As students many decades ago we used to visit the parliament by the sea to follow the debate and discussions that were so educative and informative that the House served as a great source of knowledge. In later years covering proceedings as parliamentary editor and as a sketch writer, (mistakenly described in this country as [...]


Salman can and Gunaratnam too but others can’t


As students many decades ago we used to visit the parliament by the sea to follow the debate and discussions that were so educative and informative that the House served as a great source of knowledge.

In later years covering proceedings as parliamentary editor and as a sketch writer, (mistakenly described in this country as a Lobby Correspondent), for nearly 20 years, I have witnessed the steady deterioration in the substance, tenor and tone of parliamentary exchanges.

So today it seems better to avoid that House by the Lake (not Lake House but not much different from the former either, I suppose) if one were to retain mental equilibrium and not lose all one had picked up and stored over the years.

I say this not to denigrate those who now occupy places in that august assembly, however toothless it might be, for I don’t think any help from me is needed in that regard judging by some of the performances one hears of.

What is so telling about then and now is that the quality of debate, the wit and repartee of yesteryear still remain in one’s memory after several decades while what is said in parliament today and the manner in which it is done is best forgotten soonest and, if it survives at all, it will not be more than a minor footnote somewhere.

I say this because the recent presence of some boisterous Bollywood busybody called Salman Khan struck a chord and revived instances of humour and clever use of language that used to invest many of the old parliamentary sessions.

Some of you might remember or would have read that the country’s first constitution, the Soulbury Constitution, had provision for six (if I recall correctly) MPs to be nominated to represent minority interests that could not find expression through the first-past-the-post electoral system.
One of those nominated was a person called Singleton-Salmon to present I think British interests. In the course of one debate — I cannot really recall whether it was on the budget or some other issue – Mr. Singleton-Salmon had made a strong contribution on behalf of those he represented.
Unfortunately, for Mr. Singleton-Salmon and through no fault of his own, his name seems to have been ready-made for jibes and some light humour, not malicious like it often is today.

One of the speaker’s from the Left which then dominated the opposition, and, (if again I remember correctly) it was that brilliant and entertaining speaker Colvin R. de Silva, could not resist a dig at the MP representing declining British power.

“I have heard,” said Colvin if it was indeed he, “of shoals of salmon.

But I have never heard of a singleton salmon,” to the mirth of all including the nominated MP.

Singleton-Salman is, of course, a different kettle of fish (if you will permit a pun) from that Bollywood Salman who came with much fanfare but seems to have left furtively — certainly without the public limelight that shone during his extremely brief stay here.

What made him leave faster than he came is not what concerns me here. The question is what brought him to Sri Lanka and more importantly what was the category of the visa issued to him or he travelled on?

This is crucial because it would appear that Salman Khan and Kumar Gunaratnam alias Noel Mudalige, the leader of an insignificant splinter of the JVP, had entered the country on tourist visas.

Now there is nothing wrong in foreign nationals travelling here on tourist visas if there sole intention is to engage in touristic activity.
But in the case of these two individuals — Kumar Gunaratnam is of Sri Lankan origin and apparently domiciled in Australia and carrying an Australian passport — both of them appear to have entered the country on tourist visas.

Having served in our embassy in Bangkok and our high commission in London I am aware that there are strict rules and regulations concerning the issue and use of tourist visas. One very strict condition is that those who enter the country on tourist visas cannot participate in any activity outside the purpose for which the visa is issued. When issuing tourist visas the recipient is told of this condition. In short, a person on a tourist visa cannot participate in a seminar, conference or workshop, and certainly not in political activity.

Special authority is required to participate even in charity work because that could involve working with NGOs. I am aware that in such instances applications from foreigners have to be referred to the UN/Multilateral/Conference Division of the External Affairs Ministry which will examine the request.

Now if Salman Khan, who, according to Jacqueline Fernandez, the “Hopper Queen” of Arcade Gotabaya built close to that old mental institution that existed during British times, came here to donate 200-300 lenses to needy cataract patients and also hand over some money to someone not mentioned what visa did he travel on. Or are Indians — from Bollywood or some Chennai slum — exempt from obtaining visas? Even so if Khan was engaging in charity work he should have obtained a visa staying the purpose of his visit.

Personally I have nothing against hoppers. I mean I like an egg hopper or two as much as the next guy especially if I can have it with a delicious prawn curry. The trouble of course is that at times the prawns come along with those creepy, crawly things that make the crustaceans far less edible than they would normally be except to those who find them a delectable relish.

I have known several Khans in my professional life but I’ve never taken to these Bollywood types who think they are kings and queens to whom rules do not apply.

Never mind that loquacious Fernandez who seems to be playing spokesperson for this Khan, it is necessary to find out whether he obtained his visas online or applied for it through one of our diplomatic missions and what reason he gave for visiting Colombo.

If he has violated visa conditions he should be blacklisted. So should Kumar Gunaratnam. One of his colleagues said in a media interview that Gunaratnam obtained a visa online which one supposes, was a tourist visa.

Even so how did this escape the attention of the Immigration Department which should immediately have been alerted to the fact that this fellow masquerading under the name of Noel Mudalige was deported to Australia in 2012?

Who in the Immigration Department approved his visa or did orders come from higher up? Hardly had he set foot here he was already engaging in political activity that is expressly forbidden under the rules.

Apparently the man is still here. Will the Immigration Department act to protect its own reputation and its regulations and deport the man for such gross violations. Or will it turn a blind eye and harass our own citizens over minor infractions or a foreign do-gooder who also has 200 lenses to donate?

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