The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

9th June 1996




Podihamuduruwo tells Govt., come the proper way

Gangaramaya chief incumbent Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera in a letter to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga over the protest demonstration which took place at the temple premises has stated that several ministers are involved in the incident.

Ven. Gnanissara told The Sunday Times that the entire protest was planned by a group of government MPs."This was revealed by some of the people who came for the protest. They had even gone to the extent of informing the state media and a private TV station. The names of the MP's were also revealed by these people", he alleged.

The incident occurred when a section of the people had accused the temple of taking the allowance paid to students by the government. However, according to the Thera, the students had never received any allowance from the previous government or from the PA.

"Generally an allowance of Rs. 400 is given to students who follow vocational training, but our students never got this allowance. But recently the students have been brainwashed saying that the money goes to the temple. This is what created the problem. But once we explained the matter to the students they understood. And now in protest of this move the students are carrying out their protest," he explained.

The letter to the President has also stated that the temple is willing to hand over the building to the government but they should pay compensation. And they should approach them the correct way.

Minister launches milk war

As the UNP launched a protest campaign against high milk prices, local markets are to be flooded with Amul milk powder under the Highland brand, in a weeks time to ease the burden on consumers, Trade Minister Kingsley T. Wickremaratne.

Mr. Wickremaratne told The Sunday Times the new product would come in red packets, and be sold at Rs 65 per 400 gram pack.

We had to do this to elbow out other importers of milk powder who remained adamant over their prices which are over Rs. 80 per 400 gram pack, despite the state-own Highland deciding to sell to its product at Rs. 62.50 Mr. Wickremaratne said

The Minister said he saw no reason why the importers had to maintain such a high price but he did not want to impose price controls as it would create other problems.

Mr. Wickremaratne accused the UNP and other forces of backing the milk importers by calling for the 10 percent duty to be waived..

He said rather than helping importers to make more profits, the Government had invited the National Dairy Development Board of India (NDDBI) for a joint venture with Milco, to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in milk.

This joint venture with 51 per cent to India and rest to Sri Lanka would be headed by Dr. V. Kurien, the man behind India's success in becoming self reliant. The project would begin in eight months time at Kuliyapitiya.

The new joint venture project would produce milk under the brand name of Kiriya, abolishing the traditional Highland.

No question of apologising

The Presidential Commission probing matters relating to elections in 1994 has been informed that former Minister, Sirisena Cooray will be returning to the country by June 26.

The former minister's son Ajith Cooray referring to a news item in 'The Sunday Times' said that he had appeared before the commission after accepting summons on behalf of his father.

He had explained matters before the commission and indicated to the Chairman that his father would be here on June 26. Mr Cooray says no apology was tendered to the commission and the question did not arise.

BIA opens its gates to the public

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

Controversial security arrangements that were enforced at the Katunayake Airport for the past nine months will be relaxed this week, Tourism and Aviation Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake announced yesterday after visiting the Airport.

He said a nine-foot high bomb proof wall had been built at the Airport to protect the control towers and other vital areas. Thus it would be possible to relax the tight security arrangements which had caused severe inconvenience to passengers and visitors.

According to the arrangement, from this week vehicles carrying departing passengers will be given a thorough check in a temporary porch close to the walk-way and then the passenger and two other visitors, who will pay Rs. 100 each, will be allowed inside the Airport lounge. This will also apply to arrivals.

Other visitors will be required to park their vehicles, either at the re-opened car park beside the Airport for a fee of Rs. 50, or at the present site for a fee of Rs. 30. "Then they will be allowed to wait in front of the lounges as before", said Airport and Aviation Services Chairman Sudharshan Manamperi.

However the public viewing gallery is unlikely to be re-opened for another fortnight. "Now people are getting used to saying goodbye at their homes or at the Airport gate. But we will certainly make this facility available to the rural crowd who make this event a special occasion," Mr. Manamperi said.

Israel, India and men of destiny

Two quite different countries of Asia have chosen their rulers. India and Israel have little in common. They have held democratic elections, each in an exemplary fashion. The election campaigns, fought over polarizing political issues, were conducted with admirable dignity, fairness and seriousness.

In a photo-finish election, Israelis have elected Benjamin Netanyahu, a polished and sophisticated former ambassador to the United Nations, as prime minister by the direct vote of the people. In India, in the resulting hung parliament, and after the manoeuvring and uncertainty of the scramble for power, Deve Gowda, a self-effacing man with an inaudiable voice, finds himself the leader of the world's largest democracy. The two situations are dissimilar and yet these two men, so different in background, personality and style, face daunting challenges in guiding the destinies of their respective countries.

Both Netanyahu and Gowda find themselves with very little room for manoeuvre in formulating the policies they will have to follow. Their parliamentary positions are similar in that each will have to face considerable opposition in carrying out the policies that they advocated when they canvassed the voters.

Unlike his political opponent Shimon Peres, Netanyahu emphasized security more than peace during his election campaign. He spoke against the agreements arrived at after prolonged and difficult negotiations between Israel and the PLO, based on the Israeli-Arab peace accord of 13 September 1993. Israelis would be permitted to build new settlements in the occupied Arab territories. Further, Israeli troop withdrawals from the Gaza and the West Bank, already under the authority of the Palestinians, would not be allowed. Netanyahu said that he would not hesitate to send Israeli soldiers anywhere in pursuit of terrorists and that the Golan Heights would not be returned to Syria. Jerusalem would remain undivided. He would block any upgrading into full statehood of Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza and the West Bank.

Gowda, as the Janata Dal leader in Karnataka, campaigned along with his socialist colleagues against the free market policies of the Narasimha Rao Congress (I) government. He railed against the corruption with which the Congress (I) was alleged to be tainted and the abuse of power which Narasimha Rao himself was accused of. The electorate was promised that the United Front parties would bring the guilty to trial and that public life would be cleansed of corruption.

Neither the prime minister of Israel nor the prime minister of India would find it possible to implement to the letter the policies and programmes that they placed before their respective electorates. In fact, Netanyahu has already sounded conciliatory in his victory speech. "I stretch out my hand to all Arab leaders", he declared. "I will work towards a stable peace, a real peace, a peace with security." He called on them to join "the circle of peace". On another occasion, he said "I am the prime minister of all the people. The battle is behind us." The post-election positions that Netanyahu is rightly taking are not quite in accordance with his campaign rhetoric. In fact the new prime minister, in a new coalition, is taking a new approach to peace.

Deve Gowda is simple, self-effacing man who remains true to his rural origins. His first name Haradanahalli, is the name of his village in the South Indian State of Karnataka. He was a consensus candidate for the leadership of the United Front, chosen because his style and his power base did not threaten the Front's power brokers. He calls himself a simple farmer. He speaks fluently Kannada, the language of his State, Karnataka. When questioned as to how he would function with his limited knowledge and fluency in both Hindi and English in which the work of the office of prime minister of India will have to be conducted, he said simply: "Speaking fluent English or Hindi is not going to solve India's problems. I am a farmer and I know my country's problems. Management skills are what you need. I am confident I can run this government for a full term. Just wait and see". Gowda has managed the affairs of Karnataka as chief minister with acceptance during the past two years.

Nor is Deve Gowda an inexperienced tyro who has parachuted on the Indian political scene. Trained as a civil engineer at a government polytechnic institute, he ran a contracting business for a few years. He was elected to the Karnataka State Assembly more than thirty years ago and has been in and out of several political parties. He was imprisoned during the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. He was in the Lok Sabha for three and a half years but was not a candidate at the recent parliamentary elections and will have to seek a seat within six months. Like all good managers, Gowda delegates responsibility to get a job of work done. He is said to be a workaholic who is on the job eighteen hours a day. During intense political activity he prefers to sleep in his car rather than go home. As a vegetarian, teetotaller and non-smoker, he does not need any luxuries. He wears the simple lungi and kurta.

Already he has entrusted to a group of experienced professionals from the widely disparate United Front parties, the task of formulating a common minimum programme. He has also made two appointments to his council of ministers which have been widely welcomed. The appointment of P. Chidambaram to the critical portfolio of finance has brought cheer to the economic markets and caused an immediate upsurge in the Indian stock exchange. Untutored in foreign policy issues, he has wisely given the external affairs portfolio to I.K. Gujral, the 76-year-old affable, intellectual who held the same portfolio in the V.P. Singh National Front Government of 1989-90 and brought to bear a friendly and understanding attitude towards India's neighbours, including Sri Lanka. When I was High Commissioner to India in 1989-91 and Gujral was appointed minister of external affairs in the V.P. Singh government, I telephoned him to congratulate him on his appointment. In accepting my good wishes for a successful term of office, Gujral assured me that in the future, India's relationship with Sri Lanka would be "more friendly, more positive". He added, "Please convey that to you government."

In the election in both Israel and India, the governments that have come into office will represent the diversity of public opinion in each country. In the 120-member Israeli Knesset, both Labour and Liberal have lost seats. Small parties have shown a dramatic increase in relative strength gaining more than half the seats' religious parties have an unprecedented representation with more than one-fifth of the vote. Orthodox Jews, Russian immigrants and Israeli Arabs have gained at the elections. Netanyahu will need all his qualities of leadership, sensitivity and skill to bridge differences and to emphasize common interests. It is clear that Israelis want both peace and security. Netanyahu has promised to create a peace which Israeli's could trust, and not one dictated by foreign powers. Netanyahu will have to unite a divided land. He has already stressed the need for national reconciliation and a continued quest for peace.

In a somewhat similar situation in India, there is a parliament and a government which in their diversity reflect more fully the class, caste, religious and regional differences in the sprawling nation. Deve Gowda's cabinet of 21 persons consists of centrists, socialists, communists and regional parties. In a parliament of 545 members, the Gowda government can count on the support of 332 deputies, including the 142 members of the Congress (I), which has not joined the government but has promised to support it form the opposition benches. But Gowda will have to be mindful to steer clear of the pressures that will be brought to bear on him by the communists and other extreme elements.

Vajpayee has already warned that "Marx and markets do not mix" Gowda will have to continue with Congress (I) policies on economic development. But then, his pragmatism has already been show in Karnataka where he has been a supporter of foreign investments from energy to food and made Karnataka a leader in attracting foreign investment. Says P. Chidambaram the new finance minister, "We are starting a new experiment in governing India. There is no quarrel with market policies, the difference will possibly be in our approach".

The challenges ahead for both Benjamin Netanyahu and Deve Gowda are tremendous, and their responses to these challenges will have important consequences for peace in the Middle East in one instance, and for peace and stability in South Asia in the other In each case, the differences that exist between and the forces arraigned against them are great and cannot be lightly brushed aside. The world will watch with profound interest how these two men of destiny conduct themselves at this critical time and manage the awesome responsibilities that their people, through the democratic process, have entrusted to them. Each of them deserves the good wishes and the support of their people and their parliaments. There is much at stake on how each performs.

Continue to the News/Comment page 2 - Presidential Commision to probe central region killings, Russia: the big money is on Boris Yeltsin, Pakistan hopeful of talks with Gowda govt.

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