Travels with the Prime Minister – The Island – The Island.lk

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by Leelananda de Silva
From 1973 to 1977, I accompanied the Prime Minister, Mrs. Bandaranaike on many trips abroad. My task was to advice her on the economic issues. My first trip with her was to Algiers for the Fourth Non Aligned Summit, and that included visits to Rome and the Vatican. The next visit was to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kingston Jamaica in May 1975. On our way to Kingston we visited Baghdad and London and on our way back visited New York.
My other visit with her to the United Nations in New York was in September 1976, immediately after the Non Aligned conference in Colombo. These visits I have described in other chapters. I accompanied the prime Minister on official visits to Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Indonesia in January 1976 and to Malaysia, Philippines, and Japan in November 1976. Traveling with the Prime Minister is unlike traveling with any other minister. I got the opportunity to see and meet with heads of state and government, and the most senior officials in these countries and in the United Nations.
Many of these visits being state visits, we stayed in palatial residences. There was also the need to prepare press releases and communiques after these visits. The governments of most of these countries had arranged touristic visits to see their countries and this is the kind of opportunity you get only when traveling with a head of government. Accompanying the Prime Minister on these trips gave me the opportunity to observe diplomacy at the highest levels and also to meet with many foreign leaders.
I have described the visit to Algiers for the Fourth Non Aligned Summit elsewhere. Coming back from Algiers we visited Rome and the Vatican. The Prime Minister had two days in Rome without official tasks, and we had a very enjoyable time seeing the sights of Rome. John Rodrigo was the Sri Lanka ambassador in Rome. We went to see a place called the Boca Verita (the mouth of truth). What you do there is to put your hand into the mouth of a lion made of stone, and the mouth keeps closing and opening. If your hand gets caught, then you are supposed to be a liar. Mrs. Bandaranaike was amused by this and she called me from a long distance and asked me to put my hand in to check my reliability. Luckily for me, my hand was not caught. The Prime Minister had a great sense of humour.
We had a great reception from the local Sri Lankans in Rome. The Prime Minister’s official task was to meet the Pope, Paul the Sixth, and we accompanied her to Castlegondolfo, which is the summer residence of the Pope outside the Vatican. All of us met the Pope. The Prime minister had a meeting with the Pope alone and after that meeting, the other members of the delegation (I remember W.T Jayasinghe in particular) were invited to meet the Pope. I was able to have a few words with him and he gave me a rosary. Later when I came to Sri Lanka, I gave this rosary to Mother John, the head of St. Bridget’s who was a friend of our family. She was thrilled to get this rosary given by the Pope himself.
On our way back from Rome, we had a stop in Cairo and we were not expected to leave the aircraft. However, as it was a long wait, W.T and I got out of the aircraft and walked around to stretch our legs. The police arrested us, and what we did not know was that security was tight around the aircraft as the prime minister was on board. We had to spend a few minutes before being allowed to get back to the aircraft.
On the way to the Commonwealth Summit in Jamaica we made two stop-overs, first in Baghdad and next in London. The Baghdad visit was fascinating. Iraq was to host the sixth Non Aligned Summit in Baghdad in 1979, after the Colombo Summit, and the visit of Mrs. Bandaranaike was important from that point of view. Our host was the then Vice President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein who was the real ruler of Iraq. We stayed in Baghdad Palace, where the previous King of Iraq, King Feisal had been murdered. It was a sprawling place, and rather lonely.
We saw Saddam Hussein many times. There was one formal meeting with him and at that meeting, he asked Mrs. Bandaranaike about the Commonwealth Summit to which she was going. He was not familiar with this forum. Listening to him one got the impression that he was not anti- West but that he was anti- Kuwait as he felt that Kuwait really belonged to Iraq.
Saddam Hussein came to Baghdad palace, to accompany Mrs. Bandaranaike to the official meeting we had with him and his officials. I remember walking just behind him on the way to this meeting. The Prime Minister’s concern at that time was the price of oil, and Sri Lanka’s escalating oil bills. We had, at the level of officials broached the subject of concessionary oil purchases from Iraq, and the response had not been very positive.
At the meeting with Saddam Hussein, he informed the Prime minister that he would give 250 000, tons of crude oil on highly concessionary terms. This was an immense relief to the Prime Minister. After the meetings with Saddam the Iraqi government had arranged for the Prime Minister and her delegation to visit the old Babylonian cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. The great rivers, Tigris and the Euphrates met here and it was a beautiful sight. We saw the artifacts of the ancient Babylonian civilization.

From Baghdad we were to take a commercial flight to Kuwait and then join a British Airways flight to London. When we came to the airport, we found that Saddam Hussein had ordered a special helicopter to take us to Kuwait. Talking to senior officials at the airport, we found that there was great animosity towards Kuwait. It came as no surprise later when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq.
When we landed in Kuwait, the Prime Minister’s reception lacked warmth. The Kuwaitis were not inclined to look upon those who had visited Iraq with any great favour. The Prime Minister had to wait six hours at Kuwait airport for the flight to London and the Kuwaiti government did not provide any special facilities for her.
Our next stop was London and we spent three days there. The Prime Minister, her daughter Sunethra, and I stayed at the high commissioner’s residence. Tilak Gunarathne was the high commissioner. It was a bit embarrassing, as Tilak had not been included as part of the delegation to the Commonwealth Summit in Kingston. This was strange as Tilak was Sri Lanka’s representative to the Commonwealth Secretariat and was responsible for Commonwealth affairs in London. Whatever it was, the PM did not want him on the delegation.
When we left London on a British Airways flight, there were two other heads of government on the same flight- Seretse Khama of Botswana, and Dom Mintoff of Malta. We had an extended chat standing by the aircraft on the tarmac. For me, Seretse Khania brought memories of an infamous colonial episode where he was deposed by the British government as its traditional ruler as he had married a British woman. Mrs. Ruth Khama was also there with him on his way to Kingston. My experiences at the Commonwealth Summit itself are described in a separate chapter.
Immediately after the Non Aligned Summit in Colombo, the Prime Minister visited New York to address the UN General Assembly Sessions in September 1976. I was part of her delegation. This was a triumphant visit for the Prime Minister. She had a great reception at the UN General Assembly. Henry Kissinger, the US secretary of State met with her to convey their appreciation of her role at the Summit and ensuring that it was a truly non-aligned occasion. This attitude of the Prime Minister, led to a major improvement in the relations between Sri Lanka and the United States.
Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General hosted a reception for the Prime Minister as the Chairman of the Non Aligned Summit. Prior to this reception, Gamani Corea who was then Secretary General of UNCTAD told me that Waldheim was not forthcoming about the extension of his term as Secretary General for another three years (His first term of three years was coming to an end). He had spoken to the Prime Minister about it and he wanted me to remind her when she was meeting Waldheim at the reception. I mentioned this to the Prime Minister while she was with Waldheim (on this type of occasion, I spoke to her in Sinhalese) and the Prime Minister then mentioned to Waldheim that she was concerned about Gamani Corea’s extension. Waldheim said that there should be no problem about it.
Before and after the Non Aligned Summit, the Prime Minister had invitations to visit many countries. She had to select from among them and she gave preference to countries in the Asian region. I accompanied her on these bilateral visits in January and November 1976 (Dharmasiri Peiris, in his memoir, The Pursuit of Governance, written a few years back, has described these visits with the Prime Minister, in some detail).When we visited Thailand, the King was in Chiang Mai, and the government had arranged for us to fly to that city by special plane from Bangkok. We were accompanied by Kukrit Pramoj, the then Prime Minister of Thailand and we were able to have a long chat with this aristocratic, scholarly man. The Prime Minister had a meeting with the King.
The Prime Minister and her delegation had an exciting visit to Burma. General Ne Win was the military ruler of Burma, ruling the country with an iron hand. The Burmese government were very warm hosts. We had two meetings with Ne Win, and he gave us a grand open air reception somewhere near Pagan in North Burma, and by the Irrawady River. It was a gorgeous occasion with Burmese music and a relaxed atmosphere.
We were taken to see Lake Inle, a beautiful and remote place, before it became a tourist attraction. The Prime Minister was entertained to a boating competition in the middle of the lake, where she and the delegation were accommodated in a bamboo built circuit bungalow. The boats were paddled by women with their feet. We went to a remote Buddhist temple at the end of the lake.Mrs. Bandaranaike was anxious to meet Madame Aung Sang, the wife of the Burmese independence hero and the mother of Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Mrs. Bandaranaike had known her before. The government was not anxious to arrange this visit, but at the insistence of Mrs. Bandaranaike, we visited Madame Aung Sang at her house by the lake and had afternoon tea. This house is where Aung Sang Suu Kyi now lives.
At the end of the visit to Myanmar, we had to draft a joint communique. We had included in our draft a reference to the famous UN resolution 242 regarding the Arab-Israel dispute. The Burmese officials did not want to have any reference to this question and wished it to be deleted which we did. Burma is the one Asian country which always had cordial relations with Israel.
The visit to Indonesia was a low key affair. We met with President Suharto, and with the foreign minister at the time, Adam Malik. Malik accompanied the Prime Minister on our travels within the country and we had a special aircraft laid for us. We went to see Borobudur, the old Buddhist temple, which is one of the largest in Asia. In Jogjakarta, we stayed with the Sultan in his palace, and that night there was a fantastic spectacle in the form of a monkey dance. I remember the Indonesian chief of protocol (I forget his name now) and his delightful wife who accompanied the Prime Minister and we were rather friendly with them. He was to die in an air crash a few months later.
It was on this trip to Indonesia that I met Tissa and Manel Ratnatunga, whom I had known before. Tissa Ratanatunga had been the Settlement Officer in Sri Lanka and I had worked with him on the land ceilings committee. Tissa was now working for the United Nations in Indonesia. I kept up my friendship with them. Manel is now an important literary figure in Sri Lanka and she wrote a superb work of historical fiction based on Indonesian history, apart from other books.
Her book on Syria, which she wrote in the 1960s, when Tissa was working for the UN is one of the very few written by a UN expert or a spouse on the country in which they served. Manel and Tissa’s son, Sinha Ratnatunga is the Editor-in Chief of the Sunday Times. Manel is a direct descendant of Anagarika Dharmapala.
In Manila, the Prime Minister received a rousing welcome, with cheering crowds lining in the streets. We were the guests of President Ferdinand Marcos, and his first lady, Imelda Marcos. They were gracious hosts. We stayed at the Malacannang Palace, a very comfortable place. There were some official talks and they revolved mainly around the non aligned movement. Philippines was not a member of the NAM and was very anxious to be allowed to join in. It has been barred as there were American bases in the Philippines. Mrs. Bandaranaike was sympathetic to the admission of the Philippines.
I must relate a little story of the Prime Minister’s arrival at the airport in Manila. We came in a Philippines airline aircraft, and the Prime Minister was traveling economy class, as was her policy to cut down on costs. When the plane stopped on the tarmac, the guard of honour was drawn outside the first class exit of the plane. The Prime minister came out of the economy class entrance and she had to walk a little distance on the tarmac to be greeted by the guard of honour. All this was watched by a large crowd which included many Sri Lankans, some of whom were not pleased with what happened. I had to explain to them that the Prime Minister’s view was that there was no need to live beyond our means. She had a thrifty housewife’s view of public money.
The President and Imelda Marcos had organized a one day tour for the Prime Minister and her delegation. We went in the presidential yacht to a place called Bataan, accompanied by the President and his wife. Bataan was a place which saw some of the most bitter fighting between the Japanese and Americans during the Second World War. Marcos had fought there as a young lieutenant. He had built a museum there and a circuit bungalow and there were films about the fighting.
On the presidential yacht, there was much merry making and dancing during our four hour trip. We saw the President and some of his cabinet in a carefree mood that day. While in Bataan, President Marcos took the Prime Minister to the circuit bungalow and at one point, all the members of the delegation and others had gone out to see the museum, and only the President and the Prime Minister remained. I happened to be there and Mrs. Bandaranaike loudly told me in Sinhalese not to go, and remain with her.There was another interesting incident when we returned to Manila. The Prime Minister had to host a reception for the President and his lady prior to her return. The Sri Lankan charge’d’ affaires, Oliver Perera, a businessman, had arranged a venue for the reception. When the Prime Minister went for the reception, she was appalled, as the hotel was not very impressive and was located in a seedy quarter of Manila. The Prime Minister asked Oliver Perera as to why this was done. He told the Prime Minister that the first couple were highly pleased with this venue, as the hotel was owned by Imelda Marcos. So this was giving some business to them.
Japan does not invite too many foreign leaders, and the Prime Minister was one of the few. The Prime Minister of Japan was Takeo Miki, and he was the Prime Minister’s host. We had two meetings with him and they were very cordial. Emperor Hirohito hosted a lunch for the Prime Minister and her delegation, and the members of the Royal family including the Queen, the Crown Prince and Princess were there.It was exciting meeting the Emperor, who had been vilified during the war. He was very charming, speaking in halting English. At lunch, I was seated next to the crown princess. It was a very small group which sat for lunch. Apart from Dharmasisri Peiris, Arthur Basnayake, who was a member of the delegation and Bernard Tilakaratne, ours ambassador in Japan, were there.
The Prime Minister had to make a speech at the reception given to her by Prime Minister Takeo Miki. Arthur Basnayake and I prepared this speech. We made a reference to Sri Lanka’s close friendship with Japan and the role that J.R. Jayewardene had played at San Francisco in 1950 when the Japanese peace treaty was signed. Sri Lanka had waived any kind of reparations from Japan for war damage, an unusually generous offer to a Japan who was in the doldrums.
Japan never forgot this and J.R was a hero in Japan. One member of the Sri Lankan delegation was not happy with the reference to J.R. We showed the draft to the Prime Minister and she had no objection to what we had included into her draft speech. This was a very gracious act on the part of the Prime Minister, as J.R was then the leader of the opposition.The Japanese government had laid out some fantastic trips outside Tokyo. We went by bullet train to Nara and Kyoto and visited the Mikimoto pearl museum. I might mention here that on the way back from Tokyo, we had a ten hour stay in Hong Kong, and it was a surprise when the colonial governor of Hong Kong offered the palatial bungalow of the chief secretary of the colony for Mrs. Bandaranaike’s use during the stopover.
(Excerpted from Leelananda de Silva’s autobiography, The Long Littleness of Life)




TUMULT, TEAR-GAS AND TOURISM
“When I was born we were in the Third Word and we’re still there as I’m ready to die”

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By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
[email protected]

… Continuing from last week’s column: ‘Judo Fighting in India’.

When I travelled to India as a member of the National Judo Team of Sri Lanka in 1982, I enjoyed different experiences of train travel and fun interactions in Madras, Sonipat, Ghaziabad and Delhi. After the main tournament in Ghaziabad, the 10-member first-ever national Judo team of Sri Lanka, assumed that the fighting portion of the trip was over. We were happily planning to spend a few days sightseeing in Delhi and its suburbs before returning home.
Brief Connections with Taj and Oberoi
In 1982, the largest hotel in Sri Lanka was managed by an Indian company – Oberoi. Taj hotels owned by India’s largest conglomerate – Tata Group, was building a five-star hotel in Colombo. After the Judo tournament in Ghaziabad, I planned to visit the famous Taj Palace Hotel and The Oberoi in New Delhi, as well as the Oberoi School of Hotel Management. Unfortunately, due to a last-minute change in the team’s travel plans, I did not get an opportunity to see these Iconic hotels managed by the two best-known Indian hotel companies.
In later years, I worked for both of these Indian hotel companies. From 1983 to 1985, I worked part-time at two Taj properties in London – Baily’s Hotel and Bombay Brasserie, which was ranked as the best Indian restaurant in the UK when it was opened in 1982. It paved the way for Indian and Bombay cuisine in London.
In 1989, I was recruited for the post of Food & Beverage Manager of the Hotel Babylon Oberoi in Iraq. In that position, I did my second trip to India. I managed 10 food and beverage outlets in the heart of Baghdad. My team of Indian managers and chefs also opened and operated an Indian restaurant. Most of my team of restaurant managers were graduates of the Oberoi School of Hotel Management. My experiences in India during the Judo trip in 1982, provided me with a good understanding of the Indian culture, which was beneficial to me when I worked for Taj and Oberoi.
Additional Fights and Fun in Hyderabad
Soon after the tournament in Ghaziabad, the Judo Association of Hyderabad invited us to a special Judo meet in their regional, army headquarters. When our team manager asked, “How many hours will it take for us to travel from Delhi to Hyderabad?”, the Indian judoka who was initiating the additional meet said, “It is very close… only 26 hours, by train!”. After a quick chat among our team, we decided to accept the invitation to go to Hyderabad to compete and explore.
We were disappointed to hear from an angry looking railway cashier at a train station in Delhi that the next train to Hyderabad was full. Our new Indian friend from Hyderabad told Upali, “No problem. Let me speak with this angry cashier and resolve this issue, amicably.” After a brief chat he had with the cashier, he returned with 11 train tickets with confirmed seat numbers. We were surprised and happy. “How did you do it? Upali asked. “Just a small bribe of 15 rupees, only!” our friend said. When we were getting into our compartment in the train, that cashier, now with a big smile said, “Enjoy your trip!”

The train ride was in many aspects similar to our previous marathon train ride of 52 hours from Madras to New Delhi. We passed some beautiful, lush mountainous locations, in between mostly hot and dry areas. Hyderabad is a unique city. It is the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Telangana, as well as, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. It occupies a large area on the Deccan Plateau along the banks of the Musi River, in the upper part of South India.
Much of Hyderabad is situated on hilly terrain around artificial lakes. Hyderabad is the sixth most populous city in India. In 1982 it had a population of over three million (in 2022 grown to over ten million). We were accommodated in an army camp in Hyderabad. They organized a good Judo meet. Due to injuries, our team manager, Upali Sahabandu decided to compete in the team category. He fought hard in a prolong bout, and our hosts were impressed. During the awards ceremony Upali was given a special award for his fighting spirit! We all lined up to receive our medals, which followed with a ceremony of tea service with excellent team from nearby estates.
We also loved the food in Hyderabad. From the time Hyderabad was conquered by the Mughals in the 1630s, Mughlai culinary traditions blended with the local traditions to create a unique Hyderabadi cuisine. This included Biriyani dishes highly popular in Sri Lanka. The day after the Judo meet, when we went on a sightseeing tour, we took part in another type of ceremony. It was a saree buying ceremony in the city. Some members of our team wanted to buy sarees for their mothers, sisters, and wives. While Upali and a few in the team showed some expertise about sarees, most of us were bored with shopping.
Tiruchirappalli, our last stop in India
After another long (over 21 hour) train ride we reached our last station – Tiruchirappalli (also called Trichy), which is an ancient city in India’s southern Tamil Nadu State. It was a relatively smaller city with a population of 600,000 in 1982 (doubled by the year 2022). It is known for the sacred Hindu sites, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple with intricately carved gopurams (towering gateways) and the Jambukeswarar-Akilandeswari Temple, dedicated to the God Shiva.
In Trichy, we visited a few historic sites. The most impressive was Tiruchirappalli Rockfort, which towers over the city centre. It is a historic fortification and temple complex built on an ancient rock. The name ‘Rockfort’ comes from frequent, military fortification built there over the centuries by the Indian kings, and later by the British Colonisers. The oldest structure in the fort is an ancient cave temple.
After a quick flight from Trichy to Colombo, we arrived at the Katunayake International Airport to receive a hero’s welcome with garlands. As the first-ever tournament tour in another country by the national Judo team of Sri Lanka, those two weeks in 1982, that we spent in India, were truly memorable.
Members of the first National Judo Team, 40 years later
Recently, I checked where they are now and was saddened to discover that three members of Sri Lanka national Judo team in 1982 have passed away. I am happy to note that four of the team are still very much active in the sport of Judo. Four of the team also served the Sri Lanka Judo Association as the President.
= Upali Sahabandu (Team Manager) – 5th Dan Black Belt. Passed away during active service as a Deputy Inspector General of Sri Lanka Police.
= Kithsiri De Zoysa (Captain) – Now a 4th Dan Black Belt. President of the Jujitsu Federation Lanka. A leading referee for different martial art sports.
= Raja Fernando – Now a 6th Dan Red and White Belt, and the highest-ranking Sri Lankan Judoka. Instructs Judo in Sweden.
= Hemakumar Jinadasa – Now a 5th Dan Black Belt, and the highest-ranking Judoka in Sri Lanka. Instructs Judo at Colombo YMCA and many other Judo clubs.
= W. K. Godwin – Now a 4th Dan Black Belt. Retired an Assistant Superintendent of Police, but continues as the Head Judo Coach of the Sri Lanka Police Force.
= Gamini Nanayakkara – 5th Dan Black Belt. Passed away during active service as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Sri Lankan Army.
= Gamini Rupasinghe – Now a 3rd Dan Black Belt. Lives in Australia.
= K. Navarathnam – Now a 3rd Dan Black Belt.
= D. H. Ranjith – Now a 2nd Dan Black Belt.
= M. F. M. Izamudeen – Now a 2nd Dan Black Belt.
= T. B. Koswatte – 1st Dan Black Belt. Passed away.
= Chandana Jayawardena – Retired from Judo in 1983 as a 1st Kyu Brown Belt, to focus on his global career in hospitality.

More Success on the Judo Mat
When I returned to Sri Lanka, I focused on passing Judo grade tests. Usually, Judokas faced one promotion test at a time. In my case, as I had a long lapse of ten years since the last grade promotion test, I was allowed to face three grading tests on one day in 1983. Having represented Sri Lanka was an advantage. I was awarded the brown belt first Kyu. Based on the syllabus prepared by Kodokan in Japan, a first kyu Judoka should have mastered 45 different aspects such as hand throws, hip throws, foot throws, holds, locks and chokes. The most difficult part was to remember Japanese terms for all 45 items (covered in five grade promotion tests).
My aim after that was to face the grading test for first dan black belt, as soon as possible. Due to my moving to the UK in 1983, for graduate studies in international hotel management, I placed that goal on a back burner. Unfortunately, I failed to find time to face anymore Judo grading tests. In the late 1980, when I worked in Colombo for three years as the Director of Food & Beverage of a five-star Le Meridien hotel, I was able to find time only for an occasional practice session at the Colombo YMCA.
My Final Judo Fight in 1993
One of the songs I wrote in 1993 with an Indian Bangaram tune – ‘Fitness Fever’ became very popular. I was able to arrange twenty top western musicians of Sri Lanka to sing this song. It topped The Island pop charts for three weeks. Encouraged with the success of the song, I decided to direct a music video for it, which was filmed at the Ramada Renaissance hotel in Colombo. I included a Judo fighting scene in this video. I was one of the fighters for several takes of the Judo fighting scene. That was my last Judo fight.
I didn’t have any more Judo fights after that. However, I practised Karate for a short period of time in the mid-1990s in Jamaica. My aim then was to motivate my elder son, Marlon, who commenced Karate when he was ten years old. I was so proud of Marlon when he earned his Karate Black Belt in Sri Lanka when he was only 15 years old.
A Tribute to the Pioneers of Judo in Ceylon/Sri Lanka
To conclude my series of three articles on Judo, I wish to pay tribute to a few pioneers of Judo, a sport that was introduced to Ceylon around 1953. A well-known Ceylonese palaeontologist, zoologist, educator and artist, Paulus Edward Pieris Deraniyagala became the founding President of the Amateur Judo Association of Ceylon in 1953. He held that position for 19 years. Having studied in three of the best universities in the world (Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard) he became the Director of the National Museum of Ceylon. He was passionate about Judo.
Until the mid-1960s, there was no formal grading system for Judo in Ceylon. When I commenced Judo in 1970, in addition to P. E. P. Deraniyagala, there were three other leaders of the sport in Ceylon. They were, Lincoln Wijesinghe – the first Ceylonese to earn a Judo Black belt from Kodokan in Japan, Master Malcolm Atapattu – YMCA Judo Instructor and Master M. N. Tennakoon – YMBA Judo Instructor. Due to their commitment for Judo and hard work, Kodokan in Japan, chose Ceylon as a destination with a good potential for the sport.

These pioneers, with the help from young Judokas such as Peter Dharmaratne, Nihal Gooneratne and Asoka Jayawardana, developed strategies in promoting Judo in schools and carnivals. Japanese Judo teachers who were stationed in Sri Lanka – Sensei Yoda and Sensei Sato, helped by setting a high standard for Judo in Sri Lanka.Leadership of the Amateur Judo Association of Ceylon (re-named as the Sri Lanka Judo Association in 1974) during the first 50+ years was provided by nine Judokas with diverse backgrounds, including a zoologist, a chief justice, two senior police officers, a senior army officer and a hotelier.
I was fortunate to be included as a member of the national Judo team of Sri Lanka in 1982. At that time, there were only about 150 Judokas in the country belonging to just eight Judo clubs. Those clubs were, Colombo YMBA, Colombo YMCA, Dehiwela YMBA, Dehiwela YMCA Gampola Judo Club, Army, Navy and Police. In that context, the growth of Judo in Sri Lanka during the last four decades has been phenomenal.

Today there are around 15,000 Judokas (one third of this in the Army) in around 70 Judo clubs in Sri Lanka. Today, there are around 300 Kodokan black belts and another 70 locally graded, black belts in Sri Lanka. Growth by 100 times within 40 years, is indeed a great success story for any sport. I am proud of my former Judo colleagues, for their amazing commitment and their love for this sport. Well done!
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by Kumar David
Thus, we may all “Chortle in our joy” on July 13 or 20 if everything goes as promised. The first step in the Sri Lankan Colour Revolution seems to have inched forward like a golden dream but I will remain on guard till both Gotabaya (GR) and Wickremesinghe (RW) have been seen off. The worst tricks are not beyond the former, the latter is untrustworthy and hungry for the presidency. If all goes well after July 20 new phases open but there are still no guarantees. The Arab Spring was followed by the Cairo Winter because an intransigent Muslim Brotherhood attempted to impose Islam on the whole nation.
There are four stages into which the social-political-economic catastrophe can be factored. An Emergency Room (ER) period followed by a very short-term VST phase of about a month, thereafter a short-term (ST) phase up to elections and thereafter a medium five to ten-year (MT) recovery period. In any case ST and MT are about whistling in the dark if we get through ER and VST. I have emphasised many times in my column that unless the fuel crisis is resolved quickly there will be havoc. The country is already in virtual lockdown and violence will erupt first at petrol stations and then everywhere as strikes, boycotts and mass opposition grows. Other media commentators, probably due limited technical savvy did not get the point for a long time but are now waking up; fuel is the lifeblood of a modern economy – transport, production, jobs, education, exports, electricity – without it life and the economy grind to a halt.
What RW and his imbeciles ignored was that without fuel social and economic life is paralysed, a virtual lockdown. He was and is angling to hang on for another year or more, that was his game all along. The anger in the petrol queues has reached boiling point, civilians and the military clash, police officers are alleged to fill up their tanks and sell on the side, hundreds of thousands of three-wheeler chaps are in black-market business. If 200,000 metric tons (MT) of fuel do not arrive within a week there will be civil commotion. People already ask “What’s the point of our revolution? Nothing has changed”.
Assuming that we get past ER (that is up to about now, and fuel arrives before rioting breaks out), the next say month leading to formation of some form of all-party government and the finalisation of the IMF protocol is the VST or very short-term phase. The statement made by the visiting IMF team was significant and unprecedented. It remarked that overcoming corruption was basic. Everybody knows what that means; GR must go! It is not that he is the most corrupt of the Clan, that dishonour goes to BR, MR and Namal R, it is that his presence as head of state sets markers which make it impossible to root out the extreme dishonesty that has made Lankas’s body septic. It is being said that when Gota goes the IMF and other lenders will feel reassured about corruption and short-term foreign funding may be made available; good if this expectation comes true.
Ranil (RW) being pushed out should be a matter of little relevance. He has served his purpose in conducting the initial rounds of negotiations with the IMF visiting teams (thank you) and is now dispensable. He was never the font and source of state-power, Gota was. GR was needed by and therefore supported by the government parliamentary group members to retain their perks and privileges. Public support for this most hated of all Sri Lankan regimes (President, parliamentary group and PM) stands at about 15% according to polling agencies. The back scratching of the two principal actors, their body language and public perception was that this was not a Gota-led Ranil administered game, it had evolved into a Gotabaya-Wickremesinghe regime. The people were right therefore in advancing their ‘Gota Go!’ demand to the next stage of a ‘Gota and Ranil both Go!’ Ranil is a low life-form and clings to a Prime Ministership, that he has done nothing to earn, in the hope that he may be able to wangle his way to the presidency. He must be forced out as soon as possible. I hope at least 113 MPs have already written to the Speaker stating that they have no confidence in him and that he is no longer PM, meaning he has suffered a de fact vote of no-confidence.
It is unsafe to allow Ranil to be President even for a day; it must be prevented even if rules have to be bent. He could have resigned and ended the uncertainty but that he did not is ominous. It must be deemed that President and PM perished simultaneously in an earthquake and now Parliament in consultation with party leaders must make simultaneous appointments. Such a turn was unforeseen in the constitution and the response has to be equally bold and unconventional. This is what the people demand unanimously and the courts will have no choice but to go along.
Gota-Ranil are finished and a caretaker government to plan an election comes next after a 30-day period when the Speaker functions as temporary president (unless Ranil’s’ shenanigans bear fruit). But there will still be skirmishes. Resurgence of Aragalaya, trade union agitation, joint opposition marches and mobilisation, rejection of the treacherous 22A Constitutional Amendment, student revolts and confrontation with the security establishment are potential flash points. Right now (mid-July) is the starting period of new turmoil since the interim government has no clue how to address the fuel shortage.
The opposition, or joint opposition of the pre-election phase will have little more to offer the pending IMF protocol which will impose significant belt tightening, fiscal drip line and a tough debt restructuring regimen. The opposition can demurr but has no option but swallow some of it. A continuing deficit-budget is madness, printing money will drive inflation to hyperinflation, declining production will reduce exports. A dual currency system is on its way since imports can no longer be financed by diving ever deeper into the hell-hole of dollar debts. These realities will confront any government (all-party, multi-party, or mad hatter’s tea-party) which has the misfortune to take office from now till the election. Having given thought to all possibilities I am of view that the JVP should participate in this all-party government with the SJB, TNA, SLFP, the nine-party gang and a rump of pro-SLPP MPs, to run the show till elections.
This brings us to the prospects facing the next elected government. I concede that this line of thought makes two assumptions. It assumes that the turmoil I spoke of two paras ago does not end in social instability, chaos and anarchy. If that were to occur all bets are off the table. The second assumption is that a deal can be struck between actors in government and opposition to pass a resolution by simple majority calling for dissolution of parliament and fresh elections. If parliament is to be dissolved within
two and a half years of August 2020, this is the only way it can be done legitimately. Both assumptions are fraught. If the first is falsified it’s a bloody mess, if the second assumption is falsified the next president marches on till mid-2025. If both these dangers are averted then we have to consider the five-year programme of the next elected government. You have your draft programme and I have mine. Sajith, Anura Kumara and the SLPP each have their own. I wish to put down mine.
I believe that medium- and long-term economic strategies for Sri Lanka should be double track: (a) a strong state-led interventionist strategy, and (b) market forces to guide effective and efficient decision making in investment and production and to encourage entrepreneurship. Sound contradictory? No! Let me explain with the leading example we are familiar with, best summarised in the most interesting book that I have read this year: “The Other Side of Globalisation” by SR (a.k.a. Sriyan) de Silva published by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon.
The portion of the book that I am making use of is a discussion of the much-publicised East Asian Economic Miracle. The countries in this group are Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. Japan the leading ‘goose’ flew away much ahead. The point is that East Asia did NOT follow the then-IMF neo-liberal prescription (the IMF is better now). These countries did not exclude the state from economic policy, quite the contrary the state played a key role in picking winners and losers and in choosing emergent sectors and industries. The state did not leave it to market forces to set the menu initially; only gradually was a freer role opened to the market. The approach was a grand success. An opposite example is the ghastly failure of Yeltsin’s Russia where powerful Western business interests, the US Government and Treasury and neo-con and neo-liberal intellectuals made all the crucial decisions ending in the corrupt, oligarchic power structure that runs Russia today.
I take pause to distinguish between neo-conservative (neo-con) and neo-liberal. Neo-con is a political ideology of global American leadership, it seeks to remould the world in an American image, believes in the primacy of American military power and is aggressively anti-communist (Soviet Bloc) and now devoted to containing China. Although East Asia rejected the then-IMF neo-liberal economic strategy it did line up with an American-led political ideology. The purpose of this digression is to strengthen my case for a strong state-led economic growth strategy side by side with market rationality. This dichotomous approach is indeed possible; it worked splendidly in East Asia, loyalty to American political leadership notwithstanding.
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by Anura Gunasekera
I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused- Graham Greene in the Quiet American.Surveying the wreckage of the nation in the moment of the departure of its President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the above simple sentence is seen as a fitting epitaph for the most disastrous custodianship of this country. It would be equally fitting if the words are inscribed one day on his tombstone, wherever that may lie.
Sri Lanka today is a country in which nothing of importance functions normally; public and private transport are, literally, at a standstill; schools are closed; offices, banks, hotels, eating houses – from the top end to the bottom – shops large and small, have become dysfunctional along with many major government hospitals. Life-saving drugs are off the market and what is available is so expensive that they are out of the reach of the average earner. The majority of single entrepreneurs who, together, probably contribute as much or more to the national economy than all the large corporates, have been bankrupted. There is both the scarcity and ungovernable price increase of staple food items. The daily wage-income earner has become indigent. Farmers are unable to cultivate their land and fishermen are unable to go to sea. Export production is declining daily and the Gross Domestic Product is shrinking visibly.
In total, the above was a tragedy waiting to occur but, unarguably, Gotabaya, with his irrationality, obduracy, ignorance of the ways of governance and an inborn witlessness, catalyzed a gradual process and caused the sudden implosion of both the society and economy. Sri Lanka today is a totally failed state, hopelessly indebted to both friendly and unfriendly lenders and in the grip of anarchy. Systems have failed and the mobs rule. Political analysts and other pundits may clothe the situation in romantically attractive analogies – the storming of the Bastille, the French student uprising of 1968, the more recent Arab Spring and other such events elsewhere – but the reality is that there is a total systems breakdown, and the erosion of legitimate rule. It is close to becoming terminally ungovernable unless the lawmakers, immediately, within the next few hours, formulate strategies for systems and governance correction.
GR, when the end seemed nigh, got for himself a short-lived, temporary reprieve by appointing RW as prime minister. Welcomed by some as the redeemer, from the time of his appointment he has done little more than make a series of predictions, each more dire than the other. The irony of a man, rejected by electors, being reincarnated as the saviour of the nation in its darkest hour, is also a reflection of the desperation of Sri Lanka, and the inability, or reluctance, of our parliamentarians, to set aside parochial and individual interests and, instead, to arrive at a consensus based on national need.
At a time when the country had come to a standstill, with millions baying for his blood, GR decided to appear in Parliament. The outcome was that for the first time in history, a leader of our country was drummed out of the House to the accompaniment of hoots and jeers from a combined opposition. Minutes before his precipitate departure he was seen, quite relaxed and exchanging pleasantries with his PM, despite the agony of the citizens on the streets outside. Not long after the PM’s personal residence was torched by protesters. Later he made a televised statement, informing the nation of the damage to his only residence, the destruction of statuary, artifacts, paintings and books, all of great personal and intrinsic value.
As the owner of a library, accumulated lovingly over six decades, I can empathize, unreservedly, with his sense of loss. There can be no condoning of violence and arson, though they are inevitable features of civic unrest the world over. But, regrettably, the insensitivity of the man is such that he does not understand that he was projecting the image of a rich, entitled man, bemoaning the loss of expensive personal belongings, before a nation which has lost all hope and in full view of citizens who have been deprived of both the means and the right to live, by an incompetent, corrupt regime. When a dozen people die in fuel queues, a pregnant mother gives birth after waiting in line for days for a passport, and parents are unable to feed hungry children, a rich man’s loss of personal goods does not warrant a public lament; it is especially imprudent when the man concerned is a much disliked and repeatedly-rejected politician.
The protesters- “Aragalists” in general- are gearing up for what seems to be the final phase of the struggle, their unchanged aim being a complete dismantling of the existing system and the creation of a new, utopian model of governance. Not being a historian I am open to correction but, as far as I am aware, there is no such parallel in recent history which has also stood the test of time. Finally, though they claim to be non-political, in a struggle for control of a society or a nation, there is no such creature as a non-political movement. Any crusade which aims to change the socio-political environment will not succeed without a clear political thrust.
Another question which asks itself is whether the “Aragalaya” has a defined leadership, with whom elected political leaders can engage in meaningful discussion, in order to obtain greater clarity regarding their objectives and, where possible and practical, the integration of such objectives in to future governance. Whilst several political parties have expressed solidarity with the movement, and the more radical claim to represent its interests, it is clear that they do not control its actions. If such parties do insist on their championship of the protest, they must also accept joint responsibility for all the acts of destruction of both public and private property committed by the protestors.

Despite the disorder and disruption that the “Aragalaya” and its sister movements have created, it has stopped a fascist regime in its tracks, and relieved the country of leaders who have not only outlived their usefulness, but also become despised for a variety of reasons. To that extent the “Aragalaya” has achieved a historically significant objective. It is a movement of young men and women who have literally put their lives at risk, and possibly lost regular livelihoods in the process as well, in articulating and giving life to a nation-wide wish. They have liberated a new cultural and political consciousness, for the present invested with morality, inclusiveness and a great honesty of purpose; and long may that last.
As this is being written there is confirmation of GR’s flight from the country and of Ranil Wickremesinghe being sworn in as Acting President, accompanied by television footage of total mayhem in many locations in Colombo; Rupavahini, the State TV channel, has been taken over by protesters and broadcasts have ceased, whilst the defences around the Prime Minister’s office are about to be breached by thousands of protesters. Emergency has been declared and a curfew imposed in the western province. It is a convulsion of a nation in its death throes.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, despite the total illegitimacy of his position as Prime Minister and the country-wide demand for his resignation, has gone one step further and accepted the position of Acting President. With Gota gone he has provided the protest movement with a single focal point for renewed struggle and intensified protest. It is a constitutionally valid step for RW but what is the validity of an action which clearly flies in face of the need and call of the citizen? Does the constitution supersede the cry of the citizens? Given the nature and intensity of the island-wide agitation, which commenced with the farmers’ protest against the inorganic fertilizer ban, thereafter developing in to the “Galle Face Aragalaya” and its subsequent expansion, no formal referendum is necessary to gauge public opinion as to its preferences for government. Leaving aside constitutional and legal arguments as to what is possible – or not possible – within the constitution, what is the validity of a constitution which can override the irresistible wish, and the wrath, of the people? What is happening in Parliament is no longer relevant to the tragic reality of a nation in agony.
What is the possible future scenario? Has Gota actually resigned or is his flight a temporary dislocation, till RW evolves a new strategy to save the Rajapaksa bacon once again? Does Wickremesinghe continue as president for the rest of the existing term? As acting president will he appoint a man of his choice to the vacant post of prime minister, overriding the wish of the parliament, following the process which catapulted him from obscurity, to the position of prime minister, in a matter of hours? With RW as acting president and an individual of his choice as prime minister, will it be possible to form a government representative of all parties? Will there be an early general election, so that protesters and ordinary people can exercise their preference through the ballot?
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Wickremesinghe’s appointment, the statements made by Sajith Premadasa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Maithripala Sirisena, confirm beyond doubt that the parties that they represent are completely opposed to RW. What the nation desperately needs from its lawmakers is not conflict in parliament but consensus. The divisive RW is not going to achieve that. His latest move is certain to escalate the ongoing agitation to a level, which may result in a militarized retaliation against unarmed protesters. His first act as acting president of Sri Lanka, the declaration of an island-wide emergency and a curfew in the Western province may be the preliminaries to a fascist regime to rival that of the deposed president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Consensus on Speaker as Acting Prez, Ranil’s move to succeed GR rejected
Change of govt. unconstitutional but reality has to be accepted – MS
Gota goes, plunging country into chaos
SJB declares Sajith’s candidature; SLPP dissidents to field Dullas
Gota going, going …
Enormity of greed
Act wisely or perish
Nod given for use of lethal force

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