President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an uncustomary lashing out – not so obliquely either – at India last weekend set the tone for Sri Lanka’s reaction to the upcoming resolution against the country at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. While Ministers of his Government have so far vented their wrath restrictively on the West, [...]



Dealing with India: From parippu to fish diplomacy


President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an uncustomary lashing out – not so obliquely either – at India last weekend set the tone for Sri Lanka’s reaction to the upcoming resolution against the country at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

While Ministers of his Government have so far vented their wrath restrictively on the West, President Rajapaksa went the extra mile to say Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was not a ‘parippu’ foreign policy – a reference that left little doubt to where, and to whom it was directed. As this generation knows only too well, it was India that air-dropped dhal or lentils (parippu) over the Northern Peninsula for the purportedly starving civilians when the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were on the verge of a military victory over the LTTE way back in 1987.

That was a direct violation of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and it later led to the Indian Army on Sri Lankan soil, an Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which has been the bug-bear of this country ever since. That the President made these remarks hardly a week after he met the outgoing Indian Prime Minister is no less significant. There has been no reaction from leaders across the Palk Strait, now busy with their own parliamentary election campaigns.

Next week, twin matters that impact on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity come into focus. Both involve India; one being the resolution in Geneva and the other the scheduled fisheries talks aimed at bringing an end to the rape of Sri Lanka’s northern waters mainly by Tamil Nadu fishermen.While we have dealt extensively before with the resolution in Geneva, the vexed question that arises on the poaching issue is why the Government of Sri Lanka has abdicated its otherwise inalienable right– and duty — to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity to a group of fishermen from the North.Already, the Northern Provincial Council is a virtual puppet administration of India. Now, the Central Government in Colombo has devolved its powers to defend the shores of this island nation to some fishermen.

This was another Indian rope trick and the Sri Lankan Government bought the dead rope. To have fishermen work out a solution to the armada of Indian boats intruding into Sri Lankan waters thrice a week and stealing the catch to be processed in canneries in Tamil Nadu is unprecedented. This is a dispute between two States – and if the two States cannot resolve the matter it is a case to be taken to the World Court in The Hague for arbitration. That is what other countries do in similar maritime disputes.

Round 1 of these talks has already gone to India even before the two sides have sat down. More than a hundred Indian fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy for poaching were released as a pre-condition set by India for the talks to begin. The day after that, Sri Lanka’s Navy was forced to arrest another bunch of rogue fishermen from Tamil Nadu. Now the Tamil Nadu chief minister wants them also released as a pre-condition to next week’s talks – and we know, these talks will go on and on with this cycle of poaching, arrests and releases.

While the Sri Lankan political leadership drags its feet, the Tamil Nadu fishermen drag their nets with impunity. Letting off steam at an election rally on India’s chequered Sri Lanka policy is one thing; dealing with the machinations and scheming of a not so friendly neighbour requires sharper diplomatic skills and a stronger backbone than what is on display in Colombo.

Selling Lanka’s soul for Rs. 500 m

If it isn’t mega casinos, it’s online lotteries. This Government’s single-minded determination to fill its coffers by nurturing a nation of gamblers is not only crass, it is decidedly reckless. We have asked this before and will ask it again: Does this country have nothing else to sell?
As with most other public and private investments now, the citizenry were made aware of the Cabinet’s approval of an online lottery scheme after the deal was done. A licence has been granted to Oceanic Games (Pvt) Ltd to operate in collaboration with eGame Solutions, a Hong Kong-based company that calls itself a global lottery provider.

Initially, 3,000 sales points will be equipped with lottery terminals. The scale of operations will later be expanded to “a wider range of games and channels”. The company says on its website that the whole exercise will be “fun and meaningful” to Sri Lankans.It will admittedly be fun and meaningful — to the company and its promoters. But the people had better be on guard. Their Government is vigorously promoting a culture of gambling without a modicum of respect for the principles of Buddhism it repeatedly spout during electoral campaigns. No longer are we aspiring towards the creation of a “dharmarajya”; “soodu rajya” is the next closest objective.

Each gambling investment the Government has sanctioned is deceptively packaged as a boon to society rather than the bane it will inevitably become. When the casino projects were approved, we were told that the annual levies their operators would pay the state were compensation enough for any negative social costs. With online gambling, it is for the children of underprivileged families to benefit through contributions to the Mahapola education fund!

In each case, the payment would be Rs. 500 million a year. The casinos would pay that amount to the Department of Inland Revenue and the online lottery company will channel it into Mahapola. Rs. 500 million, therefore, is the going rate for selling the soul of Sri Lankan society to gaming. Clearly, there are numerous other means by which the state can earn money for worthy causes. It surely can stop inflating infrastructure project costs and channel the difference towards education. It could also through a system of strict financial management prune its own expenditure. We need not go on.

It is unbelievable that the dangers of online gambling to society, even to the very children it aspires to benefit, are being overlooked. The Government says vendors will be barred from selling tickets to minors. Such controls, rarely, if ever, work. Pornography isn’t meant to reach the young either but it does. So do drugs and alcohol.

The Government said it would introduce measures to prevent Sri Lankans from gambling in the new casinos it has given permission to set up. Well and good. But how do you prevent people getting hooked onto online gaming? The dangers are well documented. Even in the United States, Internet gambling is legal in only three of its states and research shows how both the young and the old have become compulsive gamblers.  Is this where Sri Lanka is heading? Gambling might as well be accommodated as the sixth hub in the next policy statement of the Government.

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