And so it came to pass that the annus was running into trouble from the early days. Two years after an outsider donned the kingly crown and the previous one forced to abdicate but still not abandoning his ambitions, it appeared that Lanka was about to turn into the Miracle of Asia. Only a miracle [...]


British twists in an annus rather horribilis


And so it came to pass that the annus was running into trouble from the early days. Two years after an outsider donned the kingly crown and the previous one forced to abdicate but still not abandoning his ambitions, it appeared that Lanka was about to turn into the Miracle of Asia. Only a miracle could do that anyway.

James Dauris

It might not have turned out to be such a peaceful transfer of power if Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s story of a coup in the making at Temple Trees by the old regime was believed. Samaraweera made such a ho ha – or was it a ha ho – about the makings of a plot that even Frederick Forsyth might have applauded the minister’s imaginative genius.

As the days wore on talk of coups was greeted with boos. Whatever happened to the promised investigation nobody knows. If there was one what was the result? That is how yahapalanaya got off the ground, or tried to at any rate.

But it did not take many days for the honeymoon to turn sour. Some believe that marriages are made in heaven. This one wasn’t. It was made at Vihara Mahadevi Park. That venue might be good for young lovers (that is if our moral watchdogs don’t get in the way) not for marriages.

So by the time 2017 was born it was not only the honeymoon that was turning sour. As the locals would say there was already “trouble in the junction”. Those more accustomed to the Mariakade argo would probably describe the on-going relationship as “handiye kachal”.

As the days rolled by there was growing gossip about some Bond (Treasury not James) dealings of a dubious nature. It began to take its toll. The finance minister who some say was bank rolling the UNP during its difficult days lost his portfolio. So did a couple of other ministers. Losing one minister is unfortunate. But losing a couple is sheer carelessness.

As the year drew to a close SriLankan Airlines’ head honchos led by Chairman Ajith Dias was heading for the emergency exits while the airline was in a tail spin with CEO Suren Ratwatte still in the cockpit.

Talking of spin Sri Lanka cricket seemed to be out of control too under an administration that left our game looking like the battlefield of Waterloo rather than the playing fields of Eton, slaughtered by every side we played.

While the country waited with great expectations for the release of the Bond Commission report to see who had done the dirty and how, there was a moment of comic relief. Surprisingly (or was it?) it came from James Dauris, the British High Commissioner in Colombo.

One must thank High Commissioner Dauris profusely for adding some humour at a time when yahapalanaya was causing distress to the public and politics was in confusion with in-fighting and sniping at each other in the Unity Government instead of the transparency, accountability and a thousand other things it promised.

James Dauris may not sound or look like the two Ronnies, the comedy duo from his country, but he sure could step in as a stand-up comic in an emergency.

What provided this comic sub plot was an interview he gave a Colombo newspaper earlier this month. Sri Lankans would remember the October debate in the British House of Lords in which Lord Naseby argued that the civilian deaths in the last months of the anti-LTTE war which critics of Sri Lanka were touting as 40,000 or more, was highly exaggerated.

Lord Naseby was basing his argument on information extracted with much effort from war time despatches sent from Colombo by the British Defence Attache’ at the high commission and other reliable sources in and outside the UN and respected international NGOs such as the International Red Cross.

The British peer’s conclusion on the basis of all the gathered evidence was that the civilian death toll was between 7,000 to 8,000 and certainly not the 40,000 odd as claimed.

Lord Naseby had thrown the cat among the pigeons, so to say, and it turned into a great debate in Colombo particularly because of the maladroit moves of the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry to undermine the evidence collated by Lord Naseby that would buttress Sri Lanka’s defence against charges of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.

It seemed strange that our own foreign ministry would adopt such an approach instead of accepting with alacrity the information that Lord Naseby had unearthed as this column first argued in mid-October. It also seemed that the foreign ministry did not want the world to know that President Sirisena and the State Minister of Foreign Affairs Vasantha Senanayake had in fact thanked the British peer for his work on behalf of Sri Lanka.

The rest of the mess-up readers already know, especially the ministry’s attempts to keep the Sirisena letter out of the media, the Kariyawasam letter that somehow got out of our London high commission and what not.

Now into the breach steps up James Dauris with his one-act drama. While the foreign ministry’s demeaning efforts were tragic, the British High Commissioner was more inclined to provide the comic relief. His argumentative sleight- of- hand was so funny, really.

In his effort to downplay as insignificant the Naseby findings which, of course, places a time bomb under the British diplomatic position of horrendous crimes committed by Sri Lanka’s security forces, Dauris dons himself in a philosopher’s garb. Unfortunately for him he is no Plato nor is he likely to attain such heights even if he lives to be as old as Methuselah.

The last occasion on which I had to take on a British high commissioner was after Dominic Chilcott’s Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture shortly before his departure from Colombo.

Chilcott who had been transferred to Washington as number two at the embassy emailed me saying he would be in London for some days on his way to Washington and could we meet for a drink. We did meet and had quite a chat but that’s another story.

Unlike Chilcott who was critical of Sri Lanka’s political leaders giving rise a cacophony of calls for him to be declared persona non grata like an earlier high commissioner David Gladstone, Dauris was treading on safer ground by keeping out of domestic politics.

James Dauris stuck to the number’s game because Naseby had a stuck a pin in the UK-US inflated figures of civilians deaths resulting from Sri Lankan atrocities. “While a single death is a tragedy,” said Dauris “a large number of deaths is a statistic.”

Perhaps Dauris wants his name to go down in a book of famous sayings. What he has achieved however is a reputation as a person who is ready to dismiss human deaths as a statistic.

I suppose it is in keeping with Britain’s historical tradition of massacring people in the colonies they forcibly occupied. In Asia and Africa the British colonial power caused enough deaths that they have possibly been recorded as mere statistics.

Such holy-writ, coveted and revered by British officialdom might be seen as an attempt to camouflage the atrocities British colonialism has committed around the world.

But to dismiss mass killings as statistics shows the moral depravity of those who believe in it and are sent to represent the country. One only needs to flip the pages of British history to realise why the Dauris’s of the world would like to see the memory of atrocities committed by their ancestors fade into the history books.

Had I space enough and time it would have been possible to puncture Dauris’s pseudo philosophy by unearthing the deceit, the civilian killings in both war and peace that the British administration over centuries have been responsible for.

If Dauris has studied his country’s history he would not commit such moral turpitude by labelling anything more than a single death as a statistic. Perhaps he has actually done history and that is why it is so easy for him to lay his country’s statistics side by side and forget them.

But the world will never forget British atrocities in Asia – from the massacre at Amritsar in India, the crushing of the Uva-Wellassa uprising in Sri Lanka, the killings of Kenyan civilians branding them as Mau Mau, the sinking of the Argentine ship Belgrano during the Falkland’s war, the eviction of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from their homes and dumping them in Mauritius and lying about it to the UN. Need I go on?

High Commissioner Dauris finds a single death a tragedy. How many tragedies are the British responsible for in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and now Yemen?

Strangely when the British ambassador in Uzbekistan Craig Murray criticised President Islom Karimov’s government of systematic torture including boiling two men to death, Murray was castigated, falsely charged and later sacked by the British Foreign Office.

Under the Dauris philosophy such killing was a tragedy. Yes it was a tragedy- for Ambassador Murray.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.