30th April 2000

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A fond farewell to an officer and a gentleman

Major General Percy Fernando was a man of action committed to achieving peace

I write on behalf of the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka to express our deep sorrow and regret at the recent death in action of Major General Percy Fernando.

We at the University were fortunate to get to know him over the last two years when he was commandant of the Sri Lanka Military Academy at Diy-atalawa. A connection between the University and the Academy began in 1997 when his predecessor embarked on an initiative to obtain degrees for Officer Cadets who are trained at the Academy. That got bogged down in the usual Sri Lankan bureaucratic delays, but in 1999 General Fernando decided that the programme had to move forward. With single minded determination he was able to ensure that, by the time he relinquished his post on transfer to Elephant Pass in January 2000, the first batch of cadets who are to be awarded degrees had been admitted to the Academy.

This determination arose in part from his perception that officers and gentlemen, as the Academy's products are proudly designated, deserve recognition for the intellectual effort also involved in a cadet's training. And while we at the University have recognized this, and are proud to be associated with that programme in the future, he himself strove, even without a degree course, to inculcate discriminating knowledge and balanced judgment in his charges. The final presentation of the last batch of cadets to pass out under his tutelage, just three months ago, involved a detailed intelligent analysis of the ethnic conflict that was so impressive in its fact filled coherent balance that it has now been recorded for telecasting on Rupavahini.

Of course we know that he had excellent staff who helped with both the information and the enlightened attitudes that marked the presentation. But, just as when there is a disaster it is a fundamental principle that the person in charge accepts responsibility, so when something satisfying occurs, we must pay tribute to the inspiration as well as all else provided by the head of an institution. In that respect, watching the presentation last December, discussing it afterwards with the Commandant, we realized the value of a man of action who was yet committed to principled thought.

That someone so decent, so devoted, so professional should have died brings home to us more poignantly the wastefulness of the war. The best possible tribute we suggest would be to telecast as a memorial to him the programme he inspired, and to ensure discussion of the issues it raised and the solution it suggested in the humane spirit which he himself brought to his life and his work.

For us, our teaching in Diyatalawa in the future will be tied up with memories of the inspiration he provided. We had no idea, on that last evening together, that the command he was to take over at Elephant Pass would be his last. As a solid soldier, he doubtless would have felt he was only doing his duty. It is our duty, in the much easier spheres of life in which we labour, to ensure that the spirit in which he fought will lead to the sort of peace he thought about so keenly.

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha
Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka

His journalists were his children

Tribute to S. T. Sivanayagam: editor, guru and father

S.T. Sivanayagam, a giant and champion of Tamil journalism for more than half a century, passed away after making an immense contribution in the political, social, educational and economic fields.

S. T. as he was popularly known was indeed a quiet and humble saint, saint in journalism. He was the guru of scores of journalists, working today in top positions in the press, radio and TV. Many of them were at Kanatte last Monday to say farewell and thank you to their mentor, guide and friend. The story of S.T.Sivanayagam and his contribution to journalism from the hot metal period of the fifties to the high tech internet era are indeed unpara-lelled if not unique. Starting at a time when printing was a primitive or laborious task with smudges all over and little or nor colour, S. T. Siv-anayagam was still able to build a wide circulation for the newspapers he edited, sometimes producing what his colleagues and staff saw as magical or mystical methods. During the past fifty years we have seen three eras in printing- the hand-setting period, the linotype era and the current computer offset printing. S. T. Sivanayagam was one of the few journalists who blazed their way through all three eras, maintaining the highest principles and the highest standards of integrity whatever the printing methods were. In the hand-setting era S. T. Sivanayagam was the editor of the Sud-anthiran, the official organ of the Federal Party. But the master journalist with a broad vision turned it into a powerful voice of the Tamil people, especially those who were voiceless or marginalised.

In the linotype era S. T. Sivanayagam moved to the Independent Newspapers Group where with D. B. Dhanapala - the doyen of modern journalism - he launched and built up the daily Dinapathi and the weekly Chintamani as the Chief Editor. His flare for creativity and imaginative journalism was outstanding and many were the young reporters, sub-editors and feature writers who grew from this era to the top positions they are in today. I was one of them and today with deep gratitude I say "thank you, Sir" to my guru for the highly professional training and inspiring example he gave in moulding us into journalists who could see beyond selfish or limited consideration.

In the computer era he was the chief editor of the Chudamani, a tabloid with full colour and other modern techniques. There too I was proud and privileged to be associated with him as an assistant and indeed I continued to learn and draw inspiration from him.

This gentleman of the pen with ink in his veins was a brilliant thinker with a huge readership of his own. One of his popular column was written under the pen name 'Thiru-gnaniyar" where he responded to readers' questions on matters ranging from politics to entertainment. Indeed he had a deep and balanced grasp of issues in a multitude of fields. For S. T. Siva-nayagam journalism ran through his head and heart not only in the office but also at home. Like President Prem-adasa, he was known to get up early morning and read all the Tamil and English newspapers so that when he started work he would know all about what was happening everywhere. At editorial conferences he was balanced in his attitude and approach. Knowing most of the stories that had been published he would be critical of reporters for any stories they had missed or failed to follow up yet he was also generous in his praise for reporters who had got a good story or sub-editors who had done well in editing or giving headlines.

As we stood by his body I recall the wonderful days when S. T. Sivanayagam and his top editorial team built up the Dinapathi and the Chintamani into the largest selling newspapers. Inspired by the values and dynamism of D. B. Dhanapala, our guru, S. T. Siva-nayagam was to us a source of meaning, direction, drive , determinatition and dynamism. Amo-ng those on that team were Raja Ariyar-atnam who edited the Chintamani, hardw-orking deputy editor Ratnasingam, Chief sub-editor Kana-mayilnathan and features editor Yoga Balachandran. Mr. Sivanayagam also drew in top Tamil scholars including M. Kanap-athipillai, to contribute to mainstream journalism.

Though S.T.Siv-anayagam lived and died in journalism his four children took to other professions ranging from banking to hotel trade. Whenever we asked him why his children did not follow in his footsteps, the wise old man would give an understanding smile and tell his staff -"you journalists, you are my children".

Thank you, Sir for being a guru and a father to me and so many others.


Can Sihala Urumaya deliver the goods?

By Kumbakarana

A new political party, ready to defend the rights of the Sinhala people while ensuring equality to all other ethnic groups, has emerged.

There is a fear that this new force will become a threat to established political parties such as the JVP, UNP and the PA. If one examines this new development from a historical perspective, the parallels with the birth of the SLFP in 1951 cannot be missed. Then, as now, the aspirations of the Sinhala people were overlooked by the then governing UNP and the left opposition.

We need to examine the present context for the emergence of the new party. There are several factors to support its appearance. The first is the attack on Sri Lankan society by Tamil chauvinism. It is apparent that Prabhakaran has gained a decisive victory in the PA-UNP conducted war in the North-east. However many charges the UNP and the PA level at each other, the responsibility for this defeat must be borne by both these parties.

Due to the events in the North-east and the subsequent loss in confidence and morale amongst the Sinhalese majority, there will be a break in the hegemony on power enjoyed by the PA-UNP axis. An indication of this is that members of both parties have begun to critique their own parties. The leadership of both these parties profess a shallow secularism which has not been thought out in any depth. While these leaders and their ancestors have shown a strong tendency to genuflect in front of Western powers, the leadership in the South should now stand up to the power of the LTTE unlike that of the PA-UNP leadership, who bend to any economic or military power. Unless the new party is able to do this, it will fail to capture the vacuum left in the hearts and minds of the Sinhalese majority.

The second major factor is that the socio-economic policies of both the PA and UNP are the same. They lack any creativity and are a mere reflection of the policies required by money lenders. The people are now fed-up of these tired, tried out, no-win economic policies. The Soviet centralised economic model and the Neo-liberal western model have both failed to satisfy the aspirations of the Sri Lankan people. It is now necessary to frame a new approach.

New thinking based on Green ideas, on a more holistic development model, is now required not only in Sri Lanka but also in the rest of the world.

The question arises as to whether the new party can forge ahead beyond the confines of an economic debate between central planning and an open economy to one that is both national and environmentally friendly?

The third question is that of democracy. This is more than a mere question of whether the presidential system should stay or go, or a discussion into the NGO slogan of media freedom. The elitism and the hereditary succession of leadership within the two parties should end. A sports analogue to this political farce, would be of the cricket team when it was open to only the elitist families in Colombo. At that time, we were a mere practice ground for international cricket teams in transit. However, now we are an international force to be reckoned with. If the democratization of politics and the armed forces had followed the cricket trends, today we would not be faced with this grave situation.

The Sihala Urumaya, should structure a democracy which gives place to talent rather than to elitism or the power of money.

The new party should not retreat back to1956 as the situation is now different with the power of the media, the rapid flow of information, the commodification of culture and the rapid growth of the service industry. The new party will have to respond to these modern conditions when building a national movement. The political movement in 1956 was a transplant from above on a National movement. It was not organic, therefore it did not survive.

The new party should give room to the national movement from which it arose. It should be an organic growth. The question to ask is whether the new party could convince the majority whether it could win democratically like Bandaranaike was able to do in 1956.

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