3rd October 1999
The new blood UNP set to humble a fragile alliance
By Virudda Paakshikaya
My friend Paakshikaya, writing in these pages last week gives a remarkable display of ignorance and the arrogance of power, so much so that I suspect him to be a minister in the Peoples' Alliance government. The PA says he (or she) will win without a doubt at the next polls, which he declares will be held in a few months' time!
Paakshikaya has based his assumptions on the premise that we in the United National Party are campaigning on trivial issues. The Channel Nine issue, the e —mail issue and the assault on media personnel are 'trivia' that do not matter to the masses, according to my good friend.
Then, he goes on to say that even the killing of Satana editor Rohana Kumara would not stir the collective conscience of the people as did the killing of Richard de Zoysa. That, Paakshikaya says is simply because the people are of the opinion that President Chandrika Kumaratunga is of such unimpeachable integrity that such a killing could not have been perpetrated by those in her regime!
These are rather interesting arguments, Paakshikaya and I concede that I was amused because some sections of your government seem so complacent. You seem to be so complacent that you are apparently unaware of the rumblings of dissent within your own ranks.
These are no secrets either, my friend. Consider, one by one, your coalition partners and then you would realise that you have only a "Some Peoples' Alliance" to fight the next election.
Now we all know that the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) is daggers drawn with you. Minister Ashraff is threatening to withdraw his support to the PA and Minister Richard Pathirana is refusing to withdraw the harsh words he used when he referred to the SLMC. A few more episodes of this drama and we know that the SLMC will be back with the UNP!
Don't deny, Paakshikaya that you are worried about that possibility because frantic moves by Minister Alavi Moulana are underway to undo the damage caused by Minister Pathirana. That is because you fear that without Mr. Ashraff's support you might not even be able to get the upcoming Budget passed in Parliament and that would lead to an early general election where you would again have to seek Mr. Ashraff's assistance because a hung Parliament is the most likely result!
But then, the divisions within your ranks are so severe that we hear the likes of Transport Minister A. H. M. Fowzie are not unhappy with the recent developments believing that it will lead to Mr. Ashraff's fall from grace with the SLFP forever! Then, let us consider the Lanka Samasamaja Party. Yes, we know that the indefatigable Batty Weerakoon is saying "Yes ma'am" to everything but when he is not reading other peoples' mail he can only fight with Comrade Vasu who votes against the government on most occasions. That is how the LSSP is divided.
Even the Communist Party, silent partners for so long is now flexing its muscles. It wants the Workers' Charter implemented and that your government does not want to do. So, more troubles lie ahead.
As far as the Democratic United National Front is concerned what is left of it with the PA is neither democratic nor united and it is only a front for Srimani Athulathmudali's forlorn hope that she will be re — appointed to the cabinet after the next election. The rest of the party — in fact, most of the party — is now with us for don't forget that they were originally UNPers!
Of the Tamil parties, your greatest ally Neelan Tiruchelvam is no more and the others, — the Devanandas and Siddharthans — will only support whichever party that has a majority in Parliament be it the UNP or the PA. The same holds true for the evergreen (pun intended!) Saumyamoorthy Thondaman and you know that only too well.
Your Some Peoples' Alliance is in this sorry state, Paakshikaya and if you still believe that you can comfortably win the next elections simply because the UNP is campaigning on what you believe to be 'trivial' issues, you must be naïve Paakshikaya!
Your argument is that 'trivial' matters do not affect your government. The truth is that one isolated incident — say, for example Batty Weerakoon pilfering Ranil Wickremasinghe's letters — would not have made an impact with the people and I agree with that.
But with each succeeding incident — the refusal to abolish the Executive Presidency, the assault on the media, the Channel Nine scandal, the inactivity of the bribery commission and the killing of Rohana Kumara, to name a few — the credibility of the government has been eroded severely.
Remember, Paakshikaya, once may seem an accident and twice a co —incidence but when such lapses repeatedly occur the people know that it is carelessness and callousness. And now it is in that stage, my friend, where the people are likely to believe anything against the government — much similar to the UNP's position in 1994, if I may say so. So, at least President Kumaratunga has kept one of her campaign promises: she has achieved in five years what the UNP did in seventeen years!
But these are not the only reasons why you will lose the next elections, Paakshikaya and I think I can let you in on a little secret on that. It is not only your cabinet ministers who are dissenting with each other. I do not know whether you are aware of it but even your backbenchers are a disenchanted lot.
They know that at the next general elections the high —profile ministers will get into Parliament anyway with high preference votes but that they may be left high and dry because they are not well known and because the limelight or publicity has always been the monopoly of ministers.
And some of them have approached some of us in the UNP, my friend and they want to know what we can do for them to ensure that they will be in the next Parliament — such is the confidence they have in the PA leadership!
Now, Paakshikaya, I can assure you that these backbenchers have not been disappointed with what we have suggested to them though I cannot publicly state that strategy here. I am only disclosing this because I think your complacency is largely misplaced and I want to prove my point. Of course you are free to do your homework and find out who these disgruntled elements are — if you can!
Meanwhile I can only recall your advise to us Paakshikaya — you cited the case of the Sri Lanka cricket team changing its captain and wanted us in the UNP to do the same if we wanted to win. I can say that we didn't change the captain because we saw no need for that but —like our cricket team — we did infuse some young, fresh blood discarding some old hands who were past their prime: we have delegated new tasks to the Moragodas, Bogollagamas, Cabraals and the like.
And, Paakshikaya you do know what happened to the Sri Lankan team when it infused new blood, don't you? It won against all odds against the world champions. So, would you still like to compare the UNP to our cricket team, my friend?
In the ongoing de bate on globalisation, one point of view is that it would spell doom for the concept of nation and the nation state. The view of the post-modernists is that race and nation are features of modernism and modernisation, and the withering away of race and nation are characteristics of post-modernism.
There is no consensus on this subject. But generally it is accepted that the nation constitutes certain features such as the consciousness of blood relationships, a common language, a complex organisation with a similar value system, and common economic and legal features in a state located in a particular geographical area.
There are around 8000 languages in the world. Certain regions identified with particular communities have 10,000 - 12,000 dialects but there are less than 200 states.
Globalisation is a post Cold-War phenomenon. By globalisation is meant the spread of capitalism, the transfer of technology, the exchange of information, the development of communications, and a commercial culture. This culture includes the symbols like T-shirts, denims, lovers of the Titanic type, IDD, laptop computers, Internet, and credit cards.
So would the nation and the nation state disappear because of all this? One argument on this subject goes like this: The Sinhalese wear denims made in France; they eat American wheat flour and drink coka cola; they watch films made in India; they travel in Japanese cars. So in their daily lives they have nothing called their own. The self-sufficient village and villager are beautiful dreams or at times a saleable commodity to tourists.
The skinning or undressing of a nation is called deconstruction.
Now, when you apply this cultural undressing on the individual what happens? The individual is made up of the constituents of air, energy, water and solids 'apo', 'thejo', 'vayo' and 'patavi'. So what is the individual? An identity entity raised in an inter-connected globe. You can skin that entity, deconstruct it, and show that the individual is nothing in fact.
In that sense there can be no prime 'athman' no component of Brahma, no servant of god and in the final analysis not even a material element. These are of course concepts connected with Nirvana. Those who deconstruct the race, peal it off layer by layer themselves, can reach the Path of Nirvana.
Thus as the individual is formed in a world of fauna and flora, water, air, sunlight, so the race is moulded within diverse societal forces.
Just because you wear denims, drink coka cola, surf on the Internet, it does not mean that you will lose your 'Sinhalaness'. It disappears amongst extremely self-interested individuals, amongst those who have embraced another culture, another race, and amongst those who have reached Nirvana.
Nevertheless, globalisation changes the various parameters of nation and responsibilities of states. Two things have to be understood clearly. Globalisation is not an international activity which is not racialist. Today the US is turning the wheels of globalisation. In the future it will be the turn of a united Europe. Globalisation has the white racialism of the Americans and the Germans. In the next decade the 'yellow' races, the Chinese and the Japanese will take the lead, and 'sinic' racialism will take globlisation forward.
On the other hand globalisation will acquire new features from various nation states. Some races and states will modernise themselves, and they will adapt globalisation to suit their needs and their ethos.
To say that Sri Lanka is a poor, lone state which cannot transform globalisation into 'Sinhalisation, is plainly an exaggeration. We can pay for all our foreign investments, for our national product and for our purchasing power capabilities (PPP index). What this means is that though national identities could be differentiated by globalisation, the nation itself will not disappear. There is also room for nations to become stronger under this system. Political attitudes and national feelings could be strengthened by unacceptable aspects of globalisation. It could lead to the emergence of regional organisations, which could make dents in international institutions. What is evident is that in the future there will be no room for aggressive nations, but there will be no extinction of nations. The Sinhalese, the Chinese, the Africans, the Ethiopians are the historical primordial cultures and nations. With the conquest of some of these primordial nations by colonialists some of them vanished or were divided. The ethnic conflict with the Tamils is not a liberation struggle, but a creation of European imperialists.
Globalisation is the neo-imperialism of the Europeans. To protect ourselves we have to establish our identity and modernise.
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Last Sunday hap-pened to be very warm and sunny here in Canada despite the season being fall. Some friends and I decided to make use of an opportunity that may not arise in the coming months and organised an open air barbecue party. It was a happy occasion full of fun, friendship and warmth besides of course the grub.
One of my friends, a virtual internet addict, came a little late waving a sheaf of computer print outs. "D.B.S. Jeyaraj", he thundered in his baritone voice. "You are the recipient of an open letter. It's there in today's Sunday Times". My heart skipped a beat and then pitter-pattered faster. A rush of blood to my head. An open letter addressed to me in a national newspaper! All these days I thought such epistles were sent only to great personalities. Now I have got one. "Go ahead and make my day" I muttered like Eastwood, "Tell me who it's from". Kumar Ponnambalam," he said. What an anti-climax, what a disappointment.
The open letter went around, with each friend guffawing at what he or she found amusing. A common cause of laughter was the reference to my living in Canada with no friends.
There was a lot of good humoured discussion about the open letter and what I should do about it. The majority felt it was not worth answering. "This guy goes on repeating himself ad nauseam without making a valid point. So just forget it. Write something sensible instead of replying this," my friends said.
There was also a minor problem. How do I address him when responding? In the good old days I called him, "Annan or Annai (elder brother). Those days are gone now. Calling him Kumar or Ponna could be interpreted as an endearing term (God, no!).
In his letter he had referred to me as D.B.S. Jeyaraj. I could call him G.G. Ponnambalam in full or GG or Ponnambalam. But that would remind me of his father with whom I have no quarrel. After all the primary problem with the man is that he carries forever a chip on his shoulder that he is not treated as a chip of the old block by voters. So I decided finally that I would call him by the bracket he puts at the end of his name - Junior. So junior it shall be as Sean Connery calls Harrison Ford in the Spielberg movie.
So Jnr., let me tell you at the outset that I have no desire to be dragged into a sordid exchange of words with you about Neelan Tiruchelvam. While I am eternally ready to discuss the great man that he was in any public fora, I have no intention of being sucked into an exchange of letters with you on the subject.
As for your pathetic attempts to denigrate a noble soul after his death Jnr., it only exposes you to the world and even a million dips in the holy Ganges would not absolve you. All I want to do Jnr. is to expose some of your twisted falsehood and issue you a challenge.
Besides much of what you have written is empty rhetoric and nothing more. There are a few points that warrant a rejoinder. But I would certainly like to destroy some of the myths you are trying to create about yourself and Neelan.
The only point in your letter that deserves a response from me is perhaps your question as to why I did not try and defend Neelan when he was alive. The simple answer Junior is that Neelan would never allowed any of his friends to do so including myself. Despite his extensive contacts with the media both in Sri Lanka and abroad he would never promote himself or defend himself. He was the ultimate "Karmayogi" and a living embodiment of the "Gita"s essence.
I vividly remember his response, when I once asked him why he ignores your repeated attempts to provoke him. Neelan told me that men of straw cannot be expected to rise beyond the Peter principle and that they must feud in order to assert their nuisance value! How zat Junior?
Anyway get one thing clear Jnr., Neelan dead or alive is in no need of people defending himself. He is far too great for that. Neither my praising him nor your debasing him will affect his name in the long run. When Martin Luther King died in 1968, the American media were full of articles written for and against him. Does anyone now remember who wrote them? What has endured however is the good name and legacy of King.
Junior in your fervour to denigrate Neelan you have not spared his father either. You have alleged that the late M. Tiruchelvam hosted a public reception in Colombo to the accused persons of the Duraiappa murder trial after their release. A gross terminological inexactitude Jnr!
M. Tiruchelvam died on November 22, 1976. Of the seven accused in the Duraiappa trial, the first two to be discharged were Selva-ratnam Selvakumar (7th) and Thambipillai Santhathiyaar (6th) in mid 1977. The last to be acquitted was Balasubramaniyam Kalapathy (1st) in 1978. So how can you say Murugesu Tiruchelvam hosted a reception when he was dead long before the accused were released.
Also have you forgotten in this context Junior that your father too had agreed to defend the accused in the Duraiappa case despite Dr. Parameshwary Duraiappa being his niece and how it caused convulsions within the family? Since your father passed away in February 1977 before the Duraiappa trial, the issue of his appearing in the case did not arise.
But have you forgotten how you also wanted to appear in the trial but could not do so because all the seven accused, were firmly opposed to it. Don't you think that you owe a public apology to all members of the late Mr. Tiruchelvam's family? Also don't forget that many persons knowledgeable about the Duraiappa trial are still alive.
In any case what exactly is your position on this? Let's say M. Tiruchelvam was alive when the Duraiappa assassins were acquitted and had hosted a reception. Are you saying that he should not have done it? What's wrong in organizing a reception to seven persons acquitted after due process of the law? Are you saying that any one indicted is automatically guilty? If so why are you appearing for persons charged under the PTA or even the Penal Code for that matter?
Also don't forget that your current leader Prabhakaran was also implicated in the Duraiappa trial. Be careful he may take offense at your comments about the Duraiappa trial.
Let's take your charge against Neelan that he never spoke about the Tamil predicament in Parliament. Oh Jnr., wrong, wrong and wrong again. I was present in Parliament in February 1983 when he made his maiden speech in Parliament. It was full of statistics spotlighting clearly the systematic economic neglect of the Tamil areas. I remember it was a little dull because it was devoid of rthetoric or tomfoolery characteristic of some Parliamentarian wannabees that I know. But then that was Neelan, a man who did not believe in playing to the gallery.
I was in Canada when he got elected to Parliament in 1994. I've never seen him speak in the House during this stint. But I've always seen references to his Parliamentary role in newspapers both local and foreign. I also receive the Hansard by sea mail, so it is a trifle late. I've read the many speeches he made on the predicament of the Tamils. I've also read about his courageous and concrete contribution to the emergency debates.
I think that numerically, Neelan has spoken more times in Parliament than the total membership of the Tamil Congress.
Your line is that Neelan was power hungry for a Parliament seat. But why have you forgotten that Neelan was one of those rare souls who spurned an opportunity of being an MP and that too a directly elected one? After Mr. Yogasangary was killed in Madras on June 1990, his seat had to be filled by others on the TULF list.
Mr. Yogeswaran was no more and M. Sivasithamparam declined. The next in line was Neelan who was also the TULF Secretary at that time. All he had to do was nominate himself. But when Abu Yusoof of the EPRLF appealed to him not to accept it so that he (Yusoof) could be appointed, Neelan gracefully consented. This was because he thought the Muslims chased away from the North required representation. But Mr. Srinivasan of the ENDLF who was next in line was not as magnanimous as Neelan. He come to Colombo from London and became MP thereby depriving Abu Yusoof.
Neelan's gesture of not taking his oaths and letting his Parliamentary membership lapse was in vain. Had he taken office then no one could say that he was never directly elected.
Now let's come to a fact that you seem to overlook when you blare forth about being the spokesperson for a preponderant section of the Tamils. You also try to project an impression that you command more support among Tamils and is therefore better equipped to speak for the Tamils. Let's examine the validity of your assertion.
So far there has been only one occasion when you and Neelan contested on the same turf. This was the Parliamentary elections of February 15, 1989. Then Neelan contested under the TULF symbol in the Jaffna district while you contested the same under the Tamil Congress.
You led your list and therefore had the opportunity of garnering most preferences that would accrue to your party. Neelan was just one of many others way down in the list.
But what happened Junior? Neelan Tiruchelvam got 8074 while you got only 2866. So in the only ever direct democratic confrontation Neelan got nearly three times the votes you got. Neelan is no more and so the matter is not of practical interest but I would wager that in spite of your political showmanship, Neelan would have got more votes than you in any part of Sri Lanka. So get off your high horse and face facts that speak for themselves.
Junior you are again not being truthful when you say that you all were keeping quiet and that you were provoked into writing against Neelan because others were praising him. But the truth is that your article attacking him had appeared many weeks ago in the Tamil Circle and the Tamil Canadian web sites. Then it came in the Tamil Guardian Fortnightly.
It was only in the latter stages that it came in the Colombo newspapers. Also let's put the cycle of events concerning Neelan's death in proper perspective. Neelan was pilloried in the Tiger press and by LTTE fellow travellers before and after his assassination.
The post assassination slandering was aimed at checking the shock waves among the national and international community. The crude attempt was twofold. First to show that no Tamils were mourning Neelan and secondly to demonstrate that the so-called lack of concern among Tamils was not due to LTTE fear. The takeoff point for the denigrators of Neelan was Nirupama Subramanian's line in the Indian Express "the Colombo Tamils who have mortgaged their souls to the LTTE are unmoved". After conveniently glossing over the "mortgaged souls" part the pro-LTTE lobby is now trying to demolish Neelan's image.
The Tiger lobby is emulating the fascist Goebbels and constantly repeats gross untruths in a bid to make it the truth. But the propaganda is based on blatant falsehoods. Neelan Tiruchelvam has been mourned and written about by many Tamils. It is only a vituperative minority that tried to denigrate him and is attempting to pose as the authentic representatives of the Tamils. A self serving myth.
The only disappointment from my viewpoint is that many Tamils who could have spoken up kept quiet. But then the fear of the LTTE is great indeed. But appealing to the Tamil conscience has indeed paid dividends and more and more Tamils shedding their silence now. I wish you a long life Junior, but don't forget that if you were gone there would not even be a whimper from the Tamils in Colombo.
In any case the larger than life persona of Neelan is now assuming "Vishwarhoobha" proportions. The institutions he helped found would perpetuate his good name.
Another constant refrain by you is that Neelan did not use his alleged good relations with Kumaratunga to remedy the Tamil plight. You know that this charge is not true. But what I want to know is why you did not do anything yourself. The Tamils have not forgotten that in 1988 you were close to Mrs. Bandaranaike, the present Prime Minister and mother of the President. So close were you that you asked her publicly not to forget her "Kalu Putha". The Tamils have not forgotten this.
I think I have gone on long enough Jnr. Before I issue my challenge I need your opinion as a legal eagle on two matters. The first is about defamation laws. Why is there no provision in the law where people libellously slandering dead persons cannot be sued? Did the lacuna occur because no lawmaker thought people would be slandering dead people? Would you advocate legal reform where the family members or associates of a dead person being slandered could sue the people doing it?
The second point is about Neelan's assassination itself. Do you think that the criminal laws could be amended in such a way that those persons who character assassinated him before and are continuing to do so after his death be considered as culpable. The free media movement's statement on the death of "Satana" editor Rohana Kumara says, "it is our firm belief that this hate campaign (By media sections) in part created the circumstances that led to the killing".
Likewise don't you think that the vilification campaign against Neelan contributed to his death. Now the character assassination continues. So what about charging these vendors of hate as instigators and accessories before and after of the murder?
Finally let me come to my challenge. There is no point in writing back and forth to English newspapers alone. Besides my readers and editors have great expectations of me. They would like me to write on substantive issues with seriousness and not engage in a frivolous exchange of words with you. So what I would suggest is that both of us engage in a public debate in Colombo. I am planning to come there in the summer of 2000. If you are impatient, then I can make myself available in late January 2000. Only in that case you will have to pay my airfare.
The debate should be in Tamil since you are such a valiant champion of the Tamil cause for whatever it is worth. Your claims about going or not going before the Tamil people can be met then. Whether you want it televised or not is entirely up to you. There is only one precondition. You have to purify your usage of words. I find that you are using words like manly and manhood etc., rather freely. This is understandable since the first part of your name must have given you much trouble at Royal.
Now what shall we debate about. Firstly you state openly where you stand on Neelan's murder. Do you justify it or not? Then about the LTTE, what is your position on it? What is your politics now? If you are for Eelam why are you still calling your party All Ceylon Tamil Congress? If you advocate armed struggle then have any of your children joined the Tigers?
In that context let us also talk of how Neelan and G.L. Pieris helped a Tamil politician bad mouthing them to obtain seats of higher education for his daughter and son in the West.
We could also talk about the politician who wrote to his alma mater abroad seeking university admission on the grounds that Tamils were not being admitted to varsities in Lanka.
You can also explain how you are the only Tamil who has not been arrested in Colombo despite your stated Tiger connections. Lesser Tamils are detained for the flimsiest of reasons. What's the big mystery Junior?
Since you are a public politician, could you also make a declaration of your properties and assets and in whose names they are registered. We could also talk about the Tamil politico who boasts that he carries no Identity Card but the moment he is stopped at an army check post, phones his wife and gets her to call the army commander who in turn gets his men to release him.
So over to you Junior, be a "person" and take up my challenge.
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to