by N Sathiya Moorthy 25 June 2019
Any other nation would have celebrated in full form – they have done in the past. But politics in the country continues to take all of the nation’s energy and also of media time or space as the case may be that the coverage/celebration for the maiden Sri Lankan satellite’s launch was next to nil, compared to lesser achievements, even of the cricketing kind in the past.
It is anybody’s guess why the two Sri Lankan engineers who developed their mini-satellite, measuring (11.3 X 10 X 10 cm) as ‘Ravana-1’, after a ‘local king’ (?) whose name finds a mention only in the Indian epic ‘Ramayana’, but the indication is that they plan to work on a possible series. Incidentally, Ravana’s younger brother, Vibhikshana, also from the Ramayana, is considered among the guardian-angel of Sri Lanka, though not worshipped as such or much.
As media reports said, Tharindu Dayaratne and Dulani Chamika are students of space engineering at Japan’s Kyhushu Institute of Technology. Their creation went into space along with one from another of smaller South Asian nations in Nepal. There were two more from Japan. According to the reports, the satellites were sent into a 400-km orbit with the assistance of Cygnus-1 spacecraft from the US.
“Raavana-1 is expected to fulfil five missions, including the capturing of pictures of Sri Lanka and surrounding regions, active attitude stabilization which ensures that satellite’s attitude is stable under the influence of external talks. It will have a minimum lifespan of one and a half years but was expected to be active for up to five years”, the reports said further.
If missing out much of the ‘Ravana-1’ story was painful, it was even more so when the Vedda chief too had to describe the nation’s politics as a ‘stinking cesspit’. Chief Uruwarige Wannilaththo also “felt disgusted to see the behaviour of the rulers of the country who acted as pre-school children after the Easter Sunday attacks in which innocent men, women and children were killed”, news reported have since quoted him as saying.
The Veddas are the nation’s indigenous tribe(s), with some historians dating their origins back to the pre-Sinhala days of King Vijaya, who in turn came from eastern India. Incidentally, the nation’s major religion, Buddhism, too came from those parts of India,centuries later.
For the uninitiated, the fifth century Sinhala chronicle Mahavamsa, however, says that the Veddas were the children of King Vijaya and the local Yakkha (or ‘yaksha’) princess Kuveni, whom he disowned after a time, in favour of a Pandya princess from south India. Some even date back the Sinhala-Tamil travails on the island-nation in recent decades, not even centuries, to Vijaya ‘deserting’ Kuveni.
Leave aside Kuveni’s ‘curse’ centuries ago, which is said to be the cause for Sri Lanka’s post-Independence travails, at least according to some, the Veddas at least live a quiet and secluded life, away from the dust and noise of national politics. Barring on rare occasions, their chieftains do not appear as frequently as other community heads, nor do they talk about social issues other than their own uplift – and least of all politics.
It is anybody’s guess why thus anyone should have bothered discussing politics with Chief Uruwarige Wannilaththo. Worse still are media reports that he was sounded out about the possibility of contesting the presidential polls. Whether or not the questioner in this case trivialised the high office of the presidency or the place for the Veddas in the Sri Lankan State scheme, it is definitely the latter’s response that has made it to newspaper columns – slightly bigger still than for ‘Ravana-1’.
“When some people request me to contest the forthcoming presidential election, I sometimes feel like coming forward and show the country the correct path, but soon I back down with the thought that I should not get myself destroyed by falling into this mess,” the Vedda chief reportedly said on his 72nd birthday rituals at the Mawaragala Aranya Senansana in Damban.
Whatever be Chief Uruwarige’s views on the state of the nation’s politics, there is no denying that the “entire country is now at a complete standstill after suicide-bombs went off in different places in Colombo and Batticaloa” on Easter Sunday, which he ‘lamented’. As he rightly pointed out further, “even during the 30-year-long separatist war which was confined to a part of the country, development activities were not stalled and people of many areas did not feel whether there was a war in the country”.
As the media reports said, “Wannilaththo accused the current leaders for passing the buck after the Easter attacks and added that it was also disgusting to note the behaviour of the government ministers. He said the entire country was sharing the same feeling.”
According to him, “Leaders should get together for a single purpose without being at each other’s throat in the face of the disaster the country is faced, but they are not concerned about the situation. They even do not remember what has happened to the country.”
Referring to many incidents where politicians were jeered and chased away by the people, he said that this was the manifestation of the frustration of the people. “He attributed it to party politics, in which some people ridiculously say that even their blood is green or blue, for the mess the country is faced with”, the reports further said.
Not the first, nor the last
The Vedda chief is not the first of the nation’s multi-community leaders to have expressed despondency and desperation at the turn of political events and the way the nation’s political leadership(s) have acquitted themselves even in the face of the Easter blasts, for which the nation was least prepared for. It was even more so a full decade after the three-decades long ethnic war involving the LTTE.
Yet, the Vedda chief is not the first to talk politics for a community leader in his place. But then he may not be the last either. Before him, this time round, Rt Rev Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, was the first to express such exasperation at the political class, especially the nation’s political leadership, not long after the Easter blasts.
In the early days and weeks of the blasts, Cardinal Ranjith was seen as giving a non-political leadership to the non-governmental efforts at restoring communal harmony, post-blasts, and that were the only one available, active and also seen as being effective. Soon, he could be seen throwing up his own hands the heaven’s way, in sheer exasperation, beginning especially with the Government not heeding to his sane suggestion to shut liquor shops in Negombo in the Colombo suburbs.
Cardinal Ranjith had a reason. Negombo after all was the scene to the worst of the Easter Day blasts in terms of lives lost. It was also here that days later, a communal clash occurred, targeting the local Muslims, who had nothing whatsoever to the blasts. The Cardinal could only pray for the nation more than already but could not have the government heed the suggestion.
Blame game and worse
Even the ‘victimised’ Muslim community leaderships, from denomination after denomination, localities after localities, have been speaking in the open, how they had cautioned the government leadership(s), both political and administrative, as to the emergence of ‘Islamic radicalism’ in their midst and how the latter were shutting their eyes to the existence of suspicious-looking with even more suspicious-sounding agenda – but nothing was done to stop them.
Today, the Government has instead busied itself on the greater supremacy between the presidency viz the prime minister, and the personalities of the respective incumbents, namely, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, as if the Easter blasts occurred in some distant land and the future threats of terrorism did not belong here. So insular have they all become, of the nine Muslim ministers who purportedly voluntarily quit office, to clear the community’s image and that of the self, two have returned, to be sworn in again. In between, there have been other ministerial swearing-in too.
It is anybody’s guess, who had charged the likes of Minister Kabir Hashim of even remotest involvement with the blast perpetrators like some other ministers and provincial governors from the community. If so, it is anybody’s guess who since has cleared the two, including Kabir Hashim, for them to return to the government with in equal haste.
Less said about the political Opposition the better. Every time the social media, or even some slightly more responsible (and at times more reprehensible) has been coming up with new political possibilities, the Rajapaksa-centric SLPP has been reacting as if it is the most important thing on ‘god’s very own country’ that they all say Sri Lanka still is! SLPP chairman G L Peiris has been joining issue lately with every Tom, Dick, Harry and whoever, on every other issue, even when more responsible persona like President Sirisena, or PM Wickremesinghe, or their known and/or acknowledged spokespersons have said something.
It is thus that Peiris, an eminent constitutional expert in his own right, has contested suggestions that a ‘referendum’ now could replace the parliamentary polls, or even call for a parliamentary polls before the commencement of the last six months of the five-year term of the House. Yes, Maithiri-Ranil mix-up of 19-A is clear that any advancement of the parliamentary election can be possible only with two-thirds majority in the House.
GL is right when he says that even without the SLPP-JO’s backing the Government could have a two-thirds majority, if it wished. The question is should GL, as party chief, or even other responsible leaders of the JO be responding to every other statement from every other leader from the ‘rival camp’, which is divided at times, not-so-divided at others. Maybe, if the party wanted to respond, they could issue a statement, and be done with it.
By responding and/or wanting to respond in person to what essentially could be dubbed the diversionary act of the ruling clique, they are only taking away time that the media at least could provide for better things like the launch of Sri Lanka’s maiden satellite, which can be as inspiring to the nation’s post-war youth as the political cesspit is disgusting and discouraging!
(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: sathiyam54@nsathiya moorthy.com)