rationalists all this may seem that our politics and
politicians are getting fruitier and nuttier and wasting coconuts in these
days of the high cost of living when a coconut costs as much as Rs. 20. But
coconut smashing has come down the years from the days of our great kings. It's
a part of our heritage as the JHU may say.
Karu to the fore
Like in war, in politics too when attacked there has to be
counter attacks. And with Ranil Wickremesinghe finally on the march the
government is jittery and has to counter attack. UNP's rebel group leader Karu
Jayasuriya had been picked by President Rajapakse to open the counter attack.
Whether Jayasuriya is a coconut smasher or not we are not aware but he did fire
a salvo across the Sirikotha bows last week when he accused the UNP of being
bribed by the LTTE to buy over SLFP MPs and topple the government.
Velu going nuts?
This made us wonder whether not only our down south dakune kollo
politicians have gone nuts but Velupillai Pirapaharan as well. First, Velu takes
bribes from the SLFP and issues a fatwa on the Tamil voters who want to back
Ranil not to go to the polls and defeats Ranil, making Mahinda Rajapakse win.
After one and a half years, does he want Ranil back and Mahinda out? If so has
he gone nuts or is he scared of our 'Gotabaya the Great' marching northwards and
taking the Wanni? But if Ranil comes into power the Western powers will back him
and Velu will be back in the international safety net - the precise reason why
he wanted Ranil out. This situation a rationalist will say shows that we are
going nuttier and nuttier.
Karu Jayasuriya was considered to be one of the most astute
businessmen in town before he took to politics. But he has also gone nuts to say
that SLFP MPs can be bought over for Rs. 10 million a piece with money from the
LTTE. This is sheer nonsense. You can't buy over Rajapakse's MPs or politicians
because Rajapakse has fine tuned the art of making MPs jump over to his side.
The constitution he has discovered, is like a poor Goviya's deed
to the fields he tills. Those deeds can be changed, altered or even made to
disappear. The constitution, Rajapakse has found out, is the most flexible
legislation in the statute books. So what does he do if a herd of his MPs decide
to walk over? He simply decides to multiply the existing ministries into two or
more and offer those intending to cross over not just one ministry but two or
more. It would adequately compensate the proposed cut in ministerial salaries as
For example the Sports Ministry can be split up into ministries
for cricket, soccer, gudu, elle, swimming, pole vault, high jump etc., and
there will be ministers for various events - high jump, long jump, hop, step
and jump etc. The possibilities are infinite.
Besides who would cross over for a measly 10 million bucks? A
duty free permit can fetch a Mercedes of 10 million bucks and this will be tax
free. Who would give up a job that fetches a number of lakhs per month with
bodyguards attached even for your brood, free air travel, free house and
lodging, liquor licences and much more? Karu it appears has gone off colour from
the days when the SLFP warned about Karu becoming the Mayor of Colombo: Karu
avoth penai tharu (You will sees stars if Karu comes).
We wonder what has happened to Velu - trying to bribe people
without sending them off the traditional way - the way Rajiv Gandhi Ranasinghe
Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake, Neelan Thiruchelvam, A. Amirthalingam and many
more, went. Getting into middle age habits? Has bribery instead of violation of
human rights become acceptable to the international community? Velu has become
fat and appears to look like Nimal Siripala. Sign of good living. Eating too
many high calorie cashew nuts or coconuts?
Is the nation going nuts?
gilunath band choon
My dear old chap. Not two shakes of a jungle fowl's tail after I
set foot in Paradise last week, I heard about it. There are many things to hear
about when you are around darling but this really took the cake. or I would go
so far as saying the wee morsel from the mouth of the widow and orphan.
There you had been last Thursday, surrounded by your large and
pot bellied cabinet living on the edge at that five star place near parliament,
celebrating this and that. The Babylonian revels last week could be more fully
described as a splash for Katana Pulle who was made secretary of the blue party
following the exit of Mangy.
My heart swelled and soared dearie to hear that you, Goatie and
other ministering chaps had danced and pranced and let what ever hair you have
left, down, shaking a leg and tripping the light fantastic.
How wonderful I thought that these fellows toiling and moiling
for the good of the poor, the hungry, the weak and the suffering masses were
able to take a little reward for their service to humankind. After all it was
only last week that Pee Bee had said the people must bear up the rising cost of
living. Better an expensive loaf of bread than a divided country he had said.
And in a show of public magnanimity your ministering chaps had
even taken a salary cut of sixty percent while holding on to the large
allowances and the free wining and dining.
If my memory serves me well you yourself had advised Paradisians
to tighten their belts as money was scarce. You need not tell them dear. These
Paradisians are wily fellows. If there is no money in
Paradise they would be the first to know. Long before the
politicians get wind of it that is.
And with expensive Black Label and other fortifying beverages
flowing like milk and honey last week even Dilan was gyrating merrily to the top
ten tunes of Beliatte with a beer mug on his head. That's the spirit darling.
quite literally. To hell with Mathata Thitha. Alas, if the agile minister only
had the same ability to balance a budget, how much more worthy would his
contribution to the good of society have been?
Sumal Pee always one to give and take, buzzed around like a busy
bee at the bash while rumours he had picked up the tab for the entire tamasha,
Black Label, food and all spread like beer batter. But then what's a little
give when the bally take is so good eh? Highway deals and all. And while the
evening continued with even a comedy skit by Warnakula officially arranged, the
best comedy came from the sidelines where Sumal is heard to have said, having
observed the singing of several of the ministering fellows, that the chaps were
better off singing than governing Paradise. Well said old chap, well said.
Luckily the Paradisians are on empty stomachs so even the singing will not churn
up a storm.
And while ministers were playing socks inside the hot spot of
Battaramulla, outside the poverty stricken Paradisans could hardly buy their
children shoes. Usually m'dear if anyone else had thrown such an insensitive
party while the rest of the country was suffering and even Thelma was feeling
the pinch. I'd have blanched if not balked at the idea. I'll have you know my
poor innocent Chi wha wha, Tipsy, had to go without his lumpfish caviar and his
full cream instant Nespray just the other day. That's how badly Thellie is
feeling the effects of your bally economic policy and your pointless sparring
and warring and bombarding and all that.
I tell you m'dear the war has come to Thellie's doorstep and she
does not like it. I was thinking about your foul policies only the other day and
wishing all this military activity would come to an abrupt end. Hardly had a
girl topped up her champagne glass and sat down on the ole easy chair with a
Cuban in hand to think pleasant thoughts, than she was rudely jerked out of her
chair by a horrible whirring noise of a bally military helicopter flying low,
making her spill perfectly good champagne all over the Persian carpet. When your
bally war ruins my carpet and wastes my wine - that's when Thellie feels you are
a bally blot on the Paradisian escutcheon darling. and I don't mind saying so.
But let's stay with the story dear and Thursday's bash. It's that
fellow Mayantha darling that gives me the heebie jeebies, the creeps, the bally
goose bumps. I don't know whether he was part of the comedy skit or a symptom of
the tragedy but there he was at the party for the Katana Pulle making himself a
nuisance by acting like the bridegroom at a third rate wedding at the Solis
Hall. Flitting like a moth from table to table, he insisted on chapping his
large ham like hands together and bowing. While many guests were nonplussed at
the hideous behaviour of the fellow, others were merely curious not knowing who
Perhaps the next time he goes on a bowing spree he should take a
few calling cards with him. But you got a good dose of the bowing and scraping
treatment once again I hear with the silly fellow going down on all fours at
your feet. Good thing you picked him up before he fell prostrate again,
But foul behaviour is not the sole domain of My yanthang from the
Dissa clan it would seem. The Medamulane clan is just as bad. Judge of my
surprise when I learnt that some 20 prior reservations by ordinary folk had been
cancelled at the Casa Colombo in order to accommodate a presidential party and
its security hang ups. With the PSD swarming the place and having everybody
evacuated I hope you assigned a food taster as well. You never know darling, a
disgruntled waiter may spit in your casserole.
Meanwhile, pray, how many parties do you want per week? Yes, I
know you want to forget the mess the country is in but the best way to do that
is to take yourself off to Timbuktu or Vladivostok. No point hanging around in
And I see you are giving that chap Holmes the same treatment you
gave Alan Rock. Criticising him and his statements to foreign newswires on the
one hand while meeting him for a chit chat on the other.
I may as well tell you darling your tactics are wearing a bit
thin. And for the harried, starving Paradisians while your ministers are
carousing and revelling at five star hotels it's bathata thitha for them.
great ministerial 'sacrifice'
Let's put it like this, says my Paradise Club friend Kandiah
(call me Ken) Vinasapathi whenever he needs a moment's breathing space before he
breaks into convoluted prose to explain, what to most people does not need an
That is because he was a high ranking official in the now defunct
Ceylon Civil Service and had picked up all the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo from
British civil servants who served in our administration.
Those who are even faintly acquainted with the delaying tactics
of the British civil service will realise that they left a legacy that prevails
to this day in some of the former colonies, particularly in India.
Our local bureaucrats have gone one better. Unlike the colonists
our officials better known to the public as 'boorucrats' and sometimes 'booru
rats,' don't give any explanation at all, long or short. They simply turn a deaf
ear to public requests and public complaints.
So whether you put it like this, as Ken Vinasapathi suggests or
put it like that, nothing ever happens and a patient public has come to expect
delay with stoic silence and bureaucratic spin doctoring with a knowing smile.
So when I read the news somewhere in the government-operated
media the other day that President Rajapakse's jumbo cabinet (which includes
several ageing jumbos and others of little use) were going to reduce their
salaries as an example of austere living the sound of laughter reverberated
across the length and breadth of Paradise Club, and poor Siribiris our favourite
bartender, was praying to all the deities he knew of to not let the rafters come
It was Hamid 'Fast Cash' Mansoor,
Colombo's Casinopathi and well known tippler about town who stood by
the bar that evening and made the announcement in a voice that could have been
heard round the gaming tables in
Somebody then added that the President's secretary had actually
led the way by announcing a salary cut earlier. I don't know whether that is
true or not. I haven't seen his salary cheque so I cannot vouch for it.
Anyway when, after a minute's stunned silence during which the
habitu‚s of Paradise Club let the news sink along with their alcohol, the whole
club broke out in voices that went the full range from baritone to mezzo soprano
as though it was the Von Trapp family.
Personally I did not think it was a laughing matter. After all
the poor men and women, bless their generous souls, had felt a genuine sense of
sympathy with their fellow beings in the rest of the country who were suffering
immensely under the increasing burden of the cost of living.
Never mind what that chap at the Central Bank says. After all he
is only an accountant, not an economist though Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha seems to
think he is an Amartya Sen or a Joseph Stiglitz. The truth is that the cost of
living is rising faster than Mihin Lanka.
Whatever it is it takes a brave person to cut his/her own salary.
In my journalistic life I have heard of people cutting their own throats and
some cutting other people's throats and politicians cutting everybody's throats.
But for a poor struggling minister or public servant, who of
course do not pay income tax like salary earners in the private sector, it must,
nevertheless, be a terrible sacrifice.
Pang of pity
Okay, you can cut your own salary and hope that the deities and
public will give you some brownie points that will come in pretty handy in the
days to come.
But what on earth do you go and tell your wife when at the end of
the month she reaches for that money in the envelope or takes a good look at the
There I was feeling a pang of pity for these poor people
wondering what sort of explanation should be offered at the end of the month.
That is what reminded me of Ken Vinasapathi's favourite opening
gambit when stuck for an explanation. Could you imagine poor Bogollagama or
Nimal Siripala or Karu Jayasuriya who have just lost something of his salary
trying to explain what had happened to the rest of the moola, saying "now let's
put it this way" and being told "no I'd rather put it this way."
"Come on boys, don't knock the poor chaps. At least they are
taking the lead in showing the way. Actually the ministers and presidential
advisers should have done it long ago. After all we should all think of value
for money and those chaps are of little value, or so some people say."
"I say, Pachoris is defending the lot of them. Maybe he is right.
The poor chaps at least showed the way," agreed Kosala 'The Fixer' Kehelmala,
our well known wheeler-dealer.
"I don't think Pachoris is defending them. I think he is being
sarcastic. These are the same ministers who have been agreeing to price
increases that have made life impossible for the ordinary people. At last they
have realised that if they go on like this the people will throw them out on
their backsides when the time comes," explained Ravi Rateveddah, former MP for
"Well that is what happened to you and your government. You
people tolerated corruption among your own ranks and your leaders did nothing to
stop it when even ministers were making millions. See where you are now. Thrown
out by the people," remarked Kesara Kasalagoda, Royal College and SSC.
"But these salary cuts are all as-bandung - all a political
mirage to hoodwink the gullible people. What does the loss of a few thousand
rupees matter to these ministers. They have other ways of making this money,"
said Bandu Bahubootha, the academic turned NGO man.
"You are not suggesting we ministers are corrupt, are you," said
Priyadharshana Dirachchilanu, minister of ali boru, who had just drifted in,
probably looking for a free drink and some gossip to report to the boss.
"Good heavens no," exclaimed Bahubootha. "How could any sane
person accuse our ministers of being corrupt. They all have a strict moral code
and have real patriotic blood running in their veins from head to toe."
"You know Minister, what Bandu wanted to say is that some of your
cabinet colleagues have other ways of making money. For instance those who have
no official houses receive Rs. 100,000 per month as rent. Now you don't have to
spend all that do you. Maybe you have a house in Colombo which you could rent
out to yourself. Or perhaps your wife has one that could be rented.
Then again if you don't have official vehicles you are paid some
Rs. 150,000 or something a month to hire two vehicles. All that is good money
which the average person cannot earn even in one year," said Dr. Ananda (Andy to
the foreign NGOs) Ansabage coming to the rescue.
"But don't you see. We need these vehicles for our travel. How do
you think we should go, by bus?" replied Minister Dirachchalanu getting visibly
angry at Dr. Ansabage for not recognising the supreme sacrifice the cabinet was
"Yes minister but what about those duty free car permits each of
you receive? Why can't you use those vehicles?" asked 'Fast Cash' Mansoor.
"What car permits men," broke in Mabel Manasgathe, "Most of them
have been sold. At least your cabinet colleague Fernandopulle said so the other
day in Kurunegala or somewhere."
"That Fernandopulle, he can't keep his mouth shut however much we
tell him," Minister Dirachchilanu almost shouted in my ear.
"You think it is a case of foot-in-the-mouth disease," asked
It was then that Dirachchilanu stormed out in a huff. But not
before he finished his drink.