The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 4

Page 4 Sunday, September 21, 2014 The Nation
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K K S PERERA
W
alking down 22nd lane, Colpetty
on Friday 29, for Comrade Bala’s
funeral, was a walk-down memory
lane. It was after a ‘lapse’ of 34 years;
a lapse, I say, because I never cared to pay a visit
to the ‘
Mahagedara
’ and the great trade unionist,
BalaTampoe, ever since I left the General Council
of CMU in the late 1970s which coincided with my
resignation from the Multinational, Shaw Wallace
and Hedges Ltd. Among the large gathering of
mourners which appeared to constitute 90 percent
of current members and the balance former, there
was a handful of my generation’s as well; the then
seniors all gone! [
Mahagedara
, that’s how Bala
described the newly built Union Headquarters at
the house-warming ceremony on the day of its
opening in late 1970s].
The massive auditorium of the sprawling CMU
headquarters that he built by ‘taxing’ the 32,000
white collar mercantile employees, each ‘to the
tune of ’ only 48 rupees spread over a period of two
years, stood testimony to this man’s far-sighted
vision. As I entered the hall there were some ten
to fifteen well-dressed [to suit the occasion] very
professional looking crowd who were distributing
a beautifully printed booklet titled, ‘A LONG
DAY’S TASK’, with the legendary trade unionist’s
photo in front cover and a ‘bottom-line’ in small
print saying, Federation of University Teachers’
Association [FUTA].
While listening to the speeches by
representatives of other Trade Unions, I opened
the pages of FUTA’s booklet and commenced
reading the contributions in English and Sinhala.
At the end of the Sinhala one written by Dr Nirmal
Devasiri, explaining the rationality of accepting
the half million rupee cheque they received from
Bala Tampoe during FUTA’s 100-day strike, he
says, “I propose that the cheque is not just a money
grant, but more appropriately a transfer of the
‘Long Day’s Task’ he undertook for over seven
decades, now for the future generations to carry
forward”.
I wrote two highly critical letters during FUTA’s
100-day strike. One against FUTA’s acceptance of
the money, and the other for inviting opposition
politicians to join the walk from Galle to Hyde
Park, which appeared in the opinion pages of a
daily, on October 20th and 3rd, 2012; one under,
‘FUTA and Political Vultures’, where I wrote,
“You can quote innumerable instances of, when
two giants are drawn in to a gory scuffle, the birds
of prey will come and land near, waiting for the
carrion; rearing to gobble down the remains, even
before the victims die. They are called Vultures….
Instead of changing my perceptions, I surmise
that the main problem is the present salary
anomaly. The scales of junior level teachers need
urgent attention. I wonder why FUTA agitates for
a flat increase of 20%, without first addressing
immediate concerns and move ahead gradually?
However, the FUTA should beware of the hawk-
eyed vultures looking for prey”.
Then in the second letter, ‘Comrade Bala, CMU
and FUTA’, I said, “… instead of visiting him
for funds, (perhaps an unconvincing attempt to
counter the allegation of receiving NGO Dollars
made by the pro-government buffoons), after
carrying millionaire political opportunists on
their shoulders from Galle to Hyde park, the home
ground for seven decades of our quick-witted
national icon Bala; the ‘Dons’ should have sought
his advice and blessings prior to launching their
show. If they did, sure FUTA would have received
wise, trusted guidance and advice from the skeptic
man who possesses an ability to grasp difficult
situations with his brilliant skills. The somewhat
flimsy, 6% of the GDP, (just one among many
‘mistakes’ committed), could have been made on a
more rational launching pad…,”
I approached the dynamic academic, Dr
Devasiri, the Secretary of FUTA and introduced
myself as the author of two letters, which he
remembered. He used the opportunity to explain
that the money had not been spent and that they
wish to use it in a project in memory of the great
man. We had a very cordial chat, sharing our views
on ‘beyond Bala’, where he opined that the last in
the great generation had gone and expressed his
fears.
I would disagree with him though, …with men
like Nirmal Ranjith Devasiris around, there is
always a possibility of reviving the independent
Trade Union movement, perhaps they grasp
well the changing circumstances, shun politics
and adopt appropriately with dedication and
enthusiasm in an environment where there are no
Balas for guidance.
In a post script, the modest man admits copying
the title from Reggie Siriwardene’s drama by
the same name. Did Reggie borrowed it from
Shakespeare’s ‘
Antony and Cleopatra’
, where Mark
Antony in Act 4. Scene XIV says, “Unarm, Eros.
The long day’s task is done, and we must sleep.
That thou depart’st hence.
How FUTA paid
tribute to Bala
This is my Nation
F
iveyearsafter theendof theEelamWar, themajor
constituent party of the country’s principal
Tamil political grouping, the Illankai Tamil
Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) last week passed a resolution at
its annual convention in Vavuniya again calling for the
merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The move represents a significant shift in the
stance of the ITAK, the main partner of the Tamil
National Alliance (TNA) which is its political entity
in Parliament. Also, the leadership of the ITAK passed
to Mavai Senathirajah from R. Sampanthan, who will
remain as leader of the TNA.
Theconcept of merging the twoprovincesfirst gained
currency in the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 between the
then President J.R. Jayewardene and the Indian Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi when the two provinces were
merged temporarily, pending a referendum that was to
be held in the Eastern province.
Due to opposition in the South of the country and the
Eelam War, that referendum was never held. In 2006,
the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna filed applications in
the Supreme Court challenging the merger. They were
upheld by a bench headed by then Chief Justice Sarath
Silva, leading to a de-merger.
That the ITAK chose to resurrect this issue at this
stage is disappointing. It is aware that the concept of
the merger is anathema to the majority community.
It also knows that it has been rejected by the Supreme
Court, so its chances of becoming a reality are slim.
Why then is the ITAK demanding this?
Admittedly, there has been a sense of frustration
in Tamil political circles over what it perceives as the
government in Colombo dragging its feet during the
past five years over initiating political reforms that
could grant more autonomy to the provinces. However,
Colombo is solely not to blame.
Smarting from the defeat of the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Eelam War, the Tamil
Diaspora has now resorted to destabilizing Sri Lanka
using the ‘human rights’ card and is actively lobbying
western countries and the United Nations for this
purpose, with some success. This in turn has created
unease in Colombo. What it least wants at this juncture,
aftersuccessfullyendingawaragainstarguablythemost
ruthless terrorist group in the world for nearly thirty
years, is a resurgence of the Eelam campaign. It is the
ghost of Eelam that the Tamil Diaspora is resurrecting.
The role of the TNA and the ITAK in this has never
been one of passive participant. Instead it has chosen
to endorse, support and even actively participate in
this campaign, often giving it a veneer of credibility
and legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world. It is
doing so out of choice, not fear.
The ruling party in Colombo, the United Peoples’
FreedomAlliance (UPFA) is an eclecticmix. It has in its
ranks ex-Tamil militants such as Douglas Devananda,
Sinhala nationalists such as Champika Ranawaka,
Muslim representation in Rauff Hakeem and even
senior ministers from the Old Left.
It takes an astute politician to keep these diverse
political forces together and President Mahinda
Rajapaksa has proved equal to the task. Despite the
enormous-and often excessive-powers vested in him
by the Constitution, he must tread cautiously on the
disputed issue of devolution of power.
However, the President knows that to align himself
with any hint of Eelamism is to give himself the
political kiss of death. The United National Party
and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe entered into a
ceasefire with the LTTE in 2002 and, a dozen years later,
are still paying politically for that sin.
These are the political realities that President
Rajapaksa has to grapple with. Also, it is now almost
certainthatnational elections-presidential andgeneral-
will follow soon after the conclusion of the polls in the
Uva Province. It is not a time that the UPFA will try to
appease the ITAK and the TNA.
Of course, there have been lapses in Colombo. For
instance, it could have seized the opportunity when
C.V. Wigneswaran was elected as the Chief Minister in
the North and forged a better relationship with him. It
could have also adopted a more bipartisan approach to
the Parliamentary Select Committee.
Nevertheless, the ITAK and the TNA stand to gain
little by running to India with its grievances and
insisting on the 13th amendment to the Constitution
being enforced. It has also consistently refused to
engage in a dialogue withColombo, a factor which even
New Delhi has advised them against.
The year 2015 will be an election year. After the dust
settles on the polls, Colombo will no doubt attempt to
put the ethnic issue to bed. The political leadership
of the TNA and the ITAK must grab that opportunity
instead of pandering to the Eelamists, as it once did
with the LTTE.
Rain has ceased, but drizzle persists
‘Dons’ should have sought
his advice and blessings
prior to launching their
show. If they did, sure FUTA
would have received wise,
trusted guidance and advice
from the skeptic man who
possesses an ability to grasp
difficult situations with his
brilliant skills
Merger of North and East
Bala Tampoe
I
n his classic work of historical sociology, ‘The
long twentieth century,’ Giovanni Arrighi
uses the term ‘long century’ to connote eras of
domination, tracing the unfolding of capitalism
through the fortunes of Florence, Venice, Genoa, the
Dutch, English and finally the USA. The twentieth
century, the last of the 7 centuries long relationship
between capital accumulation and state formation,
belonged to the USA, there’s no argument there.
Today that at one time seemingly unstoppable
super power has been reduced to a third rate thug,
considering the fact that its strategy of domination
amounts to creating monsters which it then chances
to the ends of the earth in a classic pretext to conquer
territory, annex, control over resources and markets.
It’s ending, that’s the writing on the walls.
EnterAsia. You could call it ‘The long 21st Century’
if you like. Twenty years ago, there was talk of an
East Asian Miracle. Then there was a brief moment
when Japanwas No. 1. Howquickly, people observed,
the great expectations of one-country dominance
following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc evaporated.
Sure, there was the ‘Coalition of the Willing’, the
numerous occasions where the UN was arm-twisted
intosanctioning‘punitive’actionagainstthiscountry
or that, the gumption to re-name Winter as Spring in
theArabworld, and the openshameless complicity in
crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israel. But
Syria was not bulldozed and moves against Russia
appear half-hearted. Indeed come thatwinter, Europe
might be forced to eat humble pie if Russia offers the
‘tit’ of gas for the ‘tat’ of sanctions.
Asia, on the other hand, is surging ahead. Old
animosities have been replaced by a pragmatism
that recognizes the mutual benefits of cooperation.
A flurry of diplomatic activity across the continent
which included visits, discussions and agreement-
signing among the more powerful heads of state
have given rise to serious consideration of a
Commonwealth of Asia, an idea that had little or no
currency a few years ago.
So where does Sri Lanka stand in all these
developments and processes? The short answer is,
‘where it always was, strategically located in the
Indian Ocean.’ If, for argument’s sake, Sri Lanka was
located somewhere west of the Maldives and still
had the same ethnic composition, India would not be
trying to force its ‘solution’ downSri Lanka’spolitical
throat. That ‘issue’ is issue because it provides
leverage. The same goes for US machinations. The
same goes for Chinese ‘largesse’.
This advantage has to be exploited taking into
account the political and economic importance of
the Indian Ocean. Everyone would love to control
it and therefore everyone wants Sri Lanka to play a
game called ‘Stay with us but not anyone else’. This
is also why Sri Lanka would be ill advised to pick one
global (or regional) power over others for preferential
treatment. In the emerging ‘Long 21st Century’
with concerted efforts by many to stamp ‘Asia’ on
it, Sri Lanka has to play its strategic advantage to
perfection. While China, India, the USA, Russia or
anyone elsewould love to turnSri Lanka into a direct
or de facto ‘Protectorate’, in the event of failure Plan
Bwouldmost certainly be to ensure that ‘No one gets
Sri Lanka’. That’s the key to asserting independence
and political relevance.
The message is simple.
‘We will keep this part of the world safe for you.
Remember, though, that we will keep it safe for
everyone else as well. If we are forced to submission
by any country, it will destabilize the region. It is in
your interest to ensure this does not happen. The
only way you can ensure peace in the Indian Ocean
is to strengthen Sri Lanka on all counts. So, ladies
and gentlemen, take your pick. Who wants to help
us, build ports and who will take the ‘Airports’ card?
Who will train us in the field of military intelligence
and who will help us, set up facilities to research
nanotechnology? You can destabilize us, but that
would be a lose-lose scenario for everyone.’
A lot more can be added to this.
The balance has shifted to this part of the globe and
Russia is closer than the USA whichever direction
you look. That needs to be remembered too. That
century is about to begin if it hasn’t already. It is a
train that still can be boarded.
Sri Lanka in the
Asian Century
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