This is not funny. I mean it is not funny ha ha! It is funny curious. Some days ago somebody – let’s leave the name out, but it certainly was not any of our news — conscious diplomatic Metternichs from Hyde Park Gardens emailed me to say that former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga would be [...]


Funny things happen here and there


This is not funny. I mean it is not funny ha ha! It is funny curious.

Some days ago somebody – let’s leave the name out, but it certainly was not any of our news — conscious diplomatic Metternichs from Hyde Park Gardens emailed me to say that former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga would be in London Town the following week.

Chandrika Kumaratunga: Winner of Common Ground Award

Now there was nothing curious in that. She drops in now and then to see her son Vimukthi and daughter Yasodhara or for this and that we know little about.

But what did come as a surprise was that she was coming to receive an award from an international organisation calling itself “Search for Common Ground”. Funnily (curiously, that is) fellow columnist Jamis Banda made mention of it in last Sunday’s Café Spectator at the same time that I was engaged in trying to dig up some of the ‘common ground’ to find out what was going on.

Many decades ago, a former colleague of mine on the Daily News used to call such coincidences happening within a day or two of each other synchronicity.

Well synchronicity or not, I was contemplating digging up some common ground at Clapham Common. But with London Mayor Sadiq Khan at war with an irascible Donald Trump, it was more prudent to let it pass.

Anyway my searches proved productive. Well certainly more fruitful than some of our intelligence chappies who somehow could not find “common ground” to put together vital information that fell into their laps, as it were, but was dusted away as of little significance until the bombs went off on Easter Sunday.

Actually, my computer search for Common Ground ended with a treasure trove of information that set my antenna that picks up news of haps and mishaps aquiver.

There was this advert in prominent white letters on a chocolate-coloured background announcing “COMMON GROUND AWARDS”. The occasion was to celebrate “20 years of peace building with the United Kingdom”.

Scrolling down, there was prominently displayed the words “what, where, when”. For a moment I thought we were to be given an elementary lesson in news reporting. In days gone by every cub reporter was taught the five “W”s that were expected to figure in the opening paragraph or two of a news story.

The award for 2019 went to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for what the organisation called her “outstanding political vision and courage” though I could not recall any momentous achievement of hers this year or last that deserved an award or a special celebration at the House of Lords, that decrepit and anachronistic institution which hardly does credit to democracy.

It is not our intention here to sully the reputation that CBK — if one might use the initials to save space — seems to have built up among prominent ‘Common Grounders’ whose Honorary Chairwoman is listed as Her Majesty Queen Noor al-Hussein, widow of the late King Hussein of Jordan.

Let us leave aside CBK’s claim that during her time she restored democracy and press freedom. Thought I was working in Hong Kong at the time I recall that there was no hesitation to use the outdated law of criminal defamation against an editor, that she sacked the ministers of three key portfolios — defence, interior and state media — and suspended parliament while the prime minister was away in the US paying pooja at a new temple. These were not particularly healthy democratic practices.

What particularly interests me is the legend on the advert referred to earlier that speaks of “20 years of peace building with the United Kingdom”.

Funnily, it was during these two decades that the common grounders and UK were building peace that Britain allied with the US to launch an illegal and murderous war against Iraq, killing a million or more Iraqis, including children, later bombed Libya almost back to the stone age, supplied arms to Saudi Arabia that were deployed — and possibly still are — to kill innocent civilians in Yemen.

It was also during this period that Britain extended the lease on Diego Garcia, the site of the US military base from which America launched sorties against Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was also the years when the exiled inhabitants of Diego Garcia, the Chagossians challenged Britain’s decision not to allow them to return home. Earlier this year the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK was wrongfully claiming the right to the Chagos archipelago and it should be returned to the rightful sovereign Mauritius.

Later, the UN General Assembly voted by 116 votes to six with 55 abstentions that the Chagos islands be returned to Mauritius. This, of course, colonial Britain is hardly likely to do.

One does not wish to clash with dubious Royalty, but one cannot but ask about the political vision that Queen Noor’s organisation refers to. Is it a vision that CBK had in her early years as a politician or one she had developed in more recent times?

There are Sri Lankans who ask this as she is one who, in late 2014, promoted Maithripala Sirisena as common opposition candidate for the presidency.

If that is true, then she should share responsibility for foisting on Sri Lanka a president who has done a volte face on several of the key promises he made to the people on pre-election platforms and even at his inauguration and before the Dalada Maligawa and so misled the public.

Sirisena has spent most of his time gallivanting abroad or trying to undermine his own coalition government or playing around with the constitution looking for ways to oust his prime minister.

Would it not have been more meaningful if Sirisena grabbed the tourism portfolio than law and order so there would be some justification for circling the globe every few days like the planned trip to Cambodia and Laos and more order at home?

There are even funnier things happening in our thrice-blessed isle where high-ranking Buddhist monks are desecrating the noble precepts of the Buddha, the Awakened, One whose teachings they undertook to inculcate in the people.

I refer to the recent illiberal and dangerous utterings of the Asgiriya Chapter’s chief prelate, Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera, who, the other day, advocated the stoning of persons of the Muslim faith.

I have no particular fancy for Mangala Samaraweera’s policies, particularly his foreign policy antics. But his response to the disgraceful advocacy of violence against people of another faith deserves applause.

What is so abhorrent is that our leaders and other Buddhist monks have maintained a deadly silence. One can understand President Sirisena’s studied silence. Perhaps his intelligence chief, who seems to have escaped any condemnation over the Easter Sunday attacks, may have forgotten to tell him about the call to violence by Sri Gnanarathana Thera.

After all it was Sirisena who the other day pardoned Galagoda-Aththe Gnanasara thera who had been sentenced by court to serve six years in prison for his outrageous attacks on the judiciary and members of the bar.

It was a sentence that was later endorsed by the Supreme Court — and to reprieve Gnanasara was surely a slap in the face of the judiciary.

The Asgiriya prelate’s unjustifiable virulence and call for violence is not only the very antithesis of the Buddha’s noble teachings, it is a clear violation of the law against hate speech.

Yet while our leaders glibly utter that the law will be equally applied to all, these purveyors of hate and violence like Sri Gnanarathana and Galagoda-Aththe Gnanasara theras escape the rigour of the law. WHY?

It was only last year that the Anunayake of the Asgiriya Chapter urged Gotabaya Rajapaksa to act like Hitler if need be. How these advocates of violence and authoritarianism can walk the streets (perhaps they use Mercedes Benzes) dressed in the sacred robes of the Buddha only brings Sri Lanka into disrepute in the eyes of the world.

There is another funny thing. That is Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s brittle attempts to defend the recruitment of former foreign secretary Prasad Kariyawasam to a hitherto unknown post in parliament. That poor brief left many questions unanswered. But to that some time later.

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