Politics is a bundle of contradictions and double-speak and it was on display in full this week as President Mahinda Rajapaksa sent his brother, Basil as a special envoy to brief the Government of India on the 13th Amendment (13A) having said earlier in the week that he gave promises only to the Sri Lankan [...]


Watch your step when dealing with India


Politics is a bundle of contradictions and double-speak and it was on display in full this week as President Mahinda Rajapaksa sent his brother, Basil as a special envoy to brief the Government of India on the 13th Amendment (13A) having said earlier in the week that he gave promises only to the Sri Lankan people and not to the international community.

Though not admitted as such, it is patently clear that it is New Delhi’s pressure that has made Colombo back off from implementing what it proposed to do in castrating some of the powers of the Provincial Councils (under 13A).

Just a fortnight ago, the Indian Prime Minister sent a missive to his counterpart in Colombo after meeting the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), India’s proxy in Sri Lanka. In a statement issued immediately thereafter, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said the Prime Minister (of India) conveyed to the TNA delegation that he was “dismayed” by reports suggesting that the Sri Lanka Government planned to dilute key provisions of 13A. The statement added, “It was noted that the proposed changes raised doubts about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government to India and the international community, including the United Nations, on a political settlement in Sri Lanka that would go beyond the 13th Amendment”.

This statement was not challenged or contradicted by the Government of Sri Lanka. The President now says he never gave promises to the international community – only to the people of Sri Lanka. Clearly, these are two different, contradictory versions. Of course we know that the President of Sri Lanka went on record last year to promise the visiting then Indian Minister of External Affairs that he would in fact, give 13 plus – i.e. go beyond the powers already earmarked under the controversial 13A. The Indians are latching on to it now like a dog with a bone. Somewhat similarly, Minister Basil Rajapaksa agreed to certain concessions on fishing rights in the Palk Strait. The concessions which the Indian Government is latching on to allows India’s fishermen to poach at will in those waters, overriding a previous state-to-state agreement.

India’s Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon is due in Colombo next week. The Government must watch its step and be wary of making idle promises. You might get away by doing so with the domestic electorate; it’s not that easy when dealing with tough customers in world affairs.

When a glorious game turns to shame

Confined to the sports pages all these months, the thuggery on and off the schools rugby football field deserves everyone’s attention. It has spread to most of the rugby playing schools (and there are many now) and is an alarming sign of the social malady that is there for all to see in this country.

The game of rugby was ‘invented’ in a British public school and introduced to the British colonies. There is also a famous saying in the English language attributed to the Duke of Wellington that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. It has different interpretations but basically is taken to mean that the pluck and endurance in a fight comes from the discipline, personal courage, leadership and the honour learnt in sports.

Rugby was played mostly by the missionary schools in colonial Ceylon and by the country’s biggest state school, but its popularity in recent years has grown in leaps and bounds. Dozens of schools that hadn’t played the game a decade ago, some sans even a proper playground, have a team in contention.

The game has also opened up employment avenues for many, especially in the police, tri-services and the mercantile sector as it did for those of an earlier generation in the tea plantations, where the game has all but died in recent times.

The game has, however, turned ugly now. A league competition was launched to give opportunities to newer schools to play the older ones, but all good intentions of equal opportunity have been thrown by the wayside due to a ‘win at any cost’ policy adopted almost without exception.

The stakes are high. The fear of losing aggregate points and getting relegated to a lower division and the desire to top the table of points mean virtually wading through slaughter to the crown. Big money; sponsors; foreign coaches; VIP coaches; forged birth certificates; principals running on to the field of play; eye-gouging opponents as a tactical ploy; crowds pelting stones at touch judges; referees being assaulted by players and threatened in foul language by onlookers; players being taken en masse in stretchers to hospital — these are all part and parcel of the school rugby football scene today.

What is alarming is that these are not just schoolboy misdeeds; often it is the over-eager old boys — with the connivance of the school authorities who are behind the foul play. Misplaced pride in their alma mater has taken precedence over fair play. It’s gamesmanship not sportsmanship that rules.

Influence peddling and pressure tactics are blatantly used. Telephone calls are made by VVIPs to college principals to pardon errant players who have been ‘red carded’ and thrown off the field for serious offences. “Boys will be boys” is the excuse to allow them back on the playing field before they have served their time.

But it is not only the ‘Boys’; it is a similar story with the ‘Men’. The inter-club fixtures throughout recent seasons have seen an alarming trend of rowdy behaviour and physical assaults on players and spectators alike by people transported for the purpose by some teams.
The thuggery continues unabated, so much so that referees have refused to blow the whistle because of their inability to control events and the threat of physical harm. Their judgements become irrelevant. Do we see a parallel in higher places?

This ‘win at any cost’ approach, irrespective of the rules; the inability to take defeat gracefully is a dangerous trend when it extends to other fields of activity, politics being one of them. If the rugby football happenings are anything to go by, the country’s social mores are in pretty bad shape.

The Wimbledon men’s tennis final is played today and it is worth reflecting that above the players’ entrance to Centre Court are lines from Rudyard Kipling’s immortal poem ‘If’: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”. We should add the closing lines; “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And-which is more-you’ll be a man, my son!”

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