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Letters


Survival of the UNP crucial

We see the media interpret facts regarding the major political parties from their own perspective.
The UNP is depicted as a divided and a fractured party indulging in back stabbing and promoting self interest or dictatorial and autocratic.
The UNP is one of the two major political parties in Sri Lanka with the largest voter base as a single party. In this context, it is all the more important that this party should continue to function intact, without splits or divisions, but stabilising and strengthen itself solely to serve the national interest.
With the UNP. it is not a question of the Leader, the Deputy Leader and the Working Committee of the party, pulling in different directions. It then becomes difficult for the party to survive democratically, and the end result may be divisions in the party resulting in crossovers.
Therefore, this major political party needs credible restructuring for the greater good of the nation. Should we see this party in shambles? No responsible citizen would like to see a splintered party, especially in the present national political scenario.
In this regard as a Sri Lankan and as a responsible voter, I wish to refer to proposals for reforms forwarded by a credible professional group. These reforms may be relevant and worthwhile, not only for the UNP but even for the SLFP, which governs the country at present.
In the reforms proposed by one of the Professional Groups, the highly centralized hierarchy would be changed, broad based and democratized enabling representation down the line to grass root level. If reforms could be brought about on these lines, it will definitely avoid fingers being pointed at the leader calling him dictatorial or accusing the Party Leader of running the party affairs with a selected group of his blue eyed boys. In this regard the Professional Group had recommended that the Leader of the Party and the Key Officials be elected for a six - year period by an Electoral College.
Another matter for concern is that the Party Constitution has failed to define clearly, adequately and fully the duties and responsibilities of the Party Leader and the Key Officials of the party. Amendments should be made to the constitution to prevent decisions being made by one individual and by doing so adhoc decisions of any Key Officials of the party could also be prevented. The position of the General Secretary being a key position. which is of utmost importance for the healthy running of the party should be held, as suggested, by an individual with several years of Parliamentary experience and he should be a senior member of the party.
With reforms of this nature the party’s decision making process will become fully representative, democratic and effective. This will also bring about desirable party discipline, which is imperative to win the confidence of the voters.
It is essential for all responsible citizens to remember that a political party is not the property of the politicians or a small group with vested interests, but is the property of the citizen of the country, handed down to them from generation to generation through the electoral process.

***

Satya Sai Baba: A symbol of peace

The eightieth birth anniversary of Bhagavan Sri Satya Sai Baba falls on November 23, this year. This great healer is the symbol of universal faith, who prays for peace among all human beings, irrespective of race, religion, class or caste.
We have only heard of miracles performed by the founders of various religions, but in the case of Satya Sai Baba, he is a living, performer of miracles. It is not surprising that there are many Buddhists who are devotees of Satya Sai Baba. Many of us are ignorant and unaware of the healing powers of this great human being.
Satya Sri Sai Baba is the source of spiritual revolution. He describes this spiritual revolution as a revolution more powerful and pervasive than any that man has experienced so far. Satya Sai Baba lives at a period in human history when ‘dharma’ is crumbling because of evil forces.
Once when Sai Baba was asked why he did not appear as a God, he said, “If you want to save a person who is sinking in water, you should get into that water. Man can understand God when you appear as man. So to save humanity you should appear as a human being.”
The true aspect of Swamiji and his teachings is, satya, dharma, shanthi, prema and ahimsa i.e. Truth, right-conduct, peace, love and non-violence. If all beings and all nations were to follow these teachings, then there would be no war, no blood-shed, no strife.
Mangalam guru devaaya, mangalam jnana dhayine,
Mangalam parthi vasaaya, mangalam satya saayine,
May the divine one be auspicious to us,
May the bestower of wisdom be auspicious to us,
May the Lord who manifested in parthi be auspicious to us,
May Bhagavan Satya Sai Baba be auspicious to us.
Pram Deldeniya
Lalitha Kala Shiromani

***

Provincial Councils: A sheer waste of money

Let us first try to understand the reasons for starting provincial councils in Sri Lanka. The government had already established District Development Councils (DDCs) based on the twenty five districts administered by the government agent (GA) who was the most senior civil servant in the district. He had a number of assistant government agents administering a part of the district. With the introduction of DDCs a political head known as District Minister was introduced - some of them were from far away constituencies and had to operate from the GA’s office of the district of which he was chief minister. The interest taken by them was insufficient to have impact on the development process of the district. This resulted in people who expected to benefit losing faith and inevitable failure.
District Development Councils were a well thought out political exercise which was poorly implemented by the politicians appointed to each district. This failure had an adverse effect in the entire political system of the Northern Province. Youth were encouraged to agitate by various political parties and political leaders. Youth formed a number of militant groups whose members were trained abroad in well-established training camps, equipped and paid. Some had been trained by the PLO. On their return to the country they engaged in bank robberies and many acts of lawlessness including destruction of public property.
The assassination of police officers, local politicians and administrators forced the government to employ security forces to assist the police in maintaining law and order. These insurgent groups were able to operate and move freely as they were operating in home soil and were very familiar with the layout of the land. Military operations were conducted throughout terrorist held areas in the North and the East of the country. They moved to their strongholds and home bases in Vadamaarachchi. Security Forces carried out a successful operation and cleared the area from Thondamanar through Velvettithurai to Point Pedro. Security Forces commenced on the final phase of the campaign ‘OP Thennamaratchi’ when the food drop arrived escorted by fighter aircrafts. Orders then went out to Security Forces to stop all military operations.
This was the culmination of a campaign to wipe out terrorism from the country. The Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka J. N. Dixit in defense of the air drop said,”….but for whose intervention Prabhakaran and the LTTE would not have survived the campaign launched against them by the Sinhalese Government from January to May 1987.”
The Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi arrived with his delegation to sign the Peace Accord. The Opposition held demonstrations against the Peace Accord but the government went through with it, which saw the birth of Provincial Councils.. Our politicians soon got used to the idea of Provincial Councils. As always they found the system very useful to them. For a country of our size with a population of 20 million we have:
- 225 members of parliament.
- 80 Cabinet Ministers, Deputy
Ministers, Project Ministers.
- 200 members of Provincial
Councils.
- 35 Provincial Ministers.
- Provincial Governors and their entourage.
The cost per month at an average of Rs. 500,000 (barest minimum for private secretary, vehicles for back up, and others etc. adds up to a staggering Rs. 277.5 million per month) This excludes cost of buildings, maintenance and additional staff required for provincial councils. This is a system enforced on us by the peace accord signed to appease the same terrorists who were trained in India.
Unfortunately for all the trouble taken by Rajiv Gandhi to settle the problem, it was not only rejected by the terrorists but he had to pay with his life.
The heavy expenditure in running the Provincial Councils could be better utilised to improve the living conditions of the people by rehabilitating the roads, schools, hospitals and other institutions that are neglected.
The PC administration is unsatisfactory due to the large area which comes under it. A local government institution should cover a smaller area such as a district. The earlier DDC would be more suitable with modifications.
The head of the DDC can do the work of the District Minister. The GA can be the administrative head. Each electorate in the district can send an elected member to the DDC who will also work closely with the AGA.
It is recommended to scrap provincial councils and allocate all the savings to District Secretaries to develop the districts on a given programme, such as infra-structure development, mainly roads, including Main roads and Secondary roads, which are in a dilapidated state and which cost millions to repair.
General S. C. Ranatunga, (Retd.)
Mawanella

***

On respecting the vinaya

With reference to the debate on vegetarianism now being discussed in the newspapers, one reason the Buddha recommended the ‘vas’ retreat for the monks was to prevent them trampling the fresh blades of grass shooting up and the tender saplings emerging from the rain-drenched soil. He supports the ‘vinaya’ rule prohibiting monks from causing harm or damage to trees and foliage.
A western magazine reported how a lover of plants tested their perceptive power. Keeping a friend beside his favourite tree, he went out of sight and began to direct thoughts of hatred towards it – how in his return he was going to hack it, scrape off the bark, pluck the leaves and set fire on it.
His friend, standing very close to the tree, felt a pronounced sensation of fear and horror emanating from it, while its leaves seemed to wilt imperceptibly. We have heard of seeds watered by ‘well-adjusted’ men springing into life, while those tended by psychotics remained stunted, unable to sprout, and do not gardeners swear that after talking softly to their plants, they were rewarded with magnificent blooms, simply bursting out in response?
An interesting TV drama showed a professor who was able to attune his hearing to capture sounds normally out of range of the human ear. Each time his housekeeper plucked a flower from his garden, he heard its ear-splitting scream. Unable to bear the universal cries of distress, he died abruptly.
Has nobody wondered why the Buddha did not ask his disciples to go vegetarian, except for the rule that if it is seen, heard or suspected that the animal was killed purposely for one, the dish should be rejected? - Buddhism teaches that a living-being is composed of bodily form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. Can anybody deny that a plant has bodily form, feeling and perception at least? The Buddha could not have condoned feeling and perception? The Buddha could not have condoned feeding on a lesser life form, while forbidding consumption of another.
So a disciple who takes the first precept of abstaining from destroying life, will ensure that his own life will never cause harm to another’s in honour of the beautiful Buddhist concept of ‘Abhaya Dana’ – the gift of fearlessness. As plants presumably have only the three characteristics of bodily form, feeling and perception, as against the five comprising mental formations (wherein karmic volition is formed with the capacity to produce its due effect) and consciousness, pertaining to the two-legged, four-legged, those with wings or fins, it will always be the plant that is harvested for food by non-carnivores.
If however, they become suddenly endowed, like the professor, with a sense of hearing so acute, that the shattering shriek of the beetroot, banana or gotukola plucked from its stalk resounds in their ears, they’ve had it!
Prema Ranawaka-Das
Moratuwa

***

Appreciation
A great loss to the Sasana

Rev. Pandita Mirisse Dhammasiri Thero, the chief incumbent of Yatala Manik Viharaya, Tissa, Siri Sunanda Tripitaka Piriven Viharaya Mirissa and Lankaramaya, Ratmalana, passed away on the 8th of this month at the ripe age of 82 years. He was the chief pupil of the internationally known and erudite Maha Thera Rev Mirisse Gunasiri Thero who passed away about forty years ago. Since then the mantle of the teacher fell on Rev Dhammasiri and he continued the socio religious work initiated by his revered teacher.
Rev. Dhammasiri had his early education at the Mirissa Bilingual School and then after entering the Order received his pirivena education at the Vidyaloka Pirivena Galle. He passed his Prachina Pandita Examination specializing in Tamil and joined the tutorial staff of the Siri Sunanda Pirivena and subsequently became the Principal of the Institute. Over a period of nearly a half a century the number of bhikkhus and laymen who sat at the feet of this erudite monk and drew from his reservoir of knowledge and experience were many.
Rev Dhammasiri authored a number of scholarly publications. Sangadhikarana Jotika a commentary on the Vinaya rules in Sinhala is a much researched work delving into the Vinaya rules and the Commentaries and deal with a subject about which very little is known among the laity .It had come to be a very useful document particularly for the monks as well as the legal community. His most recent work Sirilaka Yatala Manik Pudabima deals on the Yatala Manik Vehera from its early beginnings up to the time of its restoration. It is the earliest stupa in Ruhuna and was built by Prince Mahanaga about the 3rd century B.C. Rev Dhammasiri in this work has unearthed much information about the stupa which if not for him would have been still not available to the literary world. For about 30 years he also contributed to the Budusarana paper under the pen name Dhammika.
Rev Dhammasiri was highly respected within the Sangha community. Due to his exhaustive knowledge in Vinaya rules he was appointed as an Arbitrator and a Mahopadya of the Ramanna Nikaya.
He led a simple life and was an example to both the laity and the clergy. He had an abiding interest in the welfare of the people particularly those of the down trodden. Rev. Dhammasiri devoted much time in trying to improve their lot socially and economically. To this end he initiated a number of self employment projects such as textile weaving, lace making etc in the area .and had a close rapport with the people.
He leaves behind a number of bhikkhu pupils who will no doubt continue the good work initiated by him.
As for Rev Dhammasiri it could be said that here was a bhikkhu who devoted his life for the welfare of the many and the good of the many (Bahu jana hitaya, bahu jana sukhaya.)
Dr. P.G. Punchihewa

***

Appreciation
A.J. Canagaratna: A writer, teacher and thinker

A.J. Canagaratna, an intellectual of our time passed away, in Colombo on the October 11, 2006. AJ was conscious about his deteriorating health during his last 10 months and the completion of the concluding volume of the selected writings of Regi Siriwardena had been his raison d’etre. The first volume, which he edited from war torn Jaffna, was released during the early part of 2005.
To discharge an undertaking he gave to the management of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, to finalise the editing of the second volume within the time frame, he came to Colombo late last year. In Colombo he worked extremely hard and saw to it that the book was released prior to the middle of this year. To AJ the articles contained in these volumes were a treasure trove for the students of literature and politics. These selected writings are undoubtedly, a monument to Regi Siriwardena, a great scholar, with whom AJ associated for over a quarter of a century.
Alosious Jeyaraj (AJ) Canagaratna was born on of August 26, 1934. It’s ironic that AJ, a committed socialist, should be a descendent of Canagaratnam Mudaliyar – known locally as Cangaratna Muthaliyar – a gentleman who owned large tracts of farmland in Jaffna.
Son of a well-respected Jaffna lawyer, Walter Bernard Cangaratna, AJ lost his mother at the age of four. Walter Bernard Cangaratna, had a penchant for western classics and taught English and Latin at St Peter’s College, Colombo, prior to turning to law.
As a student at St Patrick’s College, Jaffna and St Joseph’s College, Colombo, AJ excelled in English literature and Latin. When he entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in 1954 he had only a smattering of Tamil. It was a friendship he cultivated with a fellow undergraduate, Kailasapathy (later Professor), who resided in the same hall of residence, which helped him to get acquainted with modern Tamil literature. In an article written two decades after Kailasapthy’s death, he referred to this great friendship that existed between them. In the same article he also stated it was Prof. Kailasapthy who suggested that he should develop a rapport with the members of the Progressive Writers Union.
On completion of his English (Hons) course, in 1958 he assumed duties as a member of the staff at St Patrick’s College, Jaffna. In 1961 AJ joined the Lake House, which then remained a Wijewardene family concern. Here he worked as a feature writer on the Daily News, a newspaper widely read by the upper and the middle-class English speaking public of Sri Lanka – then Ceylon. However, he didn’t find the new environment congenial, as he felt the management was telling him not only what to write but also how to write! To AJ the Lake House was just a ship that passed in the night. After leaving the Lake House he started teaching in the Eastern Province. However, in a matter of months, he reluctantly resigned from the teaching position after accepting an offer as editor of the Co-operator – a journal run by the northern cooperative movement. He also had an association with the Saturday Review, a newspaper published from Jaffna.
AJ realised the significance of acquainting Tamil youth, not proficient in English, with developments taking place in various fields. With this in mind he wrote a series of articles for a Tamil periodical on books covering a range of disciplines including Economics, Linguistics, Medicine, Political Science, Cinema, and Sociology which made a considerable impact in the West. In 1970 a book titled Maththu, containing a collection of these and several unpublished articles by AJ was released. Though AJ subscribed to Socialist ideology, the books he opted to introduce to the Tamil reader represented writers on all sides of the political spectrum.
In 1976 AJ joined the University of Jaffna as an English Instructor where he met Regi Siriwardena, a Visiting Lecturer. Regi, an intellectual par excellence, functioned as an activist for the LSSP during the period prior to independence. By the time AJ came to know Regi, he was a person without any party affiliations and worked as an academic. The newly forged friendship had a huge impact on AJ’s thinking and his writings. Therefore his writings, during the last three decades, should be looked at against this backdrop.
AJ took a keen interest in informing the Tamil reading public about various developments in the Marxist theory of literature. What made him engage in such an endeavour had been the dearth of material in Tamil on this discipline. To remedy this inadequacy, at least in a small way, he translated several articles and sections from books published in English into Tamil.
A collection of articles translated and compiled by AJ titled Marxiamum Ilakkiyamum: Sila Nokkugal ( Marxism and Literature : Some Perspectives ) was released by a reputed publisher in 1981. Among this collection is a chapter from Alan Swingewood’s book, The Novel and Revolution. The chapter written under the heading “Bureaucracy, Socialism and Literature” by Swingewood, touched on a range of developments that took place in the Soviet Russia following the 1917 revolution. Here Swingewood highlights debate within the Communist party as to whether art should pave the way for a ‘pure culture’ – a culture distanced from the bourgeois culture which dominated the pre-revolution era. In this chapter Swingewood refers to various arguments which helped to buttress theories like modernism, socialist realism and futurism. As a translator, AJ gave this multi-faceted work to the Tamil reader in a simple language, while remaining faithful to the original.
Mild mannered by nature he avoided confrontation. He never entertained the idea of being a card carrying member of any political party. As an independent person he felt his views had greater leverage. However, when the situation demanded he never failed to nail his colours to the mast. In this regard it is worth referring to the performance of ‘Sankaram’ - a Tamil play - and the ensuing debate where Dr. Shanmugaratnam was pitted against AJ. The Lanka Guardian provided a forum for this debate on upholding ‘the primacy of content over form’ – a debate keenly followed by a wider section of the theatre goers.
My association with AJ goes back to 1958, the period I attended St Patrick’s College, Jaffna. This was the year after completion of his special degree in English at Peradeniya, that he came to St Patrick’s Collge - his old school - as my class teacher. In an article, written to a journal released by the OBA, Sydney branch, six years ago, I described AJ, a teacher in the late fifties: “I remember him as a young teacher, with a stubble on his chin, bursting with energy, introducing us to some great literary works in an otherwise enervating climate. His outlandish clothes and outspoken views made him popular among his students. After a couple of years he took to Journalism, and following the establishment of the Jaffna University he joined the academic staff. Canagaratna, a versatile literary critic, continues to live in the war torn area and guides young writers, to whom he is a tower of strength.”
Though I have been away from Sri Lanka for a long period I maintained contact with him till his last days. I always found his letters very informative. Most of his inquires were about literary developments in Australia. In a letter I received a year back, he indicated his interest in obtaining a poetry book by the ‘unofficial’ Australian poet laureate, Les Murray. Needless to mention, a request I readily obliged. To me AJ was like the proverbial coconut palm which did quench the thirst of the person who nursed it, as well as the wider community.
Sri Bhagavadas